Wetterhorn/Middle Canyon/Saddle - The Wetterhorn Basin Trail
The trailhead is off the end of the West Fork of the Cimarron Road. Drive 2 miles north of Ridgway to the Owl Creek Pass Road (County Road 10). Go east another 15.8 miles to Owl Creek Pass, and continue over the pass 0.3 mile to the West Fork Road. Turn right and drive to the end (4WD), which is 3.4 miles. The road crosses the West Fork of the Cimarron River at 2.7 miles. At the end of the road, the trailhead sign can be seen about 80 yards to the southeast. Parking is available at the end of the road.
ATTRACTIONS AND FEATURES:
This is one of the premier trails in the area for unsurpassed beauty up the West Fork river valley, the views from the top of the West Fork Pass, and the descent into Wetterhorn Basin.
Head through an extended meadow to the Wilderness boundary (.7 mile), cross a stream (1.9 miles), and climb to a house sized rock in a lush basin. Switchback to the 12,500' West Fork Pass (3.1 miles). (Be sure to scramble 100' up the right side of the pass to see Wetterhorn Preak rising.) A descent to the basin reveals Coxcomb, Wetterhorn and Blackwall arrayed from left to right. Trails then radiate outward; at .3 mile, Cow Creek Trail - marked with cairns - goes right 1.4 miles, through a good camping area in the trees, to Wetterhorn Basin Overlook (12,400') and grand views of the converging canyons of Wetterhorn, Cow, Wildhorse and Difficulty Creeks. (For an unusual loop (9.9 miles) with a jeep waiting, descend 5.1 miles to Cow Creek Road.) The Basin Trail reaches Coxcomb Trail .7 mile below the pass. Wetterhorn Basin Trail is faint here - look for posts and cairns on the way to Wetterhorn Pass (6 miles). The remote Middle Canyon Trail - a backpacker's dream of 3.4 miles of plateau and forest requiring some route finding - leaves the basin trail 2.1 miles below West Fork Pass and rejoins it 1.6 miles south of Wetterhorn Pass.
Follow the trail, which is marked by several posts, to the Uncompahgre Wilderness boundary (7.2 miles). Matterhorn Cutoff to Ridge Stock Driveway (2 miles) goes left; Saddle Trail goes right 2.3 miles to Ridge Stock .3 mile later. At that point, the trail leaves an open meadow and starts uphill through a spruce forest. As the trail approaches treeline, look for a house-sized boulder in a small basin filled with lush plants and wild flowers, in season. A good campsite can be found in the trees just beyond the boulder. This area could provide welcome shelter if a storm chases you off the pass. Traveling down Mary Alice Creek, the basin trail meets Forest Road 870 at 9.4 miles.
Round trip to the West Fork Pass is 6.1 miles with an altitude gain of 1,940 feet. A round trip on into the basin is 8.6 miles. From the Wetterhorn Basin trailhead to the Middle Fork trailhead, the trip is 10.7 miles with an altitude gain of 2,180 feet.
Weather is always a factor when a high mountain pass lies between you and your vehicle. Be observant and plan a hasty retreat if storms threaten. Extended backpacking trips can be taken from the basin in several different directions, but are not recommended for the inexperienced hiker, or one without additional topographic maps and a good compass.