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Sawtooths 3 day Loop – Finger – Whorl – Matterhorn 12,279′

First draft, excuse my late night first try at this.

On April 14-16 2023 I had an insane experience touring through untracked wilderness with my new friend Javier. We met each other earlier this year by flying 40 miles north of Donald, near Golden BC, to ski tour for a week out of a remote ski touring cabin. There were 12 of us that week, but this tour was just the two of us. We skied and split boarded 20 miles, following my loose plan to explore Finger Peaks and the NW side of Mt. Whorl. I had seen these beautiful peaks many times before from the top of various cols and peaks in the Sawtooths. I planned a loop around the Sawtooth Ridge, but it got much better than that.

This is big open country as you can see in my photos. The beauty of touring in big terrain like this is that you can find soft snow somewhere. I thought I might be skiing the north couloirs I saw on Finger Peaks, which struck me hard in 2019 in an Eocene Peak Tour. Only I thought they were east facing, hence my corn snow cycle mission. As soon as I got oriented properly out there with Javier, we kind of knew the south side would be covered well due to the record snow year this has been. Our plan was to ski basically anything BUT north facing slopes, which hadn’t transitioned to corn yet. EASY out here!

Rather than risk a failure crossing the Sierra Crest in Blacksmith Canyon, where I had peered off to the East 10 years ago, I took the safe known passage over Ice Lakes Pass. This is a beautiful tour in itself, starting at Twin lakes Campground, then going up Big Slide and Little Slide Canyons. You skin under the Incredible Hulk and Kettle Peak. Ice Lakes Pass has some great ski terrain too. These peaks are described on this website. Then we veered north and camped in sparse trees below Finger Peaks. It was a win just to get here and camp out with a friend. Nighttime Temps were in the teens and daytime was in the high 40’s with light wind. Perfect for safe snow and fast travel, as well as 1″ pen corn snow in the afternoon on E, S and W slopes.

On day two we skied up to see if you can summit Finger Peaks’ middle high point. Nope, it’s 4th class and our ski boots wouldn’t cut it Rather than ski old winter crust, we skied at least 2000′ down the south side. I could see that after this drop, we could schlog up to the top of Mt. Whorl’s North Peaklet and ski a fat west facing slope that should soften by the time we get there. I had been on the other side of this sub peak maybe 15 years ago with Greg Loring, accessed from Horse Creek Canyon. and then follow a loop back to camp. We skied back down about 2000′ and skinned up and over Burro Pass to reach our camp for night two. A really nice fire and some conversation led us to our funny dreams and long night. Longer for Javier, as you can see his bivy hole. he had a 30-degree bag and bivy sack. I had a zero bag and a 4-season single man tent.

On day 3 we needed to make it over the Sawtooth Crest, north of Matterhorn and near what Secor’s guide calls 2nd class “Matterhorn Pass”. I couldn’t find any mention of this pass online. I also figured we could retrace our path all the way home if it didn’t work out, because this pass was the furthest point in our loop. same distance either way. I didn’t like the look of this pass from a distance, and it surely would have been rock climbing maybe 200′ or more with our overnight packs and skis. This pass also takes you due south, and we wanted to veer north to Matterhorn. So, I decided to explore a no-name col to the left, which we could skin steeply up to quicker. At the top I could see a mountaineering challenge that didn’t look more than 3rd class to traverse in the proper direction towards Matterhorn and our eventual descent back to the car at Twin Lakes Campground.

Do NOT do this route unless you are a climbing AND bring a 30m rope with some pro. We didn’t have that, and just found our summer rock climbing confidence for a short traverse and downclimb. We didn’t explore going up to the top oft the crest, which may have been a touch easier. We certainly could not have descended with any length rope to reach easy ground. Our Traverse was over 1500′ of exposure. Since Javier is an experienced rock and ice climber, I figured if I could do it, then he could do it (if he wanted to.._and he did. In fact Javi had a suggestion to climb just a little higher to avoid a problem, which probably saved us from retreating. We were both pretty psyched, even with our stupid skis and poles and tent strapped to our backs. I went first into the 50′ dike traverse which might have been 5.5 in rock shoes. I’m calling what we did 5.9 in the boots we were wearing. The rock was mostly solid, but not every hand hold. Again, I would do this route either way no problem in the future WITH PRO, not Solo.

After we both got across the exposed dike traverse, we used boot crampons and axe to continue traversing steep snow up to the top of the east couloir on Matterhorn Peak. I have been here many times and ran into Truckee friends – as usual! We stashed our packs and raced up to the summit. By the time we got back to our packs it was about 4pm and the Ski Dreams couloir looked a bit crusty and scary for us. We were pretty beat from a big day and our packs were 30-35lbs. I had always wanted to ski the south side of Matterhorn anyway, which sucks. It’s windboard in patches. But when we turned the corner into Horse Creek Canyon, the scenery got really sweet. I hugged the west facing side of the valley and found some really good late evening turns. We made it back to Bridgeport for Dinner at Rhino’s, which will Suprise you with great food and service for an old school rural bar.

So here are some thoughts. I would repeat this tour in either direction, or maybe try the true Matterhorn Pass next time, although I don’t believe