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Wetterhorn Peak is a CO 14er located in the San Juans between Ouray and Lake City. I had driven in from Ouray over Engineer Pass, up the particularly rough County Rd 18 the day before and broke a welded bracket off the rear suspension. I made a cludge fix with climbing gear to get my ground clearance back, but I'll need to get it rewelded before I do any more serious 4-wheeling. This wasn't a big setback today, as the 4WD TH for Wetterhorn is a mere half mile up from the main TH. I had slept in longer than planned, until after 6a, and didn't get started from the TH until almost 6:30a. I think I was the last party starting up to Wetterhorn this morning. After hiking the road up past several occupied campsites, I reached the higher TH where a gate blocks vehicles. The road ends soon after, becomes a trail, and enters the Uncompahgre Wilderness. Wetterhorn can be seen in the distance soon after starting out, Matterhorn coming into view a bit later. I passed the first of numerous parties on the trail in the first 20min, and came across perhaps 25 folks all told. No surprise, of course, since it's a 14er and a weekend. The trail climbs above treeline more quickly than I would have expected, with views opening up accordingly. A signed trail junction splits the Wetterhorn & Matterhorn trails. The former isn't shown on the topo map, but it's a well-worn trail that climbs all the way up to the base of Wetterhorn's South Ridge and then even a bit further. At the saddle below the South Ridge I found a party of 4, a family with two young teen daughters. They seemed to be doing exceptionally well. The trail continues above the saddle but then becomes more of a rock scramble, well-ducked and easy to follow if you keep an eye out.
I passed more parties in the rocks of the South Ridge. The last 100ft of the climb was a fun class 3 staircase, the best part of the route. I found a couple atop the summit, chillin' in the morning sun of a beautiful day. Clouds were only beginning to form, most of the sky a fine blue, maybe 55F at the summit. The woman sitting on the summit cairn began to tell me how they didn't come up the right way, a bit too loose, etc, etc. I told her I came up the regular way and found the rock quite solid, most of the loose rock already dislodged by decades of vistors. She continued to describe various parts of the route like the Notch, a V-groove and other features that meant nothing to me, still trying to figure out where they missed a turn. I really didn't care about her tale after about 30 seconds. It's really not that hard of a route and hardly worthy of such a discussion. I smiled, took my photos and beat a retreat from the summit, leaving her to recharge her story for the next person to happen on the summit.
I was intrigued by a party of three women below the crux that were coming up with two dogs. They had apparently taken a very different route, perhaps in the talus on the east side of the ridge, possibly easier for the dogs. They had harnesses for them and had brought a rope in case they had trouble on any of the sections. They had clearly climbed quite a few summits with these canines and the dogs were looking quite eager to continue. Great group. I passed by the family of four about halfway down the ridge, they too looked to be having fun. I suppose most of the parties were - it was really quite the ideal day. Back at the bottom of the ridge, I continued down the trail as it makes its way through the high basin, then cut off to head cross-country to Matterhorn Peak, less than a mile to the east. Having spied the terrain on the way up Wetterhorn, I decided to climb via Matterhorn's West Ridge which connects to Wetterhorn along a tortured ridgeline. I would bypass most of the ridgeline below on the trail an then cross-country, heading up towards the ridge about a quarter mile from the summit. Most of the ascent to the ridge went up a convenient grass slope that offered better purchase than the talus/scree options on either side. At the ridge, I climbed up somewhat loose blocks to a false summit, back down to a notch, then up to the summit, about an hour and a half after leaving Wetterhorn's summit. I liked the views even better here, though perhaps that might have been because I had the place to myself. An empty PVC tube exemplified another Colorado register fail. Seems they just don't last long in this state.
As it was only 10a and the clouds weren't building too quickly, I decided to head to Broken Hill, about two miles to the south. Uncompahgre was even closer to the east, but I was saving that one for two days hence when I planned to climb it with my pal Eric. The upper part of Matterhorn is a bit of a rocky mess, but a use trail of sorts gets one through the roughest section and down to the grassy slopes a few hundred feet lower where things get easy once again. I had a nice time dropping down to the Matterhorn Trail (which doesn't actually go to peak, mind you, but somewhere else) at a broad saddle, then up easy slopes to Broken Hill. Most of this is a pleasant stroll, with only the last hundred feet with a class 3 move and then some steepish talus. It was now 11:20a and the clouds were beginning to gather with greater determination - rain looked like it might start within an hour or so. Time to head back.
I headed southwest along a likely-looking ridge that worked out quite nicely. Most of it is grassy, easy hiking, with a short talus section in the middle and more grass and forest below. The only non-easy section was a short bit of steep downhill, perhaps a tenth of a mile, with brushier understory in an aspen forest, featuring some thorny wild roses and other such things. This ended soon enough, returning to grass slopes just before reaching the 4WD road. By 12:15p I'd finished, a most excellent romp around the San Juan highlands - such fun! Time to head to Lake City, eat, clean up, and get ready to meet up with Eric this evening...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Wetterhorn Peak - Matterhorn Peak - Broken Hill
This page last updated: Wed Jul 25 16:00:46 2018
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