Monday, March 27, 2023

Matterhorn Peak East Couloir Ski

It was Friday night after a few great days spent exploring around Mount Rose and we were huddled in Kristen and Mike's kitchen trying to decide what to ski next. Will was headed to Boundary Peak which sounded great, and we appreciated the invite, but the 4 hour drive each way wasn't very compatible with our plans. Then Kristen mentioned the Hoover Wilderness and started showing us pictures.

I'd never heard of the Hoover, but pictures of giant granite walls and white spires of rock rising from the desert floor to above 12,000 feet were an easy sell. A few frantic calls to confirm the road was open and it was settled - we hoped to check out one of the aesthetic couloirs ringing the vertical summit massif of the Matterhorn Peak.

As we drove south on I-395 in the morning, my expectations were low. But, when we turned west at Bridgeport and the sharp peaks and spires of the Sawtooth Ridge came into view, I couldn't contain my stoke.

We followed the winding road and its growing snowbanks to the end of Twin Lakes, accidentally parked in front of a buried no parking sign, and skinned off across the lake. With every steep closer, the Sierra Crest seemed to grow bigger above us.

Any sign of the summer trail was buried under a ridiculous amount of snow from a winter of atmospheric rivers, so we did our best to figure out the ideal route into Horse Creek. The Matterhorn is the jagged fang on the skyline center right:

We overshot our attempt to enter Horse Creek at the valley floor, instead popping out of the trees and into the open on the slippery suncrust of the hillside. We briefly tried to rejoin the creek by sidehill skinning across the ice, but the zambonied surface quickly filled our imaginations with images of losing an edge and hurtling head first into the creek below. Clinging on by our fingernails, we ripped our skins and descended to the better ascent route. Check out those flexible hips Mike!

As we followed the gentle gradient up the lower valley we passed a rock choke that seemed to me to be guarding the upper valley. At some level it reminded me of the huge rock buttresses that stand sentinel at the mouth of the Spectrum Glacier.

Climbing a small headwall, we passed these gatekeepers and gained access to the upper valley as it stretched away in front of us. We stopped for lunch, more zinc oxide, and to sunbathe on warm rocks, and tried to take in the rugged landscape that encircled us. My skier's eyes were particularly drawn to the prominent couloir spilling from near the summit of East Twin Peak - some day I hope to be back for that one.

Refueled and with fresh face paint applied, we grudgingly dragged ourselves from our glorious lunch spot and back onto the skintrack.

Like mentioned before, I had low expectations for the day; at 9,000 feet when the wind began to whip our faces I figured we might be turned around if intense spindrifting started flushing the upper couloir. In the wide basin we had no imminent risk, so tossed on warmer clothes, then pushed into the wind.

Fortunately, reaching the threshold into the Matterhorn's north cirque, the winds decreased and we were able to safely proceed towards the goal.

Over the last few days we'd found all forms of wind effect in the alpine around Mount Rose. Now a couple thousand feet higher, it seemed possible that we'd find even harder and worse conditions. Instead, we found excellent duff as we began to ascend the apron of the couloirs.

Describing a snow texture similar to the soft organic matter of the forest floor, I'd thought that duff was a sort of common term for backcountry skiers. Is it? Most people seem to have no idea what I'm talking about.

Where the east and west couloirs bifurcated, we craned our necks back to look towards the summit of the Matterhorn and make a decision on the fork to take. From our perch in the heart of the peak, the east route looked longer, and more importantly, less windloaded than its western twin.

As the sheer walls of the line rose above us, the angle of the chute increased and we switched to booting. I stopped to send Levi a video of the special place - he said he could hear me panting in the background. Probably a combination of mountain magic and lack of oxygen taking my breath away. 

The the old settled pow made for efficient booting and we were soon crawling onto the col to stare into Yosemite National Park. Wow. What an incredible place. It looked like the Neacolas - but with way more snow and way less objective hazard. To the south we mind surfed the chutes of Peak 11880 and the tempting finger of snow tickling the summit of Whorl Mountain.

Already the day had exceeded expectations, and we wondered if we'd be able to get from the top of the ski line to the top of the peak. Mike sniffed around for a way to the summit, but just found water ice frozen into the rock. With increasing winds and clouds signaling the incoming storm unfortunately it wasn't the day for technical conditions. 

With the quality of light rapidly decreasing due to incoming clouds, we turned our attention to the descent.

The entrance was tight, and I hadn't been sure it would be skiable, but it was just wide enough to link continuous jump turns. Mike:

Past the skinny neck at the top, the line opened up. Nyssa:



Carving into the creamy pow of the apron, the jagged massif dwarfed us.

Safely out of avalanche terrain for the moment, we paused under the towering palisades of tan rock to appreciate the supernatural amphitheater and how well everything had worked out. Behind us, plumes of blowing snow were starting to grow from the Matterhorn.

Chased by the wind, we descended past the Horse Creek Tower and towards its namesake creek. 

Approaching treeline, we remembered the sneaker chute spotted on the way up, and looked for the landmarks for its entrance. Sounds like this a pretty common bonus when people do this tour. Nyssa:


An excellent dessert!

Doing our best not to fall into the 10-foot deep slot canyon of Sierra cement surrounding the creek, we picked our way past huge trees and towards the lake.

The intense solar heating of the spring day had changed the surface of the lake from hard ice to a suspiciously soft and blue texture. Hoping to not be eaten by any lake monsters emerging thru the slush, we tenderly and quickly skated across.

Back at the car, we reveled over the undisturbed solitude of the Hoover Wilderness on this beautiful spring day.

Having just scratched the surface here, I'd love to go back for lines on the Twin Peaks, Whorl, and 11880. I imagine that as soon as we stand on top of those iconic giants that we'll just see even more to add to the to-do list!

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