Peak(s):  Ouray, Mt  -  13,971 feet
Date Posted:  07/20/2014
Modified:  07/21/2014
Date Climbed:   07/19/2014
Author:  rajz06
 Looping the Devil's Armchair  


Starting Point: Grays Creek TH (9,660')
Peak Climbed: Mt. Ouray (13,971')
Route: North ridge ascent and descent via east ridge
RT Distance: 8.2 miles
Elevation Gain/Loss: 4,300 feet
Group: Solo


Mt. Ouray, thy name is majesty!

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Majestic Ouray


As the southernmost of the Sawatch Centennial 13ers and the second highest 13er in that range, Mt. Ouray is in a pocket by itself. Its majestic eastern cirque is referred to as the "Devil's Armchair" and it's no mystery how it acquired the name. Despite all those attributes, Ouray didn't catch my attention until last fall. My plans to hike Ouray, however, didn't materialize either due to uncooperative weather or personal commitments.

As I studied the weather in the various regions yesterday, it looked like I'd have to contend with either a high likelihood of thunderstorms or windy conditions. I picked my poison and decided to go with the former. Ouray didn't become the choice until late in the evening - one of the advantages of hiking solo.

The skies were quite overcast during my drive in the morning and I was less than a few miles from the trailhead when it started to drizzle, putting a real damper on my hopes of making a day of this. Fortunately, the rain stopped by the time I started the hike in earnest and the skies soon cleared sufficiently to bring the sun out and my spirits up.

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Aspens decorate the start of the trail


The trail parallels Grays Creek as it gently climbs through a beautiful Aspen grove that transitions into a bristlecone pine forest.

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Trail


Stream crossings abound and I counted a total of six en route, between the start and up to 10,400'.

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There are six of these!


The standard east ridge trail follows Grays creek into the Devil's Armchair before climbing the lower slopes to gain Ouray's east ridge. My plan, however, was to leave the trail around 10,800', hike north and then west out of the woods to attain Ouray's northeast ridge. I found a bit of a clearing in the woods to veer north (right) as planned at this point.

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Heading north away from the trail


Some amount of bushwhacking is inevitable in this maneuver but it can be minimized by some judicious rote finding, not that I would know anything about that!

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Looking back on the bushwhacking route


The goal was to gain the small ridge that bisects Grays creek and another creek to the north.

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Finding the clearing in the pine forest


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Navigating through the pines


I climbed the ridge trying to find the best path through the pines. At 11,300', still below treeline, I caught my first glimpse of the high point of Ouray's lower northeast ridge that would be my next significant goal.

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First glimpse of the northeast ridge


The next shot looks back at the path I took through the forest after leaving the trail. The skies to the east were hazy, making for not-so-great views of the horizon.

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Surveying the route out of the woods


A bit more maneuvering through the trees was needed before I'd have a clean look at the ridge and Ouray's summit that still seemed quite far away.

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Almost at treeline


About 1,200 vertical feet separated Pt. 12,761 from my new vantage point at the foot of the slope. As it turned out, this was the steepest pitch of the entire route, stretched over a scant 0.75 miles of boulders, with the steepest bit reserved for the final push to the ridge.

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Nothing but boulders...


But it was straightforward save for a few unstable boulders, and unlike the northeast ridge traverse that was yet to come, I had no distractions so I gave this my full attention as I powered up the slope.

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Looking back down the boulder field


Thirty five minutes later, I was atop the ridge and gaping at the majesty of the mountain that rose above me like a giant. On the shoulder of the devil's armchair!

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Atop the shoulder - Ouray rules the sky!


Ouray's northeast ridge looks rather rough but the traverse is relatively straightforward. I found myself gravitating to climber's right and staying below the ridge crest for the most part on stable rocks.

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Ridge towers can all be bypassed on the right


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Staying just below the crest and angling up


The next shot is a look back at some jagged outcroppings on the ridge. Pt. 12,761 frames the background.

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Looking back at the ridge traverse


The northeast ridge retains it rough character till about 13,400' and I tried to capture this in a distant shot that I took much later during my descent along the gentle east ridge.

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Northeast ridge from the other shoulder


But in reality its bark is worse than its bite. At around 13,100' there is a vertical rock wall that was just begging to be climbed head-on so I obliged.

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This tower needed to be climbed


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Descending the tower


Beyond that point, the ridge roughness eases dramatically and as I scoured the route ahead it was clear that I could skirt the high point of the northeast ridge and take a more direct approach to the summit.

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Ridge mellows out beyond this


The final traverse was on tundra and stable talus. Since I'd hadn't exactly sped through the more rugged lower section of the ridge, I hunkered down for the last pitch and covered the final 550 vertical feet in a more respectable 17 minutes, thanks in no small part to the easy terrain. A gentle start through the forest, steep lower slope past treeline, a handful of easy towers on the intermediate ridge, and an easy finish to the summit - classic Sawatch by any measure!

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Final easy push to summit


My only disappointment on reaching the summit was the hazy skies. Clearly, there was some thunderstorm activity afoot not far north from me in the Sawatch range.

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Sawatch: Shav, Tab - are you there?


Views to the south and east weren't any better either.

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13er Antora peak amid murky skies


I lingered on the summit for a bit hoping that the sun would appear out of the clouds and shed a more flattering light all around but this didn't happen. The clouds that had hovered around hadn't delivered on their threat but I didn't want to push my luck any further.

I chose to descend the east ridge route to make a satisfying loop which would also allow me to admire the devil's armchair from a different vantage. A trails heads down this gentle ridge making sharp switchbacks as it skirts the high points.

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East ridge trail


I was able to follow the trail all the way down to Ouray's broad southeast shoulder at 12,600'.

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Following the trail


And yes, the view of the armchair from this saddle was just as impressive.

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The other shoulder


Beyond that point, the trail petered out and I chose to head directly north, descending the grassy slope down to the main gully.

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Hurtling dowm the grassy slope


I didn't rejoin the trail immediately as I climbed the ridge to the north of the gully and traversed down for a bit before eventually dropping back into the ravine and merging with the east ridge trail.

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Joining the east ridge trail


Beyond the brief morning drizzle, the weather had smiled on me the whole day even if the sun hadn't on the summit. I had ventured into the devil's lair and sat in his armchair if only for a fleeting moment in time. I couldn't ask for more.

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Yours Truly

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):




Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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 Comments or Questions
Jay521

THe Bristlecones area...
07/21/2014 18:47
... in your last shot is one of my favorite parts of that climb, although I went up and back down the east ridge trail. Guess I'll have to go back and try the northeast ridge route.



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