Visualize Whorled Mountaineers

11 Jun 1996 - by Steve Eckert

Twin Lakes trailhead near Bridgeport. Group included Aaron Schuman (leader), Steve Eckert (co-leader), Gennady Farber, Tim Harris, Daniel Lord, Elmer Martin (an SPSer on his second PCS trip).

If you choose not to sleep at or near the trailhead, make sure you get up in time! Two people showed up about an hour late after misjudging the drive time from a campground somewhere near Sonora Pass, which would normally mean missing the trip. This time, however, we had a short hike in and were lazing around (breakfast at the cafe, repacking, getting acquainted with people we had not met, etc.)

Once underway, we found the trail very flat and very good until almost at the Hoover Wilderness sign, where it promptly disappears completely. Shortly after that, we got onto some snow mixed with talus slopes, and who needs a trail on snow anyway? The main difficulty on this part of the trip was the warm temperatures, which had cleared the snow but had not yet launched the mosquitoes of doom.

An uneventful climb, mostly on snow, lead us to the saddle between Twin Peaks and Matterhorn. We had intended to camp before the saddle, but found semi-protected sites between glacier-polished slabs just east of the saddle. Jim Curl and Dot Reilly camped just below us on the south side of the saddle, having packed in over the 3rd class East Couloir on Matterhorn. (We did not see their signatures in the register, but Jim assures me that they signed in using their "Nepali aliases.")

Sunday morning we stomped off down the "causeway" we had read about in Langsdorf's route description. Jim and Dot were ahead of us and headed for the same peak, but turned and kicked steps straight uphill unexpectedly. We were all certain that we had to go much further before entering the right couloir... but later we began to doubt that. None of the route descriptions are written with a June snowpack in mind, so identifiers such as "sandy" or "scree" were useless to us. (Jim later confirmed that they turned uphill too soon, dead-ending in snow and rock that could not be traversed in the time available. The correct chute is just around the corner, after the Twin Peak / Matterhorn saddle is out of view, where the slope lessens.)

When the south summit of the Whorl triplet came into view, we turned up toward the saddle between the south summit and the middle summit (the high point). It became clear somewhere just before the saddle that none of the route descriptions were matching where we were. To be honest, most of the descriptions halfway matched no matter which direction we faced!

We followed the ridgeline north for a bump or two, until it was clear that we would have to descend to go on. It was at this point that Elmer and Dan turned back, believing that we would not make it or that it would turn into 4th class. Some hunting around led us to a 4 foot wide sandy ledge that dropped gently as it traversed the west side of the ridge to the north. The ledge we used is not visible from the low point of the saddle, but others are (which may work, but will not lead to our route).

Following this sidewalk to just before a sharp chute&rib combination that looked impassable, we easily walked under all of the class 5 cliffs and found decomposing granite blocks that formed a zigzag 3rd class route upward and eastward. The blocks terminate in a huge slab with granite intrusions (bumps). This was the most exposed portion of the climb, very high 3rd class (reasonable holds, but nothing to catch you if you slip). The sustained exposure had us wondering if we should go on, so we sent one sacrificial climber up while the others picked more or less secure waiting spots. Exiting the slab on the upper right corner, a rest break turned into an epiphany when a slot through the ridge was spotted. This was not the chockstone or slab mentioned in other route descriptions (or those descriptions exaggerate the size), but there was a 4 foot chimney to pop up through. The summit was only about 100 vertical feet from here, to the north, half 3rd and half 2nd class!

We spent almost an hour at the top, tentatively deciding that this was a new route (or else we had completely misread the other route descriptions). We hit the ridge just south of the summit, from the west. Langsdorf and Secor mention a west-side traverse that appears to cross below the chute&rib where our sidewalk ended, leading to the ridge north of the summit, whereas the standard route(s) seem to stay on the east side of the ridge. We were the first to sign the register this year, and we had no idea why we made it by such an improbable route. The summit register was full of one-page-per-person entries from some group referring to the "inoculum" (please contact the author if you know what this is). Most entries thanked God for getting them there, but some thanked the other members of their party. Several mentioned "paying off" something, and several mentioned setting off smoke bombs on the summit. Very odd!

Not wanting to risk getting lost on some unknown route, we re-traced our steps and arrived in camp just as the sun dropped behind Matterhorn. The wind was relentless all night, having picked up about the time we started down from the summit. Sunday we stormed up Matterhorn, summiting at 9am, not bothering to hunt very hard for the entirely 2nd class route. Everyone summited this day, but with the wind we spent little time on the summit and were back in camp by 10:30am. The hike out was even more uneventful than the hike in, with the possible exception of a few glissades fast enough to blow off my hat. We all fed the coin-op showers at Twin Lakes and had a decadent late lunch in Bridgeport before driving home with smiles on our faces.

Jim Ramaker adds:

Your trip report on Whorl was great. Sounds like you got very close to the elusive class-3 route described by Secor. (Roper does not mention a class-3 route.) I've been up on that summit ridge twice and failed to find the class-3 route. First time with Paul Magliocco, we got to that place on the ridge you mentioned where progress further north is blocked, descended to the east, traversed across a couple of steep gullies, found the chockstone, were blocked again, and descended for good.

Second time we took a rope and needed it on the 30-foot class-4 section by the chockstone. BTW, the chockstone you encountered is definitely not the one in the guidebook. The "real" chockstone is about 30 feet below the ridge on the east face, and is about the size of a pickup truck. It's unmistakable. An SPS "old timer" whom Paul and I met in Spiller Canyon says you can tunnel behind it in dry years, but both times I've been up there the "tunnel" was choked with ice.

Above the chockstone, class-3 climbing leads up to and over the ridge to a really cool ledge high on the west face. It's a foot or less wide, and higher up than the one you took, but it's secure class-3. It leads straight to your "epiphany" slot, which I thought was really cool also -- just when it looks like your troubles are going to get worse, you pass thru the ridge back to the east side, and your troubles are over.

Anyway, congrats on climbing Whorl without needing a rope.

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