Matterhorn Peak: North Arete

21-22 Jun 2001 - by David Harris

Secor says that Matterhorn Peak is poorly named. While that may be true when viewing the class 2 slopes on the back side, the North Arete rising steeply above Horse Creek is an impressive sight.

We paid a few bucks to park at the campground by Twin Lakes and started up the Horse Creek trail on a hot afternoon. A good use trail continues up the creek after the main trail turns aside and we followed it all the way to a sheltered campsite up on a bench. The location was beautiful, with views of the peak and parts of the Sawtooth ridge; the only drawback was the voracious flock of mosquitoes who drilled through our shirts.

On Friday we followed a variety of slabs and use trails up toward the Matterhorn glacier. The weather was so warm that the glacier had not frozen overnight; neither crampons nor an ice axe were necessary. We ascended the East Couloir on the left side of the arete for a short way until we could see the huge left facing corner described in Sierra Classics. Another party was an hour ahead of us when we reached the glacier, but were just starting to climb as we roped up.

They were climbing a broken, right-trending area about 100 feet left of the huge corner; Secor says three 4th class pitches here lead to the platform on the arete. We hoped to avoid rockfall by climbing closer to the corner up the face and a chimney, but this proved to be a terrible idea. The face was less featured than it appeared from the base and the chimney was dirty and interrupted at many points with overhanging protrusions. I was wearing mountain boots and felt the first lead was probably the crux of the climb for me at 5.7 or so. Jim led us out from under an overhang with another 5.6 move to reach the platform. In hindsight, we would have saved a good deal of time and effort looking for the easier way in the broken 4th class.

The other party was just leaving the platform as we arrived. We climbed a short pitch onto the crest of the arete. From there, Secor describes a 75 foot traverse onto the west face followed by two 5.5 pitches up to a large ledge. Jim combined all three of these pitches into a single one with our 60 meter rope. The beautiful crack system on the huge face was a highlight of the climb.

The other party kindly allowed us to pass as we traversed back to the east side of the arete and up the chimney with the chockstone for a short pitch belaying above the chockstone. From there, I had a long final pitch to the top. Sierra Classics recommends jamming and laybacking the open book, but I felt better in boots climbing the arete to the left of the main arete. Above, I encountered a tight squeeze chimney and a few delicate 5.6 moves to the ridge. I would not have regretted the extra weight of climbing shoes, but protection was good.

Unfortunately, the true summit is not the photogenic peak of the main arete, but is set back 100 yards to the left. We unroped for the third class traverse and enjoyed the views of the Sawtooth Ridge and northern Yosemite backcountry. A bold soloist scaled the face of the Dragtooth and traversed over the Matterhorn as we had been climbing.

We carried a full set of nuts, Camalots from #0.5 through #2, three small cams, and eight slings. We used all the gear, but protection was good and it would be possible to carry less, especially if one climbed shorter pitches. Overall, the route was definitely worthy of its classic reputation and we felt sorry for the group we encountered slogging up the scree and talus on the backside as we descended.

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