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Sunday, September 2, 2012

Wetterhorn - beauty and fun all in one

Date:   September 1st, 2012
Mission:  Climb Wetterhorn Peak (elevation 14,015 ft.)

Who:  Joel Snow and myself
Length:  7 miles

Elevation gain: 3300 ft.

Wetterhorn peak was no question the most fun I have had on any of the 28 fourteeners I have done thus far. 

There is significant exposure along the route that will cause death if you fall.  (photo by Greg)

Joel and I left Boulder at 2pm on Friday and drove for 6+ hours with a stop in Gunnison for some dinner and to put the top up on the Jeep since it had started to spit rain on us.

During our drive through the Curecanti Recreaction Area near the junction of Hwy 50 and 149, Joel snapped a great pic of the sunset (below).

Sunset on Curecanti. (photo by Joel Snow)

I've driven hwy 149 a few times and have always seen a ton of deer.  This time, driving at twilight, I saw none.  However, arriving in Lake City and doing 25 mph through town, I saw a spotted fawn.  It was barely taller than one of my 33 inch tires on the Jeep.  I saw it when it jumped right in front of the Jeep.  I locked up the brakes and stopped 5 ft. short.  It stopped and starred at us for about 5 seconds, and then took off.

We made our way up the Henson Creek Rd. and the 4-wheel drive trail.  We were parked at the trail head by 9pm and set up our tents in the dark.

Moon setting over the ridge.
By 4:30am we were awake and on the trail after a quick breakfast. 

I love the mountain prankster that did this....
About a 1/2 mile up the trail in the dark, we saw green eyes to our left.  I readied my knife in case it was a mountain lion, and was happy to see as we got closer that it was only a pair of bucks.   

Joel again manged to snap a great picture, even with the complete lack of light at 5:15am.

Couple of bucks crossed our path.  (photo by Joel Snow)

We moved steadily up the class 1 trail to a couple of stream crossings.  As we hit 12,600 the trail turned into a class 2 trail through some rocks.  It's here that morning started to arrive.

Alpine morning light.

As we moved up the trail the sunrise gave us fuel for the route that was about to get much more difficult.

Sunrise over Uncompaghre Peak. (photo by Joel Snow)

We continued up a steep section of dirt/scree to reach the class 3 section on Wetterhorn at about 13,300 ft.  It's right about here that it started to rain on us, albeit only briefly.

The lighting here with the broken clouds was truly amazing!
Joel with the beautiful San Juan range behind him

Wetterhorn's shadow looking west towards some questionable clouds.

It's here, just before the route gets more difficult that Joel and I had the "to continue or not" discussion.  We both decided that we didn't care about rain, but as soon as we saw lightning or heard thunder, we were going to bail on this summit attempt.  So far, the clouds looked rain worthy, but not lightning worthy.  

Now, the route becomes class 3 and the real exposure begins.  The rock is mostly very solid, which is a high contrast to the loose, and rotten rock I climbed on Castle Peak two weeks ago with Joel and our buddy Tim.

Joel climbing up some class 3 rock.

The views were just unbelievable along this route.  I was stopping for pictures often.  I cannot even begin to communicate via words and pictures how downright fun this route was.

Me climbing thru a notch which is not seen on photo left.  (photo by Joel Snow)
Joel making his way along the route ignoring the exposure to his left.

"The Ledge" as we called it.

A look back at me from "The Ledge" (photo by Joel Snow)
 This video gives an idea of what the exposure is along this route.  

It's shortly after "The Ledge" that the exposure really kicks in.  I'll let the photos do the talking.  

Joel rocking the class 3 route.

One of the many ledges along this route.
Me approaching the top.  (photo by Joel Snow)

Then, the saddest part of my day.  The climbing ends all of a sudden and you are on the summit.

Me taking it all in on the summit. (photo by Joel Snow)

I am a truly happy guy.

Joel looks pretty damn happy on the summit too.

A bad handstand at 14,015' to celebrate 14er number 28 for me.

Uncompaghre Peak as seen from Wetterhorn.

We met a couple of cool guys (Mark and Steve) on the summit.  Mark we had actually met at the trail head the night before and later on Saturday we would share burgers and a couple of beers in Lake City with him.  One of the many things I love about mountaineering is meeting people with the same passion for the mountains that I have.  

The down climb off Wetterhorn was uneventful.  Solid rock, remarkable views, good company pretty much describes it all.

Me down climbing off the summit.  (photo by Joel Snow)

On our down climb, we also ran into a guy named Greg that grabbed some cool pictures of us.

Joel rounding a corner on one of the ledges.

Here is where I realized that I am truly in love with the San Juan mountain range (photo by Joel Snow)

Our buddy Greg with the exposure below.

On our hike down, right around 12,800'  where the route goes from class 3 back to class 2, it started to pour rain on us.  I felt bad for the folks still on the upper part of this route.  The rain turned to sleet.  Ice pellets rang off my helmet for about 15 minutes. As expected in the Colorado mountains, it was sunny and beautiful about 15 minutes later.

A stream crossing on the way down.

A view of the remaining route into the trees.
Once at the trail head, we broke down our tents, joined Mark for a burger in Lake City and began the long 6 hour drive back to Boulder.  On the way home we had rain for a lot of it and rainbows were following us around like we were leprechauns.

Rainbow near the town of Fairplay.  (photo by Joel Snow)

I can honestly say the Wetterhorn Peak adventure Joel and I had was one of the most fun filled, and most beautiful adventures I have ever been on.  I can't wait to climb Wetterhorn again.  I may go back in winter.

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