Rich was the first one to reach the top of the headwall of the gully that we had been scrambling up, and as he topped out I heard a loud "Damn! There's no where to go! We're lost!" My heart sank. That was not what I wanted to hear, and was quite a comedown from the high expectations that we had held up to this point.
After all, we had made reasonable time up Horse Creek Trail, in spite of losing the trail in some loose talus and flailing around a bit. And the country (and Horse Creek in particular) is really quite pretty, there are a variety of nature's splendors on display. There are stands of forest, marshy flats where the stream meanders a bit, steep hillsides where the creek cascades down, semi-alpine areas where a few trees and flowers mix with large boulders; and always looking down from above is the magnificence of Sawtooth Ridge (just a stunning view).
The last 1000 feet, however, did seem to drag on forever as we crossed over a very large field of medium-sized talus intermixed with several snowfields. In fact, at the very end the pass seemed a very forbiding place. There was no vegetation at this point and the walls were closing in on us as we approached the crest, with just the rock and the snow and a cold wind blowing through the pass itself. However, we were rewarded for our perseverance when we popped through the narrow opening onto a sunlit, relatively flat, open expanse with the whole of northern Yosemite laid out before us. It felt like we had just landed in a scene from The Sound Of Music.
We quickly made camp, and then 5 of us capitalized on our re-energizing by heading up towards the summit of Matterhorn, which lifted up right over us. Some of our new-found energy quickly gave way as we wound up doing some bushwhacking, and even more slipped away as we found that the alternative was a mix of loose scree and rock; but we continued on and finally got to the base of the large mass of blocks that made up the last 100 feet or so of climbing. We cast about a bit but found a reasonable route, and very quickly summited. The views all around were pretty amazing, and we spent a good deal of time savoring our success before dropping back down to a well-earned dinner and sleep.
On Sunday we split up. Three of us decided to forgo Whorl, preferring a more leisurely hike out in order to minimize the damage to some very sore knees. Jeff, Rich and I opted to push on. We got a relatively early start, but it seemed to take forever to get around Whorl to where we could find anything resembling a gully headed up into the massive formation. We wound up getting too high, to where traversing around was dificult and we couldn't see the summit ridge, so we had to drop back down a bit to continue. Then, finally, we spotted what seemed to be the ticket - a bonafide gully. We headed up and after a lot of scrambling got up to the headwall.
OK, it was time to settle down and explore the options. I climbed around a few boulders, then to a vantage point on the other side of the headwall. There were some sandy ledges here that led back over to the north ridge of the peak (as mentioned by Secor), but they were partially covered by a large, steeply angled snow field which was still in shadow, making a traverse risky. Then, after toying with the idea of some 4th class climbing along the back side of the ridge, we dropped back down into the gully and looked for a way to move into the next higher one. Up and over we climbed. Then, deciding that this gully looked no better, we tried to go even further. Again we found a way over into the next gully, and again it looked no better. I was beginning to think that Rich was right, and now it appeared that some storm clouds were brewing to the south. Besides, we had gullied ourselves out if one could believe Secor. But there was still another possible route into yet another gully, so we tried it and could hardly believe our eyes when we saw what appeared to be Secor's fabled chockstone. We climbed up to it, and it was.
Rich had found a trip report which talked of going under the chockstone and up through a keyhole in the back, so he had the honor of checking it out. It was a tight fit getting around the frozen snow and ice and into the space, but there was indeed a spiral staircase in the far reaches of the little cave which lead us up onto the chockstone. From there it was an easy scramble and a stroll up a sandy ledge to the summit. Success! Aahh did it taste sweet!
But there were still clouds, and the day was getting late, so we bid farewell to the splendid views and headed back down. We decided to go down the gully which was just above the one we ascended, which should have been the correct one according to Secor. When we finally got to the bottom we discovered that we were just 30 feet from the gully we had taken, and that the correct one (according to Secor) looked more like just a cleft in some rocks as opposed to the gully-looking one we took. Oh well.
We arrived back at camp at about 4:00, then quickly packed up and headed out. Thanks to the snowfields amongst the talus, we were able to make good time and got back to the cars by around 7:00. We got back home a bit late, but the trip was worth it.
Participants were Gary Jost, Rich Leiker, Jeff West, Carol Stickles, Jeanie Harsha, and your trusty scribe and leader Charles Schafer.