Peak(s):  Uncompahgre Peak  -  14,309 feet
Wetterhorn Peak  -  14,015 feet
Date Posted:  05/31/2012
Modified:  07/30/2012
Date Climbed:   05/28/2012
Author:  SnowAlien
Additional Members:   gonzalj, kara
 Uncompahgre and Wetterhorn from Matterhorn Creek TH  

Day 1 - Uncompahgre the "Hard Way"

Date: May 27, 2012
Mileage: 14.3 miles RT
Elevation: 5,856 ft
Group: Kara (kara), Jorge (gonzalj) and Natalie (nkan02)

We drove from Denver on Saturday afternoon, wondering if the thick smoke from New Mexico fires obstructing the views from Lake City to Buena Vista would be a problem for us on Sunday. With strong winds expected to last through the midnight, we were glad to be camping in the trees at about 10K. After only a 5-hour masterful drive by Jorge, we found a great camping spot by Matterhorn Creek 2WD TH (a large tree was blocking the 4WD road) and settled for the night. We woke up the next morning to the clear sunny skies - whew! - and manageable winds.

Kara and I were backbacking into the basin with the goal to hike Wetterhorn on the following day (Monday - Memorial Day), and Jorge, accompanied by his 2 dogs, was a day hiker.

Starting out

We set off from the 2WD at about 6.15am and made a relatively quick progress towards the tree line ~11,800 feet, where Kara and I found a camping spot and unloaded our overnight packs. We were struck by how little snow was in the basin and glad we did not bother with snowshoes.


Jorge is hiking with the Wetterhorn-Matterhorn ridge backdrop

By 9 am we were inching towards the top of the Broken Hill pass (which required crossing a few snowfields on hard snow) and got our first good look of Uncompahgre. There were some lingering snow in the gullies, but none of them had a continuous line to the top.

Still, we were looking for some kind of the shortcut, as the route from Matterhorn Creek is longer than the standard route from Nellie Creek by about 4-5 miles and the idea on cutting down on mileage was appealing to all three of us. Occasionally, I am prone to hiking some obscure gullies without good beta (I am waiving at you, Mt. Lindsey and Crestone Peak), but I swear, this time it was not my idea. I just nodded approvingly as Kara and Jorge discussed the possibility of going up a grassy shoulder of Uncompahgre and then climbing up a relatively short rocky gully, which was expected to top out near 13,800 feet. What a grand idea! This way we all could avoid a boring Class 1 slog around the massive hulk of Uncompahgre. I also vaguely recalled a certain TR where people did just that.

Route ahead

So at 9.30 am and starting from about 12K, we set out to climb our first the steep section. I decided to bear more to the left and utilize a short strip of snow, while Kara and Jorge were ascending the rocky slope. At first, things were looking good. On snow, I was gaining elevation quickly.

Heading up on snow

Rock formations on the West face and SCREE

Then the snow ended and the steep scree started. It was so bad, I had to dig my ice ax into the dirt to get some leverage. With great difficulty, I was finally able to traverse to the flat spot where Kara was sitting. She did not like her ascent line either. Then we heard a yell from Jorge from down below that he is turning around. I went to see how far down he was, - and he was not, so I managed to convince him to cover the remaining 50-100 feet, so we can all descend together. After a quick break to catch breath, we went to look at the gully we were previously hoping to ascend. There was no way! It was still horrible looking scree, only this time loaded with microwave-sized blocks, ready to rumble down at the slightest disturbance. I am guessing I completely missed the route description in the Roach book where he says that the Western face is really a snow route, an even more so, climbing it without snow is "environmentally incorrect"! We were at 13,000 feet, but our only option was to descend. We were able to spot the grassy ramp that proved to be a much better option than the horrible rotten gullies, and took it down to the valley floor at 12,000 feet. Whew! By the time we got down to the basin, it was already 11.30am, and Jorge was feeling every one of the 3,500 feet of elevation gain that day and decided to head back to the trailhead.

Back in the valley. Defeated.

Kara and I still had some energy left, so we put on our best game faces and joined the standard route that goes around the south face of the mountain and eventually merges with the Nellie Creek approach.

Going around the SW slopes

Easy hiking

Unfortunately for us, at this point, the weather was starting to change - the winds increased and the clouds were moving in. Our best bet was to speed up our pace and hope for the weather to hold. We stashed all the unnecessary gear - ice axes, crampons, helmets on the trail near 12,500 and pushed on.

Menacing-looking clouds atop of Uncompahgre

Once on the ridge I kept looking down, trying to see if there was a gully I would be comfortable descending, but I found none.

Is this "our" gully?

or this one?

Near the summit

We made it to the summit at 2.15pm, or about 2.5 hours after parting ways with Jorge, but the trek up and down the ridge was miserable - it was cold and the wind gusts were about 30-40 mph. The sun tried to come out a few times, and it did not rain or snow, so we were thankful for that.

Cold & windy on the summit

Summit views


Heading down

It is a long way back to the pass

It just keeps going

Almost at the pass. From here, it is about 30 minutes back to the camp.

Near the summit, Kara was feeling the full impact of 5'500+ elevation gain on her first 14er hike since October (and we still had to regain the pass on the way back), but she is a real trooper. I was ok until we got back down to the valley, skirted around the Western face and started ascending the Broken Hill pass - that part was miserable! After filtering more water, we finally got to our camp at about 6pm - making for a 12-hour, 14+ miles, ~5'900 ft elevation gain day. What the h*ll was that?

