Thursday, 14 July 2011 19:20

Sunrise from 14,015 feet: Wetterhorn Peak Featured

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The adventure of my July 4th weekend for 2011 just wouldn't end on its own. After spending the morning in Telluride sulking about our partial defeat in Navajo Basin, Regina and I decided to drive back to Colorado Springs and lick our wounds. As we drove closer and closer to Blue Mesa Reservoir, I got a wild idea in my brain. Since both Regina and I still had three days off for climbing, I figured that it would be a total shame to waste that time off and gas money on only one climb up Wilson Peak. Even though we opted to not do El Diente and Mount Wilson, I still felt that we had more gas left in the tank, so to speak, so... I suggested to Regina that we head to Lake City and climb Wetterhorn Peak instead of driving home. At first Regina was more focused on a warm shower and a soft pillow, but it did not take long for the idea to set in and Regina enthusiastically agreed. Perhaps my tactic was not fair, since I knew that Wetterhorn Peak was Regina's favorite mountain of all time. Once Regina agreed, my mood increased dramatically and we set-off for Lake City and the Wetterhorn Peak Trailhead.

To make matters even more epic, I convinced Regina that we should start from camp at 2 AM so we could watch the sunrise from the summit. Climbing up the class 3 summit block of Wetterhorn in the dark sounded pretty fun too... We arrived at the trailhead and found a perfect campsite next to Matterhorn Creek. All night long, I had visions of a most epic sunrise over Uncompahgre Peak that looked something like this:

Uncompahgre Peak at Sunrise from Wetterhorn HDR

We quickly went over the game plan and Regina explained the route to me. Regina had been up this trail 3 times last year, so she knew all about it. The first time she went, she was pushed off before reaching the summit because of exhaustion. The second time, she was scared off the trail by actual mountain lions (true story), and the third time, she finally succeeded in reaching the top. She has never shut up about Wetterhorn in all of our trips together, so I figured that either she was exaggerating or that Wetterhorn was truly one of the best climbs in Colorado.
Wetterhorn Map

Our campsite was pretty awesome, and we were both thankful for our Mountain House meals that we had packed with us for Navajo Basin.
Wetterhorn Trailhead Camping

We went to bed, set the alarm for 2 AM, which arrived pretty quickly. I felt totally rested though, so we equipped our packs and opted to not pack up our tent so that we could hopefully reach the summit by sunrise. The trail was really easy to follow in the dark, but I could not help but think about the mountain lions that Regina encountered last year. Would they totally thwart our efforts? I really hoped not, and focused on the task at hand. We finally reached the area where Regina had encoutered the mountain lions last year, and wouldn't you know it, we looked down the hill to catch the gaze of three sets of eyes illuminated by our headlamps. Crap! Fortunately, we were able to realize pretty quickly that they were just deer, so we continued on up past treeline. It was not until we reached the final ridge of Wetterhorn that there as any light whatsoever in any direction, save the star light.
Matterhorn pre-sunrise

We continued on up Wetterhorn's ridge, enjoying the progressive light show that was starting to erupt to the east.
Uncompahgre before sunrise

Just before we reached Wetterhorn's final section, the sun began to get closer and closer to emerging... would we make it to the top before the sunrise? I was getting nervous in anticipation.
Uncompahgre at dawn

I was really having fun with my camera, firing off several bracketed shots for HDR, using rocks as a tripod and the self-timer to prevent camera shake.
Uncompahgre

We finally reached a small snowfield that was in a small flat area before the top. The snowfield was at the base of the huge cliff walls of Wetterhorn and lead us to a notch that was a portal to the super fun Class 3 section of Wetterhorn.
Uncompahgre HDR

At last, we reached the final summit pitch and Regina went first. Her enthusiasm for Wetterhorn was impressive and nothing like her lack of enthusiasm two days prior on Wilson Peak.
Regina scaling Wetterhorn Class 3

I was even able to take some video of Regina climbing up this section.

I followed Regina after she had secured herself above, and quickly made it up within a few seconds of fun climbing. We were literally about 20 seconds from the top and I told Regina that the sun would be rising in any second. I crested the summit and it was quite possibly one of the most amazing thing I've ever witnessed. The sun literally crested the horizon THE EXACT MOMENT that I crested the summit. The timing was insane. I ran as fast as I could to the other side, built a rock tripod, and began shooting. I knew that this was gold.
Uncompahgre at Sunrise HDR

These two are HDR and almost the same except for some slightly different processing techniques.
Uncompahgre at Sunrise in HDR

I was like a little kid on Christmas. I had no words to describe it. I didn't even realize it, but it was pretty cold up there. I think it took me a good 20 minutes to even feel it.
Regina Primavera on Wetterhorn at Sunrise

Regina was pretty excited too, being that it was the first time she had seen the sunrise from the top of the mountain.
Matt Payne on Wetterhorn

The views were simply incredible... including this 360 degree panoramic.
Wetterhorn 360 degree Panoramic

The lighting was perfect for High Dynamic Range (HDR). I knew that this would be the best chance I'd get in a long time to put together an HDR pano, so I gave it a shot. The results were mind-blowing. I can't wait to get one printed for my house.
Coxcomb Peak HDR

The views of Coxcomb and Redcliff were crazy!
Panoramic of Coxcomb and Uncompahgre from Wetterhorn at Sunrise in HDR

Hey, the summit shelter even makes a good tripod in a pinch! I decided to take a few HDR shots of Sneffels and the rest of the rugged San Juan Mountains to the west.
Mount Sneffels Black and White HDR

Uncompahgre Peak was truly an amazing feature to photograph from Wetterhorn.

