Friday, June 29, 2012

Wetterhorn Peak- What's not to love?

Wetterhorn Peak

South East Ridge; 6.5 miles, 3,300' elevation gain

Start: 5:00 AM     Return 10:00 AM

Wetterhorn Peak is a striking crag from just about any angle. It has one of the steepest summit slopes of any 14er in Colorado, dropping off sharply on all sides. It's easily recognizable from far away. On any given Saturday (in the summer), a big and diverse group attempts to summit this awe-inspiring peak. It's nearby neighbor Uncompahgre is higher, bigger, and more recognizable.  Wetterhorn's climbing is much more interesting though.

We had a very diverse group for Wetterhorn. We had Rob, a "seasoned citizen", 14er finisher, and multi-year Ironman Hawaii finisher. Myself and Scott, who have climbed 30+ 14ers together. We also had Jason and Sarah, two energetic and creative people who just ran the Garden of the Gods 10-mile run (and did quite well!) and like to take photos.

The first group of photos was taken in the early afternoon on the previous day with my Nikon D5100 equipped with a cheap Tiffen Polarizing filter. I also ran all photos (except Sarah's) through Adobe Lightroom 4.1.

I believe this is Red Mountain #1 and Red Mountain #2

Trico Peak and 13,400 something

Sweet waterfall off the road.

On the Alpine loop between Silverton and Engineer Pass

Darley Mountain. That road is no longer passable due to erosion, but would make an adequate hiking trail. I'd rather just do the ridge proper.

Super Panorama- 5 shots. Darley Mountain and Engineer Mountain

Wetterhorn, Matterhorn, Uncompahgre (L to R) from Engineer Pass
3-shot panorama from Engineer Pass- gives you an idea of the advantages of a panorama

Just above Matterhorn Creek Road there is this lovely waterfall. I want to hike over to it sometime.

Stunning aspen trees line the scenic route up Matterhorn Creek road. It's a short, pleasant drive.

Strong alpenglow lights up the monolithic summit, while a quilt of rocks and grass cradle the base

The contrasting colors lift my spirits and beckon me onward- Photo by SZL

Rob, Jason, Random Guy, Sarah
At this point Jason turned back as he was not feeling well- but encouraged the rest of us to continue.
Looking up near the ridge. We got a little "off route" here and should be slightly further left.

Some guy we met handling a class-4 ascent like a boss. This is not the standard way up.

Fun and easy classic class 3 scrambling- Photo by SZL

Good, easy rock coming up to the prow- Photo by SZL

This is the smaller but correct notch needed to reach the summit.

I stood on the edge of the sidewalk in the hopes that it would make people feel a little safer coming down. The exposure to my right is actually not that bad, but it can't be seen climbing down, thus anxiety. (Photo by SZL)

Following Sarah up the Class 3 (Photo by SZL)

At the start of the ledge, Sarah takes in the view, which is excellent.

At this point I feel compelled to mention something. This was Sarah's first class 3 climb and first 4/6 exposure 14er. She was a little nervous but she faced her anxieties and pushed ahead. It was fun to be a part of it.

This part is actually easier than it looks and it quite thrilling.

Final Pitch! Chaos Penumbra and AeroFaze
Scott, Rob, (me), Sarah on the summit! I apparently am a freak. (Photo by Sarah Nguyen)

Coxcomb and other interesting rock features looking N. One of my favorite views from a 14er.
4-shot panorama from Wetterhorn summit looking South

Fashion show on the summit

Downclimbing the class 3 section. Rockstar Fashion
Side note- downclimbing the final pitch wasn't bad, except I didn't particularly like the very first couple of moves. It's a little awkward to reorient yourself from a horizontal plane to a more-vertical plane.

When we reached the prow, Scott realized his camera was on the summit, so he took off for the top again. We played around on the Prow and took dumb photos. It's an easy class 3 climb with some exposure to get to the top. Just take the "wrong notch", turn left, and climb up. Easy.
Coming down. This shows the start of the fun part.

This part reminded us of why we wear helmets. Right before this picture, a salad-plate sized rock about 3/4" thick came spinning down the mountain at high speed. Scott leaned into the mountain as the rock bounced off his backpack right behind his helmet. No harm done, but still a reminder.

