| Wetterhorn / Uncompahgre Combo from Matterhorn Creek TH
Mountains: Wetterhorn Peak (14,015') and Uncompahgre Peak (14,309')
Route: Started at the Matterhorn Creek TH (4WD Parking lot at 10,720') and climbed the SE Ridge to Wetterhorn's summit. Walked across the basin and ascended the Central Gully on Uncompahgre's West Face. Descended the Southernmost Gully
Elevation Gain - 6400' (approx)
Roundtrip Mileage - 17 miles (approx)
Roundtrip Time Including Stops- 11 hours
TH to Wetterhorn - 5 hours
Wetterhorn Summit back down to saddle - 1:30
Wetterhorn Saddle to Uncompahgre Summit - 2:25
Uncompahgre Summit to TH - 2:05
A couple college buddies (Soms (Blade) and Vasant), planned to visit Colorado and I felt it would be appropriate to give them a real feel for Colorado's Wilderness rather than just show them the 'World's Highest Suspension Bridge' or the City of Pueblo. I figured Wetterhorn would provide a decent 'Mountaineering' feel with some easy Class 3 pitches without getting too scary for folks on their first 14er outing. They flew in Thursday night from Tampa and Pittsburgh with brand new gear (although United lost one bag of gear resulting in more business for REI) totally excited about their first high altitude experience. I had them stay away from booze for 24 hours leading up to the climb and drink a couple gallons of water each on Saturday to aid acclimatization. We left Boulder at 2PM Saturday and after a long drive in a hellish downpour and God-awful traffic near 285's construction zones, reached Lake City at around 9PM. We drove up the well maintained dirt road and then up the easy 2 mile 4WD road (narrow, but easy… needs high clearance at spots, but if not muddy you may not even need to use 4WD) to a flat grassy camp spot 0.5 mile below the upper TH. Here we met Per, who told us that there likely wasn't space for my 8-person party tent up by the TH. We set up camp right there and decided to drive up early for an alpine start. We went to bed at around 10:30PM. The skies were overcast and I was anticipating a delayed start. I was a little worried since I was expecting the going to be slow and my plan was to get started by 2:30 - 3AM.
My alarm went off at 2AM and we woke up to very heavy rain and electrical activity… This stopped by 3:30. I looked out and saw thick dark clouds… however I decided to move… we would move slow and see what happened to the clouds at daybreak… that would give us plenty of time to get to treeline and if things still looked bad, we'd turn back. We had a couple bananas each, a protein shake and plenty of water for breakfast and started hiking by 4:15AM. We each carried 3 liters each of water and 20Oz. of Vitamin water.
We moved slowly, but very steadily and I was very impressed with how the guys were able to keep this going. We reached a fork at around 11,200'. If you stay left you will be hiking along Matterhorn Creek but can eventually find your way to the standard trail. We stayed right and switch-backed up the standard trail. Almost at the Big Blue Wilderness we started going up this wide trail (marked in red) instead of following the standard trail to the left.
This mistake is likely if you approach this point under headlamps and if there is no starlight/moonlight as it was in our case. We went about 300 feet up it before the terrain started getting very loose and slippery and I figured we were off route. Looking at my compass I found we had been heading East for a while and decided to stop and head off North down the grassy slopes of the hill we had climbed. At this point there was some help in the form of diffused sunlight through the overcast skies and we found the standard trail. We soon left the trail and started climbing up to the basin where the route is still marked extremely well with cairns. If not, just follow the warm bodied moving cairns… there are plenty of those on this mountain this time of year.
The sun did a fantastic job of getting rid of the clouds and we were glad we resisted the urge to re-enter our sleeping bags earlier. Here's a look at Wetterhorn's East Face
And the clouds being swept away…
There is a field of boulders below the basin and there is a good, cairned trail through it. Blade started feeling the effects of altitude here and I started carrying a couple liters of his water to help lighten the load.
A sweet view of Matterhorn from high up in the basin… I'd love to come back for the Wetterhorn – Matterhorn ridge traverse some day when I'm done with the 14ers.
This is what Uncompahgre looked like early in the morning. This picture also shows much of the trail in the basin.
This picture was taken on the saddle at 13,060'. The dark clouds from earlier that morning were moving away slowly to the West. There was a lot of moisture in the atmosphere.
At about 13,100' Blade started developing head aches and didn't want to go any further. Tylenol didn't work too well either. We decided it would be best for him to turn back while Vasant and I continued.