Day 2 - Wetterhorn

Date: May 28, 2012
Mileage: 6.3 miles RT
Elevation gain: 2,671 ft

The next morning, I tried to lure Kara out of her tent, but she still felt the impact of the previous day and decided to stay in and rest. Since it was still early and we camped 0.5 miles away from the Wetterhorn face, I would be the first person on the mountain that day. I started hiking at 5.45am. The first mile was a slow going and took something like an hour - I was also feeling tired from the long hike the previous day and was even questioning my decision to continue. I think I have those moments on every mountain. Will I be able to make it? Should I continue? I knew I had some time before I had to be back, so I just zoned out and concentrated on putting one foot in front of another. I fiddled with the old beat up camera which was refusing to cooperate that morning, with the camelback's hose which tried to freeze up on me, ate breakfast, and lo and behold, I found myself on the ridge at 13K. The remaining route looked stunningly dry, so again, I stashed all the unnecessary gear - crampons and poles. Marmots were out in full force, so I spent some time building a barricade out of snow and rocks to protect the gear - and it held. The scrambling part (last 1,000 feet) was very dry, in summer-like conditions. I was glad I had route description with me, as the route finding in the couple of spots was tricky. Finally, after 3+ hours of leaving camp (yup, I was moving slowly that day), I reached the summit. Two day hikers caught up to me after about 20 minutes, but they would be the only 2 people I'd see on the mountain all day. I got back to the camp at 11am. Kara and I packed the camp, started hiking at noon and 30 minutes later found Jorge patiently waiting for us at 4WD TH (the tree that was blocking the road was cut so he was able to drive from 2WD to 4WD TH to pick us up).

Next morning

Alpenglow on Wetterhorn

Ridge walking. Snow is completely avoidable

Route ahead

First gully

At the Prow

At the Notch. Route description was helpful here


Remaining Class 3 to the summit

On the summit - great weather

Handies and American Basin

Redcloud & Sunshine

Uncompahgre & Matterhorn


Heading down

Back at the Notch

Looking back at the gullies and the Prow

Back at the ridge

Lower in the basin

Hiking out

Cool looking ice


On the face value, getting both peaks from Matterhorn Creek TH sounds like a good idea. However, there are caveats. Uncompahgre will be the heavily weighted part of the equation - about 4,600 feet of elevation and 14 miles RT on a standalone basis. Regaining the Broken Hill pass on the way back to Wetterhorn can be quite unpleasant. So unless you are superfit, and your goal is to get both peaks and enjoy yourself, the best bet is probably to do each peak by its standard route from respective TH.

Both peaks from Matterhorn Creek TH

18.1 Uncompahgre+Wetterhorn combo
14.3 Uncompahgre (4WD) alone

Net Elevation Gain
5,524 Uncompahgre+Wetterhorn combo
3,589 Uncompahgre (4WD) alone

Total Elevation gain
6,520 Uncompahgre+Wetterhorn combo
4,585 Uncompahgre (4WD) alone

Each peak done separately by standard routes

8.2 Uncompahgre (from Nellie Creek TH)
7.3 Wetterhorn (from Matterhorn Creek TH)
15.5 - Combined

Total Elevation Gain
2,849 Uncompahgre (from Nellie Creek TH)
3,295 Wetterhorn (from Matterhorn Creek TH)
6,144 - Combined

Our combination from this weekend

14.3 Day 1 - Uncompahgre (2WD) (with detour)
6.3 Day 2 - Wetterhorn (4WD)
20.6 miles - Combined

Total Elevation Gain:
5,856 Day 1 - Uncompahgre (2WD) (with detour)
2,671 Day 2 - Wetterhorn (4WD)
8,527 ft - Combined

Of course, the easiest combination assumes one can get to 4WD TH on both routes. If not, then the equation changes again.

More photos from the weekend are here

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

 Comments or Questions
Doctor No

Looks like some great conditions
05/31/2012 17:04
Way to bang out both peaks! I get dizzy looking at the ”Rock formations on the West face and SCREE” photo.


05/31/2012 17:13
I wish I would've waited until Sunday to hike, the smoke diminished the views on Uncompahgre the day before. Nice job!


05/31/2012 18:37
Nice work Natalie and company, we waved to you guys from the Wilsons!


Tough Days
05/31/2012 19:03
Congrats on getting both summits. I think I would've slept in on Monday too. That second descent gully on U looks terrifying.

Be safe in your future pursuits...


The smoke
05/31/2012 20:14
Most likely from the sunrise mine fire west of montrose. Or from the gladiator fire from Arizona.


05/31/2012 21:44
Ha! I just hid my tears/whimpers well! I have to say given the numbers I'm pretty stoked at my general fitness level this early in the season (since I am not a winter warrior). But man! Unc is not supposed to be like that and I'm sad I didn't enjoy the hulk more. Apologies again for sending you up Wetty solo, but there is literally nothing I can think of that would have gotten me out of my tent that morning. Nice write up!


what a weekend
05/31/2012 23:28
Well Natalie, I would say you summed it up pretty good. I'm not sure what we were thinking on top of the pass that ascending those gullies would be a good idea (maybe my ankles were telling me I didn't want the extra 4+ miles and extra gain to go all the way around to the standard), but nonetheless that was a major learning experience and I hands down will never attempt those west facing gullies again without snow. Someday I'll just go get it from nellie creek. All in all though, fun weekend with gorgeous scenery and good times with you two.


Incredibly helpful
08/23/2012 02:58
I just found out I can view .gpx on google earth. This helps so much in seeing where to not go into those gulleys and where roach says to skip terrain.

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