Peak(s):  Uncompahgre Peak  -  14,309 feet
Wetterhorn Peak  -  14,015 feet
Date Posted:  07/07/2010
Date Climbed:   07/04/2010
Author:  fleetmack

 Uncompahgre & Wetterhorn via Matterhorn Creek  

Uncompahgre and Wetterhorn Peaks
Route: Matterhorn Creek TH (both mountains)
Summit Elevation - 14,309, 14,015
Elevation Gain: 5800
Trip Distance: 16.50 miles
Total Round-Trip Climb Time (including about 45 minutes of rest and summit time): 14:00 (yeah, you read that right. we're slow)
4WD Required: we made it .6 from the TH in a Mazda 3 passenger car, would need high-clearance 4WD from there
Exhaustion Factor (on scale of 1-10): 9.5
Scenery Factor (on scale of 1-10): 9

Samantha and I got to sleep at our campsite in Lake City around 8:00pm on Saturday night after having climbed Redcloud and Sunshine that day. We woke at 2:00am and got dressed and jumped in the car. We headed 8.8 miles West on Old Henson Road (just outside of Lake City from 2nd St.). Went through the old mining town, and past Nellie Creek TH to the Matterhorn Creek road. We took the road slowly in the passenger car. The road is roughly 2.6 miles long and we made it 2.0 miles in her car before calling it quits. We definitely had to take it slowly, but made it with no major bottom outs or anything. I'd feel safe taking any car other than something like an Eagle Talon or Mitsubishi Eclipse up there.

Our plan was to summit Uncompahgre from Matterhorn Creek TH, then summit Wetterhorn, and hike back to the car. We parked the car at 3:29 and geared up, finally got hiking up the road around 3:45.

We had researched how to do this route by synthesizing the route descriptions, Roach's book, and the Monkey of all things Talus' trip report from August 2006. There is no good solid route for this detailed so I will attempt to detail this route as best I can. The night before, Samantha and I had summed up the trip in the following steps:

1) Drive car as far up Matterhorn Creek road as possible
2) Get to TH, either via hitchhiking or foot-hiking
3) Hike 3/4 mile to a sign that says "Matterhorn Creek" one way, and "Ridge Stock Trail" the other way
4) Make mental note of one sign that says "Wetterhorn Trail" one way and "Ridge Stock Trail" the other way
5) Follow all signs that say "Ridge Stock Trail" until you get to a sign that says "Uncompahgre Trail"
6) Follow Uncompahgre trail until it merges with Nellie Creek trail at 12,900
7) Summit Uncompahgre
8) Descend Uncompahgre to 13,800 and decide whether or not to use the Roach Alt. Route to descend or not (scree field)
a) Descend scree field and go cross-country back to Ridge Stock Trail
b) Descend the way we came up
9) Get back to mentally-noted sign discussed in Step 4
10) Summit Wetterhorn via Standard route
11) Go back to car
12) Drink a Pacifico

Problem 1 proved difficult as I left my Blackberry in the car, this was our sole GPS source, so we had no way to measure our altitude to check for markers and find the "shortcut" descent discussed by Roach/TalusMonkey.

We started hiking up from the car on the road, and I learned that Samantha shares my fear of hiking in the dark. We don't understand how some people simply ignore the fact that every single man-eating animal on Earth is watching you as you hike in the dark. We are certain we heard 3 sasquatch, 4 hippopotami, and 13 gorillas; let's not even get into how many pumas we thought were watching us. Samantha heard a growl and quickly asked, "You have you gun on your hip instead of in your backpack like you usually do, don't you?" I promptly replied with, "Absolutely" as I patted my holster along my pocket. Amazing the solace this little weapon gives me. It immediately eliminates all forms of fear. Peace of mind has no price.

After 20 minutes of hiking on the road, we made it to the TH, where we were the first ones to sign in for the day. We started hiking and unfortunately found out we had to leave our hang gliders behind. What a disappointment.

