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Matterhorn Peak, part 2

By Mike Sarmiento © 1999

Author's Note: Mountaineering and rock climbing can be dangerous. The risk of injury and death can not be eliminated. The author does not recommend participation in outdoor activities without extensive, gradual, outdoor experience, as well as guidance and instruction from a seasoned climber or professional guide. The following story line is not necessarily indicative of how mountaineering or rock climbing should be approached or exercised. The reader should not infer that this story is meant to be instructional, or even informative. It is neither. It is a short story, meant to entertain, not guide. Keep in mind that the following is a short story before inferring anything about characters or the author. Although fictionalized for dramatic effect, the story line closely follows actual events. Information on trail, climbing, and mountain conditions are as accurate as my descriptions (and sometimes failing memory) allow.

 --  o  --

North Arete, II, 5.5
Matterhorn Peak
Hoover Wilderness, Toiyobe National Forest
July 2-5, 1999

Climbers:  David Alfaro, Jim Knight, Gina Tan, Mike Sarmiento
Hikers:  Monique VanderMarck, Rose Tan, Nancy Farzan

 --  o  --

_The Joy of Suffering_

copyright 1999
by Mike Sarmiento

 --  o  --


All I wanted was to sleep. And rest. And dream.

But my heart was pounding. My muscles aching.  My stomach empty. Sleep
would not come.  Rest would not come.  Dreams would have to wait.

I shifted to my side, hoping a new position would help.  Instead, I was
quickly reminded about the abrasions on my right hip - the result of a
glissade that happened too quickly and a self arrest that came too late.
I shifted onto my back just as quickly as I had shifted to my side.  I
was no closer to sleep.

I began to drift off.  At least I think I was finally drifting off.
Maybe I was simply hoping I was that much closer to sleep.  A vague
memory crossed my mind - the light of the moon and the shadows cast
about me.  I sometimes had an obscure idea that the wind was blowing,
then it would stop, then start, then stop.  In between the silence, I
could hear my blood pounding through my head, past my ringing ears.  The
blood made a hollow sound, one just slightly irritating enough to keep
me from rest.  Awake.  Asleep.  I couldn+t tell the difference anymore.

My mind just kept racing.  Kept thinking.  Kept wandering.  I dreamed of
a conversation earlier in the day.  We were yelling above the wind.

"We are backing off!" Jim yelled to me, "David and I are backing off!"

"What?" I yelled back.  Gina looked at me in surprise.

"We are backing off!" Jim repeated.  "There isn+t enough time for both
of us to finish.  It+s already way too late.  You guys continue."

Gina and I just looked at each other, trying to gauge from our
expressions what the other might be thinking.  My instinct was to back
off too.  My desire was to continue.  Gina looked like she wanted to
climb.  Someone needed to decide.

"We are going on," I yelled back.

"OK."  Jim responded.  "Do you have head lamps?"


"You+ll be fine.  Finish the route.  Move fast."

"We+ll finish.  If we get caught too late, we+ll just emergency bivy."

Jim stared back blankly.  Even through the distance I saw he couldn+t
believe what I was saying.

"Bivy?"  he questioned.

I thought about what I just said.  I must be crazy.  Bivy with what?  My
back pack had a pull out foam pad.  We could pull up the sleeve and use
it as a blanket.  If Gina and I watched over one another, we could
survive the night.  It was possible.  But it was a last resort.  We
would finish the climb.  We+d get down before dark.  We+d laugh that I
had even suggested a bivy.

"Never mind," I responded.  "We+ll finish the climb.  We+ll see you at
base camp."

"OK.  Good luck."

"See you later."

Gina and I turned our attention upwards.  We began to climb.

 --  o  --

Everyone I know has goals - ambitions - dreams.  I+m just like everyone
else.  One life long dream is to summit an 8,000 meter peak.  One
ambition is to head up my own company.  One goal is to finally summit
Matterhorn Peak via the North Arete route.

