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Solo: Sawtooth Traverse and Matterhorn Peak
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Andrew F
(andrew.f) - F - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Solo: Sawtooth Traverse and Matterhorn Peak on 07/16/2012 16:37:24 MDT Print View

This trip almost didn't happen. Between the forecast of 40% chance of thunderstorms all weekend, the long solo drive, and a difficult itinerary, I figured it might be better to just stay home this weekend. But I took Dave Chenault's advice to go anyway, and I'm glad that I did.

I've seen the Sawtooth Range and Matterhorn Peak many times on various other trips. I've seen them from the top of Mt. Conness, from highway 395 near Bridgeport, from the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne a few weeks earlier. Eventually if you see a cool looking mountain enough times, you have to go climb it.

After navigating my way through the giant sprawling maze of RV campsites known as Mono Village, it was liberating to be walking on the very beautiful Robinson Creek Trail.

I found myself lost in thought, and before I knew it, I had nearly walked past my scheduled turn-off from the main trail, up Little Slide Canyon. After having done a few trips recently using much larger scale Tom Harrison maps, I misinterpreted how far I had to walk on my 15' USGS topos. I realized my mistake when I got my first view of Kettle Peak and the Incredible Hulk.

I had instructions from both Secor's guidebook and the SuperTopo climbing guide. Both of these caution the walker to turn left up Little Slide Canyon early, to avoid having to wade through beaver ponds followed by a terrible bushwhack next to the creek. But it didn't look so bad from where I was standing; just a small cluster of aspens and then the canyon opened up above. So I stepped off trail, turned due south, and began the first off-trail section of my trip. You can guess what happened next.

Fast forward 45 minutes. After wading knee-deep through the beaver ponds followed by 100 yards of thrashing through willows, I can personally verify that the guidebooks are correct. But I was back on track, on the pretty decent climber's trail up through the canyon. The trees slowly faded to bushes, and the bushes slowly faded to talus.

The views up canyon kept getting better. I can see why this is such a popular climbing area. The Incredible Hulk is but one of the many impressive rock formations in the canyon. Outguard Spire, the Reggae Pole, The Thing; all beautiful rock formations with equally interesting names.

Eventually, I made my way to the top of the canyon, where Maltby Lake and Ice Lake reside.

The "trail", which was relatively distinct up to the base of the Hulk, had long since disappeared. The way forward alternated between scrambling over talus, up small snow fields, and through patches of beautiful alpine tundra. Shortly after passing the lakes, Ice Lake Pass made itself visible as a small notch in the ridge with a talus gully leading up to it. Once I crested the pass, the small notch opened up into a broad hanging valley, filled with wildflowers and small tarns, with a beautiful creek meandering through it.

After a short while, I met up with the trail from Mule Pass and made my way up Slide Canyon proper to the headwaters of Piute Creek. Though the sky had been clear all day with the exception of a few small puffy clouds, I was still worried about the thunderstorm forecast. I found a small grove of pine trees to pitch my tarp, and had dinner in a nearby meadow with a great view of the entire Sawtooth range. The sunset lit up the mountains and the sky beautiful shades of orange and pink.

Edited by andrew.f on 07/16/2012 16:58:43 MDT.

Andrew F
(andrew.f) - F - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Part II: Matterhorn Peak on 07/16/2012 16:42:53 MDT Print View


It never got cold that night, and I slept most of the night with my quilt down at my knees. I woke up very early the next morning, knowing that I needed to climb Matterhorn Peak quickly to avoid the chance of getting caught in an afternoon thunderstorm. I broke camp in about 15 minutes and hiked a ways up the trail before stopping for coffee & granola. The sun just began to illuminate the highest peaks of the Sawtooth Range as I ate breakfast.

