July 19, 2000 - Matterhorn Creek and Basin to the Southeast Ridge
I headed back to Lake City, Texas, in mid July to take a shot at the Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre Peaks (Come on you Texans, lighten up, I’m just kidding). The first peak on my list was Wetterhorn, which I would attempt via the Matterhorn Basin so I found a camp spot along the North Fork of the Henson Creek road leading to the Matterhorn trailhead. The road leading up the North Fork has a number of good commando camp spots but unknown to me was that each came with a swarm of mosquitoes, ready to devour anyone brave enough to try to set up a tent. I chose a spot, and completed the set up in record time before diving for cover to wait the morning.
I initially drove the first ¼ mile of the road up the Matterhorn Creek but it looked narrow and a seemed to have few if any turn around opportunities. I backed down the hill to a wide spot, did a 180 and parked in the three or four car wide spot at the cut off. I slung the pack, headed up the road, and as you can imagine soon found the road to be quite drivable and had a number of camp spots where others had spent the night. Just a ways further on was the road closure gate and room for at least a half dozen cars to park. It was not that long a drive and walking this 4WD track the first time up was perhaps an omen of unknown road marches to come.
From the closure, the route was obvious up to the big switchback in the trail that nobody could or should miss. The trail turned and ascended the eastern slope and turns to again head up the basin. The climbing guide I used mentioned a cut off point that should strike along the base of the higher ground on the western slope of the basin but I missed it. The ground in this area is tundra and a bit swampy so I did not want to just head cross-country for conservation reasons. I kept to the wide track and continued up the valley. Once the Wetterhorn and Matterhorn were in view and I was more than a ways up the valley, I had reconciled my self to having missed the trail and I decided to rock hop across the higher ground to reach there the trail had to be. I cut cross-country and did not intersect the trail I was seeking but instead the track that leads across the base of Matterhorn Peak, coming from Uncompahgre. Good enough, at that point, all routes were heading for the Wetterhorn.
I approached the flank of Wetterhorn, where the trail goes to dirt when I passed a fellow who asked me why in the world I would carry an ice axe in July. I responded with some self-conscious garble about the possibility of snow higher and not knowing before I set out. He laughed, called me a fool to my face, and then after a moment’s hesitation noted his ice axe and a set of crampons stashed behind a nearby boulder. I did not feel so bad after all when he told me he had all 54 and brought his along “just in case”. I walked the remainder of the dirt track and then on upslope where the trail leads around to the backside of the peak. From this point, it was a hand and foot scramble along a sometimes braided route up across a fin, through a couloir and on to the Keyhole gap noted in the guides as the target point before the final summit pitch. I walked around the Ship’s Prow and looked about for the route to the top, which for me was not immediately obvious. I peeked up and over the most apparent scramble route and there it was, a trafficked trace again on the backside leading to the summit climb I recognized from guidebook pictures. The short final pitch was not bad, a stair stepping affair and soon enough I was the top. The summit is small but not as small as one might imagine and I was alone there to enjoy the view.
I headed on down after perhaps 15 minutes and there was a procession of other climbers making their way up through the scramble portion of the climb. I had gotten a daybreak start and hence ran into a more seasoned climber coming down and into Cottoneers heading up after their less than Alpine start. One the way down, I scored the proper trail out which is a narrow ditch track that skirts the slope on the west side of the valley and deposits one into the boggy area I had tried to avoid. A good call on the up hill trip, as I preferred to avoid a non-obvious trail bog crossing if it meant contributing to a herd path.