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Uncompahgre Peak 14,309 feet home to endangered butterflies

Uncompahgre Peak 14,309 feet.
Uncompahgre Peak 14,309 feet.
Jilly Salva

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Uncompahgre Peak 14,309 feet
Jilly Salva

There’s always more to climbing a 14er than merely reaching the top. While hiking gentle giant Uncompahgre Peak, I found undulating slopes dotted with lush wildflowers and the Uncompahgre Fritillary Butterfly an endangered species. Who knew my mountaineering adventure would include sightings of an endangered species?

Uncompahgre Peak, 14,309 feet

Denverites will find the six-hour drive well worth their effort once they see quaint historic Lake City. Just outside town, Uncompahgre Peak is a class 2 walk up, the perfect early season 14er, serving up a serious dose of San Juan Mountain Range bliss. Consider this off-the-beaten-path locale for your next weekend getaway.

Stats for climbing Uncompahgre Peak:

Objective: Uncompahgre Peak 14,309 feet

Trailhead: Nellie Creek 4WD Trailhead

Roundtrip distance: 7.25 miles

Elevation gain: 2,849 feet

Route: East Slopes in Colorado Fourteeners: From Hikes to Climbs, also known as the South Ridge route on

Uncompahgre Peak 14,309 feet, East Slopes/South Ridge

Perhaps one of the most straightforward, relaxing and scenic 14ers you’ll ever climb. The trail is well marked and beautifully open. I relied on the web site and Gerry Roach’s Colorado Fourteeners: From Hikes to Climbs book (third edition) for trailhead navigation and route description details.

The scenery was so exquisite that my outing felt more like being in an IMAX movie theater rather than climbing up a peak!

Historic survey markers

Once on the summit be sure to locate the historic survey markers installed during an 1895 U.S. Geological expedition. These are approximately ten paces to climbers right of the summit. Checkout the slideshow to see these rare markers.

Uncompahgre fritillary butterfly

“The Uncompahgre fritillary butterfly was discovered on Uncompahgre Peak, Hinsdale County, Colorado on July 30, 1978. It was subsequently described as a new species.” Source: US Fish & Wildlife Service, Species Profile

This butterfly is small with orange, white, brown and gray markings. A large kiosk located at the Nellie Creek trailhead provides information about these delicate creatures, their unique habitat along with current efforts to protect and support their ecosystem.

“All known populations are associated with large patches of snow willow above 3,780 meters (12,400 feet) which provide food and cover. The species has been found only on northeast-facing slopes, which are the coolest and wettest microhabitat available.” Source: US Fish & Wildlife Service, Species Profile

During my ascent, the butterflies playfully swirled across the tundra, lifting my heart and tickling my soul. I smiled uncontrollably at these fluttering beings of light.

A big shout out goes out to Justin Koback of Colorado Springs. Thanks for driving me to the 4WD trailhead and sharing the hike up the mountain.

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe using the “Subscribe Button” at the top of the page. Twitter @JillySalva

Have fun and be safe out there!

For more information:

Book: Colorado Fourteeners: From Hikes to Climbs, third edition, by Gerry Roach

USGS Map: Uncompahgre Peak, CO



Uncompahgre Fritillary Butterfly – Butterfly Conservation Initiative

US Fish & Wildlife Service, Species Profile


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