Chipeta Mountain South – 12,850 and Chipeta Mountain – 13,472

RT Length:  10.58 miles

Elevation Gain:  3281’

This was my third attempt at Chipeta Mountain this year.  The first time I drove out the road was open but impassible due to snow.  The second time the road was clear, but the gate was closed.  I saw several videos/pictures of people on the pass this year, but later found out they were part of a mining operation and the only ones allowed to access the road.  The road formally opened on May 28.  Today was May 29.  It had already been a long morning:  I’d woken up at the Gibson Creek trailhead, intent on hiking a few 13ers in the area (also not my first attempt these peaks this year), but after about 1000’ of elevation and deteriorating snow conditions I decided to make today a ‘me day’.  I hiked back to my truck, chugged a beer, and came up with a new plan:  I was going to drive to Marshall Pass, see if it was open, spend a day relaxing, and then tackle Chipeta Mountain tomorrow. 

Marshall Pass was open and snow/mud free to the pass.  I was surprised at how few people were dispersed camping this Memorial Day weekend.  I parked near the bathrooms and information signs.

I checked the weather, and it wasn’t supposed to rain until 5pm tonight.  I did the math, figured I had plenty of time to get in a hike before weather set in, gathered my gear, and was on my way.  I was on the trail at 8am.  The usual trail from the trailhead has a sign saying it’s no longer in use, so I took the very short bypass and started along the road instead.  This is road 243G, located at the north end of the parking area.  If was a bit muddy to begin with.

It was obvious from the start motorized vehicles hadn’t been on the trail yet this year, as there were numerous downed trees at the beginning (not much after a mile in, however).

I was following the Continental Divide and Colorado Trails north, along the west side of the mountains. 

After hiking for 1.7 miles snow started covering the trail.  Luckily, this snow wasn’t quite mashed potato snow, and I could get by hiking over it with just microspikes (on the way in),

After hiking for a total of just over 3 miles I turned right and headed east up the slope.  A map will tell you this is trail 484.1, but since it was covered in snow I headed east,  and once I saw them, I followed the posts to the saddle.

Once at the saddle I had a great view of Mt Ouray.  I turned left and headed north along the ridge.

Here an obvious trail picked up (the trail only lasted to the top of this hill).

From here you can see the rest of the hike:  it’s a straightforward ridge hike that starts out with tundra, and ends with a lot of loose rocks the size of tires.  Note:  The drop from South Chipeta Mountain to Chipeta Mountain is more drastic than this image would indicate.

Here are some step by step pictures of the ridge.

There’s a cool Quartz formation, with a lot of interesting rocks lying around

Then it’s on to South Chipeta Mountain

It’s rockier than it looks towards the top

From the top of South Chipeta Mountain (12850) you can clearly see the route to Chipeta Mountain (13472).  From South Chipeta you will lose 200’ of elevation, and then gain 825’ of elevation to the summit of Chipeta Mountain. 

This is also a simple ridge hike, but it takes time and careful foot placement because the rocks aren’t stable and tend to roll.  Nothing above class 2 however.

Weather unexpectedly started coming in early as I neared the summit of Chipeta

I summited Chipeta Mountain at 11:15am, after just over 3 hours of hiking

Chipeta Mountain: 

Here’s the view of Mt Ouray from the summit of Chipeta

I didn’t like the look of the clouds, and there was virga in the direction I was headed, so I didn’t stay on the summit long.  I retraced my steps back over South Chipeta Mountain to the saddle.

At the saddle I turned right and headed back down to the Continental Divide / Colorado Trail

At this point I needed snowshoes.  Strapped them on and followed my tracks from this morning south

I made it back to the trailhead at 2pm, making this a 10.58 mile hike with 3281’ of elevation gain in 6 hours.

I was still intent on taking a ‘me day’, so I decided to sleep in my vehicle here overnight.  Around 5pm a couple drove in, saying they were planning on backpacking part of the CDT/Colorado Trail.  The had along their dog, and a ferret on a leash (the woman had a ferret fanny pack as well, for when needed).  I asked them if they had snowshoes?  The woman slapped the man across the chest and said “See? I told you so!”  They didn’t have snowshoes but headed out anyway. When I woke up at 5am their vehicle was gone, so I’m guessing they didn’t end up staying the night, which was a good idea, considering there was a storm coming in.  I’m not sure what a wet ferret smells like, but it’s probably not ideal.

