Wetterhorn/Uncompahgre Loop

Wetterhorn Peak, Uncompahgre Wilderness, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, sunflowers, sunrise

Wetterhorn Sunrise Sunflowers : Prints Available

Sunrise light on Wetterhorn Peak, with Matterhorn Peak to the left.  Uncompahgre Wilderness, July. 

Last week Claudia and I went on a 5-day backpacking loop in the Uncompahgre Wilderness in the San Juan Mountains east of Ouray. Our route circumnavigated the fourteeners Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre Peaks and took us through a paradise of expansive green tundra, wildflowers, and peaks.

See a LOT more photos below!

Middle Fork, Uncompahgre Wilderness, Cimarrons, Coxcomb Peak, hiking, Colorado

Hiking into the Middle Fork of the Cimarrons.  Coxcomb Peak (13,656 ft.) towers above on the right. 

Wetterhorn Peak, Uncompahgre Wilderness, fourteener, sunset, San Juan Mountains, Colorado

Wetterhorn Peak Sunset : Prints Available

Sunset light on Wetterhorn Peak (14,015 ft.), a fourteener in the Uncompahgre Wilderness - July. 

After setting up camp in the Middle Fork basin and hanging out for the afternoon, we set off on an evening hike to shoot the sunset on Wetterhorn Peak. This is a shot that I’ve taken before, back in 2007, but I’m think I’m happier with the results this time.

Photographing above Wetterhorn Basin, San Juans, Colorado
Claudia's shot of me and my camera high above Wetterhorn Basin.
Wetterhorn Peak, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, sunflowers, moon

Wetterhorn Moonflowers : Prints Available

Moon, sunflowers, and Wetterhorn Peak, in the dusk glow in July.

During this trip I experimented a lot with pushing the limits of my 24mm tilt/shift lens. By using the extremes of the lens’s tilt I was able to maintain focus on both the close up flowers and the far peak in one single frame.

Although we arrived back at camp late, we woke up early at 3:30am, packed up our gear and the tent, and hiked in the dark up the next pass. I made it to my destination just in time for a wonderful sunrise!

Wetterhorn Peak, Uncompahgre Wilderness, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, sunflowers, sunrise

Wetterhorn Sunrise Sunflowers : Prints Available

Sunrise light on Wetterhorn Peak, with Matterhorn Peak to the left.  Uncompahgre Wilderness, July. 
Wetterhorn Peak, hiking, tundra, Uncompahgre Wilderness, Colorado

Hiking on the vast tundra below Matterhorn Peak and Wetterhorn Peak

After shooting the sunrise and taking a high altitude nap in the sleeping bag, we wandered down the tundra basin, continuing our journey.

Uncompahgre Peak, San Juans, Uncompahgre Wilderness, Colorado, green tundra, hiking

Hiking along the brilliant green tundra towards Uncompahgre Peak (14,309 feet), the tallest mountain in the San Juans.

At about this point in the East Fork we left the trail and blazed our own route on the tundra over the pass north of Uncompahgre Peak, into the remote and seldom visited Big Blue Creek basin.

View from the tent
View from the tent in Big Blue Creek.

After a bit of searching, we found a great camp spot with a commanding view of the beautiful valley below. Our Big Agnes Seedhouse tent provided a sanctuary from the swarming mosquitos here!

Big Blue Creek, Uncompahgre Wilderness, Colorado, July

Big Blue Shadows : Prints Available

Evening shadows along the head of Big Blue Creek in the Uncompahgre Wilderness - July.
Big Blue Creek, sunset, Uncompahgre Wilderness, Colorado

Big Blue Sunset : Prints Available

Beautiful sunset over Big Blue Creek. 
Uncompahgre Peak, Big Blue Creek, San Juan Mountains, Colorado

Big Blue Uncompahgre : Prints Available

The north face of Uncompahgre Peak (14,309 ft.), as seen from Big Blue Creek. 

The next day we hiked from the north around the south side of Uncompahgre Peak, and we ditched our backpacks and bagged the summit along the way!

Claudia and Jack on the summit of Uncompahgre Peak
Claudia and Jack on the summit of Uncompahgre Peak
Uncompahgre Peak, summit, panorama, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, Wetterhorn Peak

Uncompahgre Summit Panorama : Prints Available

Panoramic view from the summit of Uncompahgre Peak, the tallest mountain in the San Juans at 14,309 ft.  Wetterhorn Peak is in the center, and the Sneffels Range behind in the distance. 


The view from Uncompahgre’s summit is incredible, especially this time of year with the remnant snowfields forming the white zebra patterns on the green tundra.

hiking, tundra, Wetterhorn Peak, San Juan Mountains, Colorado

Hiking along the high tundra with Wetterhorn Peak and Matterhorn Peak behind - July. 

Back down from Uncompahgre Peak, we continued our journey along the high tundra. Fortunately the sometimes-ominous-looking clouds never made it to storm/lightning stage.

After setting up camp near treeline along Matterhorn Creek, and relaxing and having dinner, we then set out to hike up Matterhorn Peak for sunset! We made it to the high ridgeline just below the summit, but opted to not attempt the summit climb since it looked like an utterly precarious rock pile ready to topple at any moment. No thanks!

Matterhorn Peak, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, hiking

Hiking up Matterhorn Peak in the late afternoon to watch the sunset and moonrise. 
A sleeping bag with a view
Claudia soaks in the view of Uncompahgre Peak from the comfort of the sleeping bag.
Uncompahgre Peak, sunset, panorama, fourteener, San Juan Mountains, Colorado

Uncompahgre Sunset Panorama : Prints Available

Panoramic sunset view of Uncompahgre Peak, the sixth highest fourteener in Colorado, as seen from Matterhorn Peak.
Wetterhorn Peak, moonlight, San Juan Mountains, Colorado

Wetterhorn Moonlight : Prints Available

Moonlight illuminates Wetterhorn Peak, as seen from Matterhorn Peak. 

We stayed up there for several hours, enjoying the sunset and the moonrise before heading back down to our camp under the full moon light.

hiking, Uncompahgre Peak, San Juan Mountains, Colorado

Hiking over the pass south of Wetterhorn Peak, with Matterhorn Peak and Uncompahgre Peak are behind. 

The next day we headed up over the pass south of Wetterhorn Peak. We really wanted to climb the peak; it’s my favorite one around here and Claudia’s never done it before. But we decided not to since the clouds were looking very ominous. It never did storm that afternoon, but of course there was no way to know that at the time.

marmot, Uncompahgre Wilderness, Colorado

A curious marmot poses for the camera. 
Wetterhorn Basin, wildflowers, July, San Juan Mountains, Colorado

Wetterhorn Paintbrush : Prints Available

Pink paintbrush wildflowers in Wetterhorn Basin, July. 

We spent the whole rest of the day relaxing and wandering around in Wetterhorn Basin.

Coxcomb Pass, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, hiking

Hiking over Coxcomb Pass.

On Day 5 we hiked up and over Coxcomb Pass and back out the Middle Fork, concluding another great trek in the San Juans!

42 thoughts on “Wetterhorn/Uncompahgre Loop

  1. Another collection of spectacular images Jack! Too bad the “moonflowers” were facing Wetterhorn and not your lens 😉 I want to know how Claudia can look so fabulous on a 5 day backpack trip?!?

  2. OUTSTANDING photo’s. I have always wanted to make it out there and hike that area. I have done the Weminuchee twice but that is it in the San Juans.

  3. Great work! It’ is the best feeling knowing that this kind of stuff is out there all the time, no matter who is looking. Maybe I’ll be the next lucky person to catch a glimpse of the beauty of the San Juans. Especially now that I live in Durango!!!!!!!!!!

  4. What a wonderful trek and double congrats on having someone who likes this as much as you do. Bet it helps the photography too!

  5. Thanks for sharing Jack! You finally found your “DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH” Claudia that is! Nothing like the San Juan’s! Part of my SOUL really misses those Mountains… MISS YOU BUDDY!!!

  6. Incredible work Jack. I love the pano the very best with the Wetterhorn Moon flowers a close second. Simply spectacular! Thanks so much for sharing. I very much enjoyed reading about your trip.

  7. Great shots and trip report Jack. As a flat lander who doesn’t get to CO nearly enough every year, I can always rely on you to get me a fix and remind me what I’m missing!

  8. Looks like a great trip! What photo gear did you bring along? Always interesting to know. I’ve always been a huge fan of Galen Rowell and his philosophies. Ordered my black diamond expedition poles today.. first step towards the split!

  9. I absolutely love your pictures. Thanks to Kitsy and her FB posts, I am “sharing” the word. I think she also mentioned you are recently engaged. Congratulations and continue to carry on with your gifted artistic passion with gusto! The world awaits! Thanks, Jack, for taking us to so many awesome places!

  10. So you crossed over into Wetterhorn Basin in the west fork of the Cimarron and then up and over the saddle with Coxcomb to drop back into middle fork?

    I was planning doing a trip very similar to this.

    1. Hi Aaron, no we were not in the West Fork at any point in this trip. We did a clockwise loop from Middle Fork, around Uncompahgre and Wetterhorn Peaks, and then returned to the Middle Fork via Coxcomb Pass. If you could set up a shuttle with two cars it would be nice to start from the Middle Fork and end in the West Fork, though (I’ve done that before once…)

  11. Fantastic and beautiful series Jack, I’m starting to appreciate your work more and more every time I view them. Keep up the great work.

  12. Spot on Jack! I always enjoy getting my San Juan fix from you, and now Claudia. I really like this set. Great work!

  13. What a haul of great images, Jack! Looks like an amazing trip. I’ve dayhiked Middle Cimarron up to the pass, and it was torture to have to turn around instead of stay for several days.

  14. Hey, awesome to see you both enjoying some local flavors. Still love living vicariously through you as I miss another summer of backpacking working. Even more bittersweet as Jesse is going backpacking this weekend and I’m stuck in ND 🙁

    Anyway, glad you’re having fun and congrats to both of you! Hopefully we’ll run into each other this fall and we get to meet Claudia. I’m not sure what we’re doing yet but I’m setting aside two weeks for photography so we’ll be out there somewhere.

    Hope you have a great summer!

    1. Thanks Aleks! Hope you can get out soon! Unfortunately I think we’re going to miss the prime fall colors since we’re headed to South America towards the end of September. Maybe if we’re lucky the colors will change early this year!

  15. Well, great to see photograph of the place my wife and I are walking Aug. 9th-Aug. 13th. Never been there and I am looking forward to see this wilderness. Now, for the photos. Great As Usual!!! What makes your photograph so much more interesting than most photographers is your backcountry shots. Look foward to seeing more work. What can one expect going over Coxcomb Pass?

    1. Hi Robert, I guess I’m too late with my response… sorry! I’ve been on a big road trip this month. As you’ve probably seen for yourself already, Coxcomb Pass is just fine – there’s a trail over the pass and dramatic views of the Coxcomb spire from right below it.

  16. beauty of shot when claudia Hiking into the Middle Fork of the Cimarrons ,you take it from her back side.i like this kind of pics.(somewhere alone) one question aren’t these smoky mountains ?i mean how fog isn’t there?

  17. Hi. I’ve looked at all your trip photos, and they are stunning. I have an unusual request, which you can ignore if you want, because you’re a photographer not a travel agent, but here goes. My brother and I will be in Colorado for a week in mid-July for backpacking. We should have time for a 4 or 5-day outing, and maybe a day hike. With all the hiking you’ve done in the State, any recommendations on what you would do if you had that amount of time? The Wetterhorn-Uncompahgre loop looks beautiful (I was sold when I saw these photos), but then I saw your photos from various Weimenuche hikes, and that area looks perhaps even more beautiful. And then there’s Maroon Bells. Thanks for any thoughts you might have.

  18. Thanks for the trip report. Last summer I took my two kids (17 and 19 yrs) to the Wetterhorn Basin based on your photos. We took the marked trails but were unable to trace your steps as planned. We enjoyed the wilderness area loop trail via the pass under the peak at Wetterhorn. The altitude and steepness of the trail made hiking more difficult that we planned on.

  19. Hi Jack,

    My friends and I from the front range are backpacking this area this summer and are set on this wilderness area. Any chance you can share the itinerary?

  20. thank you so much for taken such awesome photos. Cant do anymore mt.climbing so I must go in your photos. Thank you so much.

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