| Wetterhorn Peak w/Wetterhorn Basin approach
August 14-16, 2009
Wetterhorn Peak (14,015')
San Juan Range
Hikers: Calvin Eisenach and Darin Baker
Trailhead: West Cimarron TH (trailhead)
Approach: Wetterhorn Basin Trail (a.k.a., West Fork Trail)
Route: SE (southeast) ridge of Wetterhorn
Distance: (one way)
Day 1: ~4 miles (to camp)
Day 2: ~2 miles (to summit of Wetterhorn)
Evening Hike on Day 2: ~1 mile (to summit of 13,206')
Day 1: ~1780' total (to camp)
Day 2: ~2075' (to Wetterhorn Peak)
Gear: pack w/Essentials, helmet, and overnight gear (e.g., tents, sleeping systems, stove, water filtration, etc.)
Resources for Trip Planning: "Colorado's Fourteeners" by Gerry Roach and summitpost.org (see Wetterhorn page)
I first climbed Wetterhorn Peak in August of 2003 with my friend Dave Dietz. That was my first class 3 climb, and I loved every step of it! It was a great experience for me, and it was the beginning of many more class 3 scrambles.
Furthermore, the views were fantastic! But for anyone that has been to the San Juan's, I don't think I need to mention the rugged beauty that is there.
Fast forward to the present, and I find myself reminiscing of past trips. Therefore I like to make return trips to some of my favorite areas, and Wetterhorn Peak is one of my favorite 14ers.
However, I wanted something different for an approach.
On summitpost.org, I saw a picture (taken by Jack Brauer) of the north face of Wetterhorn. That picture was inspiration enough for me to return, but with an approach from Wetterhorn Basin.
My friend Calvin is near the end of his 14er quest, and Wetterhorn Peak was still on his list. So he joined me for this beautiful backpack, with the allure of using an alternative and seldom used (in comparison to the "standard") approach.
This trip turned out to be one of my better ones of 2009…
The Backpack into Camp
We left Manitou Springs around 9am on Friday, with a forecast of "70% chance of rain/snow, with up to half inch of snow possible before noon, and mostly rain in the afternoon" awaiting us.
The forecast was 100% correct…
The start of our hike, in rain gear and pack covers
We were on the trail by 3:30pm, hiking up the trail under a steady drizzle. The rain wasn't enough to make it completely miserable, but it was enough to soak us and put a chill into our bones.
This trail is also an Open Range area, so we had some cattle company along the way.
We reached the West Fork Pass within an hour and started our ~770' descent into Wetterhorn Basin.
By this time, it had stopped raining so we didn't have the prospect of setting up camp in the rain. Nice.
Our base-camp was located sometime around 5:30pm, so we set up our tents and prepared our packs for the next day.
View from camp…
Approach to Wetterhorn
We left camp at 6:05am on Saturday morning, with a SE (southeast) bearing towards Wetterhorn Pass. There's a faint trail here and there, but without, it's an easy approach through grassy meadows anyway.
(Side Note: if we were here about 3 weeks ago, the wildflowers would have probably been amazing.)
Calvin approaching the start of the climb to Wetterhorn Pass (seen on the right).
We reached the top of the pass at 7:00am, and looked at what was ahead of us.
From the saddle, we contoured across the SW (southwest) face, and again, there was a faint trail along the way. The traveling was easy side hilling on tundra and dirt.
Contouring route of the SW face (picture was taken later that day)
We connected with the "standard" SE (southeast) ridge route at 7:20.
Looking up the SE ridge, with a beautiful blue sky above!
First views of Matterhorn Peak and Uncompaghre Peak (l. to r.) in the east
We started up the ridge and soon we started to discuss the weather that was blowing in from the W/SW of us.
Calvin started to become discouraged, because he had attempted Wetterhorn before only to be denied by weather!
I didn't think it looked too bad, so I encouraged him on until we got closer to terrain that would warrant a stop for a "wait and see."
The weather to the west
We could still see patches of blue behind and to the west of the cloud bank, and the clouds didn't appear to be dropping much moisture. Additionally, they weren't dark ominous clouds, so I wasn't concerned about lightning.
Plus, it was windy!
I think the wind was helping us by pushing the clouds into new areas, so it would likely be brief where we were.
Therefore, we continued on to see what was next…
Calvin coming through the tight tunnel in the rocks!
We arrived at the "Prow" by 8am, and the weather had blown over giving us only a few flakes of snow, and a couple of "worries."
Blue skies were overhead once again!
Calvin putting the finishing touches on the crux.
We were standing on the summit at 8:05, with strong winds to greet us.
The summit was (temporarily) ours, without anyone else to share it with. And this is a 14er?
Me on the summit of Wetterhorn
Coxcomb Peak, with a hint of a rainbow to the NW
Because of the strong cold winds, we didn't stay long.
8:20 rolled around as we started our way back down the class 3 section, which is one of the best parts of the route!
A look down on Wetterhorn Basin and our camp, which is just right of center and at the edge of the trees (look for an orange and yellow speck).
We took our time descending back to the saddle, discussing what to do next. The day was still young, so we decided to head up a 13er (which I think is unranked) to the west of Wetterhorn Pass.
After our short side trip, we descended back to camp for an afternoon nap.
Saturday evening, we set out from our camp at 5:30pm, with a N/NE direction towards the slopes of UN 13,206.'
This part of the trip was something I was looking forward to. The picture that I saw on summitpost was likely taken from Un-named 13,206' so I thought I needed to visit the summit.
Besides that, it looked like an easy stroll up a grassy slope. Therefore, the effort could be worth so much….
Heading up the slopes of UN 13,206'
We were on the summit by 6:20, where we took in the remarkable views of the surrounding peaks. This peak became one of my new favorite 13ers!
And it's ranked! ;-)
Calvin on the summit of UN 13,206'
We hung out for an hour, taking pictures and trying to stay warm out of the winds by sitting on the east side of the summit. Calvin started to get cold, so he descended while I hung out for another hour to watch the sunset.
Uncompaghre dressed in the evening light
8:03pm (a little grainy because I zoomed in on the sun)
With that I started back down to camp, excited for the first (but not the last) sunset I've watched from a high peak.
It was definitely one of the coolest things I've witnessed in the mountains!
I look forward to having another experience like this one.
The Hike Out
We packed up Sunday morning, and hit the trail at 7:15am. Forty minutes later, we were at the pass, where we saw three bighorn sheep grazing on the rocky slopes to the west of the pass. Though I'm not sure what was there to graze on because it looked like all rock!
Looking north onto the West Fork of the Cimarron valley, with Courthouse Mountain and Chimney Rock dominating the western side of the valley.
Another angle of Chimney Rock and Courthouse Mountain…
Taken later from Owl Creek Pass road.
We were back at the truck at 9:10am.
From here, since we drove to the TH using the very scenic Cimarron Creek Road (south off of Hwy 50 near Cimarron), we decided to drive west over Owl Creek Pass.
This route was a great choice, because the views from this road are amazing!
If you've ever driven south on 550 out of Montrose and marveled at the skyline to the east (left side of road), you would love this pass!
Just take my word for it and drive it some day. Or better yet, go hike the Wetterhorn route we did.
You won't be disappointed.
Thanks for reading,
Above map has our approximate routes marked in a variety colors.
Red: hike into camp and out of camp
Purple: hike to UN 13,206'
Blue: hike to Wetterhorn Peak
Yellow: extra hike up a hill west of Wetterhorn Pass