We hiked another 20 minutes and go to Step 3, the Ridge Stock Trail sign. We hung a !!!RIGHT!!!! on this trail (as you would also if you were climbing Wetterhorn first). We followed this trail for awhile until we go to Step 4; we made more than a mental note of this, I picked up a fairly big rock and set it atop the Matterhorn Creek TH sign so we would recognize it on the return so we'd know where to turn to go up Wetterhorn. We started up the pass, still without Uncompahgre in sight. We saw headlamps above and figured they must have either camped or not signed in at the TH. Around the time we summitted the pass, the sun began to come up. The trail is fairly deep trenches that reminded me of detasseling corn as a teenager and being stuck in one of the rows the planter had driven through. The trail was muddy in spots and there are several short stream crossings. Up, down, up, down, up, down, up, down, up, down. This is how the trail goes. Up, down, up, down, up, down, up, down, up, down. There are also a few snow fields remaining that can be crossed if you'd like, although we chose to circumvent them as the snow was rock solid and slippery. There are several trail junctions along the way, all of which have an option for "Ridge Stock Trail". Keep choosing this option.

Shortly, we arrived at a big yellowish patch with snow to the side of it, near here is the sign that reads a trail split for the "Uncompahgre Trail". Per the Monkey of all things Talus' report, we took this trail. It starts out flat but then grows extremely steep. Last weekend on Elbert with the Cops on Top clan was my first time using trekking poles. Let me say that on this stretch of the Uncompahgre trail was the first time I truly thought, "Wow, this would SUCK without poles!" Anyways, we kept hiking up and suddenly my lack of sleep hit me. I slept about 4 hours Thursday night, 5 hours Friday night, and off-and-on last night (after having hiked 12 miles and 4800 vertical yesterday). My legs felt strong, my brain felt weak. When we arrived at the junction of Nellie Creek, I was trashed. I had mentally tired, and I had a throbbing headache. I sat down, stripped layers, took Advil, took a leak next to the trail in an effort to spite the thread discussing not doing such things.....

..... and ate delicious food that Samantha had brought. She is so great at that. After a 30 minute break, Samantha said, "How long do you think it'll take us to get to that big rock? I say 10 minutes." I guessed 15. We were both wrong, it took us 18 minutes. The trail was icy here, but your boots would break through the ice. The trail is steep, but well maintained. We climbed for an hour or so and made HUGE ground, although we both were considering ourselves very slowly for this day. The trail weaves around to the back for some class 2 climbing up some loose rock.

For some reason I was just nervous as hell. I think my mind was on descending a gully on the way down, and my fear of falling rocks was as strong as ever. I really didn't want to descend a gully but it was all that was on my mind, as it was also important to move quickly as I really wanted Samantha to summit Wetterhorn as well. Anyways, I was extremely nervous and breathing and panting and would have quit hiking at this point if I were alone. I felt like 100%, complete shit. But, I kept going and got out of the class 2 area, panting from exhaustion (I swear I'm in good shape!), and saw Samantha sitting on a ledge. I took her picture.... and my camera was apparently on "grainy" mode (as it was in the above picture)

...and we headed up the rest of the trail. We reached the summit around 9:30, about 1:30 later than we were hoping.

Samantha sitting on the summit rock

Me showing my fear of heights by hugging the summit rock

We ate a few crackers, talked to some people from New Mexico who were discussing Base Jumping off of Uncompahgre (crazy!), and were about to head down. Samantha saw 2 people nearing the summit and said, "Wait, that looks like...." and I interrupted her sentence with.... "Dan. It does, that's not him, though." As soon as I finished my sentence, the guy takes his sunglasses off, looks at us and screams, "WHAT THE HELL?!??!!!!!" and runs for us, it was Dan!!!**

**So let's talk for a moment about Dan. In August of 2008, I responded to a climbing connection request and decided to go up Mt. Princeton with magnum420 and dwallace. Had a great day and summitted. About 6 months later I met my girlfriend. One day in mid-summer of 2009, we were going to climb Mt. Harvard or something (mundane details, we got rained out and went to hanging lakes instead). Samantha's brother lives in Avon, and 3 of his friends live in a house in Edwards. Samantha often spends the night there during ski season, so she called those guys and asked if we could stay there the night before our hike. They said yes. When we arrived at the house, one of the residents was none other than dwallace. "Hey! I know you!! We hiked Princeton together!" So apparently Samantha had known Dan for awhile. Small world. Then, this winter, we are up at Beaver Creek snowboarding for the day on a hookey-weekday and, long story short, we are sitting in the most obscure of spots (the locker rooms by Starbucks), and in walks Dan and his Dad for a snowboarding break. We had all skipped work that day to snowboard! So then, we again bump into Dan on the summit of Uncompahgre on July 4th. This guy is EVERYWHERE!!!

We stayed on the summit and took pictures with Dan, then started to descend around 10:15.

