Whorl Mtn

20 Oct 2001 - by Richard Steele

With the weather still cooperating, I figured I would get in one more trip to high sierra before snow season. I hiked to Horse Creek Pass from Twin Lakes, leaving around 3:30. I got to the pass at around 6:45 -- just after a beautiful alpine sunset -- and camped near the small tarn on the Spiller Creek side of the pass. Skies were clear and overnight temps were in the mid-20s.

Woke at 6:00, ate breakfast in the dark, and set off for Whorl at sunrise. I followed the now "standard" approach from Horse Creek Pass that is well documented in earlier trip reports -- descending to the obvious bench south of the pass, past the small tarn, then angling slightly upwards towards a series of chutes leading to the ridge between the south and middle peaks of Whorl. The confusion over which chute to take is somewhat overblown; just contour below the middle summit, where you can see three spires leaning left (the shape of these spires sort of reminded me of a miniature version of the Three Brothers down in Yosemite Valley). Just past the "three brothers" and the orange-ish rock up above, there are three fairly obvious chutes (see photo:

I took the one on the far left, which is bounded on its left side by a large boulder, and on its right side by a dome-like rock with a single dead bush growing out of its top. I ascended this chute to just near the top, when I saw a sizable gap on the right side, leading into the middle chute. From here, climb the middle chute slightly and traverse into the right hand chute through an obvious notch just below the anvil shaped rock described in Peter Maxwell's report. Coming into the right hand chute, I ran into the fabled chockstone. Being this late in a very poor snow year, the cave beneath the chockstone was completely devoid of snow. However, to get to its base, there is a nasty little traverse across the rib with uncomfortable exposure. Before I left, I told my wife I wouldn't do anything too "risky" on this solo trip. Given the likelihood that I will be the last person on Whorl this season, I did not want my skeleton to be found at the base of the chockstone chute by a reader of this list next June. I turned back.

I was back at the pass by 11:00, ate some lunch, and then started up the quicksand slope that is called the SE face of Matterhorn Peak. The angle is moderate, but the sand and scree on the slope makes for a somewhat annoying ascent. It was made worse by the fact that the summit of Whorl to the south was in clear view the entire way and seemed to be mocking me for my earlier lack of bravado. Climbing higher, I angled to the right in order to peer down into the east couloir. However, upon reaching the summit block on the right side, I searched in vain for the supposed class 2 route to the summit. Losing my patience, I scaled up a moderate class 3 pitch to reach the summit ridge (don't tell my wife), then gingerly crabwalked up to the summit. On the way down, I discovered the class 2 route, which is at the southwest end of the summit ridge. In retrospect, I should have paid attention to Ron Karpel's 1999 report, where he says "Once close to the summit we avoided the class 3 headwall by traversing left until we hit the gully on the West side of the summit. That gully is rated class 2."

I made it back to the pass by 2:30 and took a breather and packed up my gear. I left the pass at about 3:15, and made it back to the car by 6:15, pizza at Rhino's in Bridgeport by 7:00 and back in SF by midnight. Cautionary note: beware of the ridiculous numbers of hungry deer on the road from Twin Lakes to Bridgeport. They were jumping all over the road like grasshoppers in Kansas.

Lots of photos and other useless commentary on my website at: www.tahoebackcountry.net/features/matterwhorl/matterwhorl1.htm

Arun Mahajan adds:

> to get to its base, there is a nasty little traverse across the rib with uncomfortable exposure.

This appears to be very similar to the route that Peter and I took and we had a short sketchy traverse to do as well and it took us a while to actually decide on this route and we explored a few other options, one by going a little bit down but that got harder and the other was going up higher and traversing but we could not see the upper way all that clearly from where we were so we bit the bullet and traversed. It was sketchy and indeed, got our full attention. I would certainly rate it as hard class-3.

Peter Maxwell adds:

When I first saw this I thought "I don't really want to do that", but when I climbed down a bit to take a look I thought "I want to do that even less". It's the exposure on the rib that makes it difficult - there are reasonable little ledges for the feet and quite good handholds. However, it's definitely a 100% concentration traverse - you wouldn't want to be thinking of that beer back home when doing it!

George Sinclair adds:

Maybe this was a different spot than where I did the traverse. Although I am a somewhat experienced rock climber, I did not find that this traverse was difficult. There are good holds for your feet and hands, and later when I looked at my photos you can see that it really isn't very steep (sometimes things seem steeper when you are there, but later look like nothing in your photos). I would call the traverse class 3.


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