Twin Peaks, Virginia, Matterhorn, and Whorl

19-21 Aug 2000 - by Eric Beck

Lori and I left the backpacker parking in Mono Village at Twin Lakes at 11 am Friday. The trudge to Horse Creek Passs was uneventful, although almost unrecognizable to me. I had skiied over here back in the 70s and all the rubble was buried under snow. We were to learn of some small improvements in our route on the return yesterday. We camped at the small tarn just over the pass in the headwaters of Spiller Creek. We had talked of doing Matterhorn that day, but decided that we might be too tired the following day.

Off bright and early on Saturday for Twin. We headed for the ridge between Twin and Virginia gaining it easily 100 feet left ( north ) of the junction of the grey and red rock of Virginia. This was mostly walking in meadows with some talus. The steeper section below the ridge proved to be grassy ramps. There were a few ducks. This is the way we should have returned from Virginia.

RJ says it is best to traverse to the drainage between the two Twin peaks. We didn't want to drop that far, maybe 800 feet, so we wound up doing the ridge between Virginia and Twin. This proved to be no fun; lots of third on friable and loose rock. Shortly after we gained the crest of the ridge, Lori had had enough, so I continued on to the peak. We descended to the Twin/Virginia saddle, lots of sidehilling on loose and unstable talus , no fun. The ridge up Virginia went quickly, class 2 except for a little easy 3rd in an area of slabs 100 feet below the top.

The long sidehill from the pass back to our camp proved to be the low point of the trip, seemingly endless sidehilling on loose blocks. From our camp, I had thought it would be all meadows. As it turned out, that was all that was visible from there. At this point, I am wondering whether it is really worth the trouble to work on this SPS list. I hate rubble and there is a lot left on the peaks I have not done.

Considered in retrospect, it appears preferable to do Twin and Virginia from Virginia Lakes. This might even be a feasible day hike. If anyone has done them both ways it would be interesting to hear their thoughts. Back in camp at two, we had a leisurely lunch. Lori's new boots were hurting her feet, so I decided to bag Matterhorn. This went quickly even though I was tired. Where the slope narrowed to a chute toward the top, I stayed to the right and found the going quite stable ( Thank you Owen ). The route on the headwall is toward the left edge of the east side and not around the corner on the south. There might be a move or two of 3-. There was a party on the summit who had come up the NE arete. The ammo box register is in chaos. The notebook is full, and the box is stuffed with scraps of paper from bears who have been climbing the peak in recent years.

Back down and asleep by 7pm.

Up again bright and early for Whorl on Sunday. Lori decided to lounge in camp and read, so I was on my own. I was quite concerned about this peak, having read many accounts wherein people had experienced lots of trouble with the route finding. I had two detailed accounts in addition to RJ.

The previous day, I had studied the route from Virginia with binoculars. RJ says to start in the chute leading to the saddle between middle and south peaks. One of the difficulties is that from directly below, this point cannot be distinguished. I did note, however, that just left ( south ) of the saddle is a pinnacle of whiter rock than the surrounding rock which is a bit greyer. This did prove to be noticeable, although it is only slightly whiter than the surrounding rock. Also, the correct chute is the only one which comes all the way down through the maize of broken slabs. Some additional observations:

While walking out on the bench, pass the small tarn and snowfield. Go well past the smooth orange wall ( up high ) with many sinuous straight in cracks.

The correct chute is class 2 and climbs a long ways. Toward the top it fans out and there is a rib separating the two forks. I stayed right. It is apparent that one must get over the rib to the right. I found the correct crossing thru a small notch ( there are several ) which is 100 feet above the last clump of stunted trees. From the rib, the famous chockstone is visible above and off right. Immediately right is an orange slab with a dozen horizontal dikes, an easy ( 3- ) friction traverse. I dropped down and into the second chute, which also fans out toward its top. Some easy broken ledges and one more rib leads into the third ( chockstone ) chute. A horizontal crack/ ledge led across the rib, really more of a slab. A few hand traverse moves at the start ( bucket hands and good feet ) and then one can just walk across the rest ( 3- ). The chockstone is 100 feet of scree above.

There is a little snow under it. Climbing behind it is quite dark and labyrinthine, squeezing and weaving through wedged blocks. I thought of leaving the pack here and in retrospect should have as the peak was now only 15 minutes away. Above the chockstone, class 2 led to the ridge and then up right to the most astounding feature of the whole climb, the class 1 sidewalk all the way across the smooth and steep upper west face. This ledge is 3 feet wide, flat, and in places even has a guard rail. This delivers one back to the east face. From here, more class 2 up and right leads directly to the peak. I was on top a little before 10 am. Unlike the day before, there was no wind and I actually lingered a few minutes on the summit. I rate Whorl one of the best peaks in the entire Sierra. If one can unerringly follow the route, it is quite easy and goes quickly. It is shocking how little of the route is actual class 3, perhaps less than 50 feet total in the two traverses and maybe behind the chockstone. The sidwalk is really the key to this route, without it there might be pitch after pitch of fifth class.

Back with Lori not too soon after, we packed up and hiked out. One note on the use trail up Horse Creek. About halfway up the large talus slope there are two buttresses, the left one white and the right one reddish. We stayed left of the white one going up, but came down to the right ( looking up ) of the reddish one coming down. It is steep, but the use trail switchbacks neatly up through this section mostly on dirt.

The Mono Cone in Lee Vining has upgraded their shakes and now make them with real fruit.

Home before 7pm and into some cold ones.

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