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Matterhorn Peak – Sawtooths

Location: Bridgeport, CA
Elevation Change: 7100′ to 12,264′ (summit)
Recomended Map: Hoover Wilderness – Tom Harrison Maps

The Sawtooth Mountain Range of Bridgeport, CA are only 2.5 hours by car from our store in Truckee. Whoo Hooooo! Drive 13 miles or so towards the mountains to the dead end on Twin Lakes Rd and you are positioned to ski up numerous drainages ringed in 11-12k peaks. Matterhorn Peak is the tallest and most impressive looking. It is also quite popular these days, as is this unofficial trailhead. The Twin Lakes Campground is closed when you are trying to ski there, and you just stuff your car on the side of the road where it now says “no parking”. I’m pretty sure those signs are for the  hectic summertime scene here. Be courteous as you go through the campground on your tour as there are a few staff members living in the closed campground in the winter. You can just see half of the actual Matterhorn peak from the car. There are 2 small important bridges in the trees at the south end of the campground that provide access to the Horse Creek trail and Matterhorn Drainage. Start early and skin or boot up crusty snow following the buried summer trail, and continue on the east side of Horse Creek until the first real hill. Resist the temptation to start skinning up hill too early in the large Horse Creek Meadow on the left. You’ll get blisters side hilling for an hour and end up dropping down a little back towards the center of the drainage. This west facing slope is usually full of wet slide debris.  In cold soft snow, holding the contour up and out of horse creek can work out fine, but in firm conditions you will keep wishing you stayed lower.

A  steep 300′ hill needs a switchback or two to reach a bushy ridge, that trends right and towards the Matterhorn Glacier.  This first hill above Horse Meadows sure looks suspect for avalanche concern too. Like any backcountry ski tour, continue because you can logically explain your confidence in the snowpack. The Eastern Sierra Snowpack isn’t totally sketchy like in the Rockies, but it is drier and different than the slightly more predictable Tahoe Snowpack. If Matterhorn seems tracked out to the bejesus, no problem! Head left towards Horse Creek Peak or Twin Peaks. Check out photos from Crater Crest looking towards Matterhorn, and you’ll learn cool neighboring terrain. Or Head up towards Col de Doodad and the Cleaver where fewer people ski.

When you reach the Matterhorn Glacier, I suggest climbing the East Couloir. Some folks just can’t wait to carve up the Ski Dreams Chute before others get there, and boot up to ski down it. But what is the adventure in that? This is the Matterhorn! Get up there if you can people. The summit is unreal. You can skin most of the way up the Matterhorn Couloir unless the snow is wind hardened. It’s not too steep but beginners may want ice axe and crampons if any of this terrain is wind hardened. Skiing back down the East Couloir can be good in the lower half, but the upper portion doesn’t hold much snow. There is an alternate steep couloir climbers left of the East Couloir with an entrance beside a cornice. From the top of the East Couloir, you will walk a little further east to find the wider Ski Dreams run. If you climb the extra few hundred vert to the summit, bring an ice axe, leave your pack at the col, and be careful. There are a few paths that work, but you will be making a few 2nd class moves with snow hiding your foot placements. If you haven’t done any rock climbing at all, you’ll want some help from such a person to protect you with a rope or at least coach you through it. The small summit is exciting, with a crazy straight-down view you need to peer over.  If you don’t climb to the peak, there is still a great view at the top of the East Couloir looking south past Mt. Whorl towards the peaks of Tuolumne Meadows. You can see Dana Peak, North Peak, Mt. Conness, and Mt. Lyell.

I like to take photos along my ski tour climbs with the intention of descending with some route knowledge. Remembering to look at them is another issue however. 2 steep chutes are hard to miss along your descent from Matterhorn Peak that roll over just enough to make you worried during your first try. There are a few cliffs to avoid also. And then there is the wet slide potential and rock fall you should remember to look for down lower in Horse Creek if it’s a warm day.

Not sure if this tour is for you? Go with a guide. For big Eastern Sierra Peak ski tours I recommend Sierra Mountain Guides from Bishop, and Alpenglow Expeditions from Squaw Valley. Or contact me and I’ll find you the right permitted and professional ski guide to teach you some travel skills and have fun with! And please add your pics below in the reply area!




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April 9, 2019 8:13 pm

Hey Mike! So a few folks in my group (going up this upcoming weekend) don’t ski, I imagine they’ll need snowshoes?

April 9, 2019 8:14 pm

Double-posted, sorry.

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