Peak(s):  Wetterhorn Peak  -  14,015 feet
Date Posted:  07/07/2020
Modified:  08/27/2020
Date Climbed:   07/05/2020
Author:  JQDivide
 The Perfect 14er   

Sunrise on Wetterhorn: The Perfect 14er

Wetterhorn is the perfect 14er experience. I’ll give my reasons momentarily. But first, the sunrise.



After a last-minute major change of plans for the weekend, I headed to the San Juans for the Fourth of July. I hit Centennials 13,811 and 13,832 on Saturday, July 4, then met some old friends from Oklahoma and Missouri that have been vacationing in Lake City for decades.

Then I headed up to the Wetterhorn trailhead to meet Anastasia and Ezra who were planning on a sunrise summit the next morning. They did a sunrise summit on Saturday in the Ice Lake Basin. Two early mornings for them. We had dinner and I set up my tent. Was in the sleeping bag around 8 p.m.


My alarm went off at 2:30 a.m. Ugh. I made some hot tea in my Hydroflask and stashed it in my backpack, that was prepped the night before. I felt like I was working on instinct and muscle memory as I was not awake yet.

Anastasia and Ezra were up and ready to walk. I was not feeling it this morning. My body wasn’t working. I felt lethargic. My stomach seemed off. My balance was in question. My body just didn’t want to be vertical and moving this early. We pushed on, a bit slower than we wanted.


The moon was nearly full and provided a lot of light. I still used a headlamp as I didn’t trust my mind to move my legs without tripping. I tried to eat, but could only manage a few small pretzels. I probably should have made coffee or tea for the hike in, not just for the summit. While in the rock garden, I finally forced myself to eat a GU shot with caffeine. That helped.

Just as we came out of the rocks we caught up to a solo hiker from Kansas City. We moved along together up the slope until it was time to put on helmets. About this time, my ‘second wind’ came alive, or maybe I finally woke up. But I felt much better as scrambled up toward the Prow.


By the time we were at 13,800 I was moving like normal and was ready to scramble up the ledges to the summit. This oversized staircase of rocks is pretty easy Class 3, but my lack of balance from earlier gave me some caution. I moved a bit slower than I wanted, just to be sure of my foot and hand holds. Up I went, behind Anastasia and Ezra.

The sun was just peeking out as I summited. We put on extra layers to block the chilly wind. I drank two cups of tea. Took lots of photos of the sun and the moon. We headed down after 15 minutes or so. Once back on the ledges the wind was blocked and it was smooth moving down.


We stopped to eat just after we finished all the Class 3 and took off our helmets. More people were making their way up the peak.

It was a beautiful morning.


The Perfect 14er



Wetterhorn is the perfect 14er in the sense that is has everything that embodies the 14er experience. I’m not saying it is the best 14er or the most fun to climb. It’s just that it has all the qualities that if someone could only do one 14er, this would be "the one." I’ve climbed it three times and this is what I think.

1. Travel: You can't get there from here. Well, you can get to Lake City eventually. Colorado is a beautiful state with lots to offer the traveler. Sure some people hate driving, but too bad. If you want to experience this great state you have to get out of the city and get on the road. Depending on which direction you’re coming from you can drive through, Leadville, BV, Gunnison, Creede, or Grand Junction. The scenic highways and passes just add to the destination. Explore this state. Visit its towns. Become a traveler, not a tourist. Road Trip!


2. Lake City: Every good mountain experience needs a great mountain town to visit. Lake City with only a few hundred residents busts at the seams in the summer with visitors. Coffee, burgers, pizza are available. A ‘little-bit-of-everything’ grocery store, a sporting goods store and a small concert venue are added amenities. And you can’t skip an old-fashioned milk shake or malt from the San Juan Soda Shop, their huge. Small hotels, a hostel, campgrounds, Jeep rentals and touristy stores round out the town. The mining history is everywhere, including tales of the infamous cannibal, Al Packer.

