Dogsh*t and Rockslides

11-14 Aug 2005 - by T Colorado

Michael and I and our friend, Ron, were off on another climbing adventure. Ron was gracious enough to offer to drive his truck (his truck clearance is better than mine) on this trip to peaks around Lake City. The trip began with what we hoped was not an omen of things to come. After leaving Denver, we decided to stretch our legs and take a break on top of Kenosha Pass. The guys wandered off into the woods for a couple of minutes and I hung out by the truck. Upon their return, we all climbed in and down the pass we drove. Within a minute, a stench began wafting through the cab, and Ron commented that someone must be spreading manure nearby. Quickly, the smell grew stronger and Michael said that maybe we should all check our shoes to see if someone had inadvertently carried something into the truck. As I lifted my left tennis shoe, a clump of dogsh*t the size of a quarter-pounder was stuck to the bottom of my shoe. Oh my land! What a terrible thing to do to someone's truck -- lucky for me, we'd only been driving for a couple of minutes so I yelled for Ron to pull over (he expediently complied), took off my shoe and tossed it out of the truck. The next five minutes were spent cleaning off my shoe, cleaning off his truck carpet, spreading the fragrance of baby wipes throughout the truck and crossing our fingers that the smell would not continue for the duration of the trip. Thankfully, it did not. Now, on to the trip.

We drove to Lake City (with a stopover on the way in Gunnison at The Gunnisack Cowboy Bistro for incredibly delicious burgers) and on to Capitol City and the trailhead for Matterhorn Creek. Ron's truck made it all the way up the rough road to the trailhead. It was raining steadily as we donned our packs and rain gear for the relatively short backpack (almost 3 miles) to a high tundra covered basin to the south of Wetterhorn. We were not going to follow the normal approach route through the hundreds of sheep and the subsequent sheepsh*t (as we had already had our fill of the unmentionable substance). We took the Matterhorn Cut-off trail (at the first fork) up the valley following the wellworn path until coming to another fork (with the trail to the right being closed for re-vegetation). The left fork continued to treeline following Wetterhorn creek with the trail eventually crossing the creek and continuing on to Wetterhorn basin. At the creek crossing, we stayed on the east side of the creek and eventually found a beautiful flat grassy area at about 12,300' southwest below the bulk of Wetterhorn peak. The rain had subsided and we quickly set up our tents before the deluge began again.

On Friday morning, we awoke to beautiful weather and hiked on grassy slopes (heading generally east and a bit north) to intersect the standard southeast ridge route on Wetterhorn Peak. We turned left, hiked up the ridge and had fun scrambling along to the notch and then the final 150' to the summit. You could see our camp below from both the intersecting point on the ridge route and the final 150' climb. There was a register on top and we shared the summit with no one (though we did encounter people ascending on our descent). This was a fun climb; Michael and I had not done it since 1989 ... for Ron, it was another notch in the old "14'er quest". The views of Coxcomb and Redcliff were fantastic! We descended the southeast ridge route and followed the footpath down into the high basin between Wetterhorn and Matterhorn. Not wanting to waste time (or mileage), we decided to intersect the Wetterhorn/Matterhorn ridge at a prominent reddish saddle sort of west of Matterhorn Peak and then we'd follow that ridge northeast to the top. Maintaining as much elevation as possible, we contoured in the high basin and ascended a mix of grass and talus and finally scree to the intersection with the ridge. Some interesting climbing brought us to a ridgepoint just below the final climb to the Matterhorn summit. Some exposure necessitated a short downclimb on the northeast side of this ridgepoint before we could proceed to the summit. Michael went first descending about 10', crossing a narrow short couloir, and stopping below a large boulder embedded in the steep slope. Ron went next and as he passed a large (dishwasher-sized boulder) that was about 5' above Michael, it came loose carrying Ron for a bit on top of itself, before busting apart, thundering down the couloir, and distributing the rockfall down upon Michael. Since I was directly above both of them, my instinct caused me to yell "rock" very loudly at the instant that I saw it come loose. I was thankful that Ron did not try to reach out and stop it as it would surely have carried him with it (or crushed him). He did an excellent job of "swimming" on top of it (similar to the motion when caught in an avalanche), and he "swam" to the left of the short couloir to the top of a short cliff where he clung until the slide stopped. Michael, thank heavens, had immediately tucked under the rock he was below, facing inward as soon as I had yelled rock. The entire episode lasted only about one minute, but from my observation point and helpless position, it seemed to last much longer. The air cleared, the rocks stopped sliding, and we assessed the damage. Ron had incurred a cut on his finger which he wrapped with a handkerchief until we could get to the summit. Michael appeared to be okay and traversed the remaining portion to the summit. We each moved gingerly and separately not wanting to disturb anymore rocks. Once on top, I was pretty shaken up watching the whole thing. Ron was disturbed too and washed his cut and bandaged his finger up. Michael pulled out the camcorder only to find that the rockslide had damaged it through the pack and it would not work again on this trip (it's in the shop now). He also had his shirt ripped open from rockfall and large scratches taken out of his side (as if attacked by a bear), and a huge bruise (the size of a grapefruit) appeared a day later on his leg. Quite a bit of excitement for such an "easy" peak. Upon reflection, we had descended a north facing rockface after many days of rain on a steep slope with huge rocks embedded in dirt/mud. It probably could have happened on its own with no one there ... we just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. We were thankful no one was seriously hurt. After a short break, we descended the standard route down the grassy southeast slopes. We could not help but notice the hundreds of sheep grazing in the basin below us. What a terrible place to camp. You can't drink the water due to the contamination from the sheepsh*t, and the incessant "baaaaing" drove us to respond with our best sheep imitations. We were so happy to be in our quiet high basin camp all by ourselves. We continued down the trail until we could head cross country back to our camp (maintaining as much elevation as possible). The route basically ended up being a "Tour de Wetterhorn/Matterhorn".

On Saturday, we got up, packed up and backpacked back down to the truck. We decided to head into Lake City for some "real food" before going on to the Nellie Creek trailhead. Charlie P's, in Lake City, serves up some mighty tasty barbecue and has some good beers on tap. After lunch, we drove to the trailhead and decided to go back down the 4WD road about 1/4 mile to a great campsite in the trees, near the creek and away from the crowds of people.

On Sunday, we hiked the 1/4 mile up the road to the trailhead and followed the beautiful trail towards Uncompaghre Peak. Michael and I had not seen this side of Uncompaghre as we had climbed it from the Wetterhorn side. What a beautiful place! We'll go back again and camp high in the basin as there are many 13'ers to climb. Anyway, Ron was climbing Uncompaghre and we were doing a 13'er (Unnamed 13,158') that is located almost 2 miles along a ridge from Uncompaghre. So, at the high trail junction, Ron turned right and we turned left. Michael and I were hoping to follow the ridge proper to Unnamed 13,158, but after scrambling along the top and amongst the pinnacles, a large gap appeared. Since we had not brought along a rope for the fun-looking rappel, we elected to retrace our steps and descend some into the western basin. Contouring towards 13,158, we regained the ridge at a saddle and scrambled to the top. The summit did have a register with some notable sign-in's (the Roach's, amongst others). We descended into the eastern basin and met back up with Ron on his descent.

Overall, this was a great trip. For the most part, the weather was good. The area was much more beautiful than either of us had remembered it to be. Happy trails!

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