Peak(s):  Wetterhorn Peak  -  14,015 feet
Date Posted:  01/16/2012
Modified:  01/18/2012
Date Climbed:   01/15/2012
Author:  I Man
Additional Members:   robco
 A Wonderful Winter Day on Wetterhorn  

This is my first trip report so bear with me. This was an amazing trip and my 8th winter 14er this season in just 2 weeks. This route was no joke this time of year.

With a great weather forecast, and one of my favorite climbing partners (Robco) having a 3 day weekend, we knew it was going to be an ambitious weekend. After doing the SW Ridge of Sneffels and some Ice Fest time the weekend before, we were anxious to get back to the San Juans. After reading two tremendously helpful trip reports we decided to drive down to Lake City Saturday morning and hike the road to the Matterhorn Creek TH and pack in for a high camp...attempt Wetterhorn Peak on Sunday and then possibly go for Uncompahgre or save it for Monday, then pack out.

We parked near the sign indicating the Matterhorn Creek 2wd TH was 2 mile up the road. The truck parked next to us belonged to a man and his dog.

This is going to be fun!! That's a big pack...

We met up at the T Rex Lot at 7am and headed to Lake City. It took exactly 5 hours.
In my Subaru Impreza we were able to drive 9 miles long the road towards Engineer Pass....We parked at the sign 2 miles from the TH (2.7 miles from the 4wd TH). The first 2 miles of the road were relatively easy with not enough snow to warrant snowshoes and we made quick work of it. We came to the sign for the Matterhorn Creek TH and the road goes up to the right. Honestly, I had a hard time believing this was a "road," even in summer....the snow was a bit more here, but still no snowshoes. We were up to the signed TH well before dark and headed past a gate onto the Matterhorn Creek trail. it was easy to follow and no snowshoes...until about 10 min in when the inevitable post holing began. We were very grateful to have made it this far in such short time and without the dreaded snowshoes.

Rob heading up on the surprisingly easy road.

The 4wd section. The woods were incredibly peaceful. I took pure joy in the winter wilderness.

Viewing the sign at the summer 4WD TH. We hiked 2.7 miles to get here.

The trail opens up a bit and you get a view of Wetterhorn (barely) and an obvious trail is seen up on the right on the hill, with no clear way to get there. We just walked straight for it, post holing the whole time, until on the relatively snow free trail. Shortly after this we found an ideal camp spot, noted it, and continued to treeline. We elected to look for water here and went down to the stream across the clearing. The water was TERRIBLE, never have we seen such bad water in Colorado...even after filtering it was nasty looking and tasting (this would later become a huge problem and end our ambitions for Uncompaghre...but more on that later). While Robco filtered water and started working on a trench for our next day's assault on Wetterhorn.

"A view of the Wetterhorn-Matterhorn!" As I break trail to around 12,000+ feet, the anticipation of the climb has me entirely consumed. Will the crux pitch be relatively dry? Will we regret the decision to leave the ropes behind? So many questions that would have to wait many hours...but one thing was for sure...this was going to be an exciting and intense winter climb.
I got back to camp at 6pm and Robco had camp set up already. After a frustrating night melting snow with minimal fuel, we hit the sack intending to begin our assault on both peaks at 5am.

Basecamp. Complete with 'chairs' and 'stove rock'

At 5:40am, I woke up…late, but very well rested. We quickly got our gear together and started up the trench I had created the previous night. The route in the immediate area is a bit confusing and has many ridges and blocked views, but if you head towards the center and take your time to carefully evaluate the best and safest route, it is easy.

Looking back down portions of the ridge. Postholing in some places, very easy though.

We were on top of the saddle in less than 2 hours and stashed our snowshoes by a large rock on totally snow free terrain. We started heading up the ridge and followed a trail for the first bit until the ridge progressively got harder and harder.

On the saddle. We stashed our gear near the rock that Rob is standing by.

Taken on descent, the terrain goes from a trail to this for a while with class 3 moves here and there.

Before we knew it the Class 2+/Class 3 ‘snow scrambling’ had begun. The climbing got progressively harder until we were funneled into a gully. This was definite class 3, sustained until you reach the top with quite a few exit options. I started out far to the right in a VERY narrow notch, but the climbing was easy…half way up Rob called over for me to come to the left and we exited in an easier fashion. This is the area where the route has 2 options according to Bill’s Route description (we think? There were a TON of cairns on this route, with snow and that many cairns it was often hard to tell if it was all one route). The supposed easier option as to our left and traversed a short section that would be easy in summer, but with snow it looked treacherous.

"The Cave of Wonders" I climbed through the back and up to the right to access the upper part of the ridge.

At this moment, I discovered quite possibly the great route feature I have yet to see. A small cave made up of huge slabs with a possible exit…I dumped my pack and went exploring. Moments later I was out and almost on the ridge crest. I stayed next to the rock in deep snow and narrowly escaped falling into a large gap when the snow bridge broke loose. I called for Rob to follow and we both carefully exited the area onto the ridge crest. From here we scrambled along the ridge crest. This was probably the hardest part of our day and we experienced a few class 4 moves. Once on top of this difficult area it was agreed that we were going to find another way down. Due to the committing nature of this area, I unfortunately do not have any pictures to share.

