Objective: Wetterhorn Peak (14,015’) – CO Rank 49,
Uncompahgre Peak (14,309’) – CO Rank 6
Date Climbed: August 4, 2007
Route: Southeast Ridge (Class 3)
Southwest Slopes (Class 2)
Elevation Gain: ~5600’
Total Distance: 13.5 miles
Participants: Jim & Karen Ohl, Sean Militi, Kevin Baker
The summer of 14ers and weddings continues…after a three week hiatus from the Colorado 14ers to visit friends and family in Kansas, Arkansas, and Virginia (attending 2 weddings in the process) we found ourselves back in Colorado planning our next hike. Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre were on the docket and Kevin managed to talk us into a combination hike. He would do Wetterhorn with us, and then we would continue on to Uncompahgre and hike out to the Nellie Creek trailhead while he went for Matterhorn and Broken Hill, then drive the car around to Nellie Creek to pick us up. 13+ miles and 5600’ vertical after a week at sea level? Sure! Needless to say we were a bit worried about our stamina to summit both of these peaks in one day. A 60% chance of rain across the San Juan’s for the weekend added to the excitement. Sean Militi, a friend from church, would join us for the trip as well. We left Colorado Springs on Friday at 3:45pm for the long drive to Lake City. We made good time to the lower Matterhorn Creek trailhead and continued on up the remaining 0.6 miles to the 4wd trailhead Kevin’s Santa Fe. The forecast included a 60% chance of heavy rain that night as well, but we were pumped to see a sky full of stars as we crawled into the tents.
Fortunately, our luck with the weather held all night and we woke up to starry skies and a bright half-moon as well. We quickly packed up camp and were hiking up the Matterhorn Creek Trail by 3:35am. The next few hours were fairly uneventful as we hiked by headlamp on a trail that was easy to follow through the trees and tundra. Kevin had told us about a herd of sheep that roamed the area during his last visit to this basin, so we kept a lookout of for 500 sets of beady eyes. There was so much moisture in the air we found ourselves de-layering down to shorts and t-shirts even though the temperature was still in the 40’s. We continued to make steady progress through the boulder field and gained the southeast ridge just before 5:30am.
Matterhorn Peak and Uncompahgre at Sunrise
I remembered thinking back to my first year of 14er hiking and hearing someone tell about the class 3 scrambling on Wetterhorn and how great it was. Back then I thought that guy was out of his mind and no way would I ever do that, but now, there I was…the fun was just beginning. The initial few hundred feet of the ridge included mostly class 2 terrain with occasional class 3 moves that served as a good warm-up for the remainder of the climb. Strangely enough we started hearing sheep as we scrambled along, and sure enough, there was the herd down in Wetterhorn basin. We quickly made our way to the large rock rib noted in many of the route descriptions and headed east up a small gulley just before the rib. There were a few loose spots in the gulley but the rock was generally very stable with good routes on either side. We exited the gulley through a small notch toward the top of the ridge and the Ship’s Prow came into view. Once past the Ship’s Prow we climbed through another small notch and descended a slippery slab down to the entrance of the route’s crux, a 150’ shallow gulley leading to the summit.
Climbing the crux gulley
Karen showing off in the gulley
I had read about the exposure on this gulley and seen pictures but it was not as bad as it looked. I resisted the temptation to look down except to take a few pictures and found the climbing to be similar to climbing a ladder. We were at the end of the gulley before we knew it and were standing on the summit by 6:30am.
6:30am - Good morning from the summit of Wetterhorn!
We stayed on the summit for about 30 minutes as the sun baked away some clouds that had lingered over night and took pictures of the impressive views.
Looking east toward Matterhorn and Uncompahgre
13ers Coxcomb and Redcliff
The shadow of Wetterhorn pointing towards the Dallas Divide
The weather window held out for us to get at least one today, but we needed to get moving if we had any chance of getting the rest. Descending the crux gulley was more challenging than climbing as the exposure was more evident and the rocks were still a bit slippery from previous rain.
Descending the crux gulley
Once through the notch we moved much faster and quickly made our way down to the saddle on the ridge by 7:45am.
Uncompahgre’s massive size made the traverse a bit deceiving as it didn’t quite look as far away as it really was. We descended through the boulder field and headed over to the south ridge of Matterhorn. We parted ways with Kevin around 8:15am as he headed up to the summit of Matterhorn while we continued across the basin to Uncompahgre.
On the trek over to Uncompahgre
It seemed like we were hiking along at a pretty good pace, but we were starting to fathom the distance separating these two peaks. We considered taking the West Face route to shorten the distance but the gulley that comprised that route looked really loose so we opted to continue around to link back up with the standard Southwest Slopes route using a variation that took us up a steep grassy hillside. By the time we linked up with the standard trail all three of us were pretty well spent.
1200' of vertical left to go!
Miraculously that 60% chance of rain was still holding off so we slogged on stopping a few times to refuel. Slowly but surely we made our way up and around to a short and loose gulley that lead up to a plateau about 300’ below the summit.
Looking back at our path from Wetterhorn
A hiker passed us on his descent and remarked that we only had 5 minutes left to go. Something snapped inside of Sean and he took off like a rocket, on a mission to get there in 5 minutes or else. He still denies sand-bagging to that point but he definitely had something left that Karen and I didn’t. We reached the summit at 11:13am, glad to finally be there. Lower level clouds were moving around in the basin between Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre so we snuck in a few pictures when we could. The cliffs on Uncompahgre’s north face were awesome and fun to peer down.
Serious cliffs on Uncompahgre's north face!
We spent about 30 minutes on this summit as well before heading down. The rest of the descent was fairly uneventful, just stopping a few times to rest my weary knees and thank a few CFI teams working on the trail. We wondered how far down the road we would have to hike to meet up with Kevin but low and behold our chauffeur was waiting for us at the top of the 4wd trailhead as we finished up at 1:45pm. I was amazed we had made the whole trip without getting rained on, let alone running from a thunderstorm. Altogether a spectacular hike in the beautiful San Juan’s!
Beautiful waterfall on Nellie Creek
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