STEVEN HAGEL photography | North Arete of Matterhorn Peak

North Arete of Matterhorn Peak

September 30, 2012  •  1 Comment


Let me first start out by saying that this was not an entirely successful or noteworthy trip. No cheers and high-fives on the summit after conquering some big, intimidating route. I wouldn't blame you if you stopped reading here. The fact is, we never even put on our harnesses. Yes, we got lost. Yes, we went too high and had nowhere to camp. And, yes, we struggled finding the start of the route. But... we did make it to the top, learned some lessons, and got to explore the beautiful Sawtooth range. Here is our story.

Having never climbed together on a long route, my new friend Tim and I decided the North Arete of Matterhorn peak would be a good choice. The peak sits in the Sawtooth range of the northern Sierra just outside of Bridgeport, California. The route is rated 5.7 and has 6 pitches of technical climbing. This mountain looks nothing like the Matterhorn, besides looking like a mountain. 

North side of Matterhorn Peak

We left Reno, bound and determined, at 3:30AM on Saturday morning. After mid September, you can self-issue permits at the ranger station in Bridgeport, which is what we did. We arrived at Mono Village at the end of the road around 6:30. Now, I've been to this place once before and had bad vibes there. It's a campground? No - it's more like a summer trailer park complete with clothes lines, satelite dishes, and dog runs. I really wanted to be up into the hills but, alas, signs requiring a parking permit were posted all over. We pull up to the entry station and wait to pay our fee. Fifteen minutes later a grumpy, unpleasant fellow comes and tells me to get my truck out of the middle of the road. How could I be so stupid!? It's pre 7AM with not a soul awake, but apparently there's protocol to be followed here. After the drill sergeant finally takes the ten bucks and hands me the precious parking permit, we are good to go.


We have no difficulty locating the start of the Horse Creek trail and are on our way. Our readings of previous trip reports described the actual climbing route quite well, but very little was outlined with respect to the approach. Tim and I took this to mean it would be very straightforward. Mistake. We pass the point where you're supposed to veer off the main trail by a good two miles. TWO MILES! We both had GPS units downloaded with the detailed topo, but neither of us had a map. Isn't a map like number 1 on the list of the 10 essentials? Right?! We thought we were going to stroll right up to the base of the peak, but the terrain is rugged and the tiny GPS screen isn't much help in identifying distant landmarks to pinpoint your location. In our defense, we were following two girls that went the same way. Lesson #2 is do not follow girls. Just kidding. Really.

Early on in the long approach hike


After realizing we were headed to the wrong side of the mountain (actually to some other mountain), the next three hours are spent navigating difficult, cross country travel with full packs to get back on route.


We stayed up high, and arrived at the glacier cirque at the base of Matterhorn Peak. Our track on the GPS looked like a merry-go-round. Now, when planning to climb a peak with a two day itinerary, there is a fine line in deciding where to camp. Too high, and the latter part of day 1 often involves difficult travel with a heavy pack. Too low and you may as well have just done it in a day. We were too high, and the glacial cirque was all boulders and ice. There was nowhere flat to camp. We finally found a giant granite boulder with a somewhat flat top and pitched the tent. I carried the damn thing all the way up there, so it was going to be set up. We had fine views down the valley and could study our objective for tomorrow. We met a pair of climbers coming down off the arete route. They're story was essentially the same as ours - overshot the climber's trail and had to navagate back to the start of the route.

The clouds began to light up and we were treated to a nice sunset.

And then the wind began to blow. Hard. All night. Although that tent looks flat in the image, trust me, it wasn't. Between the wind howling and sliding to the bottom of the bag, sleep was intermittent. Conditions were the same the following morning. We passed several crevasses as we approached the base of the climb.

A real glacier in California

Soon we were up the scree slope in the vicinity of the start of the route. I say vicinity because it was difficult from the route descriptions and photos we had to find the start. There were no cairns, only a couple of rap slings that were from parties who probably went the wrong way. We did finally find it and now was the moment of truth. The gusts were over 40mph in the couloir and we could hear the wind really whipping up on the arete.

I'd like to say we went for it, and this story would have been a lot different. We made the decision to abandon the route, hiked to the top of the east couloir and scrambled to the top. We did a little fouth class stuff near the top for fun and admired the view from the summit.

A summary of our lessons learned:

Do not underestimate the approach route in a new area - study it as you would the climbing route.

If you are fit, climbing a peak like this in a one day push is a better alternative than overnighting.

ALWAYS have a topo map along. 

Seriously though - it was a great time. We WILL be back next year to get on that arete!

Update 2013:

So we did go back the next year! This time Tim and I did it Reno to Reno in a long, exhausting day. All went well - here are the pics:

The dirty first pitch Pitch 3 - the route finding crux The fourth pitch was the best climbing of the route The upper dihedral Third class to the summit A glimpse back

Next up: The Hulk!




Ryan Enright(non-registered)
Great job and quite the climb! Those rock formations sure are pretty. I'm not a climber (haven't even had basic training on belaying at a climbing gym) but wish to hike a route, perhaps with only class 3, which I've done many a time. Gorgeous photos and thanks for precious information about pitfalls on the long trail for when I hike to the Matterhorn Peak (we'll see) next summer. And I know about hiking to the wrong mountain. Pretty easy to do sometimes. It's all worthwhile and necessary to sleuth a natural area! The closest I've come to the Sawtooth Range is a nice view from a hot tub at Travertine Hot Springs.
No comments posted.