Let's Go Climbing After Work: Matterhorn Peak
By Scotty Strachan
Date Climbed: July 03, 2003

When my good friend Barry moved away from the grunge of Reno and down to scenic Bridgeport, California, it made after-work get-togethers a little difficult. The two-hour drive time and rising price of gasoline demanded that any plans made needed to involve exceptional entertainment. While the occasional Peter Croft slide show fit the bill, we agreed not to neglect our dedication to adventure.

One fine summer Monday, I get a call.
"What are you doing this Thursday after work?" Barry asked.
"Um, nothing right now," I replied cautiously.
"You haven't been up Matterhorn Peak yet, and you are way overdue."
"After work?" I repeated, certain that the six thousand foot elevation at his new residence was affecting his reasoning more than usual.
"Yep. Be here to pick me up at 5pm."

Accordingly, I went in early on Thursday, July 3rd, 2003 to allow for the drive time. The day passed rather quickly in anticipation of another Sierra day (well, kind of) hike. Our intended route was the East Couloir, the fastest way up the peak from the Twin Lakes trailhead. The 7-mile hike gains 5000 feet, with an almost even split of trail and cross-country travel.

I left my workplace around 2:30pm, and headed south. After stopping for gas, Gatorade, and goodies, I arrived in Bridgeport, where I picked Barry up at 5pm sharp and got us to the trailhead by 5:30pm.

"You still ready for this?" I demanded.
"Of course. This should be easy. Did you bring your headlamp?"
"No," I replied, "this time I think you should carry it. I brought a couple glow-sticks just in case. I want to be back on the trail by the time it gets dark." Apparently my hiking partner's long-time minimalist habits were rubbing off on me.

We hit the trail trotting at 5:40pm, and made excellent time up Horse Creek. We had brought light packs with water, snacks, and cameras, while wearing shorts, La Sportiva Exum Ridge shoes, windbreakers.

Soon, it was time to leave the trail, and by 7pm we were moving cross-country towards the glacier with the sun still lighting up the surrounding white granite towers.

There was still quite a bit of snow around, but we managed to avoid most of it by sticking to the prehistoric medial moraine of the Matterhorn glacier (right photo). The final part of this where it transitions into a rock glacier is somewhat annoying when trying to make good time, but that part was soon over.


The shadows were lengthening indeed when it was at last time to traverse the glacier and hit the couloir. It had taken us a little over two hours to get to the glacier, a time we had hoped would be shorter. Fortunately, the July temperatures had kept the snow soft, and crossing sans crampons in our tennies was not a problem (left photo).

"I have an idea --- how about we get back here before it turns to ice, eh?" It is my job to worry about such things, as Barry is usually busy enough just trying to cope with the altitude. His reply indicated as much.
"Easy there, sandwich boy. If you'd speed up already, we'd be there by now."

As we entered the couloir and started the sandy scramble, the sunlight on the peaks blazed for a moment in orange glory, and then went out. On one hand, we were relieved to find the couloir fairly snow-free. However, the nastiness of the sandy ledges and slopes cannot be overemphasized (right photo). It took us a full 30min to climb the couloir and top out on the summit ridge.

The views from the crest were spectacular, all the more beautiful in the colored, fading light. All of Yosemite was spread out below, with the white granite and snow now taking a pastel purple hue. We glanced up at the sliver of a moon, and realized that it would contribute exactly zero candlepower to our descent.

Spurred on by the exhilaration of the vistas and terror of the oncoming night, we made quick work of the rock scramble to the peak, and arrived at 8:50pm.

We were greeted by a howling wind and an empty summit. Locating the register, we signed in, took some pictures, and bailed. Our ascent time was 3:10, not blazing, but not slow either.

We worked our way down the East Couloir, and made it across the glacier without mishap (although the ice had hardened a bit). As the dusk faded to blackness, I was forced to break out my glow-stick and stay in Barry's tracks as we made our way down the trail. The descent took almost as long as the climb, but nobody fell in the creek or broke a leg.

On Friday, it was back to work as usual. Seeing the summit of Matterhorn Peak for the first time under such conditions definitely made it more thrilling than it would have been otherwise.

We heartily endorse Matterhorn Peak as a perfect "after work" summit. However, talus-hopping at night with a glow-stick is officially not recommended.