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Precipice Peak - Uncompahgre Wilderness, CO
mini location map2020-09-26
27 by photographer avatarOregon_Hiker
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Precipice Peak - Uncompahgre Wilderness, CO 
Precipice Peak - Uncompahgre Wilderness, CO
Hiking avatar Sep 26 2020
Hiking3.63 Miles 2,184 AEG
Hiking3.63 Miles   7 Hrs   12 Mns   0.64 mph
2,184 ft AEG   1 Hour   34 Mns Break
1st trip
Linked none no linked trail guides
Partners none no partners
This hike was suggested by my friend Drew who lives in Montrose, CO, as a short fairly easy day hike based on info he got from a hiking friend, Gunda. He would meet me at the Wetterhorn Trailhead on the West Fork Cimarron River at 8am on the day of the hike with 3 of his local friends including Gunda who had done this hike at least 3 times. He assured me there was a trail to the peak which tops out at 13144 ft. I was 6 days into a 2 week car camping and day hiking exploration of the mountains in the San Juan and Uncompahgre National Forests. My friend who I hadn't seen in at least 10 years is an experienced hiker who frequently hikes in this area. So I trusted his judgement and was looking forward to seeing him and exploring the area of the 3 forks of the Cimarron River. What could go wrong?

I drove to the area the day before over the Owl Creek Pass Road which starts out as county road #10 at its intersection with HW550 1.8 driving miles north of Ridgeway. The Owl Creek Pass Road was a beautiful drive with amazing views of the Fall foliage on the west facing slopes of Cimarron Ridge. It's a maintained 2WD capable gravel road with many sections of washboard bumps that were beating the heck out of my FJ Cruiser so I had to stop to air-down the tires. The turnoff to drive on FR860 to the Wetterhorn TH is just past Owl Creek Pass about 16 driving miles from HW550. FR860 is also a 2WD capable gravel road for the first 2 miles but then turns into a rough 4WD high clearance road for the last 1.5 miles to the TH. Dispersed camping is allowed along FR860 which follows the West Fork Cimarron River (a creek at this point) and there were a number of nice places to camp. The 4WD section of the road was my first clue that things weren't quite what had been described to me by my friend and I wasn't sure what he would be driving so I camped along the 2WD section of the road planning to flag him down as he drove by the next morning. The drive along FR860 had great views of the peaks along the ridge between the West and Middle Forks of the Cimarron River.

Scouting out the area around the Wetterhorn TH and asking several hunters and hikers about a trail to Precipice Peak, I discovered that there was no trail and their was no obvious route through the extremely rough terrain that could be seen from the road. I was beginning to have doubts about doing this hike but was confident my friend would clear up my uncertainties the next morning. He, his 3 friends and a dog showed up on the road by my camp at precisely 8am. After some discussion about my discoveries the day before I learned that he had been relying on info from his friend, Gunda, and was as surprised as I had been about the rough 4WD road and lack of a trail. But Gunda assured us all was good, Drew's 4WD Chevy pickup would be able to negotiate the 4WD section of road and we didn't need a trail because she had done the climb 3 times so knew the way. Fortunately this all turned out to be true.

However, I should have been suspicious about the difficulty of the terrain when I noticed patches on the seat of Gunda's pants. The route, though only about 4 miles round trip to the top of the peak, was extremely steep with loose footing much of the way. The peak is climbed so in-frequently that there is no obvious worn trail but with Gunda as our guide we found our way. I would not recommend attempting this hike with out a good gps track to follow or a guide like Gunda. After struggling up the peak for 4 hours we had only gone about 1.8 miles. The slow progress was mainly due to me and Gunda's 24 year old friend, Ruel, because we had to frequently stop to rest. Gunda is no spring chicken but she's in great shape being a dedicated hiker who has been hiking these high elevation mountain trails for many years.

Due to running out of time and energy and high winds which were making the last 0.2 miles to the top too treacherous, we finally decided to turn around at 3.6 miles and 12900 ft elevation. So I missed an opportunity for a first time hike over 13000 ft. Gunda took a different route back to the car saying this route would be easer for the descent while the route we had taken up was easier for the ascent. I soon found out that the easier descent for Gunda involved butt sliding down long steep scree slopes thus explaining the patches on the seat of her pants. Two of our group, Drew and Lane, started down ahead of us thinking that they knew the way back. I decided it was best to stick with Gunda and we showed up at the car 2.5 hours later. Drew and Lane hadn't shown up so Gunda took off to find them and 20 minutes later brought them back. They had made a wrong turn and had to back track.

Despite the difficulty I thoroughly enjoyed both the company and the hike. The views were amazing and the unique geology of this peak was mystifying. Drew and friends returned to Montrose and I setup camp for the night on the bank of the West Fork Cimarron River with a commanding view of Precipice Peak.
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