3. 4x4 Road: The road out of Lake City up Henson Creek Road isn’t so bad. It’s a fairly well-maintained dirt road that is part of the Alpine Loop. Once you turn onto North Henson Road it gets rougher, but not too bad. A good driver and the Colorado “crossover” spirit (looking at you Subaru drivers) can get you far up that road. (Though accidents can happen. Sorry about that oil pan Taylor.) That last 0.7 miles is true 4x4 high-clearance driving. I took our stock Suburban up that once. I wouldn’t do it again. There is something about driving over and around rocks to a trailhead that sparks some excitement in the journey. (But if you have to hike it that last bit, it’s not too far.) There is also plenty of dispersed camping along N Henson Road, but only a few spots on the 4x4 road and the TH.

4. The Trail: It’s short, like seven miles, round trip. That’s an easy and quick route compared to most 14ers and even to a lot of other hikes. It’s also a very good trail, easy to follow. Colorado Fourteeners Initiative has been doing some work on it too. With only 3,300 of elevation gain, it’s not too strenuous.


5. Add-Ons: If the trail is too short for your liking and fitness level, you can always add on Matterhorn Peak (13,590) or if looking for a long day, include 14er Uncompahgre Peak. That's a big day, especially in winter.

Or if you are looking for a backpacking experience, there are several spots just at treeline to pitch your tent, all with great views of the basin.

The Ridge goes, but it's much easier to go down and back up that grass slope to Matterhorn.

Coming over from Uncompahgre

View from Uncompahgre's ridge

6. Variety: Though the trail is short, it has a lot of variety. It starts below treeline and follows the creek. It opens up into a wide grassy valley with three creek crossings. You can see the summit of Wetterhorn for most of the hike. The trail meanders through a “rock garden” or boulder field. Up a slope and into Class three moves before reaching the summit. It packs a lot into those three miles with very few switchbacks.

Rock Garden

Rock Garden below Wetterhorn and Matterhorn

Trail comes out of the trees


7. Wildflowers: If you hike this route in July, usually mid July is best, you will be amazed at the bounty of wildflowers in the basin. Paint brush. Columbines. Sunflowers. And so many more. It’s a photographer’s dream.




8. Furry Critters: Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the marmots are all over this peak. Some of them are huge. They are seen throughout the rock garden, as are their cute little neighbors, the Pika. Careful, don’t step on them. Ptarmigan can also be found in the basin.



9. Route Finding: It’s not a difficult route to figure out, but you do have to make some choices. The route description on this site is great and provides everything you need. But by having to make those choices you are engaging your mind on this hike while you engage the mountain. There are plenty of cairns along the way.


Looking for cairns to climb onto the summit block for the final pitch.

10. Class 3: Let's climb a mountain. Yes, some people say you're not really climbing on Class 3. While other say it is climbing. Climbing, scrambling, you're using your hands for upward movement, it's low end climbing, it's an introduction, but it's climbing. At the end of the of day, you can tell your friends you "climbed" a mountain and that's realistic. Show 'em that 'hero shot' on the ledges with that exaggerated view of the slope. That's prime social media buzz.

Many people consider this to be a good intro into Class 3. The rock is solid with good foot and hand holds. There are very few rocks that can tumble down, though enough one should wear a helmet. (I’m always surprised at the number of people without helmets on this route.) The lower section is an easy scrambling with very little exposure. Fall would hurt, but not too bad. Once at the summit block, the exposure increases, but the rock is still solid. It’s like a giant staircase with lots of reachable ledges. Think of a toddler crawling up a staircase. If you can climb onto your kitchen counter, you can climb/scramble up this section. Don't look at the entire wall, concentrate on what's right in front of you. And if the last 10 feet are a bit too steep for you, look to the left for a cairn that will take you to an easier slope. Down climbing is just as easy and one can simply ‘butt-scoot’ if needed.

Despite the C3 classification, I think most people have the physical and mental ability do this route. It's not the challenge that some other C3 peaks are, nor is it as huge commitment as an undertaking.

Just a large staircase...

