Leaving the Front Range, we immediately got stuck in traffic. Andrew and I didn’t want to admit it to each other, but neither of us really wanted to make the five-hour drive down to the San Juans. We didn’t pull into our little camping spot for the night until around 10 pm. We set our alarms for 3:30 am.
I didn’t fight the alarm when it went off—I’d been awake most of the night anyway. I’m not sure if it’s the elevation or my nerves, but I rarely sleep well before an early morning hike. We hit the trailhead around 4:45 am and walked through the trees with only the light of my headlight. I rambled on and on, in the darkness, just to make sure bears knew I was coming. We got above treeline at first light. Our reward for waking up early, a colorful sunrise and alpenglow on Uncompahgre. We stood in the middle of a valley dappled with wildflowers and 360 degree views of the stunning San Juan mountains. This is why we drove five hours. This is why we wake up at 3 am, I thought to myself.
The hike to the summit of Uncompahgre is not long (2.5 miles), and the trail doesn’t get steep until the second half. We continued on the switchbacks, to the ridgeline, where we were greeted with views of Wetterhorn Peak and jagged mountains, as far as we could see. I hiked slow as the trail got steeper, knowing that our early start meant plenty of time to reach the summit without worry of afternoon storms.
The summit offered panoramic views of the San Juans. Nearby, Wetterhorn, our first 14er in the San Juans. In the distance, I think we spied Mount Sneffels, the mountain Andrew proposed on.
The summit was chilly, so we snapped some photos, ate some lunch, and hiked back down. By 10 am we were back at the truck. Storms began to blow in by 11.
RT: 7.25 miles
Elevation gain: 3,000′
Uncompahgre’s Elevation: 14,309′
Photo credit: Andrew Bradberry