M Peak is the highest of the Sawtooth Ridge mountains, just south of
Twin Lakes, in the heart of the Hoover Wilderness.  The area is slightly
north of Yosemite's Tuolumne Meadows, and many backpackers make their
way from Tuolumne, through Matterhorn Canyon, over M Peak, and out of
the wilderness at Twin Lakes.   Unlike the gently sloping Western
Sierra, the Eastern Sierra has dramatic mountain formations rising
steeply from the valley floor.  Very majestic.  It+s the kind of area
that makes one want to keep it a secret, yet at the same time share all
its splendor.

In October 1995, I successfully hiked to M Peak+s summit via the Class 2
route along the southwestern face.  I was accompanied by Steve
Rodrigues, Eric Chen, Maria Cordero, and Paul Worhach.  Another
backpacker, Srini Serangolam, elected to stay at base camp since his leg
was bothering him from an old injury.  Four climbers from our outdoor
club made the trip up with us - Alison Tumilowicz, Ulysses Hillard,
Aaron Solomon, and Scott Marion.  The climbers never made it to the base
of the route because of the steep snow field blocking the approach.  It
was on this trip that Ulysses and Steve showed me how to boulder.

"Wow!" I exclaimed after topping off a large 15 foot boulder.  "That was
a lot of fun!"

"You like that?"  Ulysses asked.  "Well, when we get back to the city,
I+ll teach you how to climb - belaying, tying in, knots, etc.  A new gym
called Mission Cliffs just opened, and I+ve been looking for a partner."

"Deal!" I said.

I found a thrill in the risk, multiplied by an adrenaline rush, coupled
with being outdoors.  I didn+t feel as if I had a choice in the matter.
I was hooked.  I didn+t know it then, but my climbing career would start
on this mountain.

Every year I+ve returned to climb M Peak - partly to come full circle
with my roots - mostly because the area is one of my favorite places. In
1996, I made an attempt late October, and was turned back by rain.  I
returned in September 1997.  The weather was beautiful on Saturday, but
we decided to rest after a heavy lunch and make camp early.  On Sunday,
we awoke to thunderclouds, hiking out before the rain caught us.  My
third attempt was last year over Labor Day weekend.  I partnered with a
very experienced climber.  We climbed the first pitch before retreating
due to rain.

This year, I was confident I would complete the climb.  The crux of the
climb is finding the start of the route.  I+ve known climbers with a lot
of experience start in the wrong area, find themselves on a blank face
with no protection, and take 30 foot fall. I already knew where the
route started, had detailed information from climbers who completed the
climb, and changed my dates to summer so that weather would be less
likely to turn me back.

All I had to do was find a climbing partner - sometimes easier said than

On April 12, I began my search with an e-mail to the Confused outdoor
club e-mail list server.  I then applied for a back country permit over
July 4th weekend.  Although my climbing partners came and went over the
months, I succeeded in securing the permit.

The week before the trip, I was busy checking weather forecasts,
organizing team logistics, and basically blowing off work thinking about
and planning the trip.

From: Mike Sarmiento
To: Mike Sarmiento; David Alfaro; Gina Tan; Jim Knight; 'Laura
Klimowski'; Nancy Farzan; Rose Tan
Subject: Busy at work . . .
Date: Tuesday, June 29, 1999 9:14AM

Busy at work . . . but NEVER too busy to be thinking about Matterhorn
this weekend!

So here's an update:

Weather forecasts look GOOD!  Woohoooo!  See below for the forecasts as
well as additional info on the area.  I'll post a weather update daily
to the group.  If someone wants to take the lead and contact the ranger
station for trail conditions, and maybe even route conditions, please do
so.  You can contact them at:

Toiyabe National Forest
Bridgeport Ranger District
PO Box 595
Bridgeport, CA 93517

Jim has applied for an extra permit for Rose & Nancy - however, they
only reserve up to 50% of the quota (9 on a trail per day), and I
already have that permit for Saturday to Monday.  So I'm not sure if
they can reserve a permit.  Laura is interested in backpacking also with
them.  Mike, Jim, David & Gina are still climbing.  I think if Dave & I
drive up Friday night, we'll camp at Ebbett's pass (9500 elev?) and
acclimatize a little.  We'll get up early on Saturday & get the walk-in
permit for Rose, Nancy & Laura - so we should be set.