11. The Views: From the summit of Wetterhorn you can see peaks for miles. You get a good look at Uncompahgre for most of the hike. Toss in a sunrise, or moonrise, with the 14er’s silhouette and you have some great photos. Turn slightly, and you have views of Sunshine, Redcloud, Handies. The peaks of Chicago Basin. The Wilsons. Sneffels. And all the 13ers, 12er and ridges in between.

You're not looking at the Arkansas Valley, again... not that the AV isn't pretty. It's just the same view all along most of the Sawatch.



Moon rising over Uncompahgre

Sunset on the edge of Wetterhorn

12. San Juans: Did I mention these views are of the San Juans? “The San Juans never disappoint.” I’ve heard that. I’ve said that. I believe that. There is something about being in this mountain range that is so different than the other ranges in the state. Maybe it’s the variety of shapes and colors. Maybe it’s the allure of its grandness. The depth of solitude you can still find. I guess I’ll just have to keep going back until I figure it out.


Other 14ers have many of these same elements, but none has all of them. Yes, Wetterhorn is the perfect 14er experience.
I'm sure others will have a different opinion on this selection, but I've spoken with enough people to consider this a popular choice for 'the one.'

I'm not saying this should be everyone's favorite 14er or that this is the best 14er... just that when you look at all the variables, this one has the greatest potential to be the perfect day out on a mountain.

Side notes...
1. Foodiehiker says Wetterhorn was not perfect on this last trip because she had to work and wasn't able to go.
2. I was going to mention the lack of crowds, but didn't want to jinx it. And then there's that unexpected finisher party that will ruin everyone else's wilderness experience. Ah shucky darns! Finisher party? Why wait 'til the end? But a great choice.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions

07/07/2020 19:02
Couldn€„˘t agree with u more. It is the perfect 14er. Always fun to see more Wetterhorn pics and accounts.


Very good points
07/07/2020 20:36
I loved Wetterhorn.

Combining it with Unc. makes for a great and exhausting day in surely one of the most beautiful high meadows in all of the American west.

Wetterhorn is like a sampler platter for fourteeners, and that class 3 at the end is a blast.

(Get an early start for the €œSunrise Over Matterhorn & Uncompaghre€ shot€)


Great pictures
07/07/2020 21:24
And superb write-up! This will be a repeat in the future for sure. Hopefully with a full moon and summit sunrise as well!


Fun day!
07/07/2020 22:02
Glad you were able to join us, and thank you for jump starting the turd! Staci was missed, we'll have to repeat Wetterhorn again when she doesn't have to work. Great pictures and a well written trip report.

PS: now I know why we didn't see any pikas, they were hiding from you.


07/10/2020 08:25
I enjoyed your report, as always. Thanks again Joel.

When people ask me what my favorite 14er is, I usually say Wetterhorn because it was the one where I realized "I might be able to do them all". Getting over the hurdle of a fear of heights was part of it but realizing that I had come a long way in gaining my "footing" in the mountains was more important to that quest.

When my son and I climbed Wetterhorn, we summitted, as you did for this report, as the sun was rising over Uncompahgre. What a spectacular sight! We downclimbed into the basin and experienced the wildflower carpet between Wetterhorn and Matterhorn, viewed a herd of cattle from the summit of Matterhorn, traversed to Uncompahgre and ascended maybe the loosest gully we've ever climbed and, from the summit of Uncompahgre, looked back on our path. What a perfect day and a perfect mountain, indeed!


I'm with you on this one...
07/10/2020 12:18
Wetterhorn is near the top of my all time favorite hikes. If it wasn't so damn far from Parker, I'd do it every year.

As always, your pictures are fantastic and your report is well written. Thanks!

Amazing trip report!
07/11/2020 14:48
Great pics and great report! The best TR I have read. Definitely doing Wetterhorn next year.! Doing Chicago Basin this year!


Beautiful morning
07/11/2020 18:21
I enjoyed climbing the last 1,000' of vertical with you. Incredible pictures!


Nice Report
07/16/2020 22:23
Great info about the hike! I plan on doing it for the first time next month. Can't Wait!

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