30 June 2015

Uncompahgre: Wetterhorn Peak

Uncompahgre National Forest

DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3 | DAY 4 | DAY 5 | DAY 6

(Day 4 of 6) Wetterhorn Peak also has fairly close access from the road and sitting up on the hill, I can watch them wandering up the trail. One group seems to be moving a little oddly, dawdling here and there and popping up on rocks waving their arms about. They pass by the junction as I finish breakfast and I am sure they are past by the time I have everything cleaned and packed, but end up startling them a bit as I pop out from behind the trees. We chat as we attempt to navigate the creeks without getting wet feet. It seems I have fallen in with some famous climbers out showing a brother and his son some class 3 climbing. Up on the edge of the basin, there is a pair of skittish elk. We pass by large number of marmots who are not skittish as the green meadows yield to snow.

Matterhorn Basin
Climbing up Matterhorn Basin to Wetterhorn Peak.

Wetterhorn Peak
The target for today: Wetterhorn Peak.

There is a lot more snow along this route, but the trail tends to spots that are free of it. There are a couple drifts it crosses. For some, we clamber up to a line of rocks and cross on those. We are stuck just trying to cross the rest. One spot is deep and soft so that I can find out exactly what it is like to post hole right up to my hips. It is not pleasant. It takes a lot of energy just to get a few feet along.

trail on the ridge
The trail climbs to the ridge and then follows that up to the top.

more Matterhorn Basin
More of the Matterhorn Basin and quite a lot of mountains.

As we hit the rocks, trails seem to go all over the place. I spend some time scrambling up to a window to the east side where many have gone through and then struggled up the steep side. I decide it is a nice picture, but then get back down and look for a new way. Whatever the way, it is time to free the hands, so I stuff the camera away and we all drop our poles in a pile.

green leaves tightly around red flowers
Plants of the high elevations.

The ridge line off to Matterhorn with Uncompahgre Peak rising behind.

Some take tougher routes, but we can get up the mountain with minimal class 2 scrambling until we hit a wall. Those who are prepared for it take out their climbing helmets. I can see why someone would claim that it is "2+" as claimed in SummitPost, handholds and footholds are numerous and large and solid, but it is continuous use of those holds for a vertical distance of at least 100 feet. I feel like it is an irregular stone ladder as I climb. At the top, there is a short walk along a ledge, a few more feet to climb, and we stand at 14,015 feet on the top of Wetterhorn Peak. This peak is much smaller in area than Uncompahgre Peak was. The marmots are up here, too.

rocks at the top of Wetterhorn Peak
Rocks, marmots, and a register at the top of Wetterhorn Peak. No benchmarks to be found, though.

We all check out where we are going. After a rest day, my brief companions will go up Mount Sneffels. I have the closer valleys to navigate, which are surprisingly hard to see. It somehow seems to get more snowy down there.

Middle Fork Cimarron River
Trying to look into Middle Fork Cimarron River. At the left, Coxcomb Peak reigns over the snowy pass to get out of the Middle Fork.

mountains with much snow
There is just a lot of snow out there still.

lots of green in another canyon
East Fork Cimarron River. My route up is quite clear of snow.

some human
A stinky but happy human on the second 14er in two days in front of the first 14er in two days.

Mount Sneffels
A tall cone to the west is Mount Sneffels, just above the cairn that marks the route back down.

We head down again, all generally picking the easier routes now. Our main instructor for the class 3 grabs the poles, but does not have mine. I figure he just did not realize they were part of the group and shout down for the green ones too. He looks a little confused and goes back after a little too long with one pole. After a lot more searching, we are still at one green pole. One of the bold marmots is hiding in a large and nearly vertical crack in the rocks nearby. One of the many bold marmots in the Matterhorn Basin and up on Wetterhorn Peak. I have to admit the marmots have eaten my pole.

Matterhorn Basin
Looking down on the Matterhorn Basin as we head back down.

Traveling down with just one pole, I quickly come to the conclusion that I really like having both. Leaving my new companions at the junction, I go to pack up. They were great. Breathing lessons (not actually required for a 14k peak) on the way up and stories of mishaps in Greenland on the way down. There is a marmot happy as can be in the roll of my basic blue mat, ripping it to shreds. They are some sort of ultralight militants! I only need one pole for my shelter, so they steal the other. I have not cut away the extra bits of my mat, so they help me out there. I pack it all away, surveying the damage. Just one bite mark on my river crossing shoes that have about 8 miles on them total. The food was well protected in a bear canister. There seems to be something missing, and then I locate my hand knit hat, under a pine and ruined. Time to get out of this valley.

Matterhorn Basin
One last look at the Matterhorn Basin, home of some very bold marmots.

I head down past a "closed for restoration" sign where someone has also put a trail sign and out of the wilderness and into a lower, hot valley before finding the Matterhorn Cutoff to start climbing again. It comes to a ford of all the water draining from all of the Matterhorn Basin. It is not a particularly good ford, being on a curve so that the water is deepest and fastest at the same place. It is so hot, I think I will leave off my neoprene socks until dipping a toe into the water while pumping some. I definitely want my socks. I also would be a lot happier with both my poles as I cross.

