Attempt on Uncompahgre Peak

I don’t usually post anything for failed summit attempts, but I’m making another exception for this one. Some friends drove down to Lake City on Friday night, nine of us in all with myself, Marc, Baba, Carl, Eric, Rob, Rob, Fritz, and Sarah. After a couple hours of poor-quality sleep, we woke up for a 2:15am start. We knew going in that avalanche conditions were going to be a concern, and it was worse than expected.

We covered the four miles to the summer trailhead in about two and a half hours. The entire way, the snowpack was collapsing, whoomphing, and cracking. Given that, we had to make reroutes even while simply skinning up the road. As we gained more elevation, the failures became less frequent but more intense.

I left my headlamp in my pocket the entire time, as the moon was so bright.

Sunrise above treeline was gorgeous, as always.

We made lots of route alterations due to the unstable snow and complex terrain. One section of 500′ took us an hour and a half to cover, which was rather unpleasant in the cold wind. We started to spread out as we gained more elevation.

At around 9am, we reached the pass that connects towards Wetterhorn.

At this point is the section that gave us trouble. In all the mid-winter reports I’ve seen, there is a section of rock that is blown clean by the wind. This year, one of the worst seasons in recent history, the section was heavily loaded. We spent over 15 minutes staring at it, measuring slope angles, discussing possible tactics, and the consequences of an avalanche (certainly fatal) before ultimately giving up.

It was encouraging to be with such a large group that reached a unanimous decision to not proceed, though it was still unpleasant to have been so close.

On our way out, we saw something that proved our decision to be correct – an avalanche that ran while we were up there on the same aspect, similar elevation, and a lower slope angle. We believe it released naturally, though it’s slightly possible we triggered it remotely from hundreds of meters away.

The day was disappointing, but still an enjoyable outing in a beautiful place with good friends. We stopped for burgers at Powerstop, which is de rigueur for any trip passing through Gunnison. We’ll get it next time.

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