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Rich Davidson Memorial Climb, Uncompahgre Peak

September 18, 1999

Leader and Author: Gary Clark

Trip Participants: Gary Clark, Lynn Clark, Mark & Kristie Schraad, Mark & Lynn Jones, and Didier Jamet

We went, we saw, we conquered.  The approach road, that is.  The climb was nearly trivial in comparison. This was the 4th annual Rich Davidson Memorial Climb, organized to keep the memory alive of this former LAM member who died in Nepal in 1996 in a freak accident.  We chose Uncompahgre Peak this year and timed it to hopefully catch the aspens at peak Fall colors.  Due to the unusually wet summer we've had, the colors are delayed, but there were enough to make for some very fine scenery.

The other nice thing about Fall is that "Gina Pasquale-style" alpine starts aren't so critical. Thunderstorm activity has fizzled out a bit, to be replaced with crisp mornings and bracing breezes on the ridges and summits.  So it was that we got a leisurely 7:00am start from Lake City in the two most serious 4WD vehicles.  The latest Borneman & Lampert guidebook to the 14ers indicates that the approach road up Nellie Creek has improved in recent years, and may now be reasonable in a high-clearance 2WD.  Wrong.  One of our vehicles took 5 tries to get past the worst spot - a steep area of deeply rutted muck that would have given pause to a Hum-Vee.

As we pulled into the parking lot at 11,400', Mark S. noted that we would be failing to accomplish the minimum 3000' ft of gain that goes along with the 14ers game. No problem - we all walked downhill for 90 vertical feet, then hiked back up past the cars to start up the trail.  The trail was a delight - lots of greenery and stimulating scenery, especially once we reached the shoulder where views to the South and East unfolded and improved with every additional step.  The crowds were minimal for an easy 14er.  We saw perhaps 30 other people all day, and some of them actually seemed to have a clue, which also is unusual.

We spent the better part of an hour on the summit, told Rich Davidson stories and toasted his memory with whatever we had in our Nalgene bottles, and still had plenty of time for a leisurely lunch in Lake City before driving home to Los Alamos.

This is one of the more pleasant 14ers in my experience.  Rather than a disfiguring mining road that characterizes so many Colorado mountains, there is a well-constructed but not over trodden trail that keeps your interest with the scenic values.  The fauna was plentiful and friendly as well.  We saw numerous marmots and pikas preparing for the winter, and one of the early risers we met coming back down said he had shared the summit with two red foxes!  This is the perfect beginner's and/or family 14er; one I'll recommend to anyone with minimal experience who asks.

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