I had always admired both Uncompahgre and Wetterhorn as a pair, especially last year from Handies Peak (Wetterhorn on the left, Uncompahgre on the right):

Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre

Is there really such a thing as too many sunrise photos?
Uncompahgre Silhouette

Or panoramics for that matter?
360 Panoramic from Wetterhorn


360 Panoramic from Wetterhorn


The Sprawling San Juan Mountains

The craggy features of Redcliff to the North were quite impressive as well!
Redcliff

All this photography and I had almost forgotten that Regina was with me, obviously a bit chilled!
Regina on Wetterhorn


Uncompahgre and Regina Panoramic

So, we decided we had enough amazing views for one morning and then departed the summit.
Regina and the San Juans

The downclimb was a little more tricky than the upclimb, but nothing worth worrying too much about. As long as you take your time and stagger your group, it is very safe.

Regina downclimbs Wetterhorn Class 3 Wetterhorn Class 3
Wetterhorn's Summit Block
Wetterhorn Terrain Regina at the notch

It never fails to amaze me what will grow on the side of a mountain...
Wetterhorn flora


Flowers on Wetterhorn


Regina on Wetterhorn

Naturally, Uncompahgre kept me in a state of wonder...
Uncompahgre with Lens Flare

As did Sneffels...
Sneffels Black and White


Uncompahgre and Matterhorn Black and White

Wetterhorn was pretty awesome looking for below, which was awesome since it was completely dark when we headed up.
Wetterhorn Black and White

Also, a set of lower peaks kept my attention to the west, near Ouray. They were so impressive and gnarly looking! I was convinced that it could only be Bighorn Ridge, just east of Ouray. I believe I have confirmed this by looking on the Impressiveness List on my website.
Descending Wetterhorn

All this photography set me back from Regina quite a ways, and before I knew it, Regina had reached the Golden Saddle.
Wetterhorn Golden Saddle


Wetterhorn Golden Saddle

We finally ran into some early hikers just after the ridge, who turned out to be none other than "Kitten" from 14ers.com.
Wetterhorn, Matterhorn and Uncompahgre Panoramic

Regina and I both spotted this awesome little pool below and I knew it would make for an interesting shot...
Matterhorn Reflection

Funny thing - unknown to me at the time, "Kitten" shot a photo of me taking that photo, as I discovered it in her trip report.
Matterhorn Reflection Black and White

I even got a picture of Regina, and Wetterhorn, plus the pool.
Regina and Wetterhorn


Wetterhorn Reflection Panoramic


Wetterhorn and Wildflowers

I spotted some interesting flowers off-trail and figured they might make for a cool shot with Uncompahgre behind them...
Uncompahgre and Wildflowers

And, out of nowhere, a plane went zooming by over Wetterhorn...
Airplane and Wetterhorn

The hike out was pristine. The views never got old. Wetterhorn and Matterhorn painted such an incredible vista.
Wetterhorn from Below


Wetterhorn - Uncompahgre Trail Junction

Wetterhorn looked pretty awesome from the valley below...
Wetterhorn


Matterhorn Creek Wildflowers

And of course, the weather started to move-in as we were heading out. The clouds were really intense, so I figured it might be fun to take some HDR shots of them.
Crazy Sky HDR

In case you were wondering, at the first trail junction, seen below... you go right. I barely noticed this one on the way up since Regina has this mountain memorized.
Wetterhorn Peak Trail Junction

Matterhorn Creek provided some amazing opportunities for photos as well, having a ton of water in it.
Pristine Waterfall Landscape


Matterhorn Creek Landscape

What else can be said about Wetterhorn? It is probably the perfect mountain. Here's why:

  1. The approach is short and easy, accesible to even the most novice of hikers.
  2. The route is solid - it is a terrific introduction to Class 3.
  3. The views are INSANE.

The only bad thing about Wetterhorn is that it is not closer to my house! I would rate it a 10/10.

I hope you enjoyed the photos! Please contact me if you would like to purchase any. See this page for more details.

Additional Info

  • Trip Date: July 3, 2011
  • Yosemite Decimal Class: Class 3: Scrambling with increased exposure. A rope can be carried but is usually not required. Falls are not always fatal.
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