Skiing The West Couloir On Matterhorn Peak In California’s Eastern Sierra
Location: West Couloir, Matterhorn Peak, Eastern Sierra, California
Starting Point: Annett’s Mono Village – 7100′
Distance: 11 miles
Time: 7-10 hours
Top Elevation: Top of West Couloir – 11,830′, Matterhorn Peak – 12,280′
USGS Maps: Matterhorn Peak, Dunerberg Peak, Twin Lakes, Buckeye Ridge
Guidebook: Backcountry Skiing California’s Eastern Sierra by Dan Mingori and Nate Greenberg
At the northern end of the Eastern Sierra near the town of Bridgeport, California is an amazing zone for ski mountaineering. There are numerous ski descents in the Sawtooth Ridge area such as the Doodad, Ski Dreams, The Hulk, and the East and West Couloirs on Matterhorn Peak. One of the prominent peaks in the zone is a striking arete called Matterhorn Peak (12280′). This is where we were heading.
The East Couloir on Matterhorn Peak is a true classic and is even featured in Lou Dawson’s Wild Snow: A Historical Guide to North American Ski Mountaineering. At the start of our day, the east couloir was our goal, but at the end of the day we ended up skiing the West Couloir on Matterhorn Peak.
To access this stunning zone, follow Twin lakes Road out of Bridgeport, California. This road travels past numerous campgrounds including Twin Lakes Resort and Annett’s Mono Village (where you can pay for laundry and showers). FYI – there’s no cell phone service near the Twin Lakes.
The ascent toward Matterhorn Peak starts at Annett’s Mono Village (7100′). It’s smart to check in so that you know where to park. Annett’s is an RVers paradise and the route to the trail up Horse Creek into the Hoover Wilderness winds through the RV campground before crossing Robinson Creek and hitting the summer trail.
We followed the summer trail for about 750′, but if the snow line was lower you’d easily be able to start skinning sooner. The ascent route basically follows Horse Creek over meandering terrain toward the alpine.
At around 8800′ we skinned up the headwall and followed the drainage toward Twin Peaks. Then we wrapped back around and headed up the NE ridge toward Matterhorn Peak. It follows a lightly corniced ridge right up to the basin of Matterhorn Peak.
From here you can see Ski Dreams, and the East and West Couloirs of Matterhorn Peak. It’s absolutely stunning terrain. We skinned over the firm snow as far as we could then transitioned to crampons for the bootpack up the couloir. Our goal was the East Couloir, which is more north facing, but it looked scoured, rocky, and firm. The West couloir, which is more northeast facing, has two braids that we found to be about 40 degrees. It seemed to have been in the sun and we were hoping that it would soften.
As we climbed the climber’s left braid of the couloir, we found a very firm rain/sun crust that was bound to make for interesting ski conditions. Eventually we reached the large col at the top of the West Couloir at 11,830′. With direct line of sight to Bridgeport, the cell service was pretty good up there.
Climbing to the summit looked possible from this point, but it would have been a rope worthy adventure. Alternatively, the East Couloir goes about 200′ shy of the summit and it’s much easier to access the top of Matterhorn Peak via this route. We sat around for a while eating snacks, hoping the snow would soften a touch. It didn’t.
Eventually we decided to ski. The best way to describe it is sporty and loud. We regrouped once. Hop turns and side slips were the only way to ski that piece of terrain in those conditions. When we reached the apron, we noticed another group. They had watched us ski and decided to turn around and leave. Looking back up the snow on Matterhorn Peak, we noticed a nice blinding, shimmer of ice on all visible aspects. Glad we made it down safely.
Luckily, the snow was corned up down low and we arced a few turns down to a lower chute that dropped us back down to Horse Creek. Once we reached this point, the goal was to stay as high skier’s right as possible because the valley bottom was a complete slog. It took a lot of time and effort to get out of Horse Creek.
Eventually we found our shoes on the summer trail. Then we linked a few remaining patches of snow together back toward Twin Lakes. Finally we hit the old heel-toe express in the ski boots back to the van.
Our adventure to ski Matterhorn Peak’s west couloir took 8 hours. We covered 11 miles and 5000′ round trip. This is an amazing zone that I want to explore more, but next time I hope I get better conditions.
See our route for skiing West Couloir on Matterhorn Peak in California’s Eastern Sierra:
Here are additional photos from skiing West Couloir on Matterhorn Peak in California’s Eastern Sierra:
This trip report from skiing West Couloir on Matterhorn Peak in California’s Eastern Sierra is from April 27, 2017.