The views in all directions were spectacular and for the first time, I was able to identify all of the major summits (as well as a few minor summits in the Cathedral Crest)!
This was a minor creek which drained the only the west slope of Lee Vining Peak so I wouldn’t be surprised if it dries up before the end of summer. During the current peak snow melt it was sparkling with life and the surrounding meadows were lush and full of small flowers.
I peered over the backside of the couloir and was stunned. From my earlier visit to Whorl Mountain I knew that despite the severity of Matterhorn’s north face, its south slope was gentle class 2 talus. The guidebook even mentioned that the East Couloir was the easiest way to gain the summit, so I’d assumed that the West Couloir would be similar. Instead I was presented with a shear granite face.
I had second thoughts about deciding to bring my “fat, fun” skis rather than my narrower “mountaineering” skis for which I have ski crampons. With ski crampons, I would probably easily maintain my initial pace of 1,500 vertical feet per hour. Instead, it would take me two hours to climb the next 1,000 ft.
Eventually the rock became loose enough that we could plunge step, but this also meant that it was loose enough to pick up momentum. I was fortunate to happen to look back up the slope just as the rock was starting to slide on its own and shouted to Rafee to take cover. We managed to jump to the side as several soccer ball sized rocks came hurtling past.
We arrived at the crux of the climb where I had read that the standard route ran up the gut of this gully and was called “The Staircase.” I could indeed see the large 3-5 foot ledges and agreed that this was probably the easiest way up, normally. At that moment, however, the steps were buried in 3 to 12 inches of snow.
This is far and away both the largest and the most experienced group of people I’ve ever hiked with. I don’t imagine I will have to worry about the group slowing me down much during this trip!