After this the terrain got unexpectedly easier and we took a break, right under a tremendous view of The prow and the notch we would use to access the ramp and the crux summit pitch.

A look at the upper portion of the ridge....ahead is some fo the Class 4 we encountered and bypassed on the way down.

The Prow and the summit come into view. The smaller notch is the one that accesses the other side.

A look at the horrid snow conditions we need to cross to get to the notch.

Rob coming up towards the area, terrain is pretty gentle compared to what we went through lower down.

This was the moment I had been anticipating since we had first mention the word “Wetterhorn.” Making my way over to the notchw as the most tiring part of the day as I was practically swimming in snow. Finally I got to the notch, climbed up and there it was…The ramp was dry!! I turned back to check on Rob’s progress and then made my way onto the ramp. I had microspikes on for this entire route and it certainly helped here. I walked carefully down along the wall, using holds. Honestly, there is no exposure on this part, as with most “ledges” it was a lot wider than anticipated and I could not even see off of the egde. The walk is short and the route to the summit is obvious.

“Wow, that’s steep. Gee, that’s the steepest Class 3 I’ve ever seen, oh well…at least the snow is intermittent. Hmm, exposure isn’t quite as bad as I had expected it to be, but slip here and it’s curtains…ok…1…2…3…go” And I’m off. The climbing is fantastic. Holds plentiful and well placed. A friend had told me “its steep, but it’s like a ladder” and he wasn’t kidding. I break once half way up to catch my breath, look down again, and continue on up…not thinking about anything but the moves and the top. Before I know it I am standing on a rather large, flat summit. I immediately notice the register and summit bivy. “Whew. I did it. I climbed Wetterhorn in winter.”

Through the notch, looking down the ramp, thankfully its almost completely dry...and not exposed.

From the summit, a look down the final pitch with Rob coming up.

Another view....

A few minutes later, Rob joins me on top and we enjoy a sunny, rather windless moment on top of a wonderful peak. The view of the Matterhorn and Uncompahgre are stunning. We take pictures of each other and eat some food. Neither of us go right out and say it, but that downclimb off the summit is going to be hairy…with boots on, gloves, snow….it’s a little intimidating. I decide to head towards a cairn on the summit and begin the downclimb there (instead of my ascent route). Once I’ve begun I am relieved…it is far easier than expected. I downclimb 95% facing out and lowering myself down. This is the definition of Class 3. Before I know it I am sitting in the notch above the ramp. Though I can’t really relax yet, some of the hardest climbing still remains.

Me on the summit.

Rob, summit.

We had already decided to try and bypass the sustained Class 4 and head down the first gully we come to (saw a cairn or two in this area). Rob chooses snow, I choose rock, and we make our way down a bit. It soon becomes clear that this will bring us far from where we want to go and we traverse across some snow and I climb back up to the ridge crest, exhausted.

Rob coming up the exit ramp

Footsteps. Sweet! We bypassed the major difficulty and we have arrived back at “The Cave of Wonders.” We break in this area and enjoy the rest and reflect a bit. The last “tough” part should be a 100’ class 3 downclimb below this cave. It turned out to be not that bad at all…perhaps I was just desensitized after hours of climbing. The route gradually eases and before I know it I am back at the snowshoe stash. Back to safety.
We make our way down and out of the wind and sit down for lunch and discuss plans. We make our way towards the basin and decide that at 2pm it’s far too late to try for Uncompahgre, though we both avidly state we are “ready for an ordeal,” we decide the hike is best left for tomorrow. Unfortunately after getting back to camp, we run out of gas, thus don’t have as much water as we wanted (had anticipated filtering as primary, stove secondary). Reluctantly we pack up camp and head down. It takes less than 2 hours to get back to the car. Fighting a cold that has gotten worse and with bad weather coming in, we decide that a day of rest (before he returns t work, and for me, climbing 5 days a week currently, rest days are vital) is better than going after Sunshine and Redcloud. We are back at T Rex by 1am.
The water situation was certainly a bummer, and could have been avoided had we brought more fuel, and it wasn’t a safety issue, more of a comfort issue. We could have stayed…but Wetterhorn had been our primary goal anyway.

All in all this climb was incredible, a challenging climb with stunning views and a rewarding feeling of truly climbing a mountain. PM me with any specific route questions.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Nice day to be in San Juans
01/16/2012 21:47
You did a great job. Nice write-up. Enjoyed your detail.


You stole my first line!!
01/16/2012 21:54
Get your own first line, buddy!

Awesome 1st report, Matt. Looks like you had a great climb. You are really knocking them out this winter, keep it up!

Great work, can't wait to get out together again.


I love Wetterhorn!
01/16/2012 21:54
Nice job guys!


01/16/2012 22:00
Bad ass all around!!!

Matt Lemke

Very nice Matt
01/16/2012 22:19
Can't wait to do this one!


01/17/2012 03:06
Way to mount that!! You rock!! I was wondering who was going to tap the San Juans in this ”unique” winter!! Wetterhorn was an adventure for me this year in July. You just stepped up the game, my friend. Such an inspiration! What is next for you?


Nice work!
01/17/2012 14:36
Wetterhorn was one of my the summer. Way to bag it in the winter. Thanks for the update on conditions!

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