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Sunrise from Wetterhorn Peak

Sunrise from Wetterhorn Peak, Uncompahgre Wilderness, Colorado

Sunrise from Wetterhorn Peak, Uncompahgre Wilderness, Colorado

After descending from Mt. Sneffels, I left Yankee Boy Basin and drove the tedious, rocky, and technical 4wd road over Engineer Pass to the Matterhorn Creek trailhead for Wetterhorn Peak. That trailhead is much lower than the trailhead for Mt. Sneffels, so I packed for a quick overnight and headed up the trail to bivouac at 11,900 feet near timberline. A starry sky greeted me when I crawled out of my bivy sack at 1:30 am the next morning. For the first two miles, I followed the new trail through the tundra built by the selfless volunteers of the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative. The trail ended on the crest of Wetterhorn' s south ridge and the scrambling began. At first it was easy and well-cairned. Even in the dark, I could often spot the next cairn in the beam of my headlamp. The first faint glow was lightening the eastern horizon when my altimeter told me I was just 150 feet below the summit.

Now I encountered the first serious route-finding challenge of the climb. The summit block, a 100-foot near-vertical cliff, loomed above me. Even in the dark, I could see I had to traverse left. But where? Directly left of me was a large rock thumb called the Ship's Prow. Between the Ship's Prow and the main ridge was a notch. Was this the Keyhole that the guidebook had said I should go through? In the dark, I couldn't tell. Climbing higher, then traversing left, looked harder. I traversed straight left, on easy ground, and stepped around a corner to confront a short but near-vertical step in the ridge. In the dark, in mountain boots rather than rock-climbing shoes, with 45 pounds of 4x5 camera gear on my back, it looked like fifth-class climbing. Surely it was easier than it looked, I thought. I started up the step. It wasn't easier than it looked. The expected bucket handholds didn't appear, and I was thankful for my years of technical rock-climbing experience as I pulled through the crux onto easier terrain. After that, the steep, shallow trough leading up the final step to the summit seemed straightforward until I went right around the final obstacle when I should have gone left and ended up jamming and stemming up a very exposed dihedral to the summit. For once I was blessed with some clouds which lit up spectacularly over Mt. Sneffels, where I had been just 24 hours earlier. This image became my favorite of the shoot.

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