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.
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.
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!
After shooting the sunrise and taking a high altitude nap in the sleeping bag, we wandered down the tundra basin, continuing our journey.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
We spent the whole rest of the day relaxing and wandering around in Wetterhorn Basin.
On Day 5 we hiked up and over Coxcomb Pass and back out the Middle Fork, concluding another great trek in the San Juans!