Here's looking up at the ridge towards Wetterhorn's summit. There's a lot of fun scrambling on this route.
These winter gloves had to come into play because of the lost baggage… although it could also be the preferred 'Floridan' way of coping with Colorado weather…
There are bits and pieces of trail on the ridge. The climbing on the ridge up until 13,700' is mostly Class 2 with spots of very easy Class 3. Route finding is not an issue for most of the way.
The scrambling sections are not too exposed for most of the route and there are excellent holds. The rock is loose at spots and I would recommend bringing a helmet if you have one. Vasant was feeling the altitude, but the combination of intense hydration the previous day and my playing der Fuehrer for much of the way helped keep us moving.
Following the cairns, you will come upon this notch. The 150 foot summit pitch is right behind this.
Scramble up over the notch and traverse down these slabs for about 15-20 feet to get to the base of the summit pitch. These slabs can get tricky when wet. There is some exposure here.
The summit pitch held some fun Class 3 scrambling. There is some exposure and the rock is loose. I guided Vasant through each step of the way here testing every hold and asking him to do the same. There is a lot of loose rock here and a helmet might be very important on this route on a crowded day.
We summitted at 9:15AM. It was a clear day on the Wetterhorn side of the Wilderness, but this is what Uncompahgre looked like.
Here's looking down the SE ridge at parts of the route
Spot the Floridan in this summit picture…
A mist rose up to us on our descent…
I needed to stay right below Vasant for most of the crux to ensure he didn't slip off and go sliding down the mountain. There was a huge crowd going up Wetterhorn on this day.
There was trouble brewing in the air…
We soon reached the saddle and once I was confident that Vasant could get back safely I decided to go over to Uncompahgre while he caught up with Blade and headed back to my Jeep. I then ran down to catch up with Blade myself, to see if he was okay before I committed myself to the Uncompahgre climb. I left him at 10:45AM and descended from the basin. With all the goofy stuff the weather was throwing down I decided to try and move as fast as I could and ran most of the way to the base of Uncompahgre. Nothing had changed on Uncompahgre since we summitted 2 hours earlier. The following picture was taken at 11:20AM.
The clouds had stayed exactly the same and there didn't seem to be any thunderheads in the area and I decided to go up the mountain fast. I had decided that I'd turn around if I couldn't summit by 1AM. Here's looking back at the route I took from Wetterhorn…
And the route as seen from the West Face on Uncompahgre…
I climbed the following route… It seems to be what's called the 'Central gully' on the West Face.
It was not very steep, but there was a lot of loose talus close to the ridge. The route is mostly Class 2 with the following Class 3 section at one point
Above this section there are no more difficulties on the route except for the annoying loose boulders.
I was following bits and pieces of a mountain goat trail. There was no cairned route.
This is the final section that takes you to the South Slopes route. The boulders are loose… A great ankle workout.
I had half walked half run up this face and was puffing out loud when I topped out at the ridge. Here I saw another climber who I'd met earlier close to Wetterhorn's summit. He was leaving for Uncompahgre while we were beginning our slow down-climb off Wetterhorn. We continued on for 200 feet to the summit. We summitted at 1:10PM, engulfed in cloud/mist.
It started hailing heavily when we got to the summit… I found out from the other climber that he had ascended the Southern-most gully. This was laden with scree and I felt it might be a much easier down-climb compared to the 'Central gully'. I decided to join him on his down-climb down that gully. The hail was now falling thick and fast, accompanied by huge, wet drops of rain. I was not hearing thunder or seeing lightning anywhere though. We started running down the mountain. There was no time for any pics of the Southern-most gully, but it has a trail on it unlike the Central gully. It may however be a more painful ascent than the Central gully because of all the loose scree on it. We scree-skied most of the gully and were back down in the basin within 30 minutes. We made our way back down the trail and saw lightning strike Wetterhorn's summit accompanied by an instantaneous clap of thunder. Still no lightning on Uncompahgre although the clouds looked the same as at 11:20, 11:33 and 11:51AM. The rest of the hike went without incident although we were being heavily rained on for the entire hike down. We were back at the trailhead at 3:15PM. We drove back down and broke camp in the midst of a downpour and drove the 8 hours back to Boulder, stopping occasionally for this…
A pretty successful weekend overall. This weekend marked a year since I started climbing 'teeners and I hope I can keep the interest alive. I was pretty impressed with how far the flat-landers had made it with just 20 hours to acclimatize at 5000', and a few at 10,000'. A Class 3 route at the end of that is pretty significant.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):