Trip Report & Route Guide
By Danielle Steffens
My friend, Whitney, drove down from Grand Junction on Saturday night.
She was able to borrow a Tacoma from her friend which was fantastic because neither of our cars would have enough clearance to make it to the 4WD trailhead, a whole 4 miles past the 2WD trailhead. We’re hopeful that this will allow us to cut the full 8 miles off the hike but still a little uncertain based off of some recent trailhead condition reports.
We planned to stop at a small cafe in Lake City to get some coffee before the hike. According to google, they open at 6:30 am so we’ve timed our departure to pass through Lake City then.
But First, Coffee.
We wake up at 4 am and pull away from the condo in Sturgill, the Tacoma named after Sturgill Simpson, at 4:30 am. The roads are fairly empty and we enjoy the sunrise as first light breaks over the mountains.
We arrive in Lake City, eager to get our coffee from Confluence, a small cafe that opens before the rest of the town. However, as 6:30 am rolls around, there is no sign of life inside the cafe! Since the weather forecast said storms are unlikely until early afternoon, we decide to wait for another place, Chillin’ Internet Cafe, to open.
At 7 am, we stand outside eagerly as they unlock the door. We order drinks—a delicious almond milk cappuccino for me—and get back on our way. Within minutes we hit the dirt road just outside the city.
The dirt road is easy and smooth until the 2WD trailhead, but after the split for Nellie Creek, it quickly gets rocky. Thank goodness for Sturgill! I’m the world’s slowest coffee drinker and some of my still very full cappuccino splashes out of the mouth hole as we bounce up the road.
We had read the recent trailhead condition reports and they consistently claimed that the trickiest part of the 4WD road was getting out of the first creek crossing. We’re feeling pretty anxious for the first couple miles until we finally set our eyes on it. We’re surprised to find it doesn’t look so bad!
Playing it safe, we get out and scope out the river. We don’t see any concerns in the water. There is a pretty steep slope up the far side riddled with some large rocks and the road banks quickly to the left. We plan out our line along the far right of the road and we feel relief when Sturgill makes it across without any issues. Thank goodness for those extra few inches of clearance compared to our Subarus!
We bump along for a while longer and the second creek crossing comes into view. This one is a breeze! There is some loose rock on the other side that takes a little bit of maneuvering to get enough traction, but nothing good ‘ole Sturgill can’t handle.
We arrive at the trailhead at 8:15 am and take advantage of the outhouse before setting out. It’s another one of those conveyor belt toilets!
The Ascent via South Ridge
We started hiking at 8:30 am and are very quickly out of treeline. We follow the trail alongside a river through the valley with great views of Uncompahgre Peak ahead.
The slope is pretty mellow all the way through the valley. About 1.5 miles in, there are a few steeper parts but none of them last very long.
After the trail turns left, the steepness picks up for some longer stretches and at about the 2.5 mile mark, we hit the split for Matterhorn Creek trail. We keep right and start the loop around and up towards the ridge.
As we’re hiking along the ridge, we find a cool rock outcropping and stop for some photos and a snack break. Only 1,000 ft of elevation gain to go!
Haze from the wildfires over the San Juan Mountains
Trekking on, we reach the switchbacks and the trail gets a bit rockier.
We crest the ridge and wrap around to the west face of Uncompahgre Peak. Pretty soon, we spot the rock tower. We opt for the steeper route, climbing straight up before the tower, and it’s a blast!
After the climb, we follow the trail as it alternates between dirt and rock.
We cross the plateau and before we know it, it’s 11 am and we’re on the summit!
We enjoy the great weather, eat some snacks, and take some photos. The haze gives them an interesting hue.
Wetterhorn Peak, I'm coming for you 😉
Those colors + that haze!
At 11:35 am we head back down.
On the way up, we saw some people climbing these rocks and I stop to scale them for a photo.
The Climb [PC: Whitney Irvine]
The Plandid [PC: Whitney Irvine]
The Candid [PC: Whitney Irvine]
Then we climb back down the cool wall section.
The hike down goes very quick and we’re back to the trailhead before 1:45 pm!
The 4WD Road
It takes us about 40 minutes to get back down the 4WD road, a bit quicker than the drive up, and then it’s smooth sailing from there.
- Trailhead: Nellie Creek
- Car driven: Toyota Tacoma, no issues. Some trailhead reviews had suggested we’d need more than a stock Tacoma, but we did not find this to be the case.
- Day of the week hiked: Sunday
- Trailhead arrival time: 8:15 am
- Parking: Plenty of space open
- Restroom at the trailhead? Yes
- Crowd count: ~30, some hiked in from Nellie Creek, some hiked in from Wetterhorn.
Trekking poles recommended? Trekking poles would be nice on this trail, but not required.
Shoe verdict: If your vehicle can make it to the 4WD trailhead, trail runners would be okay. If you need to park lower, I recommend hiking boots.
Post-Hike Refuel & Recovery
Since we finished the hike so early, we decided to head back to Montrose and shower before getting some food.
We went to Eatery 66 in Ridgeway. I ordered the Heirloom Tomato & Cucumber Salad Special.
Afterwards, we went down the street to Orvis Hot Springs where we relaxed and did several cycles of the lobster pot and cold plunge. What a great way to refresh after a day of hiking!
Heirloom Tomato & Cucumber Salad, Eatery 66
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Curious to see what other adventures I’m getting into during my 5 weeks living in Montrose, CO? Check it out here!