Upper Uncompahgre River

Our first canyon of RIC 2015, Ouray…

Canyon Magazine
America Trip Report
March 2016

Our first canyon of RIC 2015, Ouray and is described on RopeWiki as “The highest flow and largest drainage of the documented Ouray canyons, Upper Uncompahgre is like a water park with jumps, slide, chutes, and a few rappels.”

Starting at a brisk 8:00 in the morning and cool mountain air, one thing we notice is the elevation compared to canyons in Japan. We were huffing and puffing! Not only us but everyone in the group who was used to canyoning at lower levels. It gives the lungs a good workout though. Being a 4WD trails it was quite simple and the hike up to the starting point only took about 45 minutes so not too bad going.

A small scramble and you’re down at the riverbed, pulling on the wetsuit and gear readying for Upper Uncompaghre River. Communication in canyons is always key and with such an international group it was worth spending the time to sort out all the whistle and had signal commands for the trip as we all had different styles from the different areas we were in. Maybe it’s good to set an international standard for canyoning that we all can follow.

After sorting the signals out we all headed downstream and 5 or 10 minutes later we get to the first rappel, some webbing wrapped around an old piece of mining debris. This is a two stage rappel of around 20+ metres. The first stage can be jumped the water depth is overhead and it is a 3 metre jump. The lower pool is only about 1 metre deep so it can not be jumped.


The next rappel is a 12 metre off a single bolt and the approach is quite slick. Everyone, no matter what shoes they had on, found it real slippery. Progress was quite slow for the entire group to make it down but. The next section is a small series of chutes and slides for about 300 metres or so. It’s nice to be able to play in such an environment with it ending in a small 2 metre jump or slide off the ledge.

The next 8 metre down climb / assisted slide off is on a low angle slab. You don’t need to rappel this as you can easily down climb it without putting too much weight on the knot chock that was placed. A couple of hundred metres later we all stopped off for a quick bite to eat and relax in the sunshine.


From here its a short rappel from a tree anchor down a low angle slab, ending with a short 3 metre chimney that also can be down-climbed. The final rappel is 10 metre off bolts in mid-canyon and features a small free-hang. It takes you down alongside a big chamber of some super large chockstones. That’s it. After this, all there is to do is to walk down the river to the parking area. This was the slipperiest section as everywhere you stood you slipped on something and it was long.

And that was it. Upper Uncompahgre River done. The guide book said it would take around 6 hours. We did it with a large group in about 4 hours. With a small group, you could easily do it in around 2.5 hours if you kept moving. Upper Uncompahgre was nice introductory canyon and to acclimatise yourself to the altitude of Ouray.

Thanks to Jane, Megan, Calius, Gitty, Artur, Eran, Chris, Brian and Lisa who descended Upper Uncompahgre with me.