Burro Pass became visible as just a small notch in the west ridge of Matterhorn Peak. My route for the day was to climb to Burro Pass, and then continue up the west ridge and southwest slopes to the summit. From this angle, the West Ridge looked impossibly steep. But one axiom that is almost invariably true in the Sierra is that nothing is as steep or as hard as it looks from far away.

I made the 800' climb up to Burro Pass in about an hour, and surveyed the route in front of me. It looked like I could climb the first 500 or so feet on the West Ridge, before being forced off to the sandy southwest slope. The SW slope then lead to a prominent notch in the ridgeline which would give me access to the summit.

The W. Ridge turned out to be a fun rock scramble with a few sections of class 2. This was followed by a miserable hour's or so work climbing the remaining 900' of scree to the notch. The notch had an impressive view south encompassing most of Yosemite, and an equally impressive view north to Twin Lakes and Horse Creek Canyon.

I dropped my pack, hoping a marmot wouldn't chew off the straps, and headed up the remaining 200 feet or so of class 2 or 3-ish blocks to the summit. I made it to the top at about 9:15 AM.

The view from the top was sublime, and I spent an enjoyable 20 minutes or so taking in the views. There wasn't a cloud in the sky- it was starting to seem like this trip was a good idea after all.

Edited by andrew.f on 07/16/2012 16:51:53 MDT.

Andrew F
(andrew.f) - F - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Part III: Horse Creek Canyon on 07/16/2012 16:44:35 MDT Print View


Here I found myself at 12,200', with my car 5,100 feet and 5 or so miles below me. Part of my motivation for this trip was that I am planning on hiking the Sierra High Route, if not this season, at least some time in my life. Horse Creek Pass and Horse Creek Canyon form the last few miles of the High Route, and I wanted to get a taste for how difficult the SHR actually is. I've done a fair amount of rock climbing and scrambling in the Sierra, and wanted to know how the routes I have done stack up against a "real" section of the High Route.

I could see Horse Creek Pass from the summit, with a steep snowfield sticking out behind a rocky notch. I was able to scree ski 1,200' down the Southeast Slope of Matterhorn Peak in less than 15 minutes, and before I knew it I was staring down the pass. By staying far to the left, I was able to avoid the snowfield by climbing down relatively stable talus followed by a short 100' section of dangerously loose talus. It was only after I made it down this section that I realized there was no difficulty at all descending directly next to the snowfield, where a chute of what looked like stable talus bypassed the snowfield entirely. Oops.

The slope gradually lessened, and after about an hour and 1,000' of elevation loss I was mostly out of the boulders. I was able to follow intermittent use trails by this point, and Horse Creek had grown from a small flow out of the snowfield into a bona fide creek.

The water was quite cloudy with silt, which I haven't seen very often in the Sierra. I suppose this is a result of the permanent snowfields above.

As I continued to descend, I began to gain more and more respect for the group of guys I had seen plodding up the SE Slope on their way to summit Matterhorn Peak. Horse Creek Canyon is steep! The trail I was descending was way steeper than anything I had come up in Little Slide Canyon. In fact, dropping more than 5,000 feet in a little more than 4 miles makes this route approximately twice as steep as hiking to the top of Half Dome via the Mist Trail.

As one final indignity, the use trail was pinched off by a talus slope that reached all the way down to Horse Creek.

After a few more minutes of scrambling over this obstacle, the use trail could finally be called a real trail and about an hour later I was descending switchbacks back to my car at Twin Lakes. A final view of Matterhorn Peak over Horse Creek Falls was a nice way to close out the trip.

Here's a map of my route:

Thanks for reading!


Edited by andrew.f on 07/16/2012 16:54:19 MDT.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Solo: Sawtooth Traverse and Matterhorn Peak on 07/16/2012 16:56:18 MDT Print View

"This trip almost didn't happen."

I, for one, am glad you did, both for your sake and ours. You put together an excellent route with a very good trip report and great pictures to boot. Way to go, Andrew! I really enjoyed going along for the ride.

