Trail Report - Wetterhorn Peak - Colorado

August 19, 2018

Written by Paul van Valkenburgh

Showing Small Pictures    

Wetterhorn Peak! Colorado - 14,015'
Southeast Ridge Route
8.5 Miles Round Trip
3325 feet of elevation gain

A Look At The Face

Wetterhorn Peak! Read some of the blogs on and you'll see that Wetterhorn Peak is clearly one of the member's favorite climbs. It's easy to see why... it's spectacular!! Just getting to the mountain is an awesome adventure. But once you get there!! oh boy!! The mountain itself has such steep interesting features and the views in the surrounding San Juan range are incredible. To do this hike with my lifelong friend Tommy Neville made it even sweeter. He's a great, supportive partner and we make a great team!

There are actually several ways to get to Wetterhorn, but the standard approach is through Lake City, CO. Lake City is one of the most remote towns in the lower 48 States and it is a good hour from any main town or road... yes, it's literally in the middle of nowhere. Then, from there you travel 9 miles on the Henson Creek Road. Then, if you have a decent clearance vehicle, it is 2 more miles up North Henson Road. There is a final 0.7 mile stretch to the trailhead off of North Henson Road, but this is definitely ONLY for 4WD drive vehicles and is a short walk. I was able to get to the this intersection (before the last 0.7) in a Toyota Solara!! Granted, this Solara does seem to have super-human powers, but it's just a plain-old 2 wheel drive car. Now, we did have to go REAL slow up North Henson Road, but we made it!!

As with most of these hikes in Colorado, not only because it is so far to get to the trailhead, but also because of potential afternoon thunderstorms, you always need to start WAY early!! We left Lake City about 5:30AM and arrived at the lower trailhead at about 6:30AM. The weather forecast called for a good day.

Trailhead Sign Wetterhorn Peak

Trailhead Sign Wetterhorn Peak

Trailhead Sign Wetterhorn Peak

Once you arrive in the basin below Wetterhorn it is mind-blowing. The basin seems to have these layers or decks. And you're treated to views of Wetterhorn as well as 13er Matterhorn and the ridge between them... awesome!!

Beautiful Views Heading Up Basin

As you get closer to the peak itself, you travel through a gorgeous boulder field. The trail is super established and there's no real boulder hopping involved. Just a nice little maze to go through.

Approaching Boulder Field

Steps Into Boulder Field

Cutie Pika Along The Way

Trail Through Boulder Field Matterhorn In Back

Mr Marmot

After the boulder field, there is a small uphill to the saddle where the real climb comes into view. You see that first you travel across the yellow dirt section then it is on to the wonderful face of Wetterhorn Peak!!

Tommy At Saddle Matterhorn Uncompaghre

Looking Up From Saddle

Getting Ready For Yellow Dirt And Face

At The Beginning Of Yellow Dirt

Once you cross the yellow dirt section you begin the rock scrambling up the face. I think it's helpful to think of the remaining hike as 3 scrambling sections divided by 2 notches. Each successive of the 3 sections get a little steeper! (and arguably more fun!).

The first section has several different ways up and there are cairns but it's really very easy for anyone with rock scrambling experience.

Beginning Of The Face

A Look At The Face

Tommy Moves Up First Part Of Face

Pick A Line Up The Face

Tommy Moves Through First Notch

Through the first notch, the rock scrambling gets steeper, but the rock is totally solid and it is still just plain fun.

After The First Notch The Face Gets Steeper

Heading Up Towards The Ships Prow

Looking Down The Steeper Terrain

Arriving At The Ships Prow

A Look Up At The Ships Prow

The Second Notch

Once you hit the second notch, things get a little more interesting. To start with, once you are just over the notch, there is a 15 foot downsloping slab, which, in pictures, had given me pause. It is exposed on the left side of the slab, but navigating this was MUCH easier than I thought. Now, this assumes that the rock is dry!! But you just stick to the wall on the right side and you are way away from any exposure.