I am going to include some great wildflower photos from Sarah Nguyen, used with her permission. Flower IDs are her best guesses. Note- this valley is a great spot for wildflowers, although this year was very dissapointing compared to normal conditions. None-the-less, there were still plenty of flowers around. Around 12,500', the trail is studded with bursts of columbines.

Old Man of the Mountain/Alpine Sunflower - Photo by Sarah Nguyen
Pink Painbrush with Wetterhorn and the prow in the background

Skypilot and Avens facing Uncompahgre Peak- Photo by Sarah Nguyen

Alpine Wallflowers (maybe?)- Photo by Sarah Nguyen
Mountain Bluebells- Photo by Sarah Nguyen
Bittercress near the stream- Photo by Sarah Nguyen

Of our 6 origional group, all 6 made it to 13,200', and 4 of us reached the summit.

Should you go do Wetterhorn? YES. After wetterhorn we went into Lake City and ordered a huge  Pizza from Poker Alice. It was very delicious and money well spent, we thought.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Icon of the San Juan

Mt. Sneffels 14,150'

SW Ridge- 6.5 miles RT, 3,000' elevation gain

Mt. Sneffels stands alone. It's the only 14er close to Ouray, surround by beautiful and rugged mountains that just fall short of the 14,000' benchmark. It's the northermost 14er in the San Juan mountains.  From Montrose, it can easily be seen and it seems to tower over the other mountains nearby. It can be seen from many other 14ers in the area, known for it's distinctive Pyramid-like shape when seen from many sides. It's also a beauty, usually being accessed from the photogenic and wonderful "Yankee Boy Basin", an easy side-trip from Ouray. The shoulders and ridges of the mountain are rocky, rugged, craggy, and primal. This mountain is an icon of the San Juan.
Mt. Sneffels as seen from the North

Super Zoom shot of Mt. Sneffels N face

Driving into Yankee Boy Basin from Ouray
Waterfall emerging from a snowbank

Old mine ruins

looking SE near the 2WD trailhead in YBB

Sunset over Yankee Boy Basin
Yankee Boy Basin Panorama (3-shot composite)

Looking up to Gilpin Peak
Stars are coming out

Same shot about 30 minutes later
Milky way and a meteor over YBB

Sunrise over YBB as we hike up the trail. About 5:30 AM

Upper YBB Panorama (3 shot composite)

You can see the saddle dead ahead, and the needle-like spires

Heading on up to the saddle (Photo by SZL)

Looking up the ridge to the summit from the saddle

Game on! (Photo by SZL)

Scott scrambles up a loose and steep chute

Uh, time to start downclimbing? (Photo by SZL)

Going down.. I stuck to the rocks (photo by SZL)

We didn't really need the ice axes, but we brought them, so out they came

Starting on the crux

coming up the crux with an axe and some spikes

Terrain eases after the crux

The final pitch is thrilling exposure on solid rock with great views

Looking up from the same point, the summit in view. Is this heaven?
Huge summit Panorama (5-shot composite)

Teakettle, center, is perhaps the most difficult "centennial" in Colorado
Uncompahgre and Wetterhorn, center (lined up!)

Sneffels, what does it mean? Up on the summit
 The summit was small and unprotected from the wind. I enjoyed my customary "summit snickers" and took drinks from my Maui Brewing Company "CoCoNut Porter", which might just be my new favorite beer. The cold and whipping winds urged us to cut our customary lounging short and head down the mountain.
We came down the standard route. It was pretty lame, but easy enough

Stoney Peak
Waterfall in YBB

Parting shot of Gilpin Peak

It took us 3 hours to summit from the 2WD parking area. We took our time on the difficult parts. It took 1 hour 45 minutes to go down, which included about 15 minutes looking for a way into the upper descent gully. I'm still not sure where it is.

This is a great route for anyone who is comfortable on class 3 terrain. It offers rugged and picturesque scenery, challenging and interesting climbing that is relatively solid, and a good alternative to the standard route. We didn't see anyone on the moutain until we started heading down the standard way, and we thoroughly enjoyed the experience.