Wetterhorn - a risk review

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 38.06060°N / 107.5103°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Aug 20, 2005
What I appreciate most about trip reports are the details that help me evaluate if I want to do the mountain, and if so to make it familiar to me for the hike. In particular for the mountains that have some risk and exposure, I read trip reports to help me decide on the hike. A close friend of mine died on Capitol a few years ago in a rock slide, leaving a wife and 3 young children. That led me to decide to avoid the most risky mountains. With this background, if you want an evaluation like that then read on. I’ve hiked 35 of the 14ers, but the most risk thusfar has been Eolus, Lindsey, Sunlight and Longs. When I first saw some of the pics of the crux of Wetterhorn, I said "no way!". But after more study and consultations we went for it with the understanding that if it looked too unsafe in person then we would not do the top part. First a word about getting to the crux. Somehow we ended up traversing some of the east side before we reached the lower part of the Prow. All I can imagine is that we probably did not stay on the ridge as much as we should have to avoid this. The directions to stay to the right of the prow probably pulled us a bit too far east. It was a bit risky on that traverse. On the return we did better on the ridge. Now to the crux! I found the descriptions and advice I received to be quite accurate to my perception of this section. One picture I found made it look wider than it is. The other thing about pics of it is that the sheer face to the left of it is not a fear factor because you are in a bit of a gully and do not see that while you are climbing. But otherwise the pictures represent it well. In parts of it there seems to be only one reasonable path to climb. The other difference from my expectation is that there are not “steps” up the entire length. There are sections with smaller foot and handholds (not only at the top). But the climbing itself is no problem. There is never the need to look hard for the next move and you clearly see the entire route at all times. You face the mountain, without a view of the dropoffs and so you don’t feel very exposed. It is considerably steeper than the homestretch of Longs, but the handholds make it seem less risky. I’ve been on a descent of a slope once with someone who locked up in fear. But I recommend that you do not spend many glances looking down! This would be a bad place for that to happen! The well-defined ledges are unreal in regard to their width, smoothness and levelness and we did not feel nervous standing on them and looking around. It seems God knew men would want to climb it and shaped them for help. The final pitch did not look much different than one of the lower pitches, and you can see that it will bring you to the top as opposed to getting stuck. Still we opted to walk the ledge to the left and around the corner for the easier route (top ledge). Once on top, make sure you go to the north-west corner and carefully look at the face below it. It is a spectacularly smooth wall of hundreds of feet. I suppose this is the dramatic wall that you can see from Matterhorn? The descent was less worrisome than I expected. We did not have to face in for any downclimbing. As others have said, just keep your head in the game and keep moving, albeit slowly and carefully. It does not seem like there is any significant loose rock in terms of your hand and foot holds, but still there is some small stuff that you are likely to knock down and so it is best to not have people below you in some most sections. If you have never had a rock hit you then trust me that they are moving faster and are more dangerous than you think. It does not seem that many would feel the need to pass on the crux, and everyone seems to say it is “fun”. Indeed it was! But let’s be honest, there can be little doubt that the consequences of a fall from there will be fatal. But the rock is solid and it is not as risky as the loose dirt and rock of the final face of Lindsey or the grass and dirt with no rock for hand/foot holds of the final face on Eolus. Certainly I would not want anyone to do this with weather or wet rocks. As an added blessing for us, when we were back at camp below the trailhead, we were able to watch a bear on a hillside for 10 minutes. It was a beautiful gold color (except for the brown face and feet). I think it was about to molt and thus was not the usual chocolate brown.


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swm88er - Oct 27, 2006 6:22 pm - Voted 10/10

Thanks for posting

This TR is really what convinced my dad that Wetterhorn was worth a shot. Thanks for the honest opinion.

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