“An epic linkup between two of the San Juan's most scenic 14ers.
— Tyler Prince
Fall Colors · Lake · River/Creek · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife
This epic route summits two remote yet popular 14ers. Close to Lake City, this trip boasts incredible views of the San Juan Range. The entry-level technical Wetterhorn Peak
provides fun scrambling near the summit while the easier Uncompahgre Peak
offers a nice walk-up with incredible views. At 16 miles and almost 6,000 ft of gain, this run is only for the fit and adventurous.
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 of Wetterhorn Peak
. Few dogs can cover this quasi-technical terrain. Most can manage the easier Uncompahgre Peak
Need to Know
NOTE: While this run can easily be done with Uncompahgre Peak
first, it is recommended to summit Wetterhorn Peak
and then consider Uncompahgre, as Wetterhorn is closer to the trailhead and increases the chance of bagging at least one summit.
While Wetterhorn Peak
is 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 rockfall and plan on wearing one. Uncompahgre Peak
does not require a helmet. As always, bring sun protection and plenty of food and water.
Faster hikers should expect around 10 hrs RT; average hikers closer to 12-16 hrs. As such, expect a long day, and be wary of weather changes. If you hit rain on Uncompahgre Peak
it's a long way back to the car.
The trail to Wetterhorn Peak
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. Once on your way to Uncompahgre Peak
, the terrain is highly runnable. Ridge Stock Driveway is a fairly flat class-1 trail in this section, and Uncompahgre Peak
, while steep in parts, has a mostly class-1 trail perfect for running. This is a long day, and even fast runners should plan on being out 7-8 hrs.
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 trailhead, summit Wetterhorn Peak
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
as well. Some runners may opt to cut across the basin off of Wetterhorn Peak Trail
to link up with Ridge Stock Driveway instead of going all the way back down to the junction. Depending on USFS signage and wildlife protection, this may not be an option. If the area is open, it shaves off around 0.75 miles and 300-400 ft of gain. Run across a field, crossing some streams before coming to Ridge Stock Driveway.
If heading back to the trail junction, turn left for Uncompahgre Peak
following signs for Ridge Stock Driveway. Run along a stream on clear trail, mostly singletrack but in some parts a rocky dirt road. The going here is flat and the views are excellent. Passing through alpine tundra, continue N/NE for about a mile. Uncompahgre will be clearly visible, as will the trail. Angle to the right, hop streams for about 2 more miles on flat to slightly downhill terrain. It's frustrating losing elevation here, especially while Uncompahgre is just to your left. There are gullies you can scramble up, but these are composed of loose, steep, dangerous talus. While they may save you elevation gain, they are unlikely to save you time or energy. Sticking to the trail is recommended.
A little over 8 miles into your run, you'll finally turn off the Ridge Stock Driveway, angling left up a switchback and reaching the clear Uncompahgre Peak
Summit Uncompahgre Peak
Congratulations on a hell of a day. This is one of the more impressive 14er doubles commonly done. The area still has plenty to offer: nearby 13er Matterhorn Peak lies between Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre and adds about 2 miles and 1,500 ft of elevation. Those trying to summit all the 14ers may want to check out Handies, Redcloud, and Sunshine while near Lake City.
Flora & Fauna
Just like with other peaks in the area, expect marmots and pika. The valleys between Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre offer some of the most stunning views of mountains and wildflowers in the state. Though mountain goats and bighorn sheep are around, they seem to stay hidden for the most part.
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.