Trip Reports: Wetterhorn / Uncompahgre Loop Trek, Colorado - July 2011

Last week Claudia and I went on a 5-day backpacking loop in the Uncompahgre Wilderness in the San Juan Mountains east of Ouray. Our route circumnavigated the fourteeners Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre Peaks and took us through a paradise of expansive green tundra, wildflowers, and peaks.

Middle Fork, Uncompahgre Wilderness, Cimarrons, Coxcomb Peak, hiking, Colorado, photo

Hiking into the Middle Fork of the Cimarrons.  Coxcomb Peak (13,656 ft.) towers above on the right.

Wetterhorn Peak, Uncompahgre Wilderness, fourteener, sunset, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, photo

Wetterhorn Peak Sunset

Sunset light on Wetterhorn Peak (14,015 ft.), a fourteener in the Uncompahgre Wilderness - July. 

After setting up camp in the Middle Fork basin and hanging out for the afternoon, we set off on an evening hike to a high ridge to shoot the sunset light on Wetterhorn Peak. I’ve taken a similar shot from the same spot back in 2007, but I’m think I’m happier with the results this time.

Wetterhorn Peak, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, sunflowers, moon, photo

Wetterhorn Moonflowers

Moon, sunflowers, and Wetterhorn Peak, in the dusk glow in July.

During this trip I experimented a lot with pushing the limits of my 24mm tilt/shift lens. By using the extremes of the lens’s tilt I was able to maintain focus on both the close up flowers and the far peak in one single frame.

Although we arrived back at camp late, we woke up early at 3:30am, packed up our gear and the tent, and hiked in the dark up the next pass. I made it to my destination [another high ridge] just in time for a wonderful sunrise!

Wetterhorn Peak, Uncompahgre Wilderness, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, sunflowers, sunrise, photo

Wetterhorn Sunrise Sunflowers

Sunrise light on Wetterhorn Peak, with Matterhorn Peak to the left.  Uncompahgre Wilderness, July. 

After shooting the sunrise and taking a high altitude nap in the sleeping bag, we wandered down the tundra basin, continuing our journey.

Wetterhorn Peak, hiking, tundra, Uncompahgre Wilderness, Colorado, photo

Hiking on the vast tundra below Matterhorn Peak and Wetterhorn Peak.

Uncompahgre Peak, San Juans, Uncompahgre Wilderness, Colorado, green tundra, hiking, photo

Hiking along the brilliant green tundra towards Uncompahgre Peak (14,309 feet), the tallest mountain in the San Juans.

At about this point in the East Fork we left the trail and blazed our own route on the tundra over the pass north of Uncompahgre Peak, into the remote and seldom visited Big Blue Creek basin.

Colorado, San Juan Mountains, Uncompahgre Wilderness, tent, photo

Mosquito forcefield.

After a bit of searching, we found a great camp spot with a commanding view of the beautiful valley below. Our Big Agnes Seedhouse tent provided a sanctuary from the swarming mosquitos here!

Big Blue Creek, Uncompahgre Wilderness, Colorado, July, photo

Big Blue Shadows

Evening shadows along the head of Big Blue Creek in the Uncompahgre Wilderness - July.

Big Blue Creek, sunset, Uncompahgre Wilderness, Colorado, photo

Big Blue Sunset

Beautiful sunset over Big Blue Creek.

Uncompahgre Peak, Big Blue Creek, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, photo

Big Blue Uncompahgre

The north face of Uncompahgre Peak (14,309 ft.), as seen from Big Blue Creek. 

The next day we hiked from the north around the south side of Uncompahgre Peak, and we ditched our backpacks and bagged the summit along the way!

Uncompahgre Peak, summit, panorama, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, Wetterhorn Peak, photo

Uncompahgre Summit Panorama

Panoramic view from the summit of Uncompahgre Peak, the tallest mountain in the San Juans at 14,309 ft.  Wetterhorn Peak is in the center, and the Sneffels Range behind in the distance. 

>> VIEW IT LARGER! <<

The view from Uncompahgre’s summit is incredible, especially this time of year with the remnant snowfields forming the white zebra patterns on the green tundra.

Colorado, San Juan Mountains, Uncompahgre Peak, Uncompahgre Wilderness, Wetterhorn Peak, photo

Claudia and Jack on the summit of Uncompahgre Peak, 14,309 ft.

hiking, tundra, Wetterhorn Peak, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, photo

Hiking along the high tundra with Wetterhorn Peak and Matterhorn Peak behind - July.

Back down from Uncompahgre Peak, we continued our journey along the high tundra. Fortunately the sometimes-ominous-looking clouds never made it to storm/lightning stage.

After setting up camp near treeline along Matterhorn Creek, and relaxing and having dinner, we then set out to hike up Matterhorn Peak for sunset! We made it to the high ridgeline just below the summit, but opted to not attempt the summit climb since it looked like an utterly precarious rock pile ready to topple at any moment. No thanks!

Matterhorn Peak, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, hiking, photo

Hiking up Matterhorn Peak in the late afternoon to watch the sunset and moonrise.

Colorado, San Juan Mountains, Uncompahgre Peak, Uncompahgre Wilderness, photo

Claudia soaks in the sunset view of Uncompahgre Peak from the comfort of the sleeping bag.

Uncompahgre Peak, sunset, panorama, fourteener, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, photo

Uncompahgre Sunset Panorama

Panoramic sunset view of Uncompahgre Peak, the sixth highest fourteener in Colorado, as seen from Matterhorn Peak.

Wetterhorn Peak, moonlight, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, photo

Wetterhorn Moonlight

Moonlight illuminates Wetterhorn Peak, as seen from Matterhorn Peak. 

We stayed up there for several hours, enjoying the sunset and the moonrise before heading back down to our camp under the full moon light.

hiking, Uncompahgre Peak, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, photo

Hiking over the pass south of Wetterhorn Peak, with Matterhorn Peak and Uncompahgre Peak are behind.

The next day we headed up over the pass south of Wetterhorn Peak. We really wanted to climb the peak; it’s my favorite one around here and Claudia’s never done it before. But we decided not to since the clouds were looking very ominous. It never did storm that afternoon, but of course there was no way to know that at the time.

marmot, Uncompahgre Wilderness, Colorado, photo

A curious marmot poses for the camera.

Wetterhorn Basin, wildflowers, July, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, photo

Wetterhorn Paintbrush

Pink paintbrush wildflowers in Wetterhorn Basin, July. 

We spent the whole rest of the day relaxing and wandering around in Wetterhorn Basin.

Coxcomb Pass, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, hiking, photo

Hiking over Coxcomb Pass.

On Day 5 we hiked up and over Coxcomb Pass and back out the Middle Fork, concluding another great trek in the San Juans!