The Crestone Eagle, October 2005:

The ‘Baca Bunch’ enjoys an outing on Mt. Ouray

photos & story by Keno

On September 6 the Baca Bunch went on their final hike of the season up the side of 13,971 foot Mount Ouray, which is located to the west of Poncha Pass. When this hike was first planned earlier in the year, some of us in the Bunch had planned on climbing all the way to Ouray’s summit. But when the day of our journey arrived, several in the group were unable to make it, in part because it had been rescheduled on a weekday, and the group’s leader, Jim Erdman, was facing hip replacement surgery just two weeks later, so it was decided that the smaller group would instead just climb up a bit past tree line and take in the view from there.

Of the six outings the Baca Bunch went on this year, I only was able to be a part of three. But this was the one I was looking forward to the most, since I missed another outing that I really wanted to go on, a climb up Hayden Peak in early June. I myself love to hike, not only for the exercise, but I cherish a great overlook, and I knew we would have plenty of that once we made it up to tree line on this climb. (Note: When you go on a hike with the Baca Bunch, Erdman, scientist emeritus with the US Geological Survey, will be able to tell you the name of every plant and every rock you come across.)

We were down to just seven of the Bunch the morning we set off. It was a cool 40° when we left Crestone, but it would warm up a bit on the hike. As we started our ascent, just off of Marshall Pass Road, we could see thunderheads building to our north and west, but the sun was shining bright over us and through the trees. There is no trail that leads to Mt. Ouray; you just make one as you go. There were lots of mushrooms to be found along the way, to the delight of a couple of the Bunchers; several were edible and picked by our mushroom lady, Michele Ferrand, including some Boletus Edulis, Lactarius Deliciosus and Suillus.

We made it up to the spot where Jim figured we might stop for the day, just under 12,000 feet. Breathtaking views in every direction, with Mt. Ouray just off to our north. But it was still early, as we made it to that point quicker than what he figured. So after examining some very interesting 1.7 billion year old metamorphic rocks (gneiss), mixed with pegmatite dikes containing crystals of feldspar, quartz and white mica, and then having lunch, we climbed up a bit more.

Jim always leads the group, and I’m usually second behind him. The two of us usually have to slow down every so often so the rest of the Bunch can catch up to us, as was the case on this climb. But at this point of the ascent, with the air so thin and crisp, I watched Jim just ahead of me and could not believe he would be under the knife in just two short weeks. How could he possibly need a new hip and climb so damn fast?!

Both Jim and I brought our altimeters along with us, and I also had my odometer, so we knew exactly how far we had gone, how many steps taken, and how high up we climbed. Right at 12,300 feet we were at a point where for the first time the Gunnison Valley could be seen way down below to our west—and again, what a view! But at that very moment, with the clouds building around us and a heavy rain squall off to our north, a loud clap of thunder was heard.

The one place you never want to be when a thunderstorm approaches is above tree line, and at that point we were at least 1200 feet above that, so as much as we were enjoying ourselves, it was time to head on down, fast!

Of course, once in the trees, the sun was back out and other then a few drops of rain, that was it as far as any precip went. While stopping to pick a couple more mushrooms (they were everywhere it seemed) and examining some Ribes genus berry bushes, we made it back to where the cars were parked.

As is usually the case with the Baca Bunch, at the end of any hike, if there is any time left to spare, a second short hike or another nearby journey will be taken. So it was decided to head back to Crestone the long way, over Marshall Pass, take that dirt road out into the Gunnison Basin on US 50 and then take Colorado 114 (via Doyleville Lane) and over North Pass, ending up in Saguache. Besides great views on this side trip, we saw along the side of Doyleville Lane a small herd of albino elk, something I had never observed before.

Yes, at the end of the day my knees ached a bit, but what a wonderful time had by all! We look forward to next year and whatever Jim will have in store for us. If you’re into taking on some fun adventures either in the immediate area or within a few hours from Crestone, do consider joining the Baca Bunch next spring when a new year of hiking trips unfolds.

Oh, and best wishes and a speedy recovery to Jim on his hip surgery!