- Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums
Steve Cochran and I fared better on Matterhorn Peak than Kerouac's tortured protagonist, but there were certainly moments like the one he described.
If you get to the entrance to Mono Village after 4:30 a.m. you can park on the Twin Lakes road right outside the entrance for free. We arrived around that time, and started up the trail toward Horse Creek at 5:00. There was just enough combined light from the setting moon and the rising sun for us to make our way. Steve promised that if we brought headlamps, we would not need them. This turned out to be true.
It would be a challenge for us to try to do the climb in one day, but we were motivated. Between the two of us we had four unsuccessful separate attempts on the route; we had each been turned back before by everything from poor weather to altitude lassitude.
The first part of the approach, up the use trail to the lovely tarn below the Matterhorn Glacier, went pretty quickly; we reached the tarn by 8:00 a.m. I'm slow to acclimatize, so I bogged down after that. It took another three hours for us to reach the entry onto the North Arete, a bit up the Northeast gully.
Steve shuttled a pair of boots, crampons, and one ice axe to the top of the snow, which was only 150 feet higher. We left one set of the snow climbing gear at the bottom of the rock climb, in case we had to rappel off. I ate a chocolate bar to boost my energy. We finally started up the rock at 11:20.
We simulclimbed most of the 4th class sections, and did a number of short pitches to avoid rope drag as well as difficulty communicating after going around corners. Skilled climbers could combine a number of the short pitches that we did.
1-2 : 4th class from the gully to a ledge on the prow. 3: Straight up about a half rope; stopped to avoid rope drag. 4: Traversed right onto a ledge on the West side of Arete. Another short pitch. 5: Straight up a crack to a large ledge 6: Traversed left around the arete to a chimney below a big chockstone. 7: Up and a bit left to another ledge. 8: Straight up to the ridge. Up face to an awkward chimney. 5.6. 9-10 : 4th class along ridge toward summit. 3rd class to summit.
Protection: The usual nuts and cams, plus a few extra long slings. We had three of these and they came in handy for slinging horns, especially on the 4th class sections.
Conditions were great, just a gentle breeze. Towards the end of the climb it got cold as we moved back to the now shady East side of the arete. We reached the summit, 12,280', at 4:30 p.m.
The descent was uneventful, though we cursed ourselves for forgetting the mosquito repellent for the second day in a row. Dead tired but pleased that we had broken our losing streaks, we reached the car by moonlight, at 9:30 p.m.
The drive home was undoubtedly the most dangerous part of our day. We alternated stints at the wheel with napping in the passenger seat. I made it to bed by 3:45 a.m. My 18 month-old son, bless his heart, woke my wife and I up at 5:30 and stayed up. He playfully nudged me into full consciousness by bouncing on my head. I got to work Monday morning, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, at 8:00.