Samantha really wanted to go down the gully to shave off some time, but I couldn't have wanted the opposite more. She was welcome to do this on her own, but I wasn't going to join her. I took solace in Dan's comment of "Nine times of out ten that I try a shortcut, it doesn't work that way." There was still literally zero clouds in the sky in any direction. Some may laugh, but I honestly took this as a sign from God saying, "Fleetmack, don't risk this gully/shortcut. I'll give you PLENTY of time today by giving you zero clouds. I'll give you all the time you need to get up Wetterhorn." So we decided to go with above-mentioned step 8b.

We descended quickly and got to the white slab in about 1:45.

We saw 2 guys heading from Wetterhorn that were trying Uncompahgre, this gave us much reassurance that we'd be able to summit Wetterhorn. They said they had left the summit about 1:30 ago, we said we left ours around 2:00 ago. There was now 1 or 2 clouds in the sky, but they were not threatening in any way. In fact, one of the 2 guys heading in the opposite direction said something to the effect of, "If I had my cloud cards with me, I'm sure these would be the least threatening clouds possible." We all agreed.

Samantha and I hiked back through the up, down, up, down, up, down, up, down, up, down and this time we could go over the snow fields instead of circumventing them. We got back to the junction where I had placed my rock (aka, Step 9) around 1:00 (I think). We stopped for 20 minutes or so and ate.

We were both mentally drained due to a lack of sleep, and our legs were finally starting to get tired. We were discouraged. Samantha and I traded places often this day of being the motivator or the motivatee. At this time, I said, "Let's just go through Marmot City*** and get up to the yellow saddle, then we can see how the clouds look, we can descend fast from that point if we need to."

***Marmot City, aka Marmotville, is what I call the rockfield you walk through on the standard Wetterhorn trail as I'm convinced there are more marmots here than anywhere on Earth, and they are all 17x the size of an average marmot

We hiked through Marmotville and Samantha was kindly introduced to the mayor....

...from this point, I suggested we ditch our packs at the Prow, or perhaps even the saddle, and go alpine style to the summit. Samantha agreed. Shortly after we made this decision, we met a couple of ladies coming down, they said, "You know what you could do, is ditch your packs at the saddle and head up from there!" Ha, small world. But then she showed us her poles and pack covered in marmot-tooth marks. We vetoed the idea of stashing our packs; glad we saw them, I had lots of edibles in my pack and the marmots surely would have devoured my new GoLite Pinnacle and Black Diamond Anti-Shock trekking poles!

At this point, Samantha was feeling tired but motivated and strong. Conversely, I had hit the wall, broken through it, the wall fell on me, rebuilt itself on top of me, spit me out of the pile of broke wall, and pile-drived me back onto the now-ruined wall. Then the wall spit on me, insulted me by calling me a Bronco fan, and just for shits-and-giggles, the wall started playing Pink Floyd's The Wall.

I was tired. (did you gather that?). I laid down and debated quitting, but it was late (approaching 2:45). I had been up this mountain before, she hadn't. There was nobody else here. I didn't want her to go on alone, so I mustered up some strength and we climbed up the steep remainder of the Class 1 stuff and go into Class 2/3 climbing. We made it about 300-500 feet and my legs were shaking. Literally shaking they were so tired. I lost all confidence in my steps and felt a panic attack coming on. My heart started beating roughly 200 beats per minute, I couldn't catch my breath, my legs were shaking, I felt extremely nauseous, and I was suddenly panicking thinking I was going to fall. We were probably 300 vertical from the summit and I yelled up to Samantha, "I Have got to lay down, pretty sure I'm going to throw up.

Me moments before I thought I was going to yak...

I'm losing it here for some reason." This was making no sense to me, I was suddenly terrified that my legs were so weak that I couldn't handle this. I had been up this mountain before and suddenly nothing looked familiar, though my eyes it looked like class 5 for some reason. I laid down and said something similar to this:

"There is no way I can go on. I'm so weak. This makes no sense, I know I'm going to fall. This makes no sense, this is my favorite 14er. It takes 6 hours to drive here and 3 more to get where we are... on my favorite mountain, and I can't do it. I can't go up. I think I'm going to fall. I think I'm going to puke. I had been out of water for an hour. My legs are shaking as we hiked 7.5 hours yesterday and 11 so far today. I shouldn't do this. I want you to summit so badly, but I don't want to go up and I don't want you to go alone." I can't explain why I felt this way, I still don't know why. It's my favorite mountain, but I've sumitted it before, why risk this?

