Matterhorn Peak — Page 5

Approaching Matterhorn Peak


When I crest the ridge, I'm pleased to see the familiar spire of Matterhorn Peak ahead. Earlier in the season, it would likely be possible to ascend directly up the rocky face above camp.

I ascend to the left, in the long shadows of early morning, trying to avoid the heat of the sun. Given that it is June, the snow looks terrific, with no sun-cupping to speak of, and a firm, hard texture. The wind continues its assault, occasionally tilting my balance, but I see nothing to interfere with a fine ski descent today.

Andy Lewicky & Matterhorn Peak A Bergschrund Climbing the East Ridge Slope Angle

I'm again struck by the quality of the views and skiing. I'm surrounded by wide, open, rolling, intermediate terrain, with abundant chutes and gullies feeding in from the jagged ridge lines above.

I soon have a clear view of the East Ridge Ramp, as well as Matterhorn Peak's East and West couloirs.

Unfortunately the East Couloir has lost most of its snow, making it unsuitable for descent. Like many of the Sierra's east couloirs, this one has trouble filling in at the top, from what I've heard. I don't know what causes this phenomenon, though I'd suspect the wind is involved.

On the other hand, the West Couloir looks very tempting. I notice that the snow is already sitting in the sun, however. Given the mild overnight temperatures, I decide that the route will probably be too soft for comfort.

The East Ridge Ramp, however, looks ideal.

Paul Ritchens notes all the Matterhorn routes are steep, but he considers the East Ridge Ramp the best of the lot.

To me, the pitch looks like it's around 35 to 40 degrees, certainly invigorating. I like the broad runout, which makes this a more forgiving route in the event of a fall.

There's nothing to do but start climbing.

I decide I'll stay to the left of the central snowfield, ascending alongside the rocks in shadow.

And what's this?

A bona-fide crevasse appears, though a small one, at that. The mini-crevasse is concrete evidence that I'm on a small glacier.

This is in fact the bergschrund—the separation between the downward-creeping glacier and the permanent snow pack above.

As I hit the steeper section, the going gets tough. I'm feeling the altitude, and each step is a bit of a labor. The angle remains just moderate enough for me to feel comfortable using French Technique for my ascent: I sink my axe as a belay, and ascend in an odd, foot-over-foot manner that reminds me of a sidewinder's gait.

The technique, however, keeps the feet flat, as they remain pointed across the hill, boosting efficiency and resulting in much less stain on the lower leg muscles. After a brisk climb, I top the east ridge. The wind, temporarily forgotten, now blasts me with 60mph gusts, encouraging little sightseeing. I take a few photos nonetheless, doing my best to keep my gear—and myself—from getting blown off the mountain. It's time for the descent.

next: The Descent

About SierraDescents

When there is snow, SierraDescents is Andy Lewicky's California backcountry skiing and mountaineering website. Without snow, sierradescents becomes an ill-tempered hiking and climbing blog.

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