Wetterhorn Peak - 14,015 ft
Climbers: George Barnes, Nate Stutzke
Route: East Face, Class 3, Steep Snow
RT distance: 7.0 miles
Elevation gain: 3,300 feet
Coordinates of TH: 38.06071, 107.51078
USGS Quadrangle: Wetterhorn Peak
Nate and I left the Matterhorn Creek 4WD trailhead at 4 PM under cloudy skies. We knew by looking at the snow on Sunshine Mountain that snowshoes were going to be a good idea, so we strapped them on our packs. We made it only a few hundred yards up the trail before stopping to don gaiters for some large snow drifts. We strapped on our snowshoes at about 11,500 feet and kept them on until we reached our high camp. Dry ground was hard to find in the upper basin, so when we found a dry, but sloping, patch of grass at 12,000 feet we took it and set up our camp.
After cooking dinner and melting snow we got in our sleeping bags with an alarm set for 4:30AM. I'd only brought my light 32 degree down sleeping bag, so I was glad to have a Nalgene bottle of just boiled water keeping my feet warm. Nate and I were a little surprised to hear numerous coyotes in the basin above our camp all night long. In the morning we would follow their tracks on our approach to the east face.
In the morning temperatures inside my double wall expedition tent were in the mid thirties, so we were pretty optimist about the snow being well frozen. After brewing coffee under the vestibule we strapped on our snowshoes and started hiking by 5:30. For the most part the snow had frozen well enough for us to walk on top of it with our snowshoes.
After capturing a few alpenglow shots we reached the base of the east face at 7:00 and stopped to exchange our snowshoes for crampons. The thousand foot snow climb looked steep but inviting. I'd estimate the angle of the snow to average 40-45 degrees on the lower face and 45-50 on the upper portions. The lower face was frozen hard enough that it would accept crampon front points, and not much more. By the time we reached the upper 200 feet of the face the snow had softened considerably and we got to enjoy some high angle snow wallowing. We were both glad to flop out of the snow and onto the rock of the southeast ridge just below the summit block.
The class 3 rock scramble to the summit was a welcome change from the soft snow. We'd heard some hype about the scrambling here (some people use a rope), so we cached our packs 100 feet below the summit. It turned out to be a little exposed, but really enjoyable and straightforward. I guess flailing on 5.10 rock routes in Clear Creek Canyon has raised our comfort levels.
We reached the summit around 8:45 AM and had sweeping 360 degree views all to ourselves. The amount of snow in the San Juans was a huge contrast to what I'd seen in the Sangre de Cristos last week. We talked about running over to Uncompahgre, but were discouraged by amount of soft snow on the 3 mile traverse.
We down climbed some of the SE ridge and then enjoyed a nice glissade back to our snowshoes and poles. The snow had softened considerably, and after wallowing with snowshoes back to camp we knew that Uncompahgre wasn't in the cards. As we packed up camp our decision to skip Uncompahgre became easier to accept when dark clouds built over Wetterhorn and thunder echoed down the valley. We hiked out in a drizzle/sleet mix and reached the truck just after noon.