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dblack Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre

  4.7 ( 3 ) Favorite

Trail

16.4 mile 26.4 kilometer loop
Extremely Difficult

Elevation

Ascent: 5,569' 1,697 m
Descent: -5,567' -1,697 m
High: 14,249' 4,343 m
Low: 11,076' 3,376 m

Grade

Avg Grade: 13% (7°)
Max Grade: 80% (39°)

Dogs

Unknown
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Trail shared by Tyler Prince

An epic linkup between two of the San Juan's most scenic 14ers.

Tyler Prince

Features Fall Colors · Lake · River/Creek · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife

Matterhorn Creek Trailhead is difficult enough to get to in the summer months. During winter and parts of spring, the way is generally closed somewhere along the Henson road, about 10 miles below the trailhead.

While the land manager requests dogs be leashed, they probably don't intend for Fido to be scrambling about the rocks near the summit of Wetterhorn Peak. Few dogs can cover this quasi-technical terrain. Most can manage the easier Uncompahgre Peak, though.

Overview

This epic route summits two remote yet popular 14ers. Close to Lake City, this trip boasts incredible views of the San Juan Range. The entry-level technical Wetterhorn Peak provides fun scrambling near the summit while the easier Uncompahgre Peak offers a nice walk-up with incredible views. At 16 miles and almost 6,000 ft of gain, this hike is only for the fit and adventurous.

Need to Know

NOTE: While this hike can easily be done with Uncompahgre Peak first, it is recommended to summit Wetterhorn Peak and then consider Uncompahgre, as Wetterhorn is closer to the trailhead and increases the chance of bagging at least one summit.

While Wetterhorn Peak is an easy scramble with mostly solid rock, many hikers will bring along a helmet for the final couple hundred feet. If solo it's probably not a true necessity, but those traveling in larger groups should be equipped for rockfall and plan on wearing one. Uncompahgre Peak does not require a helmet. As always, bring sun protection and plenty of food and water.

Faster hikers should expect around 10 hrs RT; average hikers closer to 12-16 hrs. As such, expect a long day, and be wary of weather changes. If you hit rain on Uncompahgre Peak it's a long way back to the car.

Description

From Lake City, head west on Second Street. In a block or so turn left onto Henson Creek Road, AKA the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway. In 5 miles, pass the Nellie Creek Trailhead sign. This is an alternate route for this hike. In 4 more miles, turn right onto the North Henson Road. Up to this point, pretty much any car will do. After this turn, reasonably high clearance is needed. In 2 miles, there is another junction with a sign pointing toward the Matterhorn Creek Trailhead. It's just 0.7 miles to the upper TH from here. A Subaru/CR-V or better should be fine.

While Matterhorn Creek doesn't have a bathroom or any amenities, it is a proper TH, well signed and with a fair amount of parking. A small field next to the dirt lot provides room for around 5-6 tents.

From the trailhead, summit Wetterhorn Peak (see link).

From the summit, head back down to the Matterhorn Creek trailhead, or head back to the junction with Ridge Stock Driveway to hike Uncompahgre Peak as well. Some hikers may opt to cut across the basin off of Wetterhorn Peak Trail to link up with Ridge Stock Driveway instead of going all the way back down to the junction. Depending on USFS signage and wildlife protection, this may not be an option. If the area is open, it shaves off around 0.75 miles and 300-400 ft of gain. Hike across a field, crossing some streams before coming to Ridge Stock Driveway.

If heading back to the trail junction, turn left for Uncompahgre Peak following signs for Ridge Stock Driveway. Hike along a stream on clear trail, mostly singletrack but in some parts a rocky dirt road. The going here is flat and the views are excellent. Passing through alpine tundra, continue N/NE for about a mile. Uncompahgre will be clearly visible, as will the trail. Angle to the right, hop streams for about 2 more miles on flat to slightly downhill terrain. It's frustrating losing elevation here, especially while Uncompahgre is just to your left. There are gullies you can scramble up, but these are composed of loose, steep, dangerous talus. While they may save you elevation gain, they are unlikely to save you time or energy. Sticking to the trail is recommended.

A little over 8 miles into your hike, you'll finally turn off the Ridge Stock Driveway, angling left up a switchback and reaching the clear Uncompahgre Peak Trail.

Summit Uncompahgre Peak (see link).

Congratulations on a hell of a day. This is one of the more impressive 14er doubles commonly done. The area still has plenty to offer: nearby 13er Matterhorn Peak lies between Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre and adds about 2 miles and 1,500 ft of elevation. Those trying to summit all the 14ers may want to check out Handies, Redcloud, and Sunshine while near Lake City.

Flora & Fauna

Just like with other peaks in the area, expect marmots and pika. The valleys between Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre offer some of the most stunning views of mountains and wildflowers in the state. Though mountain goats and bighorn sheep are around, they seem to stay hidden for the most part.

History & Background

Translated from Swiss German, "Wetterhorn" means "weather peak." The name fits. Like its European namesake, this part of the state is prone to sudden weather changes, as discovered by all too many hikers.

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  4.7 from 3 votes

#1755

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  4.7 from 3 votes
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