Promises we Keep: Matterhorn and Whorl

25 Jul 1999 - by Ron Karpel

A year a go we got very close to the Matterhorn, so close, we though we could reach out and touch the summit, but not quite. So we promised ourselves we'll be back next year, and the Matterhorn promised to wait for us. Today's trip was about keeping that promise.

This time we enter the Sawtooth region via Horse Creek. I could only secure a permit for 5 people on reservation, so that determined our group size. Unfortunately, there were more people who made the promise then could fit in my permit, so they will have to arrange their own trip. I will not bore you with details of how beautiful Horse Creek is, or how the water was running over the waterfalls. And I will not bore you with details of how the flowers were blooming and how the light breeze drove all the mosquitos away. No, I will just tell you that we made it to Horse Creek Pass in good time, dropped our packs and rested a while getting ready for the day's climb.

The 1500 ft. slope that leads to the Matterhorn from the pass is a scree and sand mess. Once close to the summit we avoided the class 3 headwall by traversing left until we hit the gully on the West side of the summit. That gully is rated class 2, but with the sand and loose pebbles on the rocks one has to be careful. We made it to the summit in good time and spent the next 30 minutes doing whatever people do when they reach summits...


Once back at camp, we met the leader of a group (some kind of outdoor class) that said they have tried to climb Whorl that afternoon, but had to turn back at the chock stone because it was filled with snow, and there was no way around. This talking, and the fact that Whorl is considered a hard mountain to begin with, scared a few of our participant off that portion of our trip. But Greg and I were determined to go ahead anyway. My rational was that it is very unlikely that I will come back to Horse Creek Pass with a rope and climbing gear (we wanted to be ready for the possibility of getting off route on Whorl and ending on a class-4 climb.)

Sunday morning, it took us about an hour just to get from the pass to the beginning of the climb. Secor says to climb the chute leading to the saddle between the North and South summits of Whorl, but from below, we couldn't tell which one it was. So we climbed the chute that cut deepest onto the face. It later split and we took the right side. There was a fun class 3 section on clean rock. Almost at the top of the chute, we realized that the correct chute is to our right, but we were able to descend into the "right" chute and traverse farther until we found the chock stone.

The chock stone was not filled with snow as the guy from Saturday said, but the gully just bellow it was. It was very steep, 70%-80%, and there was no way around it. The snow was too hard to kick steps, but was soft enough so the pick of my ice axe sliced right through it, offering no help. We roped up, and I was able to place a couple of pros in a crack in the rock to the right. Then cutting steps with my ice axe and using the adz part planted in the snow above, I was able to climb it and into the cavern under the chock stone.

Once above the chock stone, it was about a 100 ft. of fun class 3 to the ridge. Then we dropped to the other side and strolled what could be described as a 2 lane highway to the saddle between the North and middle peaklets of Whorl. Another 100 ft. of class 2/3 and we where on the summit.

One difference between Whorl and Matterhorn is the crowd. Whorl gets a single visit on a busy year. We were the first party this year. Flipping through the summit register is a list of who's and who in the climbing community. We could recognize a good 1/4 to 1/2 the names, many are members of the PCS.

After 45 minutes we down climbed to the chock stone, and rappel the snow section. I left one of my old blue slings wrapped around a good size boulder in the middle of the cavern for the rappel. If you happen to be in the neighborhood and see the sling, please bring it back. What a better way for a sling to end it's life providing a needed rappel point for it's owner. We then traversed to the left and descended the "right" gully down. From below, the "right" gully doesn't look like much of a gully. I took a few pictures to help with route finding for anybody who wishes to find it.

What is the right gully anyway? As I said earlier, we climbed one gully to the left, but we were able to traverse right and find the chock stone. The key was that we kept looking for a way to cross right and we kept looking for the chock stone. In hindsight, I think the gully we climbed was easier because it had less loose stuff than the "right" gully, but the "right" gully would be easier as far as technical difficulty, so I guess that makes it the standard route. I did take GPS way points, but when I read them into TopoCD the chock stone ended up on the wrong side of the mountain, and the marker for the "right" gully on the other summit of Whorl. I think the photos (in the web page) will be a lot more help.

Participants: Greg Johnson, Landa Robillard, Maggie Hudson, Nancy Fitzsimmons, and scribe, Ron Karpel.

Owen Maloy adds:

>The 1500 ft. slope that leads to the Matterhorn from the pass is a scree
>and sand mess.  Once close to the summit we avoided the class 3 headwall by
>traversing left until we hit the gully on the West side of the summit.
>That gully is rated class 2, but with the sand and loose pebbles on the
>rocks one has to be careful.

The trick is to go up the ridge to the right, avoiding the central bowl. Then traverse under the headwall to the left to find a place to scramble up onto the summit ridge.

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