Rose doesn't fly into town until 9pm Friday.  Nancy can't go to
tonight's dinner nor meet us at Mission Cliffs on Wednesday.  David,
Laura and me plan to be at the dinner, I assume Jim will be there.  We
can discuss some logistics then, such as carpooling and gear.  Gina will
be at MC Wednesday night & I'll fill her in on the juicy details then.

The climbing party will need ice axes for the approach as we'll have to
cross a steep snow bank.  The backpacking party will also encounter snow
around the saddle area towards the summit, and ice axes wouldn't hurt.
Either way, a pair of sturdy boots is a must.  We won't need crampons,
but if you don't have an ice axe, I have a pair of crampons you could

We'll hike in on Saturday about 5 miles.  Start at Twin Lakes (7,800
elev), up Horse Creek Trail then over a scree field to about 10,500
elev.  There is a glacier fed lake we can base camp close to and use for
water.   We can summit on Sunday.  Hike out early on Monday and as on
option soak our sore muscles in Buckeye Hot springs.  Bring a bathing
suit if you are shy.  There are some good eats on the way home.

We won't need bear canisters as we'll be above or close to tree line,
but we should bring some cord (I'll bring one) to "squirrel-bag" our

I will bring my 3 person, 4 season tent, plus an MSR XGK stove, 3 pots &
pans, a Sweetwater Water Filter, 10.5mm 155meter dry rope, 9 cams, 14
nuts, runners & biners.  Anyone have any hexes or more nuts we could
bring?  I'd rather not bring my cams as they are heavy.  If we are short
on tents, I can also bring my 2 person, 3 season tent or my bivy sack
for people to use (yes, I have a ton of gear - so much that I have a
gear room the size of some people's rooms!)  I've got a small first aid
kit, so if someone has one that's more extensive, please bring it.
Don't forget your head lamps, just in case we come down off the summit
late.  Everyone going is an experienced outdoors person, so I won't
bother discussing what personal gear you should bring.  However, I am
familiar with the area (been spanked 3 years running!) so if you want to
know if your sleeping bag is warm enough, or other questions, feel free
to call me at work or home.

I could shop at Trader Joe's for the group on Friday and we just split
the costs.  Let me know if you prefer any types of meals or have diet
restrictions.  Or we could just arrange food according to passengers in
each car.  We can discuss tonight or Wed.

There is a $5 parking fee at Twin Lakes, which should be good for three
days of parking.

I seem to have lost my 15' quad topo of the area (someone borrowed it
and never gave it back - boo hoo).  But the trail is pretty simple to
base camp.  Backpackers might want to pick up a copy though if they plan
to summit.  The quad is Matterhorn Peak and available at Rand McNalley
in SF, REI in Berkeley, or the Map Center in Berkeley.

I also seem to have deleted all my climbing beta on the route.  Ughh.
No worries.  I'll send an e-mail to Confused, Chaos & Rock Rendezvous
asking for info.  I've been on the first pitch and know the start, but
after that it's one more pitch to the ledge then the route is
straightforward up a beautiful crack (or so I'm told).

See you outdoors where we belong.


On Thursday, I sent out the following e-mail to the trip participants:

From: Mike Sarmiento
To: Mike Sarmiento; Jim Knight; David Alfaro; Gina Tan; 'Laura
Klimowski'; Monique VanderMarck; Nancy Farzan; Rose Tan
Subject: M Peak Update 2 & Weather
Date: Thursday, July 01, 1999 9:35AM

Forecast (see below) for the weekend is clear skies, slightly breezy,
with temps in the upper 60s to 80s in the mountains!   Hummmmm Baby!!!
Note that the recent high in Yosemite (elev 3000) is in the 90s, lows
55.  We will be around 10,500 elev, so temps will probably be around 70
day time and just above freezing (34-36) at night.  Bring a windbreaker
and layerable clothing as it is supposed to be a little breezy.  We will
be camping below snowline but just above tree line.

David is borrowing my crampons and Gina my snowshoes.  I have 5 extra
ski poles for people to borrow if needed.

