| East Face - A Sexy Face
Route: East Face (steep snow)
Distance traveled: ~8 miles
Elevation gained: ~3,600 feet
Participants: stevevets689, shanahan96, and Yog up to timberline
Wetterhorn's East Face the day before the climb. Photo taken by Yog while descending from Uncompahgre Peak
Wetterhorn's East Face is a route that I had considered ever since I started climbing on snow, and when Jamie (shanahan96) invited Mark (Yog) and I to go climb it, I was pretty excited. The overall plan for the weekend was for Jamie and Mark to climb Uncompahgre Peak on Friday, the three of us to climb Wetterhorn on Saturday, and then I would climb Uncompahgre solo. I figured it would make for a pretty awesome weekend. All day on Friday I was looking at my watch, trying to estimate where Jamie and Mark were on Uncompahgre, until it was finally time for me to drive down to meet them.
I picked up a couple pizzas on my way out of Gunnison and drove up to Lake City through intermittent rain showers. The drive up to Capitol City from Lake City went very smoothly, though there must have been an enormous avalanche sometime during the winter as there was one section of the road with high walls of snow and broken aspens sticking out at odd angles. It looked pretty sweet and was a reminder of the power of these awesome slides.
I located Jamie's tent just beyond the North Henson Creek road turnoff, but neither Jamie nor Mark were anywhere to be found and their street shoes were inside the tent. I figured they must still be coming down, so I continued driving up the road to meet them and found Mark at the turnoff for Matterhorn Creek, hanging out at Jamie's car. He said (over pizza and beer) that he and Jamie had reached the summit of Uncompahgre yesterday through many snow squalls and that Jamie had continued on to hike a 13er on the way out. We sat and chatted it up while waiting for Jamie for about 20 minutes, at which point we heard Jamie's voice blabbering something about "Stevie Junior blah blah young'un blah blah." I replied, "There's pizza in the back of the Jeep" to which he quickly answered, "I love you" and immediately started to dig in. Luckily I had already eaten three slices and some leftover Chinese food because I wouldn't see any more of the pizza.
We drove back to camp and I built a campfire while Jamie made Eagle Scout nitpicky comments and we shot my BB gun at PBR cans and committed other tomfooleries before going to sleep. Jamie and Mark slept well thanks to Uncompahgre but I barely slept at all that night, and the 2:30am alarm seemed to take forever to go off, but eventually it was time to get moving. We got up, hoped into my Jeep, and were hiking up the Matterhorn Creek road by a little after 3. I could've driven up the road if it wasn't for a big snow drift and a downed tree, but the road only adds 1.2 miles to the round trip. Jamie set a relaxed pace to start off and we slowly cruised up the road to the 4wd trailhead where we took a brief break to take layers off and stretch.
From there to treeline, I stayed up with Jamie but Mark started to drift further and further behind us. We cut the big switchback in the trail by staying on snow and paused again at treeline. Then Mark caught up to us and announced he was done, as he was still pretty exhausted from the day before. He elected to stay back and wait for sunrise while we continued onward.
Looking south into the San Juans before sunrise
Wetterhorn and the East Face before sunrise
Matterhorn before sunrise. That couloir on the left of the summit block looks fun
Uncompahgre with the sun working on coming up behind it
We layered up to fight off the increased cold and Jamie led the way up the center of the drainage, onto the terminal moraine, and it gradually started to get lighter. This was the first time I had seen this place with an abundance of snow cover still remaining and it seemed to increase the beauty of the basin. All the ridges seemed to be sharper and perhaps more fun to climb. Then I looked up the East Face of Wetterhorn, and the sun had just started to hit it. I could only think two things: "That looks steep," and "What a sexy face!"
First light on peaks to the south
Sunhit on the East Face
Jamie approaching Wetterhorn
At the bottom of the face. It looks fairly big from here
We made our way to a couple distinctive rocks at the end of the snow apron at the bottom of the face to cache our snowshoes and trekking poles, and with the sun out it was time to take the big coat back off. I got my crampons on and started up while Jamie continued to refuel for a while. I climbed up by the debris from a wet slide from the day before and then angled onto the avalanche path where the snow was nice and solid. The pitch increased gradually into the low 40s and by the time I was about a third of the way up the face Jamie had caught up to me. He took over the lead and brought us to a rock outcropping for a quick break, and then continued leading up the middle of the face. The terrain rolled over slightly before getting steeper again and I took the lead over for the rest of the face.
