Saturday & Sunday, July 15-16, 2017
Last Labor Day weekend, Diane and I had set off to complete a three day loop in the Uncompahgre Wilderness connecting the Fall Creek Trail and the Little Cimarron Trail. Unfortunately, stormy weather prevented us from crossing over the high ridge into the Little Cimarron River valley, so we had to cut our trip short and returned the way we had come. This weekend we decided to go on an overnight trip along the Little Cimarron River to make up for it since I’ve been itching to get back into the Uncompahgre Wilderness, which is one of my favorite, and often overlooked, wilderness areas close to home.
Starting our hike from the Little Cimarron – Alpine Trailhead.
We left home mid-morning on Saturday and drove southeast through Montrose, over the Cerro Summit and into the Cimarron River watershed. We turned off the highway onto the Little Cimarron Road and followed it to the Little Cimarron – Alpine Trailhead a few miles before the road dead ends. We double-checked that we had everything we needed, shouldered our backpacks and took off over the bridge across the Little Cimarron River on the trail. It appeared that the area had received significant rainfall the previous day and everything was very wet and muddy. It didn’t take long for our boots and pant legs to get soaked, especially since the trail seemed little-used and overgrown. There were also plenty of fallen trees across the trail that we had to climb over or find ways around. After a couple miles of hiking we spotted a nice waterfall on the other side of the valley and saw a bear walking around nearby. I’ve only seen a bear twice before, and both times I was in or near my Jeep, so this was my first spotting while on a hike. We found that much of this trail is in the trees with limited views except when it crosses a few short clearings created by avalanches coming down from Sheep Mountain (13,168) above.
Joining up with the Little Cimarron East Trail, which we would take on the hike back out.
Much of the trail looked like this, especially the first couple of miles.
Welcome to the Uncompahgre Wilderness
Following the trail through one of the first clearings.
Uncompahgre Wilderness Backpacking
We found a nice campsite in the trees just at the edge of the final clearing that offered us great views into the upper valley. There were some wildflowers in the area, but not nearly as many as we saw last weekend near Silverton. Originally, I was considering continuing up the trail as it climbed onto the high ridge separating the Little Cimarron River from Fall Creek and maybe bagging a 13,000 foot summit, but the afternoon storms were moving in and I didn’t think it would be a good idea to be on top of the ridge. While we didn’t get much rain this afternoon, there was a little bit of graupel that fell from the sky along with thunder echoing through the valley. We rested in the tent until the storm moved out of the area. The clouds started to clear out for a little bit which created some nice spotlighting on the surrounding peaks, but they returned again before sunset. After the sun went down we headed back to the tent and went right to bed. I slept pretty well this night, and while it got cool out overnight, it never got really cold and the temperature was pretty comfortable.
Our home for the night.
Nice spotlighting on the ridge above camp.
Diane enjoys the view from near our campsite.
Looking up the Little Cimarron River from the furthest point of our hike. This is where the trail crosses the river and then steeply climbs to the top of the 12,800 foot ridge before descending into the Fall Creek valley.
Another round of storm clouds moving over the valley.
A touch of light at the head of the valley.
The last light of the day shortly before sunset.
On Sunday morning I woke up shortly before sunrise and took a few photos from around the upper valley. There were a few clouds in the sky which picked up some nice color. Then we packed up camp and started our hike back out. When I had checked the weather forecast before starting the trip it had called for thunderstorms to move into the area early on Sunday morning beginning around 9:00am, but I guess that forecast must have changed because when we reached the Jeep in the late morning the sky was still clear and blue. We followed the same trail back to the Jeep only diverging onto the Little Cimarron East Trail about a mile and a half before reaching the trailhead. This trail followed the opposite side of the valley on an old road bed. While we could have taken this trail on the way in and it would have saved us a little distance, we decided not to since it requires crossing the river and I didn’t want us to get our feet wet early in the hike. It was certainly a deep river crossing and I think we made the right call since there was no way to avoid getting wet. Since we were not too far from the end of the hike when we crossed, we didn’t worry about it and just got our shoes wet.
A few photos from sunrise taken near our camp…
Sheep Mountain bathed in the warm morning light.
Leaving camp and hiking back down the faint trail.
A small waterfall we passed as we crossed this rushing side creek.
Mountain bluebells and a small waterfall.
Back into the lush and wet vegetation along the trail in the forest.
One of the many small creeks we had to cross.
We returned to the Little Cimarron East trailhead under clear blue skies. From here is was a short walk down the road back to my Jeep.
In the end the hike was around 13 miles round trip with about 1,500 feet of elevation gain, mostly on the first day. We never saw another person the entire time and didn’t even see any other footprints on the trail. This trail definitely offered us plenty of solitude in the wilderness!