Peak(s):  Handies Peak  -  14,048 feet
Uncompahgre Peak  -  14,309 feet
Wetterhorn Peak  -  14,015 feet
Mt. Democrat  -  14,148 feet
Mt. Cameron  -  14,238 feet
Mt. Lincoln  -  14,286 feet
Mt. Bross  -  14,172 feet
"South Bross"  -  14,020 feet
Date Posted:  09/28/2020
Date Climbed:   06/23/2020
Author:  hogantheepic
Additional Members:   gfwarlock, CaptCO
 A Journey to the San Juans   

A Journey to the San Juans

Hogan Warlock

22/58 in 2020

Tenmile/Mosquito Range complete

All the trip reports I am writing for the summer is simply a byproduct of my thoughts, reactions, and experiences from my summer mountaineering project of climbing the 58 CO 14ers before I head back to CU in August. I hope that these trip reports help me to learn from mistakes, to document my experiences, and to help me to think and become a better person and mountaineer. Thank you for reading and for your support!


^^Pano with Uncompahgre on the left. Sorry about the blurry pictures.^^

Alas, another long road trip to the San Juans! This will be 2/4 of the San Juan road trips (hopefully only 4) this summer. Depending on where in the San Juans I'm trying to get to, it takes between 6 and 8 hours of driving to get to this range from my house, so I really have to plan these trips out meticulously in order to cut down on driving time.

This particular time, I was planning on 3 more 14er's in the range: Handies Peak, Uncompahgre Peak, and Wetterhorn Peak. My plans got shuffled around a bunch due to events happening during the trip.

Originally, I had also planned to do Mt. Sneffels in with this trip, but I decided that driving-wise, it would be more worth it to throw that in with my future El-Diente Traverse trip because Sneffels was sort of on the way to the Wilson group. More so than it was on the drive to the Uncompahgre area. I cut Sneffels out and replaced it with the Decalibron group, because that also happens to be rather 'on the way' back home and I hadn't completed it yet this summer.

Handies Peak (June 20, 2020)

We drove the long drive from Erie CO through Lake City to the American Basin trailhead the day before. It took us like 7 hours to do this drive, and it was our 2nd time coming to this exact area. I don't really want to come back to Lake City again unless I'm ice climbing or backcountry skiing in the area, because the drive is just too painful for anything else to make it worth it.

We drove up to the American Basin trailhead well after dark. The road is fairly rough, doable with a car like mine with slightly higher than average clearance and AWD, but we still had to employ our 4 wheel driving skills to not scrape the low spot on my car. Driving the road at night did not help, but we made it. We set up camp and went to sleep. We weren't sure whether we were at the actual trailhead or not, but we just wanted to sleep and figure it out the next day.

We got up, made breakfast, broke down camp, etc. Cars had started parking where we were, assuming that we were at the trailhead. Everyone kept hiking up the road. When we finally got going and hiking up the road, about a half-mile in we discovered that we had not camped at the actual trailhead, and had caused nearly everyone that day to hike an extra mile roundtrip because they weren't at the trailhead either. Oops!

Last month when we made our first San Juan trip and climbed Redcloud and Sunshine, Handies Peak was looking like an Alaskan peak, with its dramatic East face and a massive cornice hanging out along the ridgeline. It was gorgeous. However, in the summer, it is one of the easiest peaks to climb (once you've made it to the trailhead, of course). The standard route is less than 6 miles round trip (very rare), less than 3000 feet of gain, and all class 1. All of these aspects, plus the fact that it is right in the heart of the San Juans, made it a very enjoyable hike.

We virtually sprinted up this peak, especially with the volume of hiking we had behind us from the last month or so. It took us like 2.5 hours to summit from the car, and 2 hours to get back. This was a super quick day!

Lots of marvelous skiing to be done In American Basin. If only it were easier to access during winter!
My dad marveling at the beauty of the basin.
At the saddle, looking up the summit.
The 2 giants in the distance. Can't wait fort the next 2 days!
Near the saddle.
Summit picture!
Snow trekin.
The glory of American Basin in full effect. Sorry about the fuzzy pictures, I'm still learning how to shoot manual.

