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Matterhorn Peak, part 3

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, 5.6
Matterhorn Peak
Hoover Wilderness, Toiyobe National Forest
September 24-26, 1999

1st Team (Saturday attempt): Mike Sarmiento and David Alfaro,
2nd and 3rd Teams (Sunday attempt):  Tuan Luong, James Waldrop, Brian
Moore, Cheryl Leonard and Gina Tan

 --  o  --

_Ultimate Death_

copyright 1999
by Mike Sarmiento

 --  o  --

If at first you don+t succeed,

(1)  try
(2)  try
(3)  try
(4)  try


(5) try again.

But another saying goes, "There is no try.  There is only do and do

Climbing Matterhorn Peak+s North Arete has become a bit of joke amongst
me and my friends.  In 1996, I made an attempt late October - we were
turned back by rain.  I visited again in September 1997.  The weather
was beautiful on Saturday, but our team 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 in 1998 over Labor Day weekend.  I partnered with a
very experienced climber.  We climbed the first pitch before retreating
due to rain.  It was the first time I actually touched the granite of
the route.

I returned 10 months later in July, 1999, this time determined more than
ever.  I choose a summer month instead of fall to avoid rain.   I put
together a team and made the haul back up the mountain.  This time, I
retreated because of a very late start and the belief that I was off
route.  I later realized that I was on the route and simply mixed up the
sequence in the route description.

Each attempt taught me a little more about myself and about climbing -
team work, the human spirit, companionship, and my personal beliefs on
living.  It is true that there is no try, only do or do not.  It is also
true that the journey of doing and not doing is the reward - the summit
and the climb are just points along a path.

This past weekend, I chose to walk that path again.

 --  o  --

This trip started long before I ventured outdoors for the first time.
It started long before  I began to fly fish, then backpack, then
mountaineer, then rock climb, then ice climb.  The trip started when my
father checked my homework after dinner in our 2 bedroom town home.

"This isn+t right," he said to me in our native language.  "Do it

So this 6 year old 1st grader went back and made another multiplication
grid, from 1 times 1 up to 12 times 12.  And I did it again.  And again.
And again.  Until late that night, I finally got it right and my father
said, "What+s your next homework assignment?"  I never wanted to touch
another multiplication grid again in my life.

We all learn lessons from our childhood which guide us through life.  I
was taught that most of the time, I won+t get it right the first time.
>From this I learned determination.  Sometimes though, my determination
becomes an extreme.  Sometimes I should have given up a long time ago,
but I+m just too stubborn to admit that maybe I+m not cut out for what
I+m attempting.

After my retreat in July, my stubbornness kicked in.  I began to plan
another attempt almost immediately.  It crossed my mind that perhaps I+d
be better off just calling it quits.  I ignored that thought.

"I+ll do it this time, " I told myself.  In the back of my mind, I must
have been doing a multiplication grid.

 --  o  --

A lot of e-mails went back and forth the week before the trip, ranging
from weather updates, climbing schedules, carpools, and other logistics.
I received a call from Tuan, who told me he wanted to join the trip and
that he+d look for a climbing partner.  My partner, David Alfaro,
e-mailed me from Chicago, where he giving lectures to business
associates for the next two weeks, with his itinerary.  He would arrive
Friday but had to catch a plane back to Chicago at 10:35 pm on Sunday.

I e-mailed the group and told them my planned trip:


From: Mike Sarmiento
To: Mike Sarmiento; David Alfaro; Gina Tan; 'Cheryl Leonard';
'Quang-Tuan Luong'
Subject: MPeak
Date: Tuesday, September 21, 1999 5:58PM

Matterhorn Peak

Weather through Thursday doesn't look promising.  Thunderstorms likely.
See below.  However, they expect it to be fair and warm on Sat & Sunday.
I'll monitor each day & e-mail a weather forecast.  Or check it out
yourself at http://nimbo.wrh.noaa.gov/Monterey/SFOSFPCA.html


Gina & Cheryl
Mike & David, Possibly with Tuan if he doesn't find a partner


David in his Cherokee
Gina in her Honda

We'll need 2 cars to fit everyone with their gear.

I can get off work around 2pm and be ready by 3pm on Friday.  We'll
drive Friday to Sonora Pass & camp at the pass to acclimatize a little
at 9000 ft.  Wake up around 6am for the sunrise and drive to Twin Lakes.
We should hit the trail by 9am.  We will start at 7000 elev. and hike
about 5-6 miles to 11,000 elev, very close to the base of the climb
(note:  this is about 1 mile and 700 ft higher than where we camped last
time).  We'll get an early start on Sunday (wake at 4am, hiking by 5am,
climbing by 7am).  The route should take about 5 hours.  This will put
us at top at noon and down to base camp by 2pm.  Hike out by 4pm and 5.5
hour drive to SF gets us home by 9:30pm.  Dave has a plane to catch on
Sunday at 11:35 to Chicago.

Bring your own food.  I'll bring stove & filter, as will Dave, so we
should be set for group gear.  I'm planning on packing light - bivy sack
- no tent for me.  Tuan, have hexes, will travel lighter!  Tuan also has
lighter alpine ropes.  Yipee!

We will definitely need ice axes and a solid pair of boots for the
approach.  We will not need crampons b/c we could always cut steps if
it's that icy, which I doubt it will be.  Snow line should have receded
a lot since July.  Our descent will be down the East Couloir, a snow
filled 35 degree slope - so we can leave some extra gear at the base of
the climb instead of hauling it all the way up (e.g.  ice axe).

I'll also be climbing tonight (Tues.) and Thursday to get back into a
little shape.  Anyone want to join me can meet me at Mission Cliffs at
7pm or so on those nights.

Stay tuned on this channel kids.  Our programming will resume tomorrow.
If you have comments or questions, call me at work, where I live

See you where?  :-)

 - M "just initials today" S


Tuan, Brian, and Cheryl each questioned the over-optimism of my
schedule.  First, I responded to Tuan+s e-mail:


From: Mike Sarmiento
To: Mike Sarmiento; David Alfaro; Gina Tan; 'Cheryl Leonard';
'Quang-Tuan Luong'
Subject: Re: MPeak
Date: Wednesday, September 22, 1999 5:21PM

>> I can get off work around 2pm and be ready by 3pm on Friday.
>why so early ?

So we can get to bed by 9pm instead of 1am on Friday.  If that doesn't
work for people, we'll end up leaving around 7pm due to traffic (i.e.
even if we leave at 5pm we'll get to Sonora pass around the same time).
Since we are taking at least two cars, we don't need to leave at the
same time.  But David and I plan to leave early.

>> We should hit the trail by 9am.
>why so early ?

