Route: East Ridge – Class 4; Descent of Standard Route
RT Distance: 8 Miles
Elevation Gain: 3,600 Feet
Participants: stevevets689, Nathan
A quick note to those who read my San Luis Report: I know I said my Earth Corps report would be next, but apparently I lied. I'm still working on it, but it's long.
Now for this trip
I seem to have amazing luck with roommates. While Nathan and I were setting up our new dorm at Western State College in Gunnison, people were asking us if we knew each other before coming here because we seem to be "the same person." So much so, that when I started talking about nearby climbing routes, Nathan interjected that we should do one first chance we get. So, having only known each other for three days, we were headed for the Matterhorn Creek Trailhead and Wetterhorn's East Ridge. Why the East Ridge? Because it's class 4, plain and simple. We wanted the skill challenging, more interesting looking route.
We arrived at the turnoff for the 4wd road and parked there, since my good ol' Raz can only go so far. It was already after 10 PM when we arrived so we went right to laying down Raz's backseat and setting up our car camp. It was a warm night and we slept with the hatchback propped open all night. A small drizzle came through during the night but the weather was generally good.
5:30 rolled around and my watch alarm went off. We got some breakfast in us and were ready to roll at a little after 6:00. We hiked up the road and entered Uncompahgre Wilderness Area. The nature of the San Juans continued to grow on me as we hiked along the trail, wondering at the various colors of the riverbeds we were crossing and eyeing Wetterhorn Peak which was holding the Sun's early morning light. Is it just us, or does Wetterhorn look much more like the Swiss Matterhorn than the Colorado Matterhorn does?
Wetterhorn in first light
Matterhorn Peak in comparison… You make the choice
Following trail signs leading towards Wetterhorn Peak, we found ourselves above timberline and entering the basin below Wetterhorn's East Face. Now I was thinking about Gerry Roach's route description and the "cone shaped tower" on the East Ridge we were looking for. The tower is actually very obvious, as it's one of the most prominent points on the ridge and, well, cone shaped. Seeing that it was still a ways ahead, we continued along the standard trail for a ways.
Wetterhorn and the East Ridge. Note the cone shaped tower on the right
It was when the trail started switchbacking through a grassy area on the edge of a boulder field that we came close to even with the tower. Time to ditch the trail. We turned right and made our way carefully across rocks to very large boulders, picked our way through them, and started ascending toward the gully to the left of the tower. Already some of the rocks wanted to roll out from under our feet, and in a gully it could only get worse. Time for the helmet to go on my head.
The cone shaped tower from where we left the trail
Looking up the gully next to the tower
Reaching the top of the dirt-scree and entering the gully, the difficulty turned from class 2 into class 3 and 4. As with the nature of the rest of the route, some of the rock here is solid and some of it is very very loose. Every rock must be tested before trusting weight to it. The route continues up the gully all the way to the ridge crest. The view to the North opens up dramatically to Coxcomb Peak and Redcliff, and the views in all directions are stunning. Surrounded by San Juan majesty, we started to follow the ridge.
Looking down the gully from the ridge crest
Wetterhorn from next to the tower
In general, the nature of the first half of the ridge is to stay near or on the ridge crest, generally climbing on the left (south) side of the crest when necessary. There are some gaps, some of which are narrow enough to jump but be super careful about your landing site. Other gaps must be climbed down into and then back out of. There are also ledges and one minor knife edge that was fairly easy to traverse. Difficulty ranges from class 2 to 4 (or 5 if you make it so). The route is not definite, and lots of variations are possible. We found the first half to be very aesthetically pleasing, with enough solid rock to get by on.
Yours truly climbing through a gap in the ridge
On the ridge, in a fairly easy part
Nathan, on a more difficult section
Wetterhorn's steep North Face. The condition of the ridge gets much looser as it approaches the summit tower
Looking back at the ridge
After traveling along the ridge for a ways with little elevation gain, it starts to get steeper. At first it's mostly solid, but the ridge gradually loses definition and we found ourselves a ways to the left of the crest, climbing up much looser rock mingled with dirt. Footing can be more difficult to maintain here and extreme care must be taken not to knock too many rocks down. We picked the easiest routes we could find up through the rocks gaining elevation more steeply now, watching as the summit tower grew closer and closer. The massive North Face would hold our attention between sections of scrambling.
On the upper half of the ridge
Climbing the upper half
Turn left here!
Finally we were at the tower, and I felt much better knowing that what was likely the most difficult and loose part of the route was out of the way. We rested at the base of the tower for a little, and then started moving again. We moved left along a now cairned trail and found ourselves by the Prow on the standard route. Climbing through the notch nearby brought another opening of the views, and the West Face exposure was awesome though mostly avoidable. The solid class 3 summit pitch felt like a bit of a relief from the looseness we had been on. We encountered our first people of the day at this point, who told us there were a couple others on the summit still. It only took a couple minutes, and we were on top.
Nathan climbing the summit pitch
Looking down the summit pitch
Now with a 360 degree view of San Juans, we dropped our packs and soaked it all in. We met two girls on the summit, one of whom had climbed Wetterhorn as her first 14er! It was nice to relax in the mid-morning with still impeccable weather, eat some snacks, see some overly friendly marmots, check out some of the surrounding peaks, and plan some more trips. Uncompahgre was all too obvious and the West Slopes snow routes looked like they would be fun next spring. I also managed to make out Half Peak, another of Colorado's top 100 summits which I hope to climb before the weather gets snowy again.
The East Ridge from the summit
Uncompahgre from the summit
The Sneffels Group from the summit
The Wilson Group From the summit
Coxcomb and Redcliff
A 360 degree panoramic video from the summit
At around 11:00 our summit visit had to end, due to incoming weather. We downclimbed the summit pitch, wrapped around to the Southeast Ridge and started cruising down. I was a bit surprised at how little scrambling there was and this ridge seemed like a cakewalk compared to the way we went up. Before we knew it we were already back on class 2 terrain, on a trail no less. Clouds rolled in and we got sprinkled on, but with no thunder. Trail hiking went pretty quickly for us and we had an uneventful journey all the way back down to the car.
Some optional exposure on the way down
The East Ridge on the way down
The cone shaped tower on the way out
Wetterhorn upped the ante with my personal San Juan experience (compared to San Luis, of course it would). It was a second and probably more accurate preview of more San Juaning to come.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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