Uncompahgre Peak
Descent Route: South Ridge
Uncompahgre Peak
South Ridge and East Slopes
April 27, 2006

From the base of the East Face of the Wetterhorn, contouring around the ridge and into the basin below Uncompahgre?s West Face was easy. We began the 2000? foot ascent up the face in a broad gully. Because the sun had yet to blast this face with its solar melting power, we had nice firm snow to crampon up. Nick, Christian, and myself are definitely feeling the fitness that we?ve earned over the last week (for me the last three months). As we cruised higher towards our sixth fourteener summit and ski descent in six days, I could only chuckle at how awesome this whole project has been. When you are climbing and in the rhythm, you have lots of time to think about things, and I was pondering how lucky I have been to have skied so many peaks in such excellent conditions, with many great friends, and in perfect weather. This project totally exceeds my expectations in terms of fun, excitement, and adventure on a daily basis now. What felt like a grind at times in the cold winter is now easy. We have hit our stride as a team, and I?m having the time off my life in the mountains. I cannot imagine doing anything else with my career right now. This is it, and this is awesome! Back in January I wondered about burning out, lacking motivation, or lacking partners to ski with. The burnout is definitely not in the equation, and partners and motivation have been dealt in spades. So I neared the summit ridge with these thoughts in my mind, glanced down at my partners, and shook my head again in disbelief at how much fun I am having.

Uncompahgre is a big and powerful mountain. It is the sixth highest fourteener at 14,309? and can be seen from many other fourteeners, including the Elk Range and the Sawatch Range. Because it sits high and alone, it seems to get blasted by winds more than the other San Juan peaks. The South Ridge and face normally holds decent snow, but this year it looked really patchy. I walked the final few hundred yards up to the summit planning my ski descent down long, narrow strips and patches of snow. On top of our second fourteener of the day, we were all high on life. Nick and Danny built rock sculptures on the edge of the overhung North Face, and then did head and hand stands next to them. We tossed a big rock off that side and counted an eight second delay before it hit the snow over a thousand feet below. Jon and I did an interview for the film on top, and Christian set up some cool group photos. At 1:00 p.m. we got ready to ski. Due to the lack of snow this year, I had to settle for some uninteresting skiing up high. I made some turns off the summit, and then had to walk over to another long patch of snow, which brought us down to the cliff bands that run across the South Face. I had skied through one of these lines before, but this year they are all mandatory airs of the hospital variety, so we chose to traverse skier?s left to the ridge and ski down that way. The lower we got the softer the snow was. We skied our way into the Nellie Creek Basin and found a short but steep slope with a big cornice on it. Christian, Danny, and Jon set up to shoot it and Nick and I found our lines. Nick went first and dropped the cornice about ten feet onto a hanging snow field, then sent a huge air off a cliff out into the bowl. I dropped the biggest part of the cornice, which was probably twenty feet, and then burned some sweet turns down the mushy corn snow. These were the last ski shots Christian would take on his trip here with me. He flew out from California to Aspen last Friday, and proceeded to climb and ski fourteeners in six days. He flew home today with what I would call a pretty full week of climbing and skiing under his belt. There are not many people, let alone photographers, who can carry two camera bodies, four lenses, plus all their back country gear, food, and water, and run up six peaks in six days like Christian can. The guy is so fit and psyched to be in the mountains. Christian got some amazing images while he was here with us, and they will certainly be a part of my ?Ski The 14ers? book project.

The group hit the Nellie Creek Road and skied down a few miles to my pickup truck, which Ben and Adam and driven up from Capitol City. We ended our long tour at 3:00 p.m., exactly eleven hours after setting out this morning. There is a lot to be said for going from point to point in the big mountains, especially when you can rack up over 6000 vertical feet while doing it. Completing a tour like this, with two classic fourteeners included, definitely ranks up there my favorite days in the mountains this season. Back at the RV, the crew spent the rest of the afternoon lounging in the sun, drinking a few beers, and telling stories of our days in the peaks. We ended the day with a huge dinner, all eight of us sitting around the table in the RV. After dinner we got a roaring bonfire going, and went to bed tired yet satisfied beyond words.

Next up: San Luis, Ellingwood, Blanca?, then to the Wilson Group and then the Needles.



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