Matterhorn Cutoff
Ready to climb again along the Matterhorn Cutoff.

three purple flowerrs and a bud or two
Warmer is better for finding flowers.

After the ford, I am climbing up under the cover of trees and it is nice again. It looks like I am not the first along this trail this season as there is one set each of hoof prints and boot prints. I find myself sloshing through a bit of stream as a precursor to the second ford shown on the map. It should be easier than the first because it only has the water from the smaller part of Matterhorn Basin, or so I think until I pass the last few trees and get a look at it. I am standing on a small island between the water coursing down the trail and massive white water rapids. A little way upstream is a narrow hole in the green where the trail exits the water. The churning, rushing water that courses over a steep cascade just to my right. All I can see within the water are a couple large rocks. I take a breath and step into it. The water is much faster than in the other fords. I try to take a step forward, but am not sufficiently stable with just one pole. Falling forward, I grab for the one thing visible in the water, the first large rock. The cold water rushes over hand and forearm, but the only thing I can think about is the speed and pressure of it all. Now I have the stability to inch my feet forward. The second large rock is handy for my other hand and so I grab it and crawl a little further. The speed of the water is less as I get closer to the other side. Another step, and I can stand, although I now only have the one pole for stability again. With tiny steps, then little steps, the water slows and worry drains. A medium step and one last step to the bank finish the crossing and I am certain the most dangerous thing I did today was not climbing a mountain. The horse and hiker prints both continue on the other side.

white water ford
Ford this. The trail is the break in the bushes directly ahead.

The trail leaves the shade and climbs rocky grass. From the other side, I saw trail over here heading toward the cascade of the other creek and wondered where it was heading. Maybe a waterfall I could not see from the other side? I leave the trail and cut up toward the other trail I saw. It has a wide bed and water bars, probably another old road turned trail. Below it, the cascade is impressive, but there is no waterfall as hoped. Heading back along the trail, I find another "closed for restoration" sign with an unneeded trail sign. This is probably the old, and to my thinking right now, much safer route for the Matterhorn Cutoff.

Matterhorn Creek cascading down
Matterhorn Creek cascades and a system of springs that are quite interesting, although not very visible from the other side.

lookind down the creek
Looking down and out of the valley to the area where the day hikers start.

Heading up, the trail splits and one piece heads down into another ford. It is a lot better than the last one, but still surrounded by churning water. Flat meadow is just above, so I take the other trail that looks a little less likely to be correct. I am having none of that ford if there is a better one. I head back to catch the trail out of the ford after finding a better one only to find it downright difficult to follow. There are occasional hints that I am on the right track until a snow drift where there is probably a turn. The prints from the others go along the side of the snow up the hill, but I choose to cross. As I wander along the hill, enjoying the waterfalls coming off the cliffs to the north, I have to admit I have lost the trail. The map indicates somewhere above, and eventually there it is.

snow fields and waterfalls
A couple of the waterfalls.

Wetterhorn Peak
Those same waterfalls, now with Wetterhorn Peak behind them.

The snow is frequent and short, but I get to experience post holing to my hips again, this time with a full pack. It is even less fun, as is turning around to see my map, which had been tucked into my belt, sitting out in the middle of the snow field. Retrieval without the pack is not so bad. I can see the Wetterhorn Basin Trail vanishing into a huge snow field on a steep east facing slope. Happily, that is not the planned route. There seems to be trail coming up from the south sooner than expected, but I keep to the uncertain braided trail and find a couple signs buried in the snow at a low saddle. Clear trail follows out of it, until a small stream crossing.

tops of signs poking out of snow
Still on the right trail.

snow on a pond and the view down a new valley
Looking down Mary Alice Creek.

The boots had came from somewhere else and the horse went somewhere else. The only prints I have to follow now are from elk, and they go up the nearly vertical side of a snow drift. Well, the elk seem to know, so with a little kicking, I am 30 feet up an ice wall. The drift has piled up behind a clear hill and the top of the hill is marked with another wilderness sign. More posts mark the trail as it drifts down through meadows in Middle Canyon.

first post, with a wilderness sign
Reentering the wilderness and right on track, somewhere there under the snow.

Middle Canyon
Following the posts down Middle Canyon.

rocks along the south side
Rocks along the south side of the canyon.

There is an established campsite by a creek as I lose the trail in some trees again. The only problems with it is that it is a little hard to get to the water and it has a few standing dead trees right next to the main camping spot. I drift down into the trees a little and find a spot that is flat and looks safe, then looking around for a way down the short cliff, find the trail crossing the creek just above the camp. It seems it all works out eventually.

the tree line
Finding trees.

Continue reading: day 5

©2015 Valerie Norton
Posted 15 Aug 2015

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