“A stunning San Juan 14er with some fun scrambling near the summit.”
— Tyler Prince
Matterhorn Creek Trailhead is difficult enough to get to in the summer months. During winter and parts of spring, the way is generally closed somewhere along the Henson road, about 10 miles below the trailhead.
While the land manager requests dogs be leashed, they probably don't intend for Fido to be scrambling about the rocks near the summit. Few dogs can cover this quasi-technical terrain.
This remote 14er is a favorite for many reasons. It's close to quirky Lake City, boasts incredible views of the San Juan Range, and offers excellent scrambling with little scree. This is a great choice for runners just starting to get into scrambling/class 3 routes.
Features: Lake — River/Creek — Views — Wildflowers — Wildlife
Need to Know
While an easy scramble with mostly solid rock, many runners will bring along a helmet for the final couple hundred feet. If solo it's probably not a true necessity, but those traveling in larger groups should be equipped for potential rockfall so plan on wearing a helmet. As always, bring sun protection and plenty of food and water.
Faster hikers should expect around 4 hrs RT; average hikers closer to 6-8 hrs.
The trail is excellent and fairly gradual all the way from the trailhead to around 13,400 ft, after which scrambling is required. This route makes for an excellent run followed by a quick scramble to the summit...an awesome way to break up any alpine running monotony.
From Lake City, head west on Second Street. In a block or so turn left onto Henson Creek Road, AKA the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway. In 5 miles, pass the Nellie Creek Trailhead sign. This is an alternate route for this run. In 4 more miles, turn right onto the North Henson Road. Up to this point, pretty much any car will do. After this turn, reasonably high clearance is needed. In 2 miles, there is another junction with a sign pointing toward the Matterhorn Creek Trailhead. It's just 0.7 miles to the upper TH from here. A Subaru/CR-V or better should be fine.
While Matterhorn Creek doesn't have a bathroom or any amenities, it is a proper TH, well signed and with a fair amount of parking. A small field next to the dirt lot provides room for around 5-6 tents.
From the upper TH, run on clear, mellow trail for about 0.75 miles. Reach a junction in a clearing, turning right and heading up some switchbacks before continuing north at 11,300 ft. Follow the trail to treeline at 11,600 ft or so. Continue up Ridge Stock Driveway before coming to a junction at 12,000 ft. Turn left for Wetterhorn Peak Trail
(turning right will take you to Uncompahgre Peak
Run up through the basin, crossing through some rocks while heading left toward the summit ridge. Once through a brief rocky patch, switchback SW on excellent trail before reaching the ridge around 13,000 ft.
Follow the trail, more or less ridge proper, before you reach some yellow dirt on the trail. This brief change in soil marks the end of the easier terrain. The path drops left of the ridge and then becomes unclear. You should be able to see "the Prow," a sharp and jagged rock formation appearing like a fin below the summit. Your goal is to scramble up just to its right. Once at the Prow, you'll come to a V-notch in the rock. Scramble either left or right, then turn left and run toward a flat dirt area surrounded by rock formations at 13,800 ft. The summit is up and to the right.
Continue north through a notch in the rock before reaching a set of large stone steps to your right. This natural formation makes for a fun scramble right below the top. Some more adventurous runners may opt to simply scramble around here until they top out. There's plenty of fun climbing and lots of exposure to be had. Stay within your comfort zone! Top out and enjoy the views from Wetterhorn's flat and large summit. This is a great spot for a 14er finishing party.
From the summit, head back down to the Matterhorn Creek trailhead, or head back to the junction with Ridge Stock Driveway to run Uncompahgre Peak
Flora & Fauna
Just like with other peaks in the area, expect mountain goats, marmots, and pika. The valleys between Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre
offer some of the most stunning views of mountains and wildflowers in the state.
History & Background
Translated from Swiss German, "Wetterhorn" means "weather peak." The name fits. Like its European namesake, this part of the state is prone to sudden weather changes, as discovered by all too many runners.