Matterhorn Peak (12279') - Attempt 1

Duration: 1 day

Date: 16 Aug 2014

Distance: ~10miles

Difficulty: Strenuous (Class 2 scramble)

Altitude gain: ~4500 feet in ~5 miles (7500' to 12279')

Trail: Horse creek trail -> Scramble up Matterhorn peak -> Horse creek trail (Few/None on this trail)

Trailhead: Mono village – Twin lakes trailhead. Walk to the campsite 14D or 8D and cross the stream using a foot over bridge (wooden bridge made of logs without handrails). This will take you to a board (Hiker’s trail). This will take you to the Wilderness board. This is the start of the trail.

Note: The trail isn’t marked and you will need to find your way to get to the top.

Other links: SummitPost TrimbleGPSMap

Pictures: here

After the Alta peak hike my foot seemed to be doing good so I signed up for this hike. It was just the four of us – Jugal, PT, Vishram and I. The actual Matterhorn peak is part of the Swizz Alps and it is one of the most difficult 14’ers out there. It is even tougher than Mt. Everest itself. The Matterhorn peak in the Sierra is aptly named due to its formation and sight from the North East side of the mountain. The jagged top makes it look like a pinnacle. This peak sits atop high at 12279’. The use trail is faint and it’s very easy to get lost here without a GPS and a map. We did end up not taking the trail to the top and instead had to turn back from 10249’.

As a customary action, jugal picked me, Vishram up and we drove to the airport to rent out a car (SUV with high ground clearance). After all the fun stuff that happened at the airport, this trip seemed to be a special one from the onset. We were supposed to be on the round and away from the bay area by 6pm but we started out only 3 hrs later at 9pm. Luckily that helped our cause since the traffic thinned as the night swept in. We drove the Subaru towards Mono village (880 N -> 680 -> 580 E -> 120 -> 108 -> 395 S). Being hungry and quite late, we packed chipotle for dinner. We took turns driving and I was quite asleep when we reached the place. We camped at Buckeye road (off twin lakes rd which is off 395 just below Bridgeport) in the wilderness. This place has scattered camping. It was about 2am when we got to the place and pitched out the tent. Wake up time was set to 7:20am.

By 6:30am, the sun was bright and the light pierced the double layer tent illuminating the entire space. The others woke me up at 7:00am. I tried a lot to go back to sleep for the precious 20 minutes but couldn’t get myself to go back to bed. We were up and ready by 8:00am. We drove to over to the Twin Lakes road and drove towards Mono village. On the way we stopped at the upper Honeymoon campground for a quick snack. Bananas’ and Vishram’s poha (rise crispies) was our breakfast. By 9:30am we were at the parking lot. Having bought ourselves a map from the local marina/boat shop, we set out to find the trailhead. This was at 9:40am. To get to the trailhead, we had to go through the RV campground and then take a left to get to the foot-over walkway across the stream. To our dismay however, we never did find that bridge.

It took us close to 10:40am to get back onto the trail. What would ideally take 15 mins, took us 1 hr to find our way. We did some bushwhacking, wilderness walking and cross-country hiking to get to the trail. We also had to use the GPS. There were even people shouting about a bear that they had seen but we never got to see one. On the way to the trail, we had to cross the stream and this is where I lost my shades. I tried to find it but wasn’t able to find it. Vishram gave it a shot too but to no avail. Now that we were on the trail, we blazed towards what seemed quite a lot of time. The twin lakes were clearly visible as we climbed higher. The most familiar alpine vegetation started to be the only landscape around us. The sun was slowly shining brighter making the entire surrounding quite warm. Within a mile or so we got to the switchbacks that climbs steep into the valley. Having lost time we hurried up the trail.

By 11:15am we were at the horse creek trail junction. After this the trail climbs steeply along the creek. There is no more a clear visible path. It’s stones everywhere. There are stone markers that you have to spot to keep on moving in the right direction. At a point the trail is completely cut off with huge boulders. You need to be boulder hopping around to get to the other side and then again figure out where the trail continued. At this point we were standing in a valley with Granite Mountains surrounding us on all the sides. The large gully went south gaining elevation very quickly. After a couple of ridge climbs we were now privy to the sight of the jagged saw tooth peaks at a distance. I had to use the GPS to correct our course and find the trail and couple of times already. At this point, my cell phone did not get a GPS lock. I assumed that we had to go on the left of the stream and started climbing up a super steep face of a gully.

All we could see at the top was a ridge and nothing beyond that. The face was just loose rock with sand. It was a face where rock fall was waiting to happen. So we kept our distances to each other and climbed up slowly. A one point my GPS finally worked and we were totally off. We had to have been on the other side of the ridge. Now that we had already got up so high there wasn’t time enough to turn back, head down and get going on the trail again. I looked at the next waypoint and it seemed to be on the other side of the ridge. So we decided to check it out and see if we could traverse to the other side and get onto the trail again. Jugal and I reached the ridge at 10249’ (about 2000’ short of the peek) and what we saw on the other side was pretty much a surprise. We were standing high atop a ridge. There was atleast half a mile of separation to the other side, which made up the saw tooth peaks. The valley below seemed impending down all the way. There was no way we were going to be able to get all the way down to the valley.

We weren’t even sure if getting to the valley would get us to the trail. After a brief map study session, I didn’t want to risk it and end up in a situation like Roundtop peak hike. So I decided to turn around and head down all the way back to the trailhead. The others also decided that It was the best thing to do. So we took our time at the top relaxing and finally by 2:30pm decided to turn around and head down. 2:30 pm was however my turn around time and we had decided we would stretch that to 3:00pm if we were pretty close to the peak. Going down wasn’t very eventful. We were able to find the trail pretty well although I did use the GPS at certain locations. There is no way we would have been able to navigate down in the dark. Next time maybe we could. We reached our cars by 6:00pm owing to the fact that I stopped around to click a lot of pictures. After the hike, we got back to the place where we camped and enjoyed a dip in the very warm hot springs. This is the best hotsprings I’ve ever been to where the water drips onto your head like a shower – and all of this – natural sulfur water. Since we were already down, we decided not to camp and took turns driving back to the bay area. During the entire hike we would have met 3-4 other hikers/backpackers. That's about it.

Matterhorn peak in Mono Village is to be climbed again. Second attempt should be a good one. If you do not veer out of the trail, you could get up to the peak in about 5 hrs. Jai did not join us for this one but I’m sure she will for the 2nd attempt and that one we should hopefully make it to the top and back :)