We sat there a minute and I decided it was important to have Samantha go up, so we decided she'd go up solo and I'd hike down to the yellow saddle and try to relax my mind and legs while I waited for her. I was sitting atop a Class 3 ridge just shy of the prow (I'm 99.9% sure we were not on route as this wasn't familiar to me at all from last time I was there). Samantha started ascending to my right and said, "Oh, this looks worse than where we are already." Then she spotted people coming up. I felt instant relief. These people soon appeared in our sight and we asked if Samantha could join them for the summit. I was so thrilled as I truly didn't think I should keep going on and I just really wasn't comfortable with her going up this unfamiliar class 3 by herself.. Again, call me silly, but I took this as another sign from God saying, "I gave you your time, and you are using your free will to choose to do what feels safe to you by going down. You feel guilty for not ascending with Samantha, so I present you with these two people who will climb up with her." I'm not sure where all these religious thoughts were coming from on this day, but they were there!

I went down, Samantha went up. She sumitted, I did not, and I couldn't have been more happy about it.

I found a wind shelter as it was extremely windy, and fell asleep. About an hour later, Samantha came down with Aaron and Amy (the couple who brought her up). We thanked them immensely for getting Samantha to summit, and we promptly flew threw Marmotville back to the trail. NOW the clouds started to look dark (around 4:00pm), so we picked the PERFECT day to take our time on this long day! We hiked down and were both feeling it. Roughly 11,000 feet of vertical and 29 miles in 30 hours is a little much for us right now, so we decided to axe our Monday plans of climbing Handies, that will have to wait for another day I guess.

We made it back to the car, had another Pacifico, compared foot wounds, drove down the road to Lake City, showered, napped, found out that at 8:30pm there is literally no place in Lake City to get hot food on July 4th, so we had an ice cream cone (the only food we had all day besides some cheese, crackers, and pepperoni). We met up with Dan and watched fireworks, went to bed early, and drove back to Denver the next morning.

Side note: If you ever want to quasi-camp in Lake City. I can recommend a place for certain. By quasi-camp, I mean sleep in a tent outside, but have access to showers and toilets and even wi-fi while being walkable to bars and restaurants. They also have a grill and fire pit. Anyways, in Lake City, the Elkhorn RV Park off of 7th and Bluff is excellent. Very clean. Very accommodating. VERY friendly staff. Close drive to all of these 14ers.


 Comments or Questions

Another gem!
07/07/2010 19:52
You‘re really knocking them outta the park with these last two trip reports! Some funny stuff ... 3 sasquatch, 4 hippopatami, ... pissing right by the trail ... Marmotville (been up there many times and couldn‘t agree with you more). God did give you both a perfect day and you drank it up like a cold Pacifico! Enjoy seeing Samantha on your trips. Thanks for posting. Happy trails!

Doctor No

Running with the Snug!
07/07/2010 21:05
I used to do that. Good times, good times.


Nice Work
07/07/2010 21:19
Glad you kept your legs under you and your head about you. Congrats on getting Uncompahgre and Samantha getting them both. Too bad you didn‘t get your Wetterhorn re-summit, but you definitely got an experience! Hope to see you guys on another peak this summer.


07/08/2010 16:56
you should have had some sour patch extremes, you would have climbed that last pitch with only your left hand pinky finger. The amazing rush of sour and sweet is just amazing. I tried yelling at you from Wilson Peak that morning but I dont think you heard me? Good work and F Marmots.


06/02/2011 14:57
Fun read and good information. Thanks.

Aspen Summit

Night-time Hiking
07/13/2010 02:51
Dude, u went up there with a gun?!? I have a knife that‘s 1/4 the size of my body so it‘s like a sword-ish. I‘ll go down rocking with any creature(s) out there.

Can I hike with you guys since Sam is so good at packing something yummy?

”Just when the Caterpillar thought that the world was coming to an end, *POOF* it became a Butterfly.” -Proverb


Thanks for the info!
08/02/2010 17:08
Awesome report!

Mel McKinney

Ha! Everyone knows Dan!
08/23/2010 20:05
Funny to see him in your trip report. Congrats on the summit. Good for you for backing off when you weren't 100%. It's a looong way back to the car when you feel like crap!


Snug Run!
06/01/2011 22:46
Love to see the shirt.

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