Mt Ouray – 13,979

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East Ridge

RT Length: 9.3 miles

Elevation Gain: 4300’

Every year for Labor Day we camp with a group at O’Haver Lake. Our campsite comes with a great view of centennial Mt. Ouray.  For the past few years I’ve intended on hiking the mountain during our stay, but weather and a flat tire have interrupted my plans.  This weekend however I was intent on making Mt Ouray mine.  After sitting around the campfire for hours discussing life with my kids, I set my alarm and was actually sleeping in the tent before 10pm.

My alarm never went off. I woke to one of my cats gently pawing at my face (yes, we camp with our cats) and when I opened my eyes I could tell it was beginning to get light outside.  Oh no!  I’d planned on waking up at 4am.  I looked at my phone:  6:04am.  I was a bit worried because it was supposed to snow later today, so if I wanted to summit before the snow I’d have to get a move on.  After a bit of fumbling with the zipper of the tent with cold fingers (we have to knot up the strings to the tent doors so our polydactyl cats don’t open the tent and escape during the night) I was in my truck by 6:07am.  I guess I was foregoing the coffee and actually brushing my hair.  Luckily the trailhead was less than 3 miles away:  If I hurried I could still get in the hike.

I took Marshall Pass to the Grays Creek Trailhead. Marshall Pass (County Road 200) is a well maintained 2WD dirt road.  The trailhead has room for 4 vehicles, but you can also park alongside the road.  There is a ton of dispersed camping in the area.

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After gathering my gear I started at 6:30am, two hours later than I’d originally planned. The sky was clear so I wasn’t too worried about the weather at this point.  I did want to be back to my campsite by noon however to wake up my kids (all teenagers, so yes, they’ll still be sleeping):  We had sailing to do today!

The trail begins lined with aspen and pine trees, gently heading west, crossing Grays Creek several times. Immediately I ran into an issue:  my camera wasn’t working properly.  Not having a functioning camera was a serious problem for me, so I fumbled with it for a good 20 minutes trying to get it to work (it wasn’t focusing… I think I just need a new lens).  In the end I kind of gave up. Oh well, I guess I was just going to get fuzzy pictures today.

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The trail was very easy to follow until I exited the trees and made it to a small boulder field

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At this point the trail ends but you just continue up the drainage to the left (head west)

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At the top of the drainage I was met with a great view of Mt Ouray’s peak, with small aspens below changing color at treeline. I was thrilled at this point because my camera decided to start working again!

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There is still no trail, but your goal is to gain the saddle to the left. Here’s the route I took

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This area is much steeper than it looks, filled with rocks and when lucky a grassy slope with rocks thrown in. It was very slow going due to the elevation gain (about 2000’ in a mile) and because I was sore from hikes I’d taken earlier this week.  Here’s a picture from the saddle looking back down on the route I took

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I just kept aiming for the first hump in the ridge. When I was almost there I was greeted with a solid trail that led me another mile to the summit

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This trail switchbacks up the ridge and then around the southwest side of the mountain (which wouldn’t have been my first choice: I’d wanted to just go up and over and follow the ridge).  Once you make it over the first hump you’ll notice several more smaller bumps in the ridge to navigate.  Here’s your final view of Mt Ouray

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You could tell this area used to be heavily used, even if it gets little traffic now (the trail is now overgrown with tundra in many places). There are several rock wind shelters built at various points on or near the summit.

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There is also a 10×15 foot cleared area that looked like it was built specifically to set up a tent and spend the night on the summit. Very cool!  I may just be back to do this one day.

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Here’s my summit photo

13 Mt Ouray 13971

And video:

Here’s a look back on the route I took to the summit (and my campsite circled below)

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The hike down was much easier than the hike up. I could see snow clouds in the distance, but the weather held off until much later that day.  I made it back to the bristlecone pine area and followed the drainage back down through treeline and Gray’s Creek to the trailhead.

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I was surprised at the size of the rose hips along the way.

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I made it back to my truck at noon, after stopping and talking with a few women hikers about the joys of hiking 14ers (they’d just moved here from Illinois and wanted to attempt one soon). I met them about a quarter mile from the trailhead, and they were the only other people I’d seen all day. That made this a 9.3 mile hike with 4300’ in elevation gain in 5.5 hours (with lots of time thrown in for a camera fix and a chat with hikers).  Here’s my route on a topo map

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I made it back to the campsite at 12:30pm and woke up my kids. My son wanted to try out the sailboat he’d made out of our canoe (it worked great!)

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And later that night we all enjoyed the campfire while it snowed on the peak. IMO, every cat should get to go camping…

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Next year I plan on hiking the (shorter) west ridge. I was going to do so the following day but the snow on the peak didn’t look appealing this early in the season.  That and I wanted to sleep in…