Matterhorn Pk / Excelsior Mtn

19-20 Aug 2000 - by Mike Mcdermitt

On Saturday I hiked Excelsior Mountain (12,446') from Virginia Lakes (9,600'). It is a straightforward hike, following a good trail to a 'pass' at about 11,000' where the trail starts dropping down into the Green Creek drainage. From that point, the route goes continues toward the Sierra crest cross country. One can either go over top of, or countour up and around the north side of, a large two-humped red hill that is the one clearly unpleasant part of the hike (no alternatives, the ridge drops off on either side). I did the contour going up and the over-the-top coming back, which may be the best combination since the backside is totally firm and alot less high. Once over this hill, I hiked up towards the crest aiming for the lowest point in the ridge along the right side of the snowfield. Once over the crest, an easy traverse south took me to the peak, which had fine views of most of the peaks of Yosemite from Lyell to Tower. Register was about 2/3 full, many hikers this year. Signing in, I took the opportunity to answer the question Joe Budman asked when he signed in April 30. Award for best register entry, serious category, won by "Live with intent, don't settle for content". Award for best entry, non-serious, won by "Life On The East Side Is Good". Having absolutely no acclimatization, I took the hike slowly, taking about 4 1/4 hours up; after 45 min.on top, got back to the trailhead in 2 hrs. It looks like about 6 miles each way.

Feeling somewhat acclimatized, on Sunday I climbed Matterhorn Peak (12,264'), from Twin Lakes, ascending via the East Couloir, returning via Horse Creek Pass. Started at 7.30am carrying a new register book. Reaching the signed intersection with the Cattle Mountain trail at 8.45, I realized that the day's agenda would probably demand more than the 8-10 hours I had assumed. The trail went fine up to the first big 'bowl' at around 9,000'. There are trails all over this area. I followed someone up a trail on the left side that was slow going through loose steep scree; then halfway up the 'real' trail on the right side on firm dirt became apparent, so I sidehilled across to it. Above the bowl where the terrain leveled out, I followed a steep use trail up and to the right for several hundred feet, ending atop a ridge just above a pond. The now faint use trail continued logically given the terrain along the ridge towards Matterhorn, and I followed it to the bowl below the peak, reaching this point at about 12noon, where I stopped for lunch. Around 12.30, I pulled out my ice axe and started heading across the bowl, catching up with two climbers who I teamed up with rather than risking rockfall in the couloir. John had done North Palisade; he was taking George on his first peak climb of any kind ever. George did quite well although the going was slow. The east couloir is mostly snow free at this point, unfortunately without snow it is alot of loose rock and scree. There were maybe a dozen people, all told, on various parts of the peak that day. We finally summited at about 3.00pm, to outstanding views. There are literally about three dozen listed peaks visible from the summit. I placed the register book into the ammo box along with pen and pencil, and signed in. The award for the most creative item placed in a summit box: rubber ducky. Realizing that I am not entirely versed in Sierra Club rules, I did not remove said item. Around 3.30 we headed back down. The climb and hike down to Horse Creek Pass and out was long, slow and uneventful. After confirming that they had headlamps, at about 6pm I left the other two upon reaching a point where I could show them where they were headed (they were mapless), then turned on the jets. Back at the car at 7.45pm, 12 1/4 hrs, about 5,300' gain. Thankfully the Bridgeport Market and deli was open; with a turkey sub and a quart of Coke, the drive home was uneventful.

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