Peak(s):  Wetterhorn Peak  -  14,015 feet
Date Posted:  09/01/2020
Date Climbed:   08/30/2020
Author:  Bryan W
 Rain, ice pellets, snow, and what's the big deal!   

Saturday, the day before the climb, was a long day as I had arrived in Aspen from Chicago the night prior. I was there for work, but I was able to arrange a few days off to go play in the mountains. To my surprise however, the weather was absolutely horrible when I arrived Friday night and most all day on Saturday. However, that wasn't all bad as the Friday rains pretty much put out the Glenwood Canyon fire. Since the rain persisted through Saturday, I decided that I would make the long drive to Lake City via Grand Junction instead of taking the passes, which really was only going to save a half hour in ideal conditions anyway. After a long drive and a stop or two for supplies, I arrived at the 4x4 TH about 45 minutes before sunset and only found one other vehicle there. It was uninhabited, so I pretty much had the place to myself. With only a few camp sites to be found at the TH, I definitely found one perfect spot.

I set the alarm for 0500, despite the fact that I know I can never sleep at altitude. However, at some point in the middle of the night it began to rain again. The constant sound of the rain hitting the tent made what little chance I had of sleeping, now nearly impossible. A little later I decided to change my wake up time closer to 0600 so that I could get a decent look at the weather once the sun had come up enough to light things up. Wetterhorn has always been one of those 14ers that's been on my mind, yet the final pitch has bothered me enough that I usually go find something else to do instead. Now here I was on the mountain in less than ideal conditions and I was really questioning if I should attempt it that morning. To be honest, this was probably a worst case scenario for me.

Wetterhorn in full view as it went in and out of the clouds and passing rain/snow

During the early morning hours, several cars had arrived, so I would not be the only one on the trail that day. At 6:20, with my pack on and boots tied, I left the TH enroute to the summit. I settled into a good pace as off and on drizzle continued. Less than 20 minutes up the trail, I made the right-hand turn for the Wetterhorn trail. Another 20 minutes or so and I made the left-hand turn towards the summit ridge. It was somewhere in there that ice pellets started falling as well as graupel. However, as the sun got higher, it seemed obvious that the weather was going to improve, so I continued on. At the 2 hour mark, I found myself at the top of the yellow dirt talking to the first folks that were coming down that morning. It was at that time that I noticed that the west face of Uncompahgre had fresh snow and ice on it. That was worrisome as I did not want to be on the final pitch if it were icy or even wet for that matter. The couple coming down said that they had run into a little bit of ice, but it was easy to avoid and would probably be gone an hour later when I got there. Convinced, I continued on towards the top, ever so dreading that final pitch. As I continued towards the Notch, I found there to be a reasonable trail with cairns marking the way. At one point there were two sets of cairns, one high and one low. Having read previous trip reports of people getting too high at this point, I tried to stay low. I however did get a little higher than I planned and ended up having to down climb slightly around a large rock formation. Not long after that, I found the obvious gully that leads to the Notch that I had heard so much about. I continued up with relative ease and got to the point where I had to choose to take the path to the left or the easier path to the right. I decided to go right, as most people seem to do, and made it up the narrow path. From the top of the notch, it is easy to find your way to the Prowl as it's right in front of you. 15 minutes later I was standing just below where you have to climb up 15 feet to enter the Ramp.

At the Notch. Just out of frame the normal route to the right.

The moment of truth had arrived. I was now just a few feet away from the Ramp where I would have a chance to see the final pitch for myself. I followed a guy that I had caught up to, up to the ramp. When we got there, he moved over to the side, seemingly not sure about what he was going to do next. Now was my chance to see for myself. I moved down the ramp and then looked up and looked to my left to see below me. I could not believe my eyes. This was the point that I had always imagined getting to and saying, "Nope" and heading back to the TH. Now I am here and I say to myself, "What's the big deal?" For the record, I am no fan of heights, so if I'm saying it's no big deal, then anybody can do it. I told the other guy that was still standing at the top of the ramp, that it was nothing. As I started up, the rock was a little damp, which may have been a good thing as the gravel was a little more tacky. I shouted a word or two of encouragement to the other guy and the next thing I knew, he passed me on the left. Thus confirming there are multiple lines up the final pitch. In just a matter of 4 or 5 minutes and to my surprise we were at the catwalk (almost). I heard the other guy talking to somebody around the corner that was obviously coming down. I walked over that way and asked if this was the catwalk. As it turns out, it was not, but was yet another ledge system that is maybe 8-10 feet below the catwalk. This however seemed a bit easier, so we worked our way around the corner and made the easy transition up and onto the summit. Of course it decided to snow just a little while on the summit, despite mostly blue skies.

Climber entering the top of the Ramp

Looking down from the summit at the final pitch.

After spending about a half hour on the summit, I decided to be the first one of the now six total people on the summit, to head down. I went back the way I came, but this time I took the catwalk back around to the final pitch. I decided the way I had come up earlier looked easier and went back the way I had just come in order to drop down on the lower ledge. From there it was an easy combination of butt scoot, down climb, and just stepping down and in a matter of a few minutes I was back at the ramp. In fact, it was/is probably harder to drop down from the top of the ramp on your way down then it was to come down the final pitch. The rest of descent was pretty much unremarkable. From the Prowl to the Notch it is easy to find your way. From the Notch to the top of yellow dirt, I stayed higher than I did coming up as it was a lot easier to discern the trail down. From the bottom of the yellow dirt, your chances of falling are remote unless you are just careless. After nearly 2 hours of winding my way down from the summit and just a matter of a few minutes from the TH, it of course decided to end the day the same way it had begun, with rain.

This was a great hike/climb. Fears were faced and the reality of it did not live up to them. I met a few nice people along the way, gained a little more experience and checked off 14er #28 followed by #29 the next day.

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

Encouraging report
12/27/2020 13:35
this is a great report as i seem to be in the same boat from which you came, as in being intimidated by the final pitch. Now maybe i will try my hand at this peak - my first class 3 - and hope that i too will say "what's the big deal?" when i walk down the ramp and look up then down.

Did you wear a helmet or happen to notice if most folks bother to wear one?


Bryan W
Helmet Up
01/04/2021 00:14

Yes, most people on the hill that day had helmets and put them on when they got on the final pitch, if not sooner. The best piece of safety equipment is one that you never need to use and that certainly fits the situation here. Definitely take a rock climbing helmet with you, IMHO.

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