Overview: Uncompahgre Peak, at 14,309 feet, is the sixth highest of Colorado's "Fourteeners". It is a spectacular sight high above Lake City, Colorado. The most popular route to the summit is via the Uncompahgre Peak Trail at the end of the Nellie Creek Road, and is the route described here. The mileage and statistics listed for this hike are for a start at the end of the high clearance 4 wheel drive Nellie Creek Road. For those without high clearance 4 wheel drive, you'll need to hike the Nellie Creek Road, which makes for a 16 mile round trip hike to Uncompahgre Peak, with an elevation gain of 4980 feet. For current road, trail, and snow conditions, I recommend contacting the Gunnison Ranger District, or the Lake City Chamber Of Commerce.
Warning: As with any hike above treeline, be sure to start early to avoid thunderstorms.
Hike: Five miles west of Lake City along the Henson Creek Road, a sign marks the start of the Nellie Creek Road. There is limited parking available at this road junction, if you choose to start here. Follow Nellie Creek Road as it climbs steeply up the canyon of Nellie Creek. The forest is thick, so there are no views of Uncompahgre Peak as of yet. The road forks at 2.3 miles (stay left). After 4 miles of rough switchback road, you will arrive at a large trailhead parking lot at the Uncompahgre Wilderness boundary. Signs mark the start of the Uncompahgre Peak Trail.
The easily followed track of the Uncompahgre Peak Trail heads into the trees, and soon begins following Nellie Creek. The trail quickly reaches treeline, where Uncompahgre Peak comes into view, at the west end of a large basin. The trail climbs a low bluff on the north side of Nellie Creek, where it reaches a signed junction with the Big Blue Trail at 0.9 miles. The trail steadily gains elevation while heading west, straight for Uncompahgre Peak.
A mile west of the Big Blue Trail junction, our trail turns south toward the prominent south ridge of Uncompahgre Peak. Passing a trail sign for Matterhorn Creek, the trail hits the south ridge at 13,000 feet. It climbs steadily while staying high on the south ridge's eastern face, aiming for the south edge of the peak.
A few switchbacks bring the trail to the crest of Uncompahgre Peak's south ridge, at 13,800 feet. The trail crosses over to the west side of the ridge at this point, and fades slightly in a steep rock slide, below a few hoodoo rock formations. At this point, you'll need to scale one of the two chutes above you. You should be able to see where others have scrambled up. There is nothing technical, but you don't want to slip here, so be careful.
After a hundred vertical feet or so, the chutes reach the top of Uncompahgre's cliffs (38.06848 N, -107.46194 W). The trail resumes here and climbs the last bit of ridge to the south edge of the tilted summit platform, reaching the true summit in another quarter of a mile. The summit is a broad open flat that suddenly gives way to a dramatic one thousand foot cliff along its northern edge. The view is spectacular, with hundreds of other high peaks spread out in every direction. Welcome to the highpoint of the San Juan Mountains.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.