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.
PART I - LITTLE SLIDE CANYON
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.