Peak(s):  Wetterhorn Peak  -  14,015 feet
Post Date:  09/09/2011
Modified:  09/10/2011
Date Climbed:   09/07/2011
Posted By:  ChrisM

 First Class 3 w/Variations     

Elevation Gain: 3362í
Distance: 7.26 miles
Summit Time: 4 hrs 23 min
Total Time: 7 hrs 23 min

Having summited Uncompahgre the day before from Nellie Creek TH, I moved the Pilot to the Matterhorn TH for the Wetterhorn climb. Originally, I planned to climb Wetterhorn first, but the weather forecast looked like it would get better on Wed so I reversed the order. With Uncompahgre being a shorter day, I had hoped to sneak this peak in between weather issues. The gamble paid off.

Before the narrative, I wanted to mention the water at the TH. Filtered water still does not taste good. It has a very high metallic flavor which I did not find desirable, so I consolidated what city water I had into my bladder (2 Ĺ L) for the climb. Also, having climbed Uncompahgre the day before, I found myself including that factor in my mental discussions about my first Class 3 peak It also rained quite hard during the afternoon prior and the clouds were persisting. No stars in the am would possibly lead to a no go.

We, Andy and I, left the TH at 6am and headed uphill. There were stars above and 3 climbers ahead of us which were all good indications. The sign that some folks took the wrong trail was found and advise was heeded. We managed to ignore logic and head away from our mountain. In fact, there was a lot of going the ďwrongĒ way on the easy trail to where the fun begins at the yellow dirt. Havenít seen too many TRs that go into much detail about the approach trail and that is probably due to no one remembering it after the staircase.

The Approach:

Seventeen minutes later, an errant cloud collides with the big W splattering little clouds all over the place.

An hour later, cloud reinforcements arrived surrounding the big W trying to make it surrender before we could conquer it. We were relentless.

When Wetterhorn came into full view, it was dťjŗ vu all over again. Lower clouds from the western side were being pushed up the mountain and consuming the peak. This only happened 3 times on our ďfunĒ part of the trail and did not appear to be a long term threat.

With 40 minutes and the South Ridge achieved, we stare at the line we must take. The cloud wisp looks like the big W will erupt.

As I have mentioned in the past, route finding is a key element to a safe and fun climb. No one likes getting lost or putting themselves at risk for going the wrong way. I was having trouble keeping all the segments to this climb straight in my head and referred to the route description line by line. Even then, I felt a little uneasy until confirmation that we were, indeed, on the standard route. For now, I like the boring olí reliable standard route.

The First Gully:

Standing at the end of the yellow ridge, everything gets magnified. Even the Prow blended in. Itís the pointy peak on the far left.

Knowing that the Prow is really farther away than you imagined the area to go up and over to the left is quite large. If you get to the ridge line before finding the first notch, then you have to go back to square one, or up the class of exposure a little. So, the point is go left as well as up.

At the top of the first gully, see a head that looks like it should have come from Easter Island. It is laughing!

To the left of the laughing head are to huge rocks (maybe sleepy heads) that are leaning on each other. Turn left here.

The first notch is no problem.

The Second Gully:

Sorry, no photo. Too busy holding onto maps, route descriptions, oh, and the rocks.

Go through the rocks and hope you are still in the same time zone. Donít do what we did. I hate giving up elevation. Give it up and follow the segmented trail over to the next gully. You have to go down first, then over and now up another gully. A short one. Now, thereís no where to go but up. It takes you to the Prow ďplayground,Ē as I call it. It is well defined and fairly narrow. The left is a wall you use as a rail.

The Prow and the rock formation just before it. Note the change in structure from 45 degree to nearly vertical. The Prow is a litt

I donít advise going this high up, unless you want to see it. I am here out of stubbornness and traversed over to the 2nd gully. The ridge is right there and looking at and the view on the other side was worth observing. Wish I had taken a picture.

Looking down from near the top of the 2nd gully and hands free. Itís just the curvature of the earth that makes it look so steep. No worries.