B/c it will got hot if we leave at 11am.  The first part of the trail is
all up hill for 2 miles.  Cooler in the morning, and an early start
means we get to base camp at a decent hour with time to relax.

>> We will start at 7000 elev. and hike
>> about 5-6 miles to 11,000 elev, very close to the base of the climb
>why so far ?

We'll acclimatize better at a higher elev, we have a lot of time to make
it to base camp, and this will make the approach the next morning
shorter.  Normally, it'll take us two hours to reach the base, by hiking
closer, we'll shave off an hour the next morning.

>> it's that icy, which I doubt it will be.
>why not icy in the morning on a north face ?

I've been there in the fall 3 times and it hasn't been icy, even at 7am
in the morning.  Everyone else who has done the route has only needed an
ice axe, not both crampons and ice axe.  The slope isn't that steep,
maybe 25-30 degrees at the steepest spots.

>> a lot since July.  Our descent will be down the East Couloir, a snow
>> filled 35 degree slope
>why snow and not ice ?

By the time we start to descend in the afternoon, the snow and/or ice
will melt enough to post hole.  Again, I've walked around this area in
the fall without problems.  To be sure, I've put an e-mail to Chaos for
recent mountain conditions.  A group climbed the north arete 2 weekends
ago and will let us know for sure if we need crampons or just an ice
axe, as well as other objective dangers.

> I'll also be climbing tonight (Tues.) and Thursday to get back into a
> little shape.
>why would plastic pulling help for a mountaineering trip more than a
>run ?

I do laps on routes and hop on the treadmill.

Everyone is free to do what they want.  David has to be at the airport
on Sunday by 10:15pm.  Thus, our schedule dictates early starts and an
aggressive schedule so that we can get back to the bay area by 9:30pm.
If people want to sleep in, you are more than welcome.  However, David
and I will be early risers.  As such, we may need to function
independently to guarantee a summit and that David makes his flight on

See you outdoors where we belong.

 - Mike "Ready or not, here we go" Sarmiento


Then Cheryl responded:


From: Cheryl Leonard
To: Mike Sarmiento; David Alfaro; Gina Tan; 'Cheryl Leonard';
'Quang-Tuan Luong'; Brian Moore
Subject: Matterhorn!
Date: Wednesday, September 22, 1999 8:48AM

In response to Tuan's and Mike's emails, here's my 2 cents:

Gina and I decided last night that we are leaving around 5 on Friday,
because she has to work until then.

> We should hit the trail by 9am.
>why so early ?

Generally I'm in favor of early starts, but since all we have to do is
to base camp on Saturday, and that's probably not going to take all day,
might be more important to be well rested in preparation for Sunday's
long day. I've done the approach hike before (I tried to climb Dragtooth
last year). If it's hot, we can always hike in shorts and drink lots of

> We will start at 7000 elev. and hike
> about 5-6 miles to 11,000 elev, very close to the base of the climb
>why so far ?

I understand Mike's desire to be closer for Sun morning and I can do it
you all want to...  but for my body it works better to sleep a bit
and therefore better, and just start earlier on Sunday. One night at
pass helps a bit, but does not really acclimatize me to be able to sleep
well at 11,000.

> it's that icy, which I doubt it will be.
why not icy in the morning on a north face ?

I talked to someone at the gym last night who had just been there, he
it was frozen solid early in the morning, but was so suncupped that
crampons were not necessary.

Tally Ho!
Cheryl "I've only been back in the city for 6 days and I'm ready to
again" Leonard


Then Brian responded:


From: Brian Moore
To: Mike Sarmiento; David Alfaro; Gina Tan; 'Cheryl Leonard';
'Quang-Tuan Luong'; Brian Moore
Subject: Re: Matterhorn!
Date: Thursday, September 23, 1999 9:55AM

>> We should hit the trail by 9am.
>>why so early ?

Likewise.  The original email said wake up at 6am.  It takes a really
good reason to get me up that early, and I don't see one for Saturday.
I haven't gotten a whole lot of sleep this week, so I might as well on
Friday night.  I'm not worried about it being hot.

>> We will start at 7000 elev. and hike
>> about 5-6 miles to 11,000 elev, very close to the base of the climb
>>why so far ?

I have no desire to haul overnight packs plus climbing gear up 4,000'.
I'd much rather do elevation gain the next morning with a day pack,
even if it's at 4am.  (There will be a big moon, but will set a little
too early.)  I'm even the sort of person who wouldn't mind doing the
whole thing as a day climb, but might as well make use of Saturday to
do some of the approach since I have the time and in order to sleep
later Sunday morning.

I won't be sleeping at 11,000 feet after only 1 night of
acclimatization.  It's not worth the risk (reasonably high in my case)
of waking up sick on Sunday.  I also don't believe that when you're
not acclimitated that 11,000 would not be any better (and may be
worse) than 10,000 feet for the next day.  There's only so much you
can acclimate overnight.  If everyone else is sleeping at 11,000,
I'll meet you there at x am Sunday morning.  (I'd rather be antisocial
than sick.)

Camping lower makes for a faster and easier descent on Sunday since
more of it is with a daypack.  There's also a faster descent route
if you don't go past the base of the climb again.  See:


Which looks like the least amount of effort for anyone who can do 2,700
feet on summit day.

>> it's that icy, which I doubt it will be.
>why not icy in the morning on a north face ?

This is a nice time of year for ice climbing Sierra gullies.  There's
no way we'll be postholing in the afternoon and it will be frozen solid
in the morning.

So, it appears we have the following preferences:
Mike & David: leave SF at 3, hike early on Saturday to 11,000'.
Cheryl & Gina: leave SF at 5
Tuan: Leave Menlo Park at 7
Brian: No preference on departure time as long as I get enough sleep
  on Friday night & Saturday morning.
Cheryl & Tuan & Brian: hike later and lower on Saturday.
Gina's camping preference?

Do we need 3 cars for 6 people?  Seems like a lot, but with our
staggered departure times and locations it seems we do.



Finally, Tuan e-mailed me and convinced me I should reconsider:


From: Quang-Tuan Luong
To: Mike Sarmiento
Subject: Re: MPeak
Date: Wednesday, September 22, 1999 6:29PM

look at their timing:



Tuan referred me to Greg Faulk+s climb in 1996 of Matterhorn Peak, which

Matterhorn Peak, North Arete (12,279ft, Grade II, 5.6)

Sat Jul 27, 1996

Zenta and I meet at Livermore and drove to Twin Lakes via the Sonora
Pass (highway 108). It may have been faster to take
120 and then take 395 north from Lee Vining. That is how we returned.
Highway 108 has some single lane, fifteen percent
downgrade sections. Not good to drive at night.

We arrived at the trailhead in early afternoon and hiked to our basecamp
at Matterhorn Lake in 4 hours.

