27 June 2015

Uncompahgre: East Fork Cimarron River

Uncompahgre National Forest

DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3 | DAY 4 | DAY 5 | DAY 6

(Day 1 of 6) The Colorado backpacking loop I found last year was stunning, so now I am out for another. This year I chose a loop mainly in the Uncompahgre Wilderness following different forks of the Cimarron River up and back down connecting over the ridges to the south. This gives me access to two 14ers with trails most the way up. All this depends on the snow, of course. It is a little early in the season and a late snowfall may mean I cannot get out of the canyon, much less climb a mountain that is 14,300 feet high. I have been casting my eyes toward the San Juan Range for the last few days, and they do look very snowy. It seems unlikely that I will get out of the canyon and I am a little resigned as I collect everything together. The day hikers who went up to the Silver Jack Mine do not offer much hope. The trailhead says "no camping" so I stuff in one more supper and breakfast and start off a little earlier than planned. There is only one entry in the register left without an exit time.

wilderness sign
Entering Uncompahgre Wilderness just past the parking lot.

East Fork below the cliffs
Looking across the East Fork and up to the ridge that separates it from the Middle Fork.

The parking lot, which is already 9280 feet up, was hot while I packed, but one day hiker assured me that the trees would close in quickly and the trail would be pleasant. She is proved correct within five minutes. Sometime tomorrow, I will have to cross this river, so I watch it and compare it to the flow of Snowmass Creek. It seems similar in size, but it will get smaller as I climb. While driving up the canyon, I noticed many spots where beautiful cliff faces poked out of the trees, so I watch for those as well. They are harder to see in the narrower canyon from a trail in the trees, but they are there. I cannot be unhappy about all the trees. Besides the cool, they also bring wonderful scents.

the river beside the trail
The river rushes past, nearly at the level of the trail.

peak with snow on it
A snowy peak. The highest peak along this is 1000 feet shorter than the mountain I want to climb in two days.

The trail looks well cared for with some parts reinforced against the river flow. A few piles of wood suggest more work is about to happen or perhaps just finished. The canyon seems to open up a little after the initial constriction at the end of the road. It was once a road here, too, but that was a long time ago and sometimes the trail does not even follow that old route. Meadows along the way offer more sweeping views of the cliffs above.

firs to cliffs
There is quite a vertical character to the canyon sides.

rounded rock of layers with trees
There are lots of shapes in these many layered canyon walls.

trail through the meadow into the trees
A well established trail.

There was a cattle guard just before the start of the trail and there are cow paths around to try to confuse the hiker. Largely, there is no question at all about which is the correct trail. The greater obstacle are the few recent tree falls, but these are all quickly overcome. Coming to a large meadow, there is a secondary trail upwards toward some trees. I am hopeful for a campsite although I suspect it is just another cow trail. The trees are not an established site, but are nice. There is a fir with only two cow pies below it to roll out my bed under.

alder trees beside the trail
The alder here is incredibly tall.

moon above the rocks changing colors
The sun sets and the moon rises over my makeshift camp.

I barely make it past sunset before tucking in under the fir tree. For now, it is a lovely little camp. Once the cows get here, it may be something quite different.

Continue reading: day 2

©2015 Valerie Norton
Posted 9 Aug 2015

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