Looking up from the bottom of the face
Where Jamie took over the lead, about a third of the way up
Matterhorn and Uncompahgre from around halfway up the face
Looking up the face from where I took over
The snow would change between bomber, easy steps to snow covered in Mongolian dust that liked to swallow my legs and made for more difficult steps. I tried my best to stay on good snow and managed to do that most of the time. I was sweating from all the work and periodically had to stop to clear the moisture from my face and eyes. Looking across or down the slope would remind me just how steep the face is (we estimated 50 degrees near the top). It was an exhilarating position!
Looking to the right at the steepest part
Looking down at Jamie from the top of the steepest portion of the face
At last, I climbed up around a couple rocks and was able to traverse over to the notch by the summit block. We stopped for a couple minutes and Jamie walked down the ramp to check out the summit pitch. He called back that I could lose my crampons and ax, and we wouldn't need the rope. I cached the equipment and then noticed the snow falling. In fact, we had randomly become socked in by a cloud... and I was still wet from all the sweaty snow climbing. I shivered and threw my big coat back on before following Jamie up the summit pitch. There was a little ice and snow on the rocks in the middle of the gully so we stayed to the right. In the summer, the easiest way to the top is to follow a ledge to the left and then climb up, but the ledge was covered with snow so we elected to climb up a class 4 wall and over a couple snow steps to the top.
Looking down from the middle of the summit pitch
Looking up at Jamie before the class 4 headwall
There's your standard route, covered in snow. We did end up coming back this way
Our views were completely obscured by the cloud that had decided to hang out with us, but we decided to do the whole summit thing anyway and started pointing out where all the other big peaks were supposed to be, just to defy the mountain gods. Really though, the most we could see was Ship's Prow, only a couple hundred yards away. Fine then, after a quick rest to eat and sign the summit register, it was time to go down. Jamie led the descent down the standard route and had to kick a few steps in the snow to get us back over to the main gully and then down to the ramp again.
Our only view from the summit
Looking back up the summit pitch from the ramp
We donned the crampons again and continued down by the Southwest Ridge. We contoured on snow around all the rock ribs and then hiked across back to the ridge. All the while, the wind and snow were battering us a bit, so we tried not to waste too much time getting back to the other side of the ridge. When we arrived at the spot Jamie was aiming for, we found ourselves below all the scrambling of the Southeast ridge and looking back across the East Face. Below us was a nice and continuous fall line for glissading, so we removed the crampons again and Jamie wasted no time in launching himself over the 3 inch cornice and down into the bowl. After a couple hesitations I followed. The snow wasn't slick enough for a really fast descent so the glissade didn't end up being all that scary.
Jamie leading the way down by the standard route
Matterhorn and Wetterhorn's East Ridge from the top of our glissade
At the bottom of the face again, all we had left to do was reclaim our snowshoes and hike out. We managed to get in a couple more short glissades on the way out of the bowl and decided in the end that we had glissaded some 800 vertical feet, which is always nice. We made our way back to the Jeep, and never ended up needing our snowshoes.
Looking back up the East Face, now with weather
Jamie walking out of the basin
Back at camp, we took our time packing up and then I bid good bye to Jamie and Mark (who had been nice enough to take all the wet stuff out of the tent and let it dry). Hopefully I'll be seeing Mark again Memorial Day weekend for a climb of the Snake Couloir on Mount Sneffels.
Driving out through the avalanche
Overall, an awesome day on a sweet route! Jamie once told me that it's from the neck down that makes a girl attractive, but from the neck up is what makes a girl sexy. And all I can say about this climb is... That was a sexy face!
To see more photos from this and other climbs, please visit my online photo album at: http://picasaweb.google.com/coloradoclimberguy/
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):