David Lutz

Locale: Bay Area
"Solo: Sawtooth Traverse and Matterhorn Peak" on 07/16/2012 16:58:56 MDT Print View

Excellent trip report Andrew, thanks.

That's a beautiful area, we were there a few years ago - I would love to go back......

Ken Helwig
(kennyhel77) - MLife

Locale: Scotts Valley CA via San Jose, CA
Re: Solo: Sawtooth Traverse and Matterhorn Peak on 07/16/2012 17:02:08 MDT Print View

Andrew, that was a GREAT trip report. I have only been to Hoover once....I need to fix that. Great pics!

Chris S
(csteutterman) - F

Locale: Tahoe
Re: Solo: Sawtooth Traverse and Matterhorn Peak on 07/16/2012 17:29:54 MDT Print View

Thumbs up!

Edited by csteutterman on 08/22/2012 17:10:23 MDT.

David Lutz

Locale: Bay Area
"Solo: Sawtooth Traverse and Matterhorn Peak" on 07/16/2012 17:34:27 MDT Print View

Chris - You look familiar in your photo but I can't quite place it. Does your car talk?

James Winstead

Locale: CA
Re: Solo: Sawtooth Traverse and Matterhorn Peak on 07/16/2012 19:53:24 MDT Print View

Andrew... Awesome! I've been eyeing Matterhorn ever since moving out here. Very nicely done. I may be following nearly your exact footsteps at some point later this season.

Did it look feasible to follow the ridge past Horse pass SE and bag Twin Peaks as well?

Andrew F
(andrew.f) - F - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Solo: Sawtooth Traverse and Matterhorn Peak on 07/16/2012 22:18:49 MDT Print View

Thanks for all the feedback, guys.

James, I don't know if you have a copy of Secor's "The High Sierra" but would highly recommend his map and info on Ice Lake Pass and the Matterhorn if you have access to a copy (or borrow mine sometime!) It has good info on the easiest route to take in Little Slide Canyon and Horse Creek. As well as just being an awesome book in general.

As far as Twin Peaks, you could get to the top of "Horse Creek Peak" which is a sub-peak of Twin Peaks just east of the pass... Secor says the SW side is class 2. But taking the ridge to Twin Peaks proper would most certainly be class 5.


Mike Ramirez
(RadNomad) - F
Re: Part III: Horse Creek Canyon on 07/23/2012 13:25:16 MDT Print View

NIce report and photos Andrew. My wife and I came through Horse Creek Pass just a week earlier putting a wrap on the SHR. The pics from the peak and the views it afforded look amazing. I wish we had taken the time to get up there but we were spent by that point.

David T
(DaveT) - F
matterhorn. on 07/23/2012 15:06:44 MDT Print View

Agreed. I had Matterhorn on the list of peaks to bag on my SHR hike, but by the time we got there, we just wanted to put the early morning crampons on and head down the steep hard snow below the pass towards the finish line (and beer).

Manfred Kopisch
(Orienteering) - F
SHR - PM or Email on 07/27/2012 17:50:00 MDT Print View


nice trip report - I always enjoy reading them and seeing your photos - for example when you got snowed on at Hetch Hetchy.

As your PM is not working, I'm reaching out to you this way. Send me a PM if you are interested.

This is the second time I read that you are preparing for the SHR. Last time you wrote that you are planning for a two week solo end of this summer.

I too am planning a solo trip on the SHR this summer for two weeks from 9/1 to 9/16 - going all the way from Road's End to Mono Village. I actually plan right now to do it in 12 days, but like to have buffer days and I'm planning on spending an extra day on summiting Mt. Ritter from the West (mostly class 2 and no glacier).

My wife who will hike the JMT next week with me and two of our daughters, likes that I take a SPOT along, but would like it better if I had a partner. Although I'm planning all along for a solo trip I have a permit for four.

Since we both live in the Bay Area it would be easy to meet and exchange plans.

Have a great weekend,