When the trail goes up the scree slope at the South end of the valley
traverse Southwest (right) about 50 feet from the bottom
of the scree slope. The traverse will end in a trail that parallels the
stream. At the top of the scree slope turn West and follow
the climbers trail up about 300 feet to Matterhorn Lake.

Sun Jul 28, 1996

7:00am Left basecamp 9:00am Reached base of the climb 4:00pm Reached the
true summit 5:30pm Returned to basecamp
6:15pm Began the hike to the trailhead 8:05pm Reached the trailhead
3:00am Got home (Mon Jul 29, 1996)

Took 2 hours to hike from basecamp to the base of the climb. Snow was a
little hard and steep at the base of Matterhorn Peak
but an ice-axe, while it would have been helpful, was not truly

Took 7 hours and 11 pitches to reach the true summit which is two
pitches behind the false summit seen from the North Arete.
The first three "Class 4" pitches were difficult and the route finding
not obvious. Definitely necessary to be roped for those
pitches. After the 5.6 crack on the right of the arete (pitch 5)
traverse left on a big ledge to the left side of the arete. Do not go
up the arete itself (as Zenta did).

Drive home took 7 hours including dinner in Bridgeport.


After reading the report, I sent the following to the group:


From: Mike Sarmiento
To: Mike Sarmiento; Brian Moore; David Alfaro; Gina Tan; 'Cheryl
Leonard'; 'Quang-Tuan Luong'
Subject: Mpeak
Date: Thursday, September 23, 1999 9:25AM


Tuan forwarded the address above.  It'll be good to read.  Seems like it
took the  group in the trip report 7 hours to climb, plus 7 hours drive
back.  The travel times sound accurate, although when I drive on 108 it
takes me about 5.5 hours to get to twin lakes, not 7.   It took us about
4-5 hours to get to Matterhorn Lake at 10.25K.  The next morning, it
took 2 hours to get to the base of the route.  It takes 3-4 pitches to
gain the arete, which will take about 1.5 to 2 hours, and these don't
feel like "easy" class 3-4 pitches but more like 5.6-5.8 .  I haven't
been past the arete to the crack where the route truly starts, but Eric
Renger and Madelaine Shultz both climbed it independently, and each said
it takes about 5 hours to gain the summit once you start the actual
route.  Total climbing will be 7 hours.  So, if we travel like the folks
in the trip report above, I think David and I will do the following:

Leave 3pm Friday.

Drive all the way to Twin Lakes, arrive circa 10pm.  Because there is a
full moon this weekend (almost), we hike in Friday night.  This will get
us to base camp around 3am.

We bivy and sleep Saturday morning until 7am, head out by 8am, climb by
10:30am.  On the summit by 6pm on SATURDAY.  Hike back down to base camp
by 9pm.  Sleep.

Wake up around 8am Sunday.  Hike out and in parking lot by 2pm.  Drive
home Sunday and arrive in bay area  by 9pm, catching up on our sleep by
alternating drivers.  I drive David to the airport and he goes back to

This probably means that everyone will be climbing independently, since
I can't imagine Tuan & Brian and Gina & Cheryl will want to hike up on
Friday night.  Best if these groups hike later on Saturday and climb on
Sunday at a relaxed pace.  Gina knows how to gain the arete, and from
there it is only one pitch to the actual start of the climb.  This will
also keep the route from being too crowded with 3 climbing parties, as
rock fall can be a danger.

I'll be at MC tonight if anyone wants to join me, starting around

See below for the weather report.  Looks like fair and warm over the
weekend, ranging from 70s to 90s.  I'd expect it to be a little gusty
though, so bring a wind breaker for the route.

See you outdoors where we belong.

 - Mike "Starting to salivate again" Sarmiento


My e-mail crossed with David+s over the Internet, as I received the
following from my climbing partner a few minutes after I sent my changed


From: David Alfaro
To: Mike Sarmiento
Subject: ExtremelyImportant-Response Required
Date: Thursday, September 23, 1999 4:02PM

Mike "Your starting to get Dave excited about this climb" Sarmiento

I'm thinking that this adventure really needs to step up to the plate as
classic.  I'm not one for summating and driving in the same day,

1.  Let me know the earliest you can "leave" Friday.  I'll arrange my
schedule around you.
2. We drive all the way baby to the trail head.
3. We night hike up to our camp site (we'll just have our climbing gear
sleeping bags (assuming you're on target regarding the weather).
4. Nap for a couple of hours, then break for the peak.
5. We summit Saturday baby, come off the summit back to camp, rest and
be merry
with those low-landers who are just getting to the base.  We'll make
them suffer
all night, as we tell them how awesome it was to summit (hee hee hee
6. Break camp early Sunday, hike out, drive home (this way I'll have
time to
shit, shower, and shave before my red-eye back to Chicago).

We've both hiked at night, so we have the experience.  I actually prefer
to do
it (the hike goes faster).  This way we have all day to make the summit,
excuses because I have to get back.  This takes a lot of pressure off
me.  And
let me tell you, I'm feeling it, because if I miss that flight, I'm so
we are talking about termination.  And we both know how much I love this
after-all, they are flying me back to San Francisco, just so I can make
climb with you.

David "I need your approval" Alfaro


And I responded to David+s e-mail:

From: Mike Sarmiento
To: David Alfaro
Subject: RE: ExtremelyImportant-Response Required
Date: Thursday, September 23, 1999 4:57PM

David "Badges?  We don't need no stinkin' badges!" Alfaro

Absolutely.  You have my approval even though you don't need it.

My thoughts are that we save lugging our packs up to the lake and
basecamp lower at the top of the scree field.  I know a nice camping
area there and we'll miss the view anyway since it'll be dark.  It'll be
just a quick bivy, no use in us hauling an extra 20 lbs up 500 feet, and
it'll only add about 30 minutes to our morning approach. Do you have a
bivy sack?  Let me know asap if you don't so I can arrange to find one
for you ( I think Bonnie or Kris G have bivys).

Make sure you bring headlamps with fresh batteries!  We can alternate
drivers up and down and cat nap.

Unfort, work just got crazy again and I'm putting out fires (with
gasoline!).  It is starting to look like I can leave work around 4pm.
I'll pack tonight and bring all my gear to work.  You can pick me up at
my work at 4pm.  How does that sound?

I say we bring a bottle of wine to celebrate back at base camp - we'll
be so drunk and loud everyone will hate us!  :-)

See you outdoors where we belong.