Uncompahgre Peak (June 21, 2020)

After we finished up Handies real quick, we drove back into Lake City and got some lunch. Then we headed out for what would be the roughest road my car has been on: the Nellie Creek Road.. There were huge rocks, deep ruts, sketchy and deep river crossing, and 8 miles of car-torture. My dad learned how to drive off-road in ranger school in the Marines, and he knew how to drive roads like this while trying to protect the car, but there's only so much that these skills can do for you. Luckily, I don't think we scraped hard once on the drive up the road to the Nellie Creek Trailhead. There were, of course, some jeeps and such that probably went up this road easily, but there were a couple cars up there that were worse off from car even! Much lower clearance, much longer wheel bases, etc. I don't know how they made it up this road at all. Either brave or stupid, is that the phrase? They were definitely not brave, which leaves just one other answer.

After driving up, we found a good place to set up camp, and relaxed for the rest of the day. We were pretty close to the upper trailhead, and didn't have that long of a day cut out for us the next day. It would be a 3,000 ft, 7.5 mile roundtrip, which would actually be one of the easier days I've had in a while (besides Handies the previous day.

I'd been looking forward to climbing Uncompahgre since I first saw a picture of it. It is very dramatic and unique. The surrounding lands are also quite unique. I encourage you all to read some of the 14erology on this peak, since it is pretty interesting.

We got up just before sunrise and began hiking. It didn't take us long to finally see the peak. It looms above you for most of the hike.

The massive alpine tundra field that you cross on your way to the peak is quite gorgeous. Its expanse is one of the reasons the San Juans are sometimes called 'Little Switzerland', because it's greenery and gorgeous fields of grasses with a steep mountainous backdrop are reminiscent of the neutral land.

We saw an enormous number of marmots on this hike. This was awesome, since it seemed they had this entire field to themselves. I'm glad to see that CFI and other organizations were pretty successful with their trailbuilding, because it really keeps people off the grass and keeps the tundra pristine.

We made it up to the ridge overlooking to Wetterhorn after only a couple hours. Then, as we made our way up the ridge, Wetterhorn and its surrounding features kept peeking in and out of view. This is an extremely pretty area of the Colorado because of how fleeting and how vast the landscape can be. It just brings about a certain curiosity in mountaineers and nature-lovers.

Pretty soon, we were at the base of the crux of this hike. There were 2 variations for this section; you could either continue traversing a little bit more to a less slightly steep option that was quite loose, or cut right and go up a class 3 part that was essentially stairsteps and not loose at all. We chose the 2nd option, because despite it's class 3 rating, it looked very easy to go up.

My dad and I had put our helmets on when we reached the top of the ridge before you cut around to the other side of the peak. The next section is where rockfall starts becoming a hazard. I think this was the first mountain I ever needed a helmet for. It was very exciting!

Sidenote: if there was ever a 14er that could be possible to camp at the summit of relatively comfortably, it would be Uncompahgre. It is this big plateau that has a few options to set up a small tent in some windbreaks, and its not really a giant boulder field up there. Instead, the rocks are mostly small, either gravel-like or slate-like.


^^Lots of places to go.^^


^^There she is.^^


^^Strange that this peak plateau's off on the top so horizontally.^^


^^Wetterhorn peeking.^^




^^Some cool looking rocks on the hike up.^^


^^Wetterhorn looking sexy.^^


^^Summit pic.^^

Wetterhorn Peak (June 21, 2020)

After the hike back down and the sketchy drive back down the miles of Nellie Creek road, we went back again to Lake City for lunch. We had time to kill, so we relaxed a while in town, then headed back down the dirt road to the Matterhorn Creek trailhead. We kept going further and further up this road, which progressively became worse and worse. Pretty soon, it was another Nellie Creek road, with enormous boulders and ruts and such trying their hardest to cause you to bottom out and break your vehicle. Luckily, the worst portion of this road wasn't nearly as long as the Nellie Creek road. We made it up to the upper trailhead and set up camp. We still had a lot of time to kill in the afternoon, so we napped, read, and did nothing for like 5 hours. This kind of time is something that I need to learn how to use better, because it feels like a big waste.

