Five years ago, I joined Mike Sarmiento on his first unsuccessful attempt at Matterhorn Peak, located on the Sierra crest in northeastern Yosemite. Despite our failure to summit the right peak (we got the wrong mountain, don't laugh, there's a fine tradition there), I remember the trip fondly: good people, unbelievable scenery, and a bear of a hike. My failure to summit was just an excuse to come back.
This year, I returned at long last. I was joined in my quest by John Fay, Will Galloway, Bob Keane, and Mike Rubin. We set out from the Bay Area at 3pm on Friday the 29th and suffered through the ever-lengthening rush hour crawl out of the South Bay, driving until nearly midnight up to Twin Lakes and our campground.
Waking up, we beheld an ill omen and the most sweeping sign any of us had ever seen. It read, simply, "No." Chastened, we hurried on to Twin Lakes and the Mono Village "resort", setting foot on the trail at about 10am. The way up to Matterhorn Peak winds up the Horse Creek trail, and then turns into a use trail up Horse Creek Canyon. I remembered it as a long, slow trudge, interrupted only by painful bushwhacking and a talus slope that stretched forever and straight up. Five years had exaggerated the memories; the bushwhacking was minimal and the talus slope, while painful, was not the beast I remembered -- or perhaps it was just the delightful views that made it all bearable: the Hoover Wilderness, and this trail in particular, is one of my favorite places in the Sierra, for the stunning views and the huge mountains. We arrived and set up camp by 2pm, a far cry from the 5-6pm I had been dreading -- plenty of time to lounge about, soak in the views, and rest up for the strenous day ahead.
A tasty dinner and casual conversation was enhanced by a stunning sunset and remarkably bright night sky, but all too soon it was time to sleep, preparing for our 5:30am wakeup call ... which came far too soon. For once, my morning sluggishness served us well, as we didn't start moving until dawn had lightened the valley enough to render headlamps unnecessary. No Mike Sarmiento epics for us, or so we hoped! While jaunting up the canyon, we met our neighbors, including a large fluffy dog. We'd soon see them again, but we wanted to *climb*, and so we started upwards, quickly leaving the grass and meadows behind for slopes of bare rock and loose scree, winding upwards for 1500 feet to Horse Creek Pass (11000') -- an easy enough trip, if slow. Be sure to avoid the low point of the pass and stay to the right (east); the low point has some nasty snowfields and a big hole that doesn't look fun.
Pushing on from the pass, we soon beheld our goal, the summit of Matterhorn Peak, and its 1200' southwest slope (2nd class). Time for some more trudging... and trudge we did, heading ever upwards on a gentle and easy rise. As we moved upwards, we saw behind us our neighbors and their dog.
By about 10am, we had reached the head of the NE couloir, a more-challenging 3rd class scramble dropping out of sight to the Matterhorn Glacier far below. While it looked fun, we felt perfectly happy with the way we were going. However, we now found ourselves with a bigger challenge than we expected -- the actual summit ridge went UP!, tantalizing us just 100 feet above. While studying the destination, the dog caught up with us, and decided that discretion was the better part of valor -- *he* was going to stop right here.
(Dogs are true mountaineers; I can't count the number of times I've spent panting from exertion and altitude, trying to maintain any level of interest in a climb, while a dog is happily running around just excited to death to be up here -- seeing a dog decide that this was too much was NOT encouraging!) But with some careful study and a few well-placed 3rd class moves, the summit was ours! We sat on top and enjoyed the view, savoring our look at the Bridgeport Valley, Spiller Canyon, and the sea of peaks to the south. All too soon, it was time to go down and rejoin our friend the dog, and then down to camp.
We made short work of the hike out and a visit to Rhino's Bar in Bridgeport, and we were happily back in the South Bay by midnight.
Pictures on the web "soon."
--Steve (humble scribe)