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Ute Peak is the highpoint of Sleeping Ute Mtn, the massively prominent mountain rising west of US160 as one drives northeast to Cortez. It had been on my radar for a few years as I've been making these treks to Telluride and I had even spent a night at the TH one year, planning to climb it the next day. One of the problems, I came to find out, is that it can be quite warm in the summer. The summit doesn't rise to even 10,000ft and the TH starts around 5,500ft. That other time I slept poorly when the nighttime temps didn't drop below 70F and I aborted in the morning and drove to higher country in the San Juans. Another problem, though not one that would stop me, is that the peak lies within the Ute Mountain Indian Reservation. I followed the same basic route used by others as described on PB, starting from the north where an old road heads south from County Rd G, across from a dry ice facility. About 2.5mi up the road one turns right to head cross-country up the NE Ridge to the summit. About 4,400ft of gain in something less than five miles.
This time I spent the night near the entrance to Mesa Verde at 6,900ft which would be about 10 degrees cooler than staying at the TH. In the morning I got up and drove 24mi through Cortez to the TH, parked outside the dry ice plant and started up shortly before 7a. In about a quarter mile the road passes through an open, abandoned quarry - simply continue south to pick up the road again above the quarry site. The reservation boundary is reached at the half mile mark, not far beyond the quarry. A simple ranch-style gate consisting of wooden stakes and barbed wire is found here. It was lying open, discarded to the side on my way up, but I reinstalled it after passing through on the way back down. The road is rocky and would make for a rough ride, but 4WD could probably manage it. It looks to have been years since last used by any type of vehicle. I found I had to stare strongly at the ground to keep from tripping up, making it difficult to look up (not that there are great views through the trees). I passed by Ute Spring and then a quarter mile later reached a saddle where an old firering is located. This is the start of the cross-country up to and along the NE Ridge. I had a GPX track I'd downloaded from PB, but aside from using it to find the cross-country start, it wasn't really needed the rest of the way. There is a whole network of wild horse trails going up through brush and forest here, and I found it easier and better to simply look for the most traveled thread rather than try and follow the GPX track. The trails split, converge and disappear sometimes, but for most of the first mile of cross-country they are quite helpful.
The brush gives way to forest which itself changes from junipers to pine to aspens at various points, and then the first of several talus slopes that need to be negotiated. The volcanic talus is somewhat loose, but not overly so. In places it looks almost like a trail going up and I found these with more solid footing than other parts of the talus fields. Eventually one reenters forested terrain which is followed to the summit, the steepness only relenting near the end. The last mile gains almost 2,000ft, a solid workout. I was pretty winded by the time I got to the top. There is a false summit, of sorts, where someone had piled rocks and placed a stake in the middle. The true summit was 300ft further, where one finds a rather battered benchmark and the remains of a survey stick. Views are limited by the forest, but there are decent ones looking west and north. Other views looking east towards Mesa Verde can be had during the ascent along the NE Ridge. Finding no register, I left a small one from my collection. I rested up perhaps 15min, checking email and sending a few texts (surprisingly good cell coverage on the peaks around here) before starting down. My descent route followed the ascending one closely. At one point I started down the wrong ridgeline, requiring some awkward talus traversing to correct. Back in the horse trail section, I seemed to have more trouble following them down than I did on the way up. Checking my GPS track periodically saved me some unwanted bushwhacking. The last hour of hiking back out on the road was the least enjoyable as I was tired, it was getting quite warm, and I had to do more staring at the ground to keep from tripping up on the rocks. I was back by 12:30p, making for just over 5.5hrs. No bonus peaks today. What I really need is some cooling rain...
This page last updated: Tue Jul 25 15:25:14 2017
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