Slab Just Through Second Notch

Tommy Coming Down Slab After 2nd Notch

However, at the end of the slab, just as you are about to begin the final headwall / pitch, the spot you arrive at at the bottom of the slab and the beginning of the pitch, is a little exposed. I have a video showing what it's like below. It's not really dangerous but it gets your heart pumping a little bit.

So, the final headwall!! Reading report after report trying to determine 'can I make this pitch?' is really what probably all mid-level mountain hikers consider when contemplating attempting Wetterhorn. Here's my take but there are many others out there. It IS steep, BUT, it's short. It's definitely class 3 but there are totally solid steps and holds. If you have rock scrambling experience, you will totally make it!! For us, Tommy just went on up. And to stand in the spot at the bottom of the headwall (where I shot the video from) is so counter-productive... you will only freak yourself out!! My advice is to take a good look at it, but then slowly go ahead and start heading up!! You'll find that once you're on the wall, that it's really not that bad!!

About 2/3 of the way up the headwall you will run into a very nice ledge where you can stop and take a break. Also, if you'd like a slightly easier path for the remaining portion of the headwall, then traverse to the left across this ledge and around a corner. Then the final push to the top is a few moves away.

Tommy Beginning Final Steep Pitch

Tommy Finds Ledge On Final Pitch

Final Pitch Is Steep

Tommy Makes Way Across Ledge On Final Pitch

Steep Terrain Up Top

A video showing the final headwall on Wetterhorn from the beginning of the pitch

The summit!! WOW!! The view across Matterhorn over to the mighty 14er Uncompahgre is unreal!! And you can look to the West for beautiful views of Coxcomb and Precipice. This has got to be one of the prettiest places on earth. Views to the South include RedCloud, Sunshine and Handies. The picture from Engineers Pass is from the south (taken the next day) and the picture taken from is from the West towards the basin with Coxcomb and Precipice.

Summit Of Wetterhorn Peak

Summit Of Wetterhorn Peak

Looking West 13er Coxcomb Flat Top

13er Matterhorn And Mighty Uncompahgre

Looking Down From Summit

But WAIT!! You forgot to look down when you came up the headwall did you? (Don't do this!!... be sure to look down so you know what it's like because.... YES!!! You have to get down!! LOL!!!)... Ok, so again, just my opinion from our experience (which, again, was totally on a dry day) is that the headwall is not bad descending. Both Tommy and I descended 100% in the crab walk position (hey, we're from Maryland, so you might call it an out-facing 5 points of contact thing, but we call it a crab walk!!).. we did NOT feel the need to turn and downclimb facing in at any point. See pics below of the descent.

Tommy Begins Way Down

Continuing Down


Beginning Down After Ledge

Im Still Up Here

Still Heading Down

Finally Through The 2nd Notch Way Back

A video of the summit of Wetterhorn Peak:

The way back through the notches and back to the trailhead is easy going. If you're looking for fun peaks and to move into some class 3 stuff, this peak is GREAT! Yes, it's a challenge to get there, but trust that the journey is much more than the destination.

Finally Heading Off Face

Tommy Finally Back On Yellow Dirt

Another Marmot

Matterhorn And Uncompahgre

Closer Look At Uncompahgre

Heading Out

A Look At Wetterhorn From Engineers Pass

Wetterhorn From West

Wetterhorn From Uncompaghre

If you're staying in Lake City, the cabins are prevalent, really affordable, and nice!! And the restaurants and bars are really fun. And you can (as we did) rent a jeep and do the Scenic Alpine Loop. And you can visit Creede, Lake Sandoval, and of course there are 4 other 14ers in the area, all of which have an easier ratings than Wetterhorn. In a nutshell, a trip to Lake City is great fun and BEAUTIFUL!!!

For all the animal lovers out there, here's a fun video of Mr. Marmot:

Hope this has been enjoyable and / or helpful to anyone reading it!!


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