I will go food shopping for Gina & myself at Trader Joe's on Friday.  If
you want me to shop for you too, please let me know ASAP.

Permit:  it sounds as if David has this under control and everyone who
wants to go can.

Stoves:  1 each will be brought by Jim, David & Mike

Pots & Pans:  If you have +em, bring +em.  We can leave what we don't
need in the car.

Water Filter:  We need 2.  I will bring one.  Someone else bring one.

Water Bottles:  Everyone bring at least 2 one liter bottles for personal
use.  We can filter water along the trail as well at base camp.

Food & Eating Utensils:  Everyone bring their own

Wine:  At least one bottle per tent!

Topo map:  We can purchase one at the Bridgeport ranger station on
Saturday when we pick up the back country permit

Compass:  I have one and will bring it.  Backpackers can borrow it on
summit day as I won't need it.

Route Beta:  I have all this information, including needed pro,
description of each pitch, etc.  We are dialed in baby!!!

Suncreen, Headlamps & Deodorant:  Don+t forget these (especially the
last one - ahem, David! :-)

That's all for now.  I won't bother with a weather update on Friday
since it seems obvious the weather will be nice.  I'll give an update on
final count of participants once I hear from Laura.

See you outdoors where we belong.


Friday was no different.  I continued to blow off work.   I sent out the
final pre-trip e-mail to the group:

From: Mike Sarmiento
To: Mike Sarmiento; Jim Knight; David Alfaro; Gina Tan; Monique
VanderMarck; Nancy Farzan; Rose Tan
Subject: Final M Peak Update
Date: Thursday, July 01, 1999 11:23AM

So here's the final list for the Matterhorn trip:


Jim & Rose in Jim's tent
David & Monique in David's tent
Mike, Nancy, Gina  in Mike's tent


Mike's Subaru Legacy Wagon
Mike, David, Monique, Gina
Leaving between 9-10pm on Friday from Mike's house

Jim's Car
Jim, Rose, Nancy
Leaving 10pm on Friday or very early Saturday
Please contact one another to arrange a meeting place


Expect driving time of about 5 hours (minimal traffic assumed)
Take 80 to 580 to Hwy 120 towards Yosemite
About 15 miles out of Oakdale when Hwy 120 turns right towards Yosemite,
continue straight on Hwy 108 towards Sonora
Take 108 over Sonora pass to Hwy 395
Right onto 395 going south to the town of Bridgeport
Let's meet at the Bridgeport Ranger station around 8:30am Saturday
The ranger station is 1 mile south of the town of Bridgeport on Hwy 395
David, Monique, Gina and I will be at the ranger station by 7am to
secure the permit for the backpackers, then we'll head off for breakfast
at a local cafe.
We'll drive up to the trailhead together and hopefully be on the trail
by 10am.

See you outdoors where we belong.


When Friday evening arrived, Gina and Nancy met at my house.  David
picked up Monique in his car and met us later than expected, but ready
to go.  I put my car into gear, stepped on the accelerator, and we were
on our merry way.

On every trip, I forget something.  This time, I forgot to bring some
napkins for the drive up. Normally I don+t need them, but this time, I
found myself salivating like a Pavlovian Dog.

 --  o  --

On Sunday morning, after a 10am start, Dave, Jim, Gina, and I arrived at
the base of the climb around 12 noon.  Both parties sorted gear.  Dave
and Jim started climbing around 1:15.  Just as Dave finished the first
pitch and Jim started to climb, Jim dropped his pack.  He retrieved it
but I decided it was getting too late to wait for them, so I started my
first pitch, with Gina belaying.  Jim got back on track so I waited for
him to pass before continuing.

The first 2-3 pitches are supposed to be easy 3rd/4th class.  What I
climbed was easily 5.7 or 5.8, with tricky traverses, which made me
worry that I was off route.

On one traverse, Gina yelled up, "How the hell did you lead this
traverse?  This is scary!!!!"

I yelled back, "I don't know.  I just kept going and tried not to think
about it."

