Peak(s):  Ouray, Mt  -  13,971 feet
Date Posted:  11/04/2019
Date Climbed:   05/04/2019
Author:  supranihilest
 The Other Ouray  

Mount Ouray was my first 13er of 2019 and it took me two attempts to get it. I had no real reasoning behind the choice besides that it would be safe in the spring. I took the east ridge route both times, spurred on by Gerry Roach's *Classic* designation in his 13ers guidebook. Most of the time I agree with his choices so I figured this would be a good one as well.

My first attempt was actually the final weekend of April. It was a bluebird day and I got a late start (approximately 10am) so it was approximately 1,000 degrees and the snow was in terrible shape. I was punching knee to waist deep in snowshoes and thus I turned around prior to treeline.

My snowshoes really helped a lot, clearly.
This had formed prior to my arrival but was still a bit disconcerting.
Rollerballs telling me which direction I should be going: down.

I drove up Marshall Pass Road to see if the pass was open and was blocked still by drifts of the same thick, sticky snow. I noticed some trash alongside the road and stopped to pick it up and throw it away like a normal human being does.

Trash left behind by a trashy person. Who the hell does this?! Yes, I picked this crap up and drove it all the way back to Boulder to properly dispose of it.

I returned the next weekend, now the first weekend of May, and made a second attempt. This time I started at the much more reasonable time of around 6:30am. Not only had the trail dried out significantly in the last week but the snow was also far more consolidated. It seemed like I was the only one who'd gone up this way, as my tracks were still the only ones up there.

The trail starts off in a nice, peaceful aspen grove.
Snow conveniently melted out until this point.

The steep mashed potato snow I had encountered last week that was absolutely awful and potentially dangerous was nicely frozen and exceptionally speedy to climb this time around. I still wore snowshoes for the traction and heel riser bars but they probably weren't necessary. Because Mount Ouray's east ridge is so massive route finding isn't as easy as following a trail, which at this point was snow covered anyway. Generally the route could be described as "hike southwest while making sure to always gain elevation" which would get one to a place high enough on the ridge where the route becomes more clear. In case I encountered junky snow again somewhere on the route I kept the northeast ridge in mind as a backup route, since its southern aspect was mostly dry.

Toe of Ouray's northeast ridge which was far less snowy than the northern aspect of the east ridge.

The snow continued until near treeline, which coincided with the flats of the eastern cirque. There the snow gave way to large, angular talus that I took my snowshoes off for. I kept them off for the remainder of the day. What little snow I did have to cross was supportive enough to just boot through.

First preview of the Devil's Armchair in the eastern cirque as I approached treeline.
The east ridge directly above the flats, near treeline.

For a few brief minutes the going was easy as I hiked directly east, before attempting to gain the ridge.

Full view of the Devil's Armchair. Why is it always the devil? Why couldn't it be Mutant Hamster's Armchair or something?

Because the rock was easier than the snow I had come up I thought it would be that way as long as I could maintain it. I began traversing along the flanks of the ridge on dry ground, which proved to be both more time consuming and energy wasting than if I had just gone up to the ridge crest on snow. I didn't realize this until I was already done sidehilling, but this section was short lived in any case. I aimed for a small saddle in the ridge where the flanks became steep enough for my sidehilling strategy to no longer work.

Approaching the ridge crest.
On top of the ridge proper.
Looking southeast towards the northern Sangre. I had never gotten a view quite like this before, as the very area I was hiking in blocks views from Mount Shavano and Tabeguache Peak.
Them's the Crestones!

Once I was on top of the ridge the terrain became easier but the winds started. It was almost like the ridge was a funnel for the wind. It remained that way for the entire remainder of the ascent and the descent back to the basin.

The route was obvious by now - stick to the ridge. There was one large talus field on the ridge to cross through and the rest was solid, bootable snow.

As usual, farther away than it looks.

The angle of the snow on the ridge wasn't high enough for me to be concerned with avalanches which was good because there were some huge and hollow sounding slabs along the way. The snow was also quite stable and solid but throw it onto a steeper slope and it might have been punchy or collapsed under me. Not having anything to worry about (besides perhaps postholing) I continued trudging my way into the ever increasing headwind. While it wasn't long before I topped out the combination of cold, wind, and relative lack of sightseeing oohs-and-aahs on the route made it feel longer. This was a generally safe route for winter conditions but it would probably be better all around in summer.

Once on top of Mount Ouray I surveyed the area around. As this was the southern Sawatch views in three directions - west, south, and east - all were expansive. I could see into the Elk, San Jan, Sangre, and of course north into the greater part of the Sawatch. I also checked the long ridge to Chipeta Mountain but it was an immediate no-go. I could barely walk into the winds coming off the connecting ridge which was at least a mile long or longer, and I'd either have to reascend Mount Ouray on the way back or hike down to Marshall Pass Road and take the long, boring way out. I thought about it and would just come back to do Chipeta and perhaps throw in Antora Peak on the same day, both from Marshall Pass.

Ridge to Chipeta Mountain. The snowy mass behind Chipeta is the Elk Range.
Looking north to Tabeguache Peak and Mount Shavano. The Angel of Shavano would have been in really good shape as well.
Porphyry Peak on the left, Sheep Mountain (looks like the ridge but is actually its own mountain), and Antora Peak.

Due to the brutal winds on the summit I didn't stay long. A few snaps of photos and I was off back down the ridge, trying to regain some of my stolen warmth.

Long ridge to Nowhere.

This time around I didn't do my descending traverse on talus like I had last time. I went most of the way down the ridge, past where I'd joined the crest on the ascent, and then went directly north down the talus, in as quick and straight of a line as I could. It was now nearing noon and the snow was becoming soft so I had to move before I was postholing in futility like last time. I still ended up postholing like crazy as I got below treeline where the trees trapped the heat and made a mess of the snow. I was sweating and ended up just as soggy as the snow I was mushing my way through. Still, postholing downhill is a lot better than postholing uphill and I was back on the dry trail quickly, having taken a different and untracked route through the forest. A mere two hours after leaving the summit of Mount Ouray I was back at my car. Though it was only one peak Mount Ouray was a good way to start the spring and summer climbing season.

Ouray looming large from the Marshall Pass Road.


Climbers: Ben Feinstein (myself)
Trailhead: Grays Creek
Total distance: 8.30 miles
Total elevation gain: 4,405 feet
Total time: 6:18:08
Peaks: One ranked thirteener

  • Mount Ouray, 13,971'


Starting Location Ending Location Via Time (h:mm:ss) Cumulative Time (h:mm:ss) Rest Time (m:ss)
Grays Creek Trailhead Mount Ouray 4:13:44 4:13:44 0:00
Mount Ouray Grays Creek Trailhead 2:04:25 6:18:08 Trip End

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

Nice one!
11/20/2019 06:39
I'm not sure how I missed this TR, Ben. Ouray is one of my fav 13ers and you sure did a nice job of documenting it.


Ouray da best
11/20/2019 15:42
@Jay: Ouray is indeed a fine peak. I find these singular behemoths like Ouray and Antora quite interesting from a geographic perspective. The way they're indicative of massive blocks of rock underneath is so cool! I'd like to return around the same time in spring and see if any of the Devil's Armchair couloirs are climbable. They look like they'd go and I'm sure a direct shot to the summit would be a ton of fun. Thanks for reading!

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