| Great Cimarron loop trip
Last weekend, a couple of friends and I climbed Wetterhorn and neighboring Matterhorn from the north. It was a great trip. Our plans were to climb Uncompahgre as well, but time constraints and a forgotten camera forced plans to change and we ended up seeing our first snowflakes of the year from the summit of Matterhorn. To summarize for those who are not into reading and looking at pictures the trip was a 3-day, ~38 mile jaunt with camp in the east fork valley just over 12,000'. Gear was limited but included an MSR Miniworks pump which I really liked, some little purifying tablets, a whisperlite stove which is a beast, a single large 2-man MSR tent, cameras, some G1 and rain gear. Everything worked very well.
We started just south of Silver Jack Reservoir which is about 15 miles south of the town of Cimarron. We were able to find an open campsite down a rough road right near where the roads to the Middle Fork and East fork of the Cimarron roads split.
On Saturday morning we began up the middle fork road, of course after priming with some G1 ☺, towards the trailhead at the Uncompahgre wilderness boundary. From where we parked to the trailhead was about 5.5 miles. At the trailhead, we filtered some water in the Middle fork and started heading further up the valley on a very well maintained trail. The weather on our trip was great and views of (l to r) Precipice and Dusinane peaks to the west are pretty spectacular from the trail.
After gradually climbing through the woods, you cross the Middle fork of the Cimarron and the trail becomes steeper and climbs towards treeline. When you emerge from the trees you gain a view of Heisshorn and Coxcomb further south in the valley. The pass that this trail crosses is just north of Heisshorn about 5.5 miles from the actual middle fork trailhead.
The trail splits at the southern end of the valley leading west to Coxcomb and east over the pass into the East Fork valley. The trail up to the pass steepens considerably again and provides amazing view back to the north. We took a little break to soak in our surroundings and catch our breath about half way up from the trail split to the pass.
When we finally reached the pass, the East Fork basin opens up in front of you with Uncompahgre, Matterhorn and Wetterhorn Peaks dominating the horizon to the southeast. The views of all of these peaks from this northern vantage are amazing. The cliffs on the north face of Wetterhorn, not visible from the standard route, are very intimidating!
We hiked southeast into the east fork off of the pass and found a nice campsite on a small flat open area between the upper reaches of the east fork and the main middle fork trail. Our campsite was located almost directly north of the Matterhorn summit and had great access to water from the upper east fork of the Cimarron. Saturday's hiking totaled about 12.5 miles and we reached camp at about 1:30 with lots of time to relax, nap, eat a sweet taco dinner at 4 and fritter the evening away before the sun went down.
Sunday we planned to climb Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre peaks. Following the trail around the north side of Matterhorn to the saddle between it and Uncompahgre gave us a little trouble. Recognize that there is a switchback as you get up towards the pass which we missed. As it turns out I don't like scrambling on steep loose talus in the dark… We regained the trail and followed it around over a gentle pass until we hit the well-signed Ridge Stock driveway. Views of the sun coming up over Uncompahgre were really cool from this pass.
Not knowing that there is a small trail that cuts across the basin to the base of Wetterhorn peak, we hiked all the way down ridge stock driveway to the connection with Wetterhorn's standard route. It would save lots of time and effort to contour around the south slopes of Matterhorn. We climbed Wetterhorn via the standard route, but on the upper slopes strayed onto the east side of the SE ridge. Not seeing a potential route clearly, we failed to cross through the narrow notch and ended up following some other cairns onto the east side of the ridge. This route is much looser than the actual route but was still easily passable. We soon reached the platform below the final summit pitch.
I have never had a particular issue with exposure, but this last pitch was very intimidating to me. I knew that trying to downclimb from the summit would exceed my comfort level at that time and I stayed on the platform while my buddies summited. I don't know why this fear of exposure suddenly overtook me, but I was happy where I was and didn't much care. That said, since I will have to return to summit Uncompahgre A true summit of Wetterhorn will happen in the future.
We were able to follow the standard route down from the summit and it was indeed much more stable than the route that we took up. This being my first real multi-day backpacking trip and only my second hike after knee surgery, my legs were felling a little worn out by the time we reached the base of Wetterhorn. We took a short break and filtered some more water before deciding that a summit of Uncompahgre was still a possibility. Unfortunately, when we reached the junction of our trail from the east for with Ridge stock driveway again, I realized I had forgotten my camera at the base of Wetterhorn >< Doh! After retracing our steps and luckily finding the camera, we decided to nix Unco. And just head for the summit of Matterhorn via its grassy south slope. I thought this slope was deceptively steep, and by the time we reached the rocky summit area, I was pretty worn out. The final scramble up to Matterhorn's summit is a bit loose, but simple climbing up a small dirt gully on the east side. On the summit of Matterhorn some snow flakes were blowing around and we didn't stay too long since there was a little cold wind picking up.
From the summit of Matterhorn we descended down the east slopes and did a kind of descending traverse around to the north side where we could connect back up with our trail into the east fork basin.
We were again at camp by about 1:30 and got some sleep before dinner. We were surprised that the clouds building over Heisshorn and Wetterhorn never produced any rain before we hit the sack. We slept with the door of the tent open and awoke in the middle of the night while being pelted with hail. Didn't take us long to close up the tent and soon after that the wind started whipping and the skies opened up. Sunday night was rainy, but Labor Day morning on Monday was again clear and sunny.
We packed up camp and headed northeast down the east fork valley after sleeping in until 7 and scarfing down some oatmeal. We stayed low on a trail that follows the river and ran into a group of pack horses and a little camp that is apparently maintained by an outfitter group.
The East fork trail descends very gradually along the river and crosses to the east bank after a couple miles. I imagine in the spring with lots of runoff this crossing would be more troublesome than it is now. The trail that leads back down the east fork valley is also very well maintained. The hike out was a little more than 10 miles. Luckily only the last couple miles of this day were on a road north of the east fork trailhead. The spires along Turret ridge to our west and those to the east really made for great views on the way out and some waterfalls were still gushing from high on the west side of the valley.
We were back at the truck by 12:30. Aside from the time we spent on the standard route of Wetterhorn, we saw less than 10 people over 3 days on Labor Day weekend! Again, a great trip, great company and everybody made the trek safely. Despite the fact that I stopped 50 or however many feet below the summit of Wetterhorn, this is definitely a trip I won't soon forget. This route is not difficult to follow and if you have time it is a great route south towards Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre. Hope you all enjoyed the pictures. See you all out on the trails.
Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):