Midway up the second pitch, I came to a rappel station and exclaimed "Uh
oh."  A rappel station normally signals that people have had to bail
from this point and more likely than not, I was off route.  It was also
at this time that Jim & Dave decided to back off.  They were following a
route traversing parallel to mine, but Jim found the climbing much
harder than it needed to be (and he leads trad 5.11).  He had to down
climb in order to get close to my route.  They decided that it was
getting too late for both parties to summit.

At this point, the climbing truly became easy 4th class, so I continued
on, finally reaching the north arete.  The wind was picking up, but this
time, we were on the arete so the sun shone on us.  It didn't help.

I continued on the 3rd pitch straight up the arete.  I kept looking for
the traverse left, which should take me to a nice ledge and a 5.5 crack.
But after each move, I was faced with a blank wall above me.  The
climbing just got harder and harder, until I found myself pulling
5.9/5.10a moves.

In the back of my head, the voice of fear and reason kept exclaiming,
"This is wrong.  You are off route."

Finally, I cleared a hard move and found myself on a ledge which
traversed onto the west face of Matterhorn.  I caught a nice view of the
Double Dihedral (5.8) route.  My hear sank.  I was way off route.   I
must have missed the traverse left somewhere.  I wasn't supposed to be
on the west face.  It was just past 4pm.

"Gina!!!" I yelled, "We are way off.  I screwed up.  I think we should
back off!"

We discussed the route a little.  We discussed our options.  We decided
it would be best to retreat.

I set up a sling and carabiner on a horn, and had Gina belay me down.
The entire time, I kept my eye on the anchor, praying it was secure.  I
cleaned most of my gear (had to leave a nut b/c Gina had my nut tool)
and met Gina back at the 3rd belay station.  My heart was racing.

The mountain wasn't done with us yet.

Gina down climbed the second pitch, placing gear to protect me when I
followed her.  We moved slow and I began to get concerned about the
lateness of the day.  She stopped at the rappel anchor I encountered
earlier - a sign we should have heeded.  We rappelled down to a large
ledge, requiring us to traverse left slightly.  Of course, my rope got
stuck when we pulled it down.  I had to solo (I was roped, but couldn't
place pro) 15 feet up and unravel it.   When we reached this belay
station, we discussed if we should rappel the rest of the way.  I looked
down and felt we were much too high up for my rope to reach.  We
downclimbed again.

Again, it took us a long time.  I was starting to get really worried -
almost paranoid.  However, Gina finally convinced me that we could
rappel this last section.  She was right.  We made it down to the base
just after 8:10.  It would be dark at 8:30pm.

We hussled our butts down to base camp, arriving in the dark.  On the
way home, Gina and I glissaded as much as we could.  I was wearing
shorts, so scraped my leg during a self arrest.  Gina actually burned a
whole on her bottom, but didn't realize it until we returned to base
camp.  She was bleeding and later found she scraped off  few layers of
skin.  Nancy the nurse applied first aid to Gina's wounds.

I was disappointed that I didn't complete the route.  All night long I
tossed and turned wondering where I went off route.  On Monday morning,
I woke up at 6am and stared at Matterhorn Peak.  I memorized it's
features.  I looked over my route.  I looked over the route description.

It read, "The arete begins from a platform partway up the north side of
the peak.  This platform is reached by climbing three class 4 pitches on
the left side of the face.  Ascend the arete for one pitch and then
traverse 75 feet out onto the west face of the arete.  Climb a steep
crack for two pitches of 5.5 to a large ledge that is to the right of
the arete.  Traverse left from the large ledge to a chimney . . . ."

My heart sank.  I re-read the text...

"Ascend the arete for one pitch and then traverse 75 feet out onto the
west face of the arete."

I thought, ' SON OF A B****!!!"

I was there.

I was on the route, on the traverse, just short of the 5.5. crack on the
west face.

I had mixed up when I was supposed to traverse left.  I thought I was
supposed to traverse left before I reached the crack, but it wasn't
until after that I would move left.  We could have finished the climb,
but I backed off without even exploring the west face.  At least now, I
know EXACTLY where the route is, and what to expect.

I'm already planning a return trip this September.

* * * * *
The sequel.

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