We were trying to meet Alec that evening and hike together the next day, but cell service is hard to come by in the San Juans, so we had vague plans about when and where to meet. Around 8 pm, he came walking up the road to us. He wasn't able to get his truck up the road, so he parked and slept down further on the road. We agreed to meet the next morning to hike.

My dad and I woke up and made some breakfast. Our meeting time came and went. I left a note on my car telling Alec that we left without him. We figured he probably overslept.

The hike was extremely enjoyable again. Short, scenic, hardly anyone else on the trail, and very good climbing temperatures. We made it past treeline quickly, and the Wetterhorn-Matterhorn ridge was in full view. I'll have to come back someday to do this ridge. It looks amazing.

We put our helmets on at the top of the yellow dirt section, and began the fun part of the day. The scrambling kept ramping up from here as the terrain became rather confusing. We went through the v-notch, then traversed up and left, went up the short wall, down the ramp, and we were at the final pitch of climbing. While this is rated class 3, it was quite comfortable climbing up because it is sort of glorified stair steps, in my opinion. When I got up to the ledge splitting the face in 2 halves and had to choose between going left and up or going up, I chose to go straight up because it looked quite easy still. I was not expecting the true summit to be literally directly at the top of this pitch of climbing, however. You grab onto the upper edge of the pitch, and you're at the top. This was very exciting, and a super fun climb!

My dad and I ate some food on the summit and enjoyed the amazing panorama we had, with Uncompahgre looming next to us, Sneffels in the distance, and the San Juans stretching out to the horizon. After about 15-20 minutes, we started back down. Right when we were leaving the summit, Alec was climbing up the last pitch. Pretty cool place to meet up.

We headed down, and made it to the car relatively quickly. It had been an awesome day!

The scenery seen from near the start of the hike.
Finally seeing Wetterhorn for the first time on the hike.
The Matterhorn.
Uncompahgre watching our every move.
The top of Wetterhorn.
This guy was also watching our every move.
Really wanna do this ridge someday.
Uncompahgre from the summit of Wetterhorn.
The ramp, just before the final pitch. It looks worse than it ends up being.
The final pitch.
Wetterhorn pano.
Summit pic.

DeCaLiBron (June 22, 2020)

We drove back down to Lake City and hauled on out of there. I wouldn't be going back to Lake City for quite a while!

After a lot of discussion, we decided to go do Decalibron the next day, since it was basically on the way back home anyways. We had attempted it earlier last month and ended up with a full on backcountry-ski day do to a fresh dump of snow the night before. We were only able to do Democrat since the avy threat was increasing throughout the day, and thus needed to come back to claim the other 3 peaks in the group.

We camped close to the trailhead, which was already pretty much completely taken over by other people camping up there. We were lucky to find a spot to camp at.

We woke up at 4 the next morning, and started hiking about 5. We made it up Democrat pretty quickly. It was my third time on the summit of Democrat in the last year. We zipped down, and up Cameron. Cameron's summit is strange, because you can't quite tell where exactly the highest point is. Lincoln came fast, then we started the walk across to Bross. I remember there being a red pickup truck near the summit that was missing all 4 wheels from the last time I was on Bross last September. It wasn't anywhere to be seen.

I also went and tagged South Bross while we were up there. This honestly is not worthy of even an unranked-unnamed tick on a peak checklist, because it is just not separated from the actual summit of Bross. Unless I am completely wrong about what South Bross even is.

The slog down the gulley from Bross to Kite Lake is something that everyone complains about, and for good reason. It was rather painful and boring. I've done it twice now, and hopefully won't have to do it again.

It was a successful trip, checking off 6 peaks in 4 days!

Mt Lincoln from Bross.
3rd time on Mt Democrat's summit since last September.
Mt Bross.
Mt Lincoln
Mt Cameron.

As always,

Risk is for managing, not for chance.

~Hogan Warlock~

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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