Peak(s):  Wetterhorn Peak  -  14,021 feet
Uncompahgre Peak  -  14,318 feet
Date Posted:  08/03/2014
Modified:  02/10/2016
Date Climbed:   08/02/2014
Author:  mlayman09
Additional Members:   nathanc
 Tour de Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre   

Tour de Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre

"The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of His hands..."

Start Time: 4:30 AM
End Time: 2:00 PM
Moving Time: ~ 8.5 hours
Trailhead: Matterhorn Creek 2WD (10,400')
Mileage: ~18 miles
Elevation Gain: ~6900'
Date Climbed: August 2, 2014

I'd been wanting to climb some peaks in the San Juans all summer, but the opportunity didn't arise until this weekend. Nathan and I left Denver around 2 on Friday afternoon, and immediately hit awful traffic on 285. Normally the traffic madness fades somewhere in JeffCo, but it wasn't until just south of Buena Vista that we finally felt like we had some breathing room. Everybody was gettin' out there this weekend!

We arrived at the Matterhorn Creek 2WD trailhead around 8 that evening. A word on the road conditions to this trailhead. The Henson Creek Road (CR 20) out of Lake City is a very nicely graded dirt/gravel road. No problem for any vehicle. The difficulties arise when turning onto the North Henson Creek Road (CR 24). It gets rougher, but I was able to make it with my '86 Camry. Perhaps the toughest part of this road up to the trailhead is the initial steep pitch. Once you get past that, I'd say any 2WD vehicle can make it provided they go slow. We set up the tent and immediately went to sleep with a 4:00 AM wakeup call waiting for us.

We set out on the trail the next morning under the canopy of stars at 4:30 AM. We were soon in the basin below Wetterhorn, and morning light began to emerge, revealing our first glimpses of Matterhorn and Wetterhorn peaks. We made quick work of the basin and were soon on the summit ridge. The morning light bid us pause as the rest of the San Juans were beginning to glow. After gawking at and photographing this wondrous landscape, we turned our attention to the scrambling that awaited us.

Sunrise over Matterhorn and Uncompahgre

Nathan taking it all in

Wetterhorn Alpenglow

The sun peeks over Uncompahgre

The view to the southwest

Having climbed many class 3 routes, I was looking forward to what Wetterhorn had to offer. Route finding, in my opinion, wasn't very difficult, even though we did start off-route. There are plentiful cairns to keep you on the easiest route, but if you deviate from the cairned route, we found that the difficulty of the moves didn't increase substantially. Before we knew it, we were on the summit at 6:45 AM. I remember topping out and thinking, "Wait, that's it?". I expected the final pitch to be much longer than it actually was. Green San Juan hillsides, peaks bathed in alpenglow, and frost encrusted wildflowers greeted us at the summit. What a spectacular landscape! I imagine this is what the mountains in Heaven will look like.

Wetterhorn Summit

Frosty Morning

What a view!

Misty view of Uncompahgre

After a pleasant chat with a fellow Denverite, we scampered down Wetterhorn around 7:30 AM. There appeared to be plentiful moisture in the air, but we were not too concerned given the forecast for the day and non-convective nature of the clouds at this point in the day. Gnawing on jerky and Clif Shots on the descent, we enjoyed the antics of the numerous marmots down in the basin. The Columbines were also out in full force- maybe this is God's Columbine garden?


Looking back at Wetterhorn en route to Uncompahgre

It was slightly disheartening to lose more elevation than it seemed necessary to gain the stock trail that would take us over to Uncompahgre. But at least there is a trail! We motored on up to the pass just below Matterhorn Peak and then continued down into the shadow of mighty Uncompahgre. This portion of the hike went by quickly, thanks to the trail and minimal changes in elevation. Before long, we began the gradual climb up to where the trail intersects with the Uncompahgre standard route. With the weather still looking favorable, we pressed on. After the switchbacks we began the short class 2-2+ section. We somehow got off route, but the way we did choose to go seemed more direct. The rock is somewhat loose in this section, but it doesn't last long. We summited around 10:45 AM, just over 3 hours after we left the summit of Wetterhorn, which now seemed very far away. Got some much needed food and water in us and enjoyed the views once again, this time with hundreds of sheep gracing the slopes west and slightly north of Uncompahgre.

This is why I get out there

Getting closer to Uncompahgre...

Summit views of Wetterhorn

Obligatory Which Wich picture

Then began the long slog back to the car. I was certainly grateful for my trekking poles. The climb out of the basin below Uncompahgre slowly gains elevation all the way back to the pass below Matterhorn. Never encountered any rain, which was great, but boy were the bugs bad back at the trailhead! Be sure to bring some bug spray if you plan to spend the night in this area. I slowly inched my car down to the Henson Creek Road, and then made an obligatory stop at the Lake City Bakery once we made it to town. This is an absolute must if you like sweets.

It's hard to beat spending 8 hours above treeline on a summer day, but if you're in the San Juans, it makes it all the more special. Gerry Roach recommends climbing Uncompahgre first, and then Wetterhorn, but I think it's more prudent to do Wetterhorn first. This way, you don't have to climb and down-climb Wetterhorn with tired legs. Regardless of what route you choose, this is an incredible area. I can't wait to return.

Follow me on Instagram at @mlayman09

Comments or Questions
08/04/2014 03:09
Man, you guys were really trekking! Did you run/jog or were you just walking fast?

Some truly lovely shots! Especially loved the summit shot from Unc! Gorgeous! Yes, the San Juans are pretty special! Thanks for sharing!

Nicely Done!
08/04/2014 03:29
Brings back good memories...I need to go back and do those peaks again. Thanks for posting!

08/04/2014 03:37
@MtnHub- we were walking pretty fast. Having a trail certainly helps!

Great Report
08/04/2014 07:02
Wetterhorn is, by far, my favorite 14er. And even though the margin isn't close, Uncompahgre is 2nd. What a spectacular day that must have been, to summit both of those beautiful peaks within a few hours. Thanks for sharing.

08/04/2014 15:00
Great job. I was there on the same day doing the same thing, except we did Uncompahgre first and then came back to Wetterhorn. I believe we passed each other in the basin (closer to the Wetterhorn side). Great job on the route and nice pictures!

Pictures are broken.
08/04/2014 20:06
All your dropbox links have too much traffic so the pictures don't work.

Re-upload to imgur!

Fixed it
08/05/2014 02:06
Yeah I got an email from Dropbox...put them on Flickr so hopefully that is a better solution!

*jaw dropped*
08/05/2014 14:42
Great report, man. You just cannot beat those San Juan views.

You definitely earned that free Which Wich!

08/05/2014 23:03
Talked to you a bit just as you came off the class 3 section. Glad you guys made it over to Uncompahgre.

The summit snuck up on us as well. I was expecting an exposed sustained class 3 section below the summit. Suddenly there was a big flat grassy area. Fun day though!!

Nice pics and report.

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