We clipped into our skis and I started down the steep snow field to see what the route entailed. After descending fifty feet I reached the rocks and was dismayed to see nothing but air on the other side. This was a dead end and a bad one.
After talking a big game all season, Rafee finally found himself a ski touring setup and was looking to break in his new equipment.
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.
First choice or second, the skiing was delightful. The slope was not as steep nor the snow as deep as I’d found the previous day in the Bloody Couloir, but perhaps it was all the more enjoyable!
The snow was soft and wintry and deep! I left my jacket open, but snow was flying up into my face and into my jacket — who would have guessed there were faceshots to be had in April!?
I had been leading the hike for the last two hours and when I crested this rise I jokingly shouted “oh no!” However, as I looked, I instantly regretted the joke. This was indeed a false summit, but the true summit was even further than I possibly could have guessed.
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.
Along the shore where we stood, the trail happened to be littered with great skipping rocks (a rarity in the Sierra!) and Rafee and I spent a couple minutes lobbing rocks out onto the ice and reveling in the alien sounds produced.
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.