Looking down from near the top of the 2nd gully and hands free. Itís just the curvature of the earth that makes it look so steep. No worries.

Gully travel was probably the biggest wonderment. It all fell into place, but when I lost track of the Prow, I was concerned about going climberís left too far. Like a pin ball going up hill, I wanted to stay in the game and not bounce out. There was room for interpretation in the route finding, unlike Sneffels where is almost impossible to misplace yourself!

The Prow Playground:

Now the landscape appears more recognizable. Itís a large area with a gentle slope.

This is a good spot to relax and snack on some energy food in between challenges.

Taken from a down hill view, sort of showing the two notches.

The first notch which is not on the route is to the right of the Prow where the shadow stops. The correct notch is practically out of view on the right. The path to the correct notch is shown going to the right.

Once at the Prow, we rested for the ďrampĒ and staircase, whatever and wherever that was. I was surprised at how large the area around the Prow really was. We went through the notch, cairns are still there, and stepped onto the downward ramp. As stated before, this is not awkward with plenty of hand holds, etc.

The Ramp and Stairs:

I am standing in the notch. The ramp goes to the right and down.

Make a right turn following the rock wall and now you are at the bottom of a 100í staircase made for giants. Despite all the pictures taken in an attempt to show how it really is, it really is fairly simple.

The standard staircase portrait.

The height of each step varies from 2-4 feet and the run (I think itís called) is 6-24Ē depending on if it is considered a ledge or a step. Handholds are plentiful, the riser (stair talk) is usually a little higher than the run providing nice places to grip; ledges allow horizontal movement to find the shortest step. I needed shorter steps!

The staircase looking down shows the edges of the risers making good handholds. Note the enclosing clouds on Andy.

The Summit:

The clouds were building as we summited and I was a little concerned that we would be thwarted by moisture on our way up, but that didnít happen. We took some pics, signed the register in good condition and started down the staircase. I faced in.

Andyís summit shot.

Chrisí summit pic.

Once again, the clouds ruin the view.

The way down is reversed, of course, but down climbing face-in inhibits your vision for good foot placement, so take care in doing that. Donít forget that each ledge allows lateral movement to find the best spots for footholds.

Going back through the notch down to the Prow is straightforward, but we managed to go down the gully too far before realizing it, but the gullies were fairly forgiving. Didnít have to go back up again to reposition, but just traversed to where we were supposed to be: at the notch that changed gullies, not the one which went from playground to ramp to staircase.

In general, I think it is best to go up angling slightly left so that you bump up against the Prow ďrailĒ and on the way down, again angle left and downward to hook up with the trail to the yellow dirt, but donít miss the notch!. Others may see it differently.


Maybe Iíll make this my avatar. I donít have one.

Thinking about it, I did get off route twice, and was able to get back on course. Although I donít like losing the route, at least I know that I lost it and was able to find it, again. Off route recognition and regaining the route, if necessary, are definitely good tools to have.

Things always happen for a reason. I was going reluctantly solo and then ran into Andy and although he didnít have much 14er experience, he made up for it in maturity, common sense and personality. Another good reason to climb U first was to see how he handled it and he did very well. I was confident that he would do well on W.

Like so many before me, I had concerns about this climb that proved to be magnified over time and had to be conquered. Several of my recent climbs looked impossible, but when I got to the decision point, the route was revealed. My concerns dissipated as I concentrated on the task at hand and was comfortable with the climb. I often think that exposure should be stared in the face with confidence and command, but I respect it and concentrate on what Iím doing. I donít ignore it, as it is hard not to miss, but I havenít been dwelling on it. Iím not in the Big Horn Sheep league yet, but at least closer after Wetterhorn.

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

  • Comments or Questions

Great report!     09/10/2011 00:57
The clouds added an interesting dimension to the usual scenery there. Enjoyed your personal descriptions and experience on this wonderful climb! Thanks for sharing it!

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