Circumventing the Matterhorn

19 Jul 1998 - by Ron Karpel

We were sitting in Horse Creek Canyon waiting for the tail of our group to catch up, when I pointed up to the Matterhorn Peak. Maggie noted that by now we have seen the Matterhorn from every possible direction, except from the top.

This was a most scenic trip. We started on the Robinson Creek trail from Twin Lakes, crossed the Sierra crests at Mule Pass and camped in Upper Slide Canyon. Unfortunately, Tony who was on his first long PCS trip was too tired for the 12 mile 3,800 ft hike, and we had to setup camp a bit short from the desired location.

Sunday we climbed Burro Pass. The view was terrific. The Matterhorn Canyon on one side and Upper Slide Canyon on the other were plastered with large patches of snow. Water was running everywhere. And thickening clouds were framing the horizon. At that point it was cleared that Tony will not be able to climb the peak with his pack. We changed the plan. Instead of climbing the peak directly from the Burro Pass, we headed to Matterhorn Pass. From Spiller Creek, on the other side of the pass, we will be able to drop our packs and climb the peak without packs. We gained Matterhorn Pass. For a moment I was concern. The Spiller Creek side of the pass looked like a good class 3-4 wall. But we found a chute that provided an easy class 2 descend and made it to the Spiller Creek side (see correction to Secor below).

It was now 12:30 I called to regroup. I wanted to poll people whether we should attempt the summit. We had only 1,000 ft to go, and most of us were still fresh as we were keeping a pretty slow pace. But before I was able to present the idea, the sky opened up and we were hit with a downpour of hail. In addition to the threatening weather, Tony got sick from exhaustion. I had my answer. There was only one thing to do, and it was to head back to the trailhead. We got there at 7:30 PM. I was happy we didn't have to spend an extra day out.

Participants: Nancy Fitzsimmons (coleader), Greg Johnson, Landa Robillard, Maggie Hudson, Sarah Bousfield, Ted Raczek, Tony Stegman, Ron Karpel (leader and scribe).

About the route

I chose the Robinson Creek and Mule Pass approach because I could not get a permit for 8 people going in via Horse Creek. The ranger said that the daily quota for Horse Creek is 9, and only half will be given on reservation. The Mule Pass approach is very long, but all on a good trail, so normally I would expect little problem. The scenery is terrific. After the peak, one could return via Little Slide Canyon, or via Horse Creek.

Secor rates the climb from the South West (Burro Pass) as class-2.

The approach from Horse Creek is shorter with less up and down, but steep and less trail.

Correction to Secor

Secor rates the Matterhorn Pass as class 3. The approach from Spiller Creek according to Secor is from the right (North) following a ledge system. We found an easy class 2 chute on the South side of the pass. To get to the chute from the pass, climb South about 20 ft and traverse to the left. There is a 2 stone cairn marking the traverse. Descend to the chute which leads to the left (North) as it goes down.

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