A photo of Uncompahgre Peak from distance showing some snow in the mountain side.

Climbing Uncompahgre Peak: A Guide [2023]

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Uncompahgre Peak, the highest peak in the San Juan Mountains and one of the fourteeners in Colorado, is located in the Uncompahgre Wilderness, which spans 102,721 acres of protected area close to Ouray, Colorado. In this article, I will share information about climbing Uncompahgre Peak, as well as provide historical, geological, and terrain information for those interested in attempting this challenging climb.

Uncompahgre Peak Historical Information

The first recorded ascent of Uncompahgre Peak was in 1874 by Albert R. Ellingwood, who was accompanied by William N. Byers and Charles C. Parry. Ellingwood was a well-known mountaineer and explorer, and the peak is named in his honor. Since then, the peak has been climbed numerous times, including winter ascents, making it a popular destination for climbers and mountaineers.

Geological and Terrain Information about Uncompahgre Peak

Uncompahgre Peak has an elevation of 14,309 feet (4,362 meters). Its prominence is 4,277 feet (1,304 meters), making it the sixth most prominent peak in Colorado. The mountain is made up of Precambrian gneiss and schist, which gives it its rugged and challenging terrain.

Directions to Uncompahgre Peak

Uncompahgre is located about 20 miles (32 kilometers) southeast of Ouray. The drive to the trailhead takes approximately 45 minutes to an hour, depending on road conditions. The most common route is via the town of Lake City and the Nellie Creek Road, which is a 4WD road that leads to the trailhead.

Uncompahgre Peak Climbing Routes

There are several climbing routes up Uncompahgre Peak, with the most popular being the standard route from the Matterhorn Creek Trailhead. This route is a Class 2 climb and requires some scrambling and route-finding skills. There are also more challenging routes available for experienced climbers.

Matterhorn Creek Trail

The Matterhorn Creek Trail is the most popular route to the summit of Uncompahgre Peak. It begins at the Matterhorn Creek Trailhead, which is located about 7 miles south of the town of Lake City in Hinsdale County, Colorado. The trailhead is accessible by car and has a parking lot for hikers.

Water Sources

One important consideration when climbing Uncompahgre Peak is water sources. The Matterhorn Creek Trail does offer several water sources along the way, including Matterhorn Creek itself, as well as several streams and small waterfalls. However, it’s always a good idea to bring your own water filtration system or purification tablets in case these sources are dry or contaminated.

Signs and Markings on the Trail

The trail to Uncompahgre Peak’s summit is well-marked and easy to follow. It starts at the Matterhorn Creek Trailhead and follows the Matterhorn Creek for the first couple of miles. After that, the trail climbs steeply up the mountain and follows a series of switchbacks up to the basin below Uncompahgre Peak. From there, the trail follows the ridgeline to the summit.

There are several signs along the way to help hikers navigate the trail, including markers for the Matterhorn Creek Trail and the Uncompahgre Peak Trail. However, it’s always a good idea to bring a map and compass or GPS device to ensure you stay on the correct path.

Estimated Time to Complete the Ascent

The estimated time to complete the ascent of Uncompahgre Peak via the Matterhorn Creek Trail is approximately 7-9 hours round-trip for an experienced hiker. This time can vary depending on individual fitness levels, weather conditions, and the amount of time spent taking breaks or exploring the summit.

Overall, the Matterhorn Creek Trail is a challenging but rewarding climb to the summit of Uncompahgre Peak. With proper preparation, including sufficient water and gear, and a good understanding of the trail and terrain, climbers can safely complete this unforgettable ascent.

Weather and Essential Equipment

The main hazards of climbing Uncompahgre Peak are the steep terrain, loose rocks, and exposure to extreme weather conditions. It is highly recommended to check the weather forecast before attempting the climb and to carry essential equipment, such as proper clothing, a first aid kit that includes a bivouac bag and warmth generator (i.e survival candle), a head torch and sufficient water and food.

When climbing Uncompahgre Peak, it is essential to bring proper gear, including a helmet, climbing shoes, crampons, ice axe, and rope, depending on the chosen route and time of the year. It is also important to carry a map, compass, and GPS, as well as a communication device, such as a satellite phone, in case of an emergency. You can also rent equipment from one of our partners in town.

Best Season to Attempt the Summit

The best season to attempt the summit of Uncompahgre Peak is from June through September, when the weather is typically milder and the route is clear of snow. However, climbers should always be prepared for unexpected weather changes, and it is not uncommon to experience snow or hailstorms even during the summer months.


Climbing Uncompahgre Peak is a true adventure that will challenge even the most experienced climbers. Its historical significance, stunning views, and challenging terrain make it a must-see destination for anyone interested in mountaineering. If you’re up for the challenge, make sure to check the weather forecast, pack your gear, and head to the San Juan Mountains for an unforgettable climb up Uncompahgre Peak.

Additional Uncompahgre Facts

  • Uncompahgre is named after the Uncompahgre Ute Indian Tribe, who once inhabited the area. The Ute people have a rich history in Colorado, and they have long considered the mountains sacred. Today, many of their descendants still live in the area and continue to honor their traditions.
  • The name Uncompahgre is derived from the Ute language, meaning “red water spring”. The proper pronunciation of the name is “uhn-cuhm-puh-gray,” with the emphasis on the first and third syllables.
  • We also offer an awesome canyoning tour in Uncompahgre Wilderness! Get in touch to make the most of your Ouray trip!

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