Slipping Away Into the San Juans

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The mighty San Juan mountain range sits in the southwest corner of Colorado. If you’re looking for entertainment of the outdoor variety, this is the place to go.

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Miles of challenging and scenic off-highway trails and some of the best hiking, camping and climbing in the United States can be found here. It’s a secret we have known for some time, and in early September, we made our second trip to the area this year.

Although our primary goal was to climb at least four of the Colorado fourteeners (fourteen-thousand foot mountains), we wanted to try our hand at some of the more famous off-highway venues as well. The wonderful thing about this area for us is that we can do both of these things on the same trip. By using the Alpine Loop scenic road, we could access the fourteeners and do some off-highway travel at the same time.

After settling our RV into a campground just outside of Lake City, Colorado, we quickly unhooked our Jeep Rubicon to get a peek at the beginning of the Alpine Loop and scout out our approach to Uncompahgre Peak, elevation 14,309 ft. Although the Nellie Creek road, which is the main access to the standard route for Uncompahgre Peak, can be hiked, it also happens to be a nice five-mile moderately challenging four-wheel drive road.

Uncompahgre Peak is a relatively “easy” fourteener, but none of them should be taken lightly. Weather and conditions should still be considered. So with this in mind, Alan, our dog Scout, and I drove up Nellie Creek road in the dark and reached the wilderness boundary at 11,440 ft at 6:00 a.m. Our early arrival would allow us to complete the seven-mile, 2,870’ elevation gain round-trip hike before the afternoon thunderstorms built. We waited at the trailhead to meet up with a diverse group of people we had arranged to make the climb with, and at 6:30 am, we all began our hike up the easy trail to the summit. This climb is suitable for any moderately fit hiker and none of us, including our dog Scout, had any problems with the short class three sections near the summit. Alan, Scout and I were on top at 9:00 am and we spent an enjoyable hour on the summit with our new friends. But as puffy clouds began to grow, we knew we needed to begin to make our way down to avoid the impending storms.

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