 - Mike "Excuse my French, but we are going to summit on Saturday even
if we have to haul our fu**ing asses up there!" Sarmiento


Now we had a plan.  I sent out a final weather update to the group:


From: Mike Sarmiento
To: Mike Sarmiento; Brian Moore; David Alfaro; Gina Tan; 'Cheryl
Leonard'; 'Quang-Tuan Luong'
Cc: Dave Brody
Subject: Final MPeak Weather
Date: Thursday, September 23, 1999 7:22PM

I'll be busy at work on Friday so this will be the final weather
forecast.  If you want to check it out yourself, go to:


So far, it looks great!  Clear weather in the 70s to 80s on Saturday,
and warmer on Sunday with 70s to 90s in the mountains.

See everyone Saturday night!

 - Mike "So excited I'm wagging my tail!" Sarmiento


400 PM PDT THU SEP 23 1999


.<                    TEMPERATURE       PRECIPITATION
YOSEMITE               53  84  54  85 /  30  00  00  00


And Tuan had one more comment for me, which made me smile:


From: Quang-Tuan Luong
To: Mike Sarmiento
Subject: Re: Final MPeak Weather
Date: Thursday, September 23, 1999 8:25PM

> See everyone Saturday night!

don't wake us up.


On Saturday+s summit bid, I learned that waking up the other climbing
teams would be the least of my worries.

 --  o  --

(to be continued)

 --  o  --

David picked me up from work at 4:22 p.m.  My mind and blood had been
racing all day thinking about this moment.  Finally, the trip was on.

"Hey!"  I greeted him through his open car window.

"Hi,"  he frowned back.

Uh oh, I thought.  This doesn+t look good.

"Everything OK?" I asked.

"No," he answered, and left it at that.

I just shut up, put my gear in his truck and hopped in.  After giving
him directions to the freeway, we started talking about what was on his

"Sorry," he said.  "My head+s in the clouds right now.  It+s my
girlfriend.  I just don+t know what to do."

We talked while we sat in traffic.  There was a lot of traffic - we
didn+t make it into Pleasanton until past 6pm.  By that time I had
helped cheer up David and we resolved his relationship issues.   We
decided to stop and eat dinner at Pasta Pasta for a carbo load.  Little
did we know, but that carbo load might have saved our lives the next

 --  o  --

At 12:58 pm, I drove us into the Twin Lakes parking lot.  So much for
our ETA of 10pm.  Instead, we packed our gear and started hiking at 2:08
am on Saturday morning.

Shit, I thought as we put on our packs.  We aren+t going to get to base
camp until 6 am!  This was not starting off well.  A late start now
meant a late start in the morning, which meant a late summit bid.  I was
a little worried.  Even my revised plan was overly optimistic.

Before we left Twin Lakes, we stopped off at the camp rest rooms.  While
inside, a local camper drove up and opened the men+s bathroom door
abruptly.  I was standing right next to the door, with my pack, baseball
hat, and headlamp on.

"Holy cow!"  he exclaimed.  "You scared the living shit out of me!  I
didn+t expect to see anyone here at this hour!"

"Sorry about that."

"Hey, where you off to anyway?"

"We+re gonna climb Matterhorn Peak+s North Arete."

"How far is that?"

"About 4 hours hike to base camp.  Two hours to the base of the climb.
Gain of about 4,000 feet."

He looked at me blankly while he went to the bathroom.

"Shit man!"  he declared as if we were crazy.  "Better you than me!
Good luck!"

And with that declaration, the climbing God+s sent us on our way.

 --  o  --

We arrived at high base camp next Matterhorn Lake, approximately 10,250
feet elevation, at 5:34 am.  We traveled a lot faster than I thought we
would.  The full moon lit our entire way and we didn+t use our headlamps
once.  The trail up was incredibly beautiful.  It had been a while since
I last hiked by moonlight.  I reminded myself that I should do this more

David and I unpacked our gear and set up our bivy+s.  We discussed what
time to wake up.

"How about 8 a.m.?" I suggested.  That would give us about 2 hours of
sleep.  I didn+t sleep much on Thursday night - packing gear until 1:30
am and waking up at 6 am for work.  This would only give me 6 1/2 hours
sleep the past two days.  But we needed some sleep.

"Sounds good."

I set my alarm.

"Do you have any aspirin?" I asked.

"Yeah.  You not feeling well?"

"No.  I have a headache.  I think we ascended too high and too fast
tonight.  It+s the altitude."

I was worried.  After all this, altitude sickness could stop me dead in
my tracks.  A friend had e-mailed me before I left to wish me well.

"Don+t let your past history with Matterhorn affect your judgment on
summit day," he warned.  He was worried that summit fever would hit me
and I+d continue when I shouldn+t.

I popped two Tylenol and went to bed.  I thought about my wife,
remembering my promise that I+d climb safely and return uninjured.  I
hoped my headache would go away by morning, then dozed off into deep

At 8:10 am we got out of our sleeping bags and started to move.  David
ate one Power Bar, I snacked on a 151 Bar and some nuts.  We filtered
water, packed our climbing gear, and started the approach at 9:08 a.m. -
one hour later than scheduled.  Not bad considering we arrived at 1:30
that morning.

But I wasn+t feeling well.  When I woke, my headache was worse.

"You all right?"

"No.  I feel horrible.  My head really hurts.  I think I+ve got altitude

"Uh oh."

Damn.  This has never happened before, I thought.

"I+ll be fine.  Just give me some Tylenol.  I+ll hydrate my self.  I+ll
be fine."

I popped two more pills and drank a liter of water.  I then took a
vitamin C multi-vitamin pill and one chewable vitamin-C pill, hoping
they would alleviate my altitude symptoms.  I packed 2.5 liters of water
for the trip - one of those liters I added Gatorade mix in case I
started to get dehydrated .  David packed 2 liters.  We set off.

Earlier that year, the approach took us a little over two hours.  The
entire way was covered in snow.  Two and a half months later, we were
scrambling on large boulders and scree for half of the trip.  This
slowed us down considerably.  We didn+t stop for snacks, for rests -
anything, well, except for a few mandatory tourist photos.   It still
took us thirty minutes longer  - even though we practically ran up the

The Tylenol and vitamin C did the trick.  I felt incredibly strong
during the entire approach.  My headache was gone.  I didn+t stop for
rest or even to catch my breath.  I couldn+t believe how good I felt.  I
had NEVER felt like this at altitude before.  Never.

When I reached the base of Matterhorn, I looked up and examined the
face, looking for the route.

A smile cracked on my face.  Today, my heart told me I would summit.
There was no fear, no hesitancy, no weakness.  My confidence was
foolish.  I had no idea what was in store for us. Hours later, all that
surrounded me was fear, hesitancy and weakness.

 --  o  --

I began to lead the first pitch at 12:18 pm.  David ate half a Power Bar
before we climbed, and I ate the remaining half of my 151 Bar.

The start of the route is the crux of the climb.  Many climbing friends
have turned back after starting off route and finding themselves on a
blank 5.11 face with no where to go. Some are deceived by the slings
visible from the East Couloir.  These are actually rappel stations that
previous climbers used to back off.

If you plan to do the climb, you should start high in the couloir, about
1/3 up, and traverse right and up two pitches to gain the Arete.  The
first pitch will start easy, then you gain a steep corner with four
moves to the top.  Once on top, you+ll come to a large open ledge.  This
will be your first belay station.  With a 50 meter rope, you+ll start to
run out here anyway, just before another large boulder.

The entire drive up, I strategized in my mind how I would get to lead
the fourth pitch, which is the "steep 5.5. crack" on the West Face.  I
decided I+d tell David I would lead the first two pitches, he could lead
the third, and the fourth pitch would be mine.

When I reached the 1st belay, David yell up to me.

"You know what, Mike.  You should lead all the pitches.  We need to move
fast and you know the route."

I was giddy.  I was selfish.  I was happy at 11,500 feet.

The second pitch goes over the large boulder to the right of the first
belay ledge.  You+ll find some webbing with rappel rings fixed on the
other side of the boulder.  On my previous trip, I was worried that I
was not on route  - rappel rings are usually a sign that someone had to
back off.  However, I knew this time that I was directly on route.

After setting pro using the webbing, I climbed down a small gully from
the ledge up to cracks on a slab.  There are cracks in the corner, but
they were much too large for the protective gear that I was carrying.
The cracks on the right side of the slab are much easier to protect.

I climbed up this slab 50 feet and gained the North Arete, where some
fixed webbing was tied to a boulder.  From here, I scrambled up about 15
feet onto the arete and set the second belay.  David joined me 20
minutes later.  We were making good time and moving quickly.

The third pitch climbs straight up the arete, then left up a corner to a
wide chimney with a pointed triangular stone on the top.  I found the
nut in the corner that I left in July.  David cleaned it for me later.
I moved left up the corner then climbed another corner on the left of
the chimney, but had to be careful with the many loose rocks at the top.
Eventually, I high stepped and mantled to gain the ledge above me.  This
is as far as I had come last time.  A stupid smile came across my face,
and I continued on the small ledge to my right directly out onto the
West Face of Matterhorn, where one can see the Double Dihedral route and
West gully.  I gained the steep 5.5 crack described in Secor+s book,
_The High Sierra:  Peaks, Passes and Trails_.  The first three pitches
were just a warm-up.  This is the true start of the route.

The crack moves along the face diagonally right, and is actually two
cracks connected together.  It+s a beautiful crack - sucking up
protection and my hands and feet.  I lead it quickly and eagerly, with
David encouraging me on.

At the top of the crack I came upon the large ledge described by Secor.
To the right is the second corner of the Double Dihedral route, which
was snow filled for the first 20 feet or so.  I looked up and saw
another crack system with a ledge that moved left back towards the
arete.  Since Secor described the crack as "two pitches", I assumed that
I should continue up because I still had a lot of rope left.  So I
climbed the set of cracks above the ledge then set up the fourth belay.

David followed.  As he gained the top of the crack, I could finally see
him.  He too had a stupid smile on his face.  At that moment, he grabbed
a hold and the rock came loose.

He watched it move slowly towards him.

Don+t move, he thought.  It will move right past you.  Just don+t peel
off the wall.

He watched it as it hit his left thigh, then his right shin, then fall
off 1,200 feet down the West face, causing a dull echo as it sped
downward like a missile.

"Rock!!!!" he yelled, too little, too late.

"Are you OK?"

"Owwww!  Fu**!!!!  No!  That really hit me.  My legs are all scratched
up. FU**!!!"

David stood there in pain.  Both his legs were lacerated and bleeding.
I could do nothing but watch and wait.

Finally, he started to move again.

"You OK?"

"Yeah.  Man that hurts.  I+ll be fine."

"Well, I think I messed up.  I was so crack happy that I think I went
too far.  You are on the large ledge with heads left back to the arete.
I+m on a small ledge which heads to the arete.  I think I climbed too
high.  Go around the arete and see if you can find a large chimney with
a big chockstone in it.  That should be the next pitch."


David went around the arete and looked.

"Yeah.  I see it.  This is it.  Hold on.  I+m setting a belay station."

A few minutes later, he yelled that I was on belay.

I took down my anchors and began to down climb.  This was the scariest
part of the climb for me.  It felt easy coming up, but going down felt
entirely different.  I had to be very careful.  The crack was there, but
some parts were only large enough for a one finger insert, and other
parts had tricky foot work.  I made it though and breathed a huge sigh
of relief.

At David+s belay station, we took some pictures.

"This is beautiful up here," he told me.

"Yes, it is.  It truly is."

We paused and took in the scenery.  But the day was getting late.  We
needed to move again.  I wanted to stop for longer.  David handed the
gear back to me and I started the fifth pitch.

>From the North Arete, I traversed left back onto the East Face and came
upon the wide chimney.  I moved up the left side of the chimney and over
the chockstone.  This led to a platform that led to a corner formed
between the North Arete and a smaller arete to the left.  It has a
beautiful crack to climb up, or you can use the face of the left arete,
which has many crack features and beautiful holds.

I started to run out of rope so I couldn+t make it all the way up to the
top of the corner/left arete.  Instead, I moved left onto the left arete
and came upon a nice ledge about 20 feet below the top.  I set up the
fifth belay station.  This time, I took in all the scenery while I
belayed David.  When he joined me, he let out a triumphant, "Wooo

"We are almost there!" he said, pointing up to the top of the climb.  "I
can see the sun!  We+re gonna do this!"

I looked up and saw that he was right.  I pulled out my copy of the
route description. One more pitch to the summit.  All I had left was to
get over the off-width chimney.  Then I was there.

I cracked a big smile.

I continued straight up the left arete, only to find myself on an
unprotectable face.  At 12,000 feet, this was a problem.  But I was
climbing strongly.  I didn+t feel the altitude.  All I felt was summit
fever. I ignored the voices of fear inside me and continued 20 feet to
the top of the left arete.

"Wow!  That baby was a little run out!"  I declared after reaching the
next ledge.

"No kidding!"

I set protection and prepared myself for the off-width chimney.  When I
gained it, I realized it was slightly overhung.

Nothing like an overhang at altitude, I thought.

A friend who climbed the route two years ago cautioned me about the
off-width.  She said it was more of a 5.8.  Another friend said he
avoided the chimney  by climbing the face to the right of
it, and didn't have to deal with it at all.

Now it was my turn.

I popped myself inside, only to find that I couldn+t fit.  I tried an
arm jam, but it didn+t work.  I looked for a fist jam, a leg jam, any
kind of jam.  Nothing.  Finally, I just lied back on the corner, moved
my feet up, and mantled up to the top.

Wow, I thought.  That was easier than expected.

Then it hit me.

I was on top.


 --  o  --

"This is a false summit!" I yelled down to David, after exploring the
top.  I also vaguely remembered from Greg Faulk+s route description that
from here it was a few more pitches to the true summit.

David heard me yell down about the false summit.

"I had no idea what you were talking about," he told me later.  "I
thought, +False summit?  What the hell is that?+  All I knew was that it
wasn+t good.  You started to worry me."

We gained the false summit in six pitches and five hours and 43 minutes
of climbing.  It was 5:55 pm when we topped off.

When David joined me on top, he smiled and soaked in the warm sun.  We
gave each other a high five.  Then I dropped the bomb on him.

"We+re not there yet.  That is the true summit.  We still have a ways to
go.  The descent is down the East Couloir.  Which is all the way over
there.  We+re not done yet."

"Oh man!" he responded.  "Where the hell do we go from here?"

"I don+t know.  But since you are still on belay, why don+t you traverse
left and see where we can go.  You lead and set pro on the traverse."

David climbed over a block and down to the somewhat narrow ridge.  To
his left, the northeast face fell a thousand feet - to his right, the
southwest face fell another thousand feet.  I could tell David didn+t
feel very comfortable with this.  I sensed his hesitancy.

"There+s nothing here.  The right side just drops into a 1,000 foot
gully.  I don+t see anything on the left."

Damn, I thought.  We are wasting time.  There has to be a way.  There
has to be.

"Come back.  I+ll lead and explore."


David came back to the belay station, thinking the entire way back,
+Shit, we just wasted a half hour of daylight.

Yes, we made the summit ridge.  As they say, getting to the top of a
mountain is optional, but getting down is mandatory.  We still had two
more pitches to the true summit, then the descent.  It was getting late.
Both David and I started to worry.

 --  o  --

Tuan, Brian, Gina, Cheryl, and James were at basecamp playing a
strategic stone game while David and I finished our climb.  As they
played games, nature was taking its course down below.  The snow field
on the approach that was soft enough for us to cross in the late morning
was starting to freeze over.  To the west, the sun began to set.  A
small gust started to blow.  I knew we had to get off the mountain soon,
I just didn+t realize that every precious moment we wasted would get us
into deeper trouble later.

I believe that to be successful in mountaineering, one has to be an
outdoor generalist.   You need to be well rounded and knowledgeable -
avalanches, climbing technique, route finding, search and rescue,
weather forecasting, placing protection, recognizing objective danger,
knowing when you are in danger at retreating, etc.

Accidents happen.  Many, in retrospect, are preventable - a late start,
going where one shouldn+t, not planning correctly, etc.  Some are just
natural occurrences - rock fall, avalanches, lightning storms, etc.  The
issue with preventable accidents is that, once the ball gets rolling, it
starts to snow ball.  A late start leads to a rushed climb leads to
getting lost leads to wasted daylight leads to climbing in the dark
leads to mental fatigue leads to that one careless mistake because you
are now dehydrated, hungry, and not focused.

David and I had a late start.  David and I rushed our climb.  David and
I went off route temporarily.  David and I were now climbing in the
dark.  David and I were mentally fatigued.  David and I were out of
water.  David and I had no time to eat since our small snack at the base
of the climb.  David and I tried to stay focused.

David and I were in trouble.

We just didn+t know it yet.  And trouble was compounding by the minute.

Tick . . . tick . . . tick. . .

 --  o  --

"OK" I yelled back.  "I found it.  We go left.  There+s a traverse
around this block.  Climbing."

David fed me rope.  I eased onto the small ledge and watched as I
carefully placed my foot.  The corner of my eye caught the 1,000 feet of
exposure below me.  My heart raced and fear gripped me.

Ignore it, I thought.  Get off this damn mountain.  Get off fast.  No
time for fear.  Ignore it.

The climbing was technically easy.  The mental game was not.  We thought
we were at the top, then realized we weren+t.  We were disheartened that
we still had what seemed like a long way to the summit.  We wasted time
searching for a traverse across the summit ridge.  Psychologically,
this took a toll.  After leading 6 pitches, I was becoming fatigued.  I
was becoming dehydrated.  My body had started to go into glucose
depravation mode, and my legs would shake uncontrollably.

Stay focused, I thought.  Move, move, move!  Be careful!

I continued cautiously on the traverse.  In the back of my mind I knew
we were losing time.  When I got to a large ledge, I set a belay and
brought David over.

"We are close" I told him.  "Let+s move."

"Hold on,"  he answered.  "I have to put on my pants.  It+s getting

I waited a few minutes.  I double checked the anchors.

Tick . . . tick . . . tick. . .

 --  o  --

"OK.  Climbing."

I moved up a boulder, set pro, and continued to walk up a flat section.
I came upon another boulder, topped it, set another pro, then descended.
My rope caught me.  I couldn+t move forward.


"You+ve got slack!"

I pulled on the rope.



I could see the summit from here.  It was only another 100 feet away.

I pulled again.

The rope didn+t budge.  It was stuck.

"I+ll set up a belay here.  The rope is stuck.  There+s too much drag."

I put David on belay and he began to climb.

As I sat belaying him, I turned to eastward to my right.

Suddenly, all the fear, all the fatigue, all the pain - everything went
away.  I+ll never forget this moment for as long as I live.

To the east rose a full Harvest moon, bright orange and yellow, like the
sun.  Majestic.  Soothing.  Powerful.  Graceful.

To the west the setting sun painted the sky with hues of orange, red,
purple and blue.

I was sitting high atop the Sierra Crest, where west becomes east, at
moonrise and sunset.

This was the reward for my journey over the past four years.  This was
payment for my persistence.  I finally got that multiplication grid

I thought of my wife so that I could share this moment with her.
Before I realized it, I was smiling, and tears of joy almost came upon
my face.

"Hey David."




"Yes.  Wow!"

 --  o  --

David joined me at the final belay.  We unroped because everything from
here on was class 2 or 3.  The summit was within our view.

"We have to get down."

"I know."

We flaked the rope, sorted gear, and prepared for the descent.

"I don+t need to go to the summit," I told him.  "Let+s not waste time.
Let+s just go."

"You sure?"

"Yes.  Let+s go."

David took the lead and I followed.  Before I knew it, he was scrambling
up the last piece to the summit block.

"What are you doing?  Let+s go!"

"No.  Come to the summit."

Shit.  Oh, all right.

I met David on the summit.  He met me with a smile, a high five, and a

I yahooed too.

"Let+s take a photo!"


It was dark.  All you can probably see is our tired faces, with a big
smile on them.

"OK.  Let+s go.  We have to move."


"Wait, do you see the summit register?"


"Oh well.  Let+s go."

David was sitting on the summit with his legs in a large crack below
him.  He turned to his left and his foot hit an object.

Clank, clank.

"What was that?" he said.  "That wasn+t a rock!"

"I don+t know."

He shined his headlamp down into the crack and pulled out an aluminum

The summit register.

We opened it and examined the contents.

"You sign it for us," David said.

I wrote:

September 25, 1999.  8:24 p.m.
Finally made it to the summit via the North Arete after four previous
I have a stupid smile on my face, as does my climbing partner, David

 - Mike Sarmiento

Less then 24 hours later, Tuan, Gina, Brian, James and Cheryl would hold
a summit ceremony in our honor.  Tuan made it first and waited for
everyone to join him with the summit register in his hands.  He hadn+t
opened it yet.  They wanted to wait until everyone was there.

The Sunday climbing team was confident we would make it.  But they were
eager to have a  second clue (first one was our time of registration on
the wilderness permit back at the Bridgeport Ranger station).  They had
"The Bet" going: who could guess the closest to what time we would make
it back to base camp.

Tuan doesn+t recall exactly what he said while opening the summit
register, except that it was something about The Bet.

We made it to the top.  I was glad David convinced me to summit.  We
made it.

Getting down, however, was an entirely different story.

Tick . . . tick . . . tick. . .

 --  o  --

"Which way?"  David asked.

"I don+t know.  Down there, to our left, I think.  The couloir is to our
left.  We should head down towards that saddle, then traverse left."

Fortunately, the full moon lit the entire landscape.  Eerie moonshadows
surrounded us and the terrain glowed.  Despite our predicament, I had to
stop and remind myself that this was something not many would
experience.  What I saw, felt, heard and smelled should be remembered.
I joked to myself that when I finally summated Matterhorn, I would send
a trip report out that simply said:

"We did it."

But I wanted to remember.  So I decided that when I got home, I would

First, we had to get off the mountain.

 --  o  --

We made our way to the top of the East Couloir without any mishaps.  A
little bit of downclimbing, a lot of traversing, and too much boulder

Since the moon was so bright, even in the shadow of the couloir, we
didn+t use our headlamps - saving our batteries in case we needed them
for later.  As we descended into the couloir, the loose dirt began to
slide beneath us.  We watched every step we took.  Always checking in
with each other.

"You OK?"

"Yeah.  You?"


For over an hour, we repeated the process of stepping down, planting our
feet, sliding, stepping down, planting our feet, sliding, checking each
other, stepping down . . .

Some sections were steeper than others.  We remembered to be even more

By the time we reached the gear we left at the base of the climb, it was
past 10:15 pm.  We still had a long way to go.  I changed out of my
climbing shoes and into my hiking boots.  We picked up our ice axes and
continued down hill.

I could feel the dryness in the back of my throat.  My lips were already
chapped and starting to peel.  I was fully dehydrated.  David was in the
same predicament.  Neither of us had drank water since we topped off the
route.  In fact, we had no more to eat all day than the two energy bars,
plus some nuts, that we ate for breakfast and as a snack before the
climb.  Sleep depravation was also affecting us.  We needed to rest.
But rest now would get us into more trouble later.  We had to keep

 --  o  --

Two years earlier, my friends Brody, Kris and John made a similar summit
bid on Matterhorn Peak.  They had a late start.  They started up the
route, got up a few pitches, then realized they were on a blank face
with nowhere to go.  They set up rappels.  I+m not sure what happened
next, but something went wrong during the rappels.  They made it down
all right.  But it was past 10:30 pm when they finally touched solid

They had to hike to basecamp in the dark.  Without food.  Without water.
Without a moon.

On the way, they got lost.  The went too far right.  They couldn+t find
the traverse left and down back into the gully which led to Matterhorn
Lake.  Somewhere around midnight, they decided to make an emergency
bivy.  The three of them spent the cold night on scree, waiting for
sunlight, suffering, and hoping to survive with their will to live.

They found basecamp the next morning.  They were completely exhausted.
Famished.  Thirsty.  But they were alive.

David and I left the base of the climb a little after 10:30 pm, around
the same time that Brody, Kris and John left 2 years earlier.

"That God-forsaken mountain really spanked us," Brody told me later.

I knew in the back of my mind that it was time for David and me to bare
our bottoms.  We were about to get spanked.

 --  o  --

"What do you think?"  David asked.

"I+m not sure.  Go left, down there to where the dirt is exposed in the
snow.  We can check the snow to the left of it.  If it+s soft, we+ll go
that way.  Otherwise, we go down the dirt field until it hits the snow."

David agreed.  He headed down.  All day and night, David led the walking
paths.  He+s a strong person.  Altitude doesn+t seem to affect him.
David is strong enough to haul like a race car up a mountain, but
patient enough to wait for his climbing partner, me.  He is also
democratic, funny, and generous.  I searched for an ideal climbing
partner for a long time.  I found one in David.

We came to the end of the exposed dirt.

"How is it?" I asked David about the snow.

"It+s solid," he answered, hitting the ice below him and making a hollow
"Thunk, thunk".

We had no crampons.  The slope below us was steep, maybe 25 or 30
degrees.  It eventually flattened out into a bowl, but that was a long
way away.

"What do you think?" he asked me.

"Well, we have two options.  We go back up the couloir and walk down the
class 2 route.  Or we go down this ice field."  I failed to mention
option number three - bivying right there - because I knew that was a
stupid idea.

"What about our rope?  Could we lower each . . ." he stopped in
mid-sentence, "No, that would leave one of us up here."

"I could lower you.  You leave your ice axe.  With two axes, I can solo
down the face.  That+s easy.  I+ve ice climbed, so not a problem for

"Or, we could do this . . . "

Before I knew it, David sat down on his butt, planted his axe, slid two
feet, planted his axe, slid two feet, planted his axe . . .

I joined him two seconds later.  Plant.  Slide.  Plant.  Woops.  Slip.
Plant.  Slide.  Repeat until entirely exhausted.  Look up.  Realize you
still have a long way down.  Don+t mess up now.  Plant.  Slide.  Plant .
. . 

By the end of the slipping and sliding, David had burned a hole in his
ski pants.  I burned a small hole in my cotton khakis (Hey, nice pants)
and inner-gloves.  There were a number of times where I slipped, but
caught myself before I started to fall.  A lot of self belays.
Fortunately, no self arrests.

When we arrived at a slope where we could stand comfortably, I breathed
a sigh of relief.

One down.

I wasn+t sure how many more to go.

Next, we walked endlessly on slippery ice, sometimes catching our fall,
sometimes not.  Our bodies were getting bruised, our minds
psychologically battered, and our spirits shaken.  Our empty stomachs
couldn+t tighten any more.  We were suffering, slowly and surely, we
we+re both suffering.

"This is our Eco-Challenge," I muttered jokingly to David.


"This is our Eco-Challenge," I repeated, trying to raise my voice, but
my dry throat wouldn+t cooperate.

"Ha ha.  Yes.  It is."

We finally made it past the snow to a boulder field.

"Your choice."

"Let+s head right, down where I came up this morning.  There, up over
the boulders.  I+m sick of the snow right now."

So we hopped from boulder to boulder.  Careful not to slip, twist an
ankle, break a wrist, or cut our head.  Hop.  Hop.  Shaky boulder.
Balance.  Hop. 

Each hop jarred our heads.  Each step tightened our sore quads.  Our
knees were shaking.  I didn+t think we could keep this up much longer.

"Where the hell is our lake?"  David asked.

I looked down into the valley, over the scree field in front of us.

"Down there."

"That+s not it.  That+s way the hell down there.  There is now way we
walked that this morning.  Where the hell is it?"

We were starting to lose our reasoning now.  One mile seemed like three.
One step seemed like four.  One boulder seemed like a hill.

David began to mutter to himself.

I just kept telling myself,  Be careful.  Stay together.  We can do
this.  We can do this.

In the end, we were walking zombies.  We had no more energy.  Our
shoulders sagged.  We couldn+t manage a smile.  We stopped talking.  We
only grumbled in pain.  We kept walking, no, it was more of a stumble,
searching for a way home.


"What?" I asked.


"I know.  We need water."

A bad joke was being played on us.  Underneath, we could hear the sound
of water rushing through the boulders.

"We could drink that," I suggested.

"No.  I can+t afford to get sick.  Base camp.  We+ll drink then."

We shut up and kept moving.

"Are you sure this is the way?"  he asked.

"Yes.  We are close.  C+mon.  We+re close."

I didn+t know if I was lying or not.  I just knew that we had to make

"God.  My knees are shaking."

"Mine too."

We shut up and kept moving.

"This is horrible."

"I know."

"Ultimate Death."


We shut up and kept moving.

Four and one half hours after we reached the summit, we stumbled into
basecamp.  It was 12:58 am.

 --  o  --

I drank slowly.  The water moved passed my dry lips.  I had to remember
not to drink too quickly.  Just short sips.  David had already walked
back up to camp.  I sat alone and watched the moon reflect off the lake,
filtering water.

"If you ask me Thursday, I+d say that I+d do that again," David told me
15 minutes earlier.

"Not me.  I+m never f**king doing that again."  The next day, after some
rest and plenty of water, I looked up the mountain and saw the Double
Dihedral route.

Never say never.

It was an effort to get up from the lake.  But I did.  I walked up the
small hill back to camp.  David was getting into his bag.  We never said
good night to each other.  We just go into our bags.

Before I did, I told myself I needed dinner.

But I had no energy to cook anything.  In fact, I had no energy to eat

All I could muster was one swallow - two Advils and some water.

Sleep came quickly.

We got out of bed when the sun hit us, at around 8 am.  Tuan, Gina,
Brian, Cheryl, and James walked by our camp that morning around 7 am.
Both of us were awake, but never noticed them.  They finished their
approach by 9:15 am.  Like David and me, the summit was easy for them.
The descent was another story.

I visited my friends Brody, Yoojin, and John, who were camped about 100
yards away.  We exchanged stories.  They said they heard us walk in at
1:00 am.

"How are you?"  Yoojin asked.

"Exhausted.  I need rest."

Rest didn+t come until we got home to San Francisco.

 --  o  --

Back home, safe and sound, I sat down to write and share my experience.
I thought of many ways to conclude our story, thus finally putting to
rest The Phantom Menace of Matterhorn Peak.

My friend, my climbing partner, my companion on this and future trips,
put our climb in perspective when he wrote the following in a e-mail to
me, one day after he landed back in Chicago:

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 Understanding the Meaning of Life
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It was late September 1992, I was lying motionless in the intensive care
ward of Alta Bates hospital in Berkeley following the discussion I just
had with my doctor.  He was just in my room a few moments before to
inform me that there was nothing that they could do for me, I was dying.
My condition was spiraling and I wasn't going to recover in their
facilities.  He walked out.  I was alone.  I could barely lift my arm to
rub my face.  I had seven tubes in me supplying everything from blood to
food.  All I could do was reflect.  My initial thoughts were numbing.
Death?  If death was my fate at 23 years old, then I could accept that.
But had I lived?  If I was destined to die so young, had I lived?  Did I
experience life?

The answer was no.  No I hadn't, not even close.  I was chronically ill
for five years and involved in a relationship that provided nothing but
contention and hostility.  My parents went bankrupt, I was forced to put
myself through school, I worked full time, and to boot, I was embattled
with a recurring illness that put me in and out of the hospital.  "Had I
known how short I was to Live, I could have done things differently" I
thought.  And then it dawned upon me.  I was always in control of my
destiny, but I chose to ignore it.  I let the circumstances around my
life dictate the environment in which I was to live.... how blind I was.
How ignorant I was.  I squandered the most precious gift to man, life.
I was dying, and I had yet to experience living - and I don't mean
getting up in the morning, preparing for work, school, or whatever, then
ultimately going through the same routines of the day only to come home
and get some rest just to do it all over again.

Regret is such a powerful emotion to bare when you feel like you no
longer have the ability to make the changes necessary to heal such a
burden.  I did not sleep that night, but rather, I was overwhelmed with
the challenge of trying to define what living meant.  I came to a
conclusion early in the morning... I muttered the phrase LIVING MUST BE
EXPERIENCE and I had none to suggest that I truly lived.  It is the
accumulation of experience that would define one persons life.  And to
say you have lived is to say you have experienced... So I resigned
myself to finding experience outside of the mundane routine of waking
up, going to work, then going to bed.  All I needed to do was survive my
current predicament.  I no longer accepted death as I did just hours
earlier.  I fought hard for the next six months, through three
surgeries, and sixty two days in the hospital.  I lived and now... I

Thanks for the experience this weekend - it reminded me of the simple
conclusion I came to six years ago.  Sitting at the summit while looking
at the full moon rise and the orange glow of the sun setting, all at one
glance and thousands of feet above the nearest human being; sitting
there looking out at both horizons, unobstructed and as far as the eye
can carry sight... I knew I was fulfilling the quest I undertook in the
hospital bed in 1992 - I was living.

Thanks again,

 --  o  --

David reminded me of a personal truth that I discovered at some point in
my life:

"It is necessary to move beyond Ultimate Death.  Instead, search for
Ultimate Life."

 --  o  --

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