My husband and I have always spent Thanksgiving in the desert. It is my favorite time of year to visit places like Death Valley. Cold temperatures and lack of crowds makes it so enjoyable!
Back in 2005, a friend of ours knew we were heading to Death Valley and mentioned that some other friends of his would be out there too. He thought we’d get along since we liked to do the same things and suggested we meet up. This is how we found ourselves driving down a dirt road in the middle of nowhere on the day after Thanksgiving, looking for people we didn’t know so that we could crash their camp. It was weird.
For November, it made sense to write about gratitude. You’re welcome to join us in the #trailtime Twitter Chat on Thursday afternoon at 3 pm PT to discuss this very topic – Thankfulness. What makes you thankful for the outdoors?
To celebrate becoming part of #TeamSierra, I get to give away a $100 Sierra Trading Post Gift Card! You have until 12:00 AM on December 1 to enter using any or all of the methods below. One winner will be selected at random. Good luck!
And even if you don’t win the gift card, everyone can still get 30% off at Sierra Trading Post with code SHUB1114!
In August of 2008 I did a gorgeous backpacking trip through Hoover Wilderness and the Northeastern corner of Yosemite National Park. One of the highlights of that trip was getting a look at Sawtooth Ridge and its highest point, Matterhorn Peak, as I hiked between Burro and Mule Pass. The sharp western face of the ridge looked beyond my climbing comfort zone, but when I later learned that the eastern side had a much more tame class 2/3 scramble it shot to the top of my peak bucket list.
The peak does not share much in common with its European name-twin, though some see a similarity between the classic profile of Europe’s Matterhorn and the north face of the Sierra’s version. Our version sits at the Northeastern border of Yosemite National Park and tops out at 12,279 feet. It’s a destination for technical rock climbing, scrambling, and ski mountaineering in the winter. Even though it’s not the tallest or most interesting of climbs on my bucket list, I somehow felt like I couldn’t call myself a Sierra peak bagger until I stood on top of this year-round playground.
Matterhorn Peak gained some notoriety in Jack Kerouac’s “The Dharma Bums” where the author wrote of his attempt to climb this peak. Because of this, it draws people who might have no business attempting a class 3 Sierra summit. I read the book years ago but had forgotten the detail of the climb being this peak until I started researching the route up the peak.
It turns out our planned route was essentially the same one taken in the book - Horse Creek out of the Twin Lakes Campground, up and over Horse Creek Pass, and finally up the eastern sandy slope of Matterhorn to the solid class 3-ish summit block. By the end of the day we had gone over 13 miles and 5100 ft of elevation gain in about 12 hours. We kept a steady pace, neither fast nor slow, and took plenty of breaks to tank up on water, snack, and study the route ahead. All of us had been in the mountains for a few days and were acclimated. YMMV.
On that note, if you’re here researching this peak because you read about it in “The Dharma Bums”, I’d recommend you get some experience under your belt before attempting it. It’s not technically difficult, but there are plenty of challenges for even the experienced climber. It’s a long, long day at elevation. The trail only takes you half way. The remainder of the climb requires the ability to route find by reading different types of terrain and making smart route choices. This is the kind of skill you get through experience. It’s not impossible, I’m just saying know what you’re getting into.
As part of my research I found several examples of detailed advice and pictures of the route. Some ended up being helpful, and others wholly inaccurate. For that reason, I’m writing my own account of our route in the hopes that it clarifies some of the other trip reports that are out there. Our experience is detailed below along with annotated pictures. At the end of the post is a GPS track and topo map. If you just want to see some awesome pictures of the day, you can find them here.
Checking the news, message boards, Facebook, and a couple of subreddits are part of my morning ‘coffee and news’ routine before digging into work for the day. As I went though my daily ritual, I stumbled across a thread (now removed) that showed a picture of graffiti discovered by a packer along a trail near Vernal Falls. This graffiti was signed with a name “creepytings”.
Mammoth Mountain is a playground for people who like to go downhill – namely, skiers and mountain bikers. This mountain is about speed: get to the top as fast as possible using a lift or gondola in order to get down as fast as possible. That’s not how I like to do mountains. I’m not a skier or a mountain biker. I prefer going UP the hills over going down (my knees especially). Because of that preference, Mammoth Mountain was always a drive-by peak on my way to other hikes and climbs.