| Wetterhorn area 13ers
UN 13,300 C
Matterhorn Peak – 13,590
Broken Hill – 13,256
From: N. Fork Henson Creek Road (Mary Alice Creek drainage)
Approx. 11.4 miles, 5500 ft
Partners: Dwight & Dominic
The plan for the day's hike was to climb the two unnamed 13ers southwest of Wetterhorn Peak: UN 13,201 & UN 13,300. I've been curious about these guys for a while since I've never found any real beta on them. The night before we had studied the map trying to find a reasonable way to add Matterhorn Peak and Broken Hill to the hike, but nothing looked appealing. Traversing around Wetterhorn's southeast ridge to get to Matterhorn sounded like it could be long and tedious, but dropping all the way down into Matterhorn Creek around 11,500 ft would add too much elevation gain. We decided it just wasn't very logical to try to combine these two pairs of peaks (more on that later).
To get to our planned starting point at the base of the Mary Alice Creek drainage, we drove up the North Fork Henson Creek road to ¾ of a mile past the Matterhorn Creek turnoff (which goes to the standard Wetterhorn trailhead). At this point we turned onto an unmarked road that veered off to the right and almost immediately terminated at an actual trailhead. The trailhead was only marked by a trail and a sign indicating distances to various other trails, but we didn't pay much attention to the details. Our plan was simple: follow the Mary Alice Creek drainage (trail or no trail) until UN 13,201 came into view and decide from there how to tackle it.
We started hiking at 5:40. After a few tenths of a mile the trail began to split and switchback and got to be a little confusing. We weren't familiar with the trail system in this area so we decided to forget about it and just follow along the east side of the creek. This worked very well and the going was easy and mostly snow free. UN 13,210 came into view as we neared treeline. We had tentatively planned on climbing to the UN 13,210 – UN 13,300 saddle and then to UN 13,210 from there, but we saw that this did not look like the best option as there were steep cliffs on that side. The south ridge looked much more inviting. At 12,100 ft we crossed to the west side of the creek and climbed west up snow and talus to gain the ridge. From there it was an easy walk to the summit. We arrived at 8:20.
The next task was getting to the UN 13,210 – UN 13,300 saddle. Dwight checked out the steep north face of UN 13,201 to see if there was a reasonable descent route directly to the saddle and found a couloir just northwest of the summit that looked OK. Getting off of the ridge and into the couloir was the tricky part. We carefully downclimbed over the small lip and some snowy rock at the top until the runout below us was free of obstacles. The snow was already fairly soft so we enjoyed an easy glissade to the bottom. The remainder of the hike to UN 13,300 was over gentle terrain and we reached the summit at 9:55. There were great views of Wetterhorn, Coxcomb, and Redcliff.
We took a long break and contemplated our future. Skirting around Wetterhorn's southeast ridge looked like a piece of cake and we wouldn't have to drop to much less than 13,000 ft in the process. Very tempting. It was still early so we decided to go for it.
We descended east to the UN 13,300 – Wetterhorn saddle and continued to traverse southeast under Wetterhorn near the 13,000 ft level. After a short time we found ourselves on the standard Wetterhorn route just above 13,100 ft. Wetterhorn was looking grand, but unfortunately we had enough on our plate and couldn't make a trip to the summit. We took a minute to check out possible routes to Matterhorn. Should we traverse to its south slopes, trying to maintain what elevation we can? Should we just drop directly into the basin and head straight for the south slopes? Wow, that Wetterhorn – Matterhorn ridge sure looks cool! And it looks like one could gain access to it pretty easily midway. We've already got four peaks scheduled, we can't possibly just throw this into the mix now too, can we? You know us – its really hard, almost impossible, to avoid a potentially interesting ridge scramble.
From Wetterhorn's southeast ridge we dropped about 300 ft, heading northeast roughly toward the midpoint of the Wetterhorn – Matterhorn ridge. We climbed up snow and rock to gain the ridge slightly west of the saddle. Matterhorn was only 0.4 miles away but it looked like it was going to take a while to get there. The ridge on the Matterhorn side looked a lot more complicated than the part on the Wetterhorn side. It looked like we weren't missing too much by skipping that part.
From our entrance point, the ridge to Matterhorn started out very easy – 2nd class and easy 3rd class. Very soon though the quality of the rock started degrading and it actually became quite heinous. It was of the same variety as found on Heisshorn – the kind that really makes you wonder how the loose, creaky masses of razor sharp rocks resembling a ridge have actually survived this long. Finding reasonable holds was a chore and even after testing them, it was impossible to trust them completely. The loose rock sometimes made simple up and down climbing moves impossible. Not only would you fall if the rocks gave out, there would then be a mass of razor sharp rocks falling on top of you to finish the job.
We had to negotiate many towers as we got closer to Matterhorn. Staying directly on the ridge crest was not possible at times, but as we dropped down onto the side of the ridge the rock became crappier. We found that staying as close to the crest as much as possible worked the best, although it required more routefinding and backtracking. This part of the ridge was tougher than it looked from afar. Just as we were rejoicing about being past the difficulties, we found ourselves on top of one last tower and it was tricky to downclimb. The ridge had tired us out and we finally dragged ourselves onto the summit at 1:30. To me it seemed like 5:00!
We took a short break to recover a little bit, but couldn't rest long because the clouds were building and we still hoped to make it over to Broken Hill. It was two miles away but most of the hike looked very gentle. We made our way down Matterhorn's southeast slopes and eventually put on our snowshoes to stay on top of the softening snow. We only needed them for a short while. Just over a mile from the summit we heard thunder in the distance. I think we kept changing our minds as to whether we would still attempt our fourth and final summit. Our descent route was in the same direction as the peak anyway so we proceeded, keeping our ears pealed. Finally we were 250 ft below the summit and it was decision time. We hadn't heard thunder anywhere close and hadn't seen any lightning so we dropped our packs and boogied upward. Broken Hill's west face is impressive but seriously 5th class. We could only hope there would be a weakness we could get up around the corner on its south side. What we found was much better than we'd hoped for – a complete walkup! We tagged the summit at 4:15 and didn't wait around to sign the register.
We retrieved our packs and started our descent down the drainage to the southeast of Broken Hill. It was steep but mostly open and free of snow. We had to cross some small, soft patches of snow, and at this point anything went to avoid postholing: crawling, etc. We were getting a little tired. Soon we popped out on the Matterhorn Creek road and walked the short distance back to the North Fork Henson Creek road. From there, we had to walk ¾ of a mile back up the road to retrieve the car. We had debated about having one person go to get it, but in the end nobody could be outdone and so we all went. We got there 12.5 hours after we'd started. It was a spectacular loop!
pictures & route map: