Wetterhorn Peak

Wetterhorn Peak, San Juan Mountains, Colorado

Unlike other mountain ranges in Colorado, the San Juans have a volcanic history. Around 35 million years ago this region was home to several dozen stratovolcanoes, similar to those in the present day Pacific Northwest. Then, starting about 30 million years ago the volcanism here was characterized more by massive circular calderas. Many of the mountains in the San Juans owe their uniquely rugged shapes to the eroded volcanic ash (tuft) that was deposited by all of this volcanism.

In the Uncompahgre Wilderness, with its craggy peaks rising out of vast tundra-filled basins, one can visualize this volcanic history more than in any other part of the range. While the specific geology is certainly more complicated, it’s easy to imagine Wetterhorn Peak and Uncompahgre Peak as the eroded lava plugs from ancient volcanoes.

Wetterhorn Peak, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, climbing

14,015 foot tall Wetterhorn Peak feels kind of like a volcano when you’re hiking up it – it towers over the surrounding landscape. Here Claudia ponders geology during the spicy exposed scrambling section towards the summit.

Matterhorn Peak, Uncompahgre Peak, San Juan Mountains, Colorado

Matterhorn and Uncompahgre Peak – more eroded remnants of a more active volcanic age.

Wetterhorn Peak, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, smoke, wildfire, West Fork

Though the volcanoes are long gone around here, this weekend you might have thought one was erupting in the southeastern San Juans if you saw the huge smoke plumes like in the above photo. That smoke is from the Papoose and West Fork wildfires that are devastating large portions of the eastern Weminuche. See satellite photos of the fires and read more good info here. The monsoon weather cannot come soon enough.

See all my photos of Wetterhorn Peak here.

9 thoughts on “Wetterhorn Peak

  1. Jack,

    Really appreciate the info/history on the volcanic past of the San Juans. As often as I’ve been up Uncompahgre Peak, I had not idea of its volcanic geology. Very interesting. Of course, great pictures as well. We’re supposed to be heading to Lake City this weekend, but we’re waiting on the outcome of the West Fork Complex Fire. For the first time in a dozen years, our trip to Lake City may not happen…crazy to think about.

    1. Thanks Justin! I’m no geologist, so I hope I at least got the basics right…

      Yeah, Lake City is pretty close to the action… It’d probably be fine if the wind is blowing away from there, though. Scary stuff.

  2. Love your work!

    Would love to see some Long’s Peak shots. The Loft Route specifically, but I’m sure others might love a keyhole or boulder field shot.


  3. After making my first foray into the Uncompahgre last summer, I am definitely a fan of those peaks and the relative solitude compared to other places in the San Juans. Awesome images as usual Jack, and like you said — the rain can’t get here soon enough. I originally had plans to backpack in the NE Weminuche this July, but as it turns out I am moving to Washington instead. Given the fire situation though, I might have been smoked out anyway. I hope you have some good trips planned, when I start missing Colorado I’ll be checking in 🙂

    1. Hi Paul, good luck with your move to the NW!!! That’s exciting! I lived there for about a year back in ’01 – first in Seattle for the summer, then spent the winter up at Stevens Pass. The Cascades are so impressive coming from Colorado, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed!

  4. Jack,

    Awesome pictures!! My friend and I are backpacking in/around Ouray for 3/4 days this weekend. Do you have specific trails you recommend? We’re kind of winging it, but would love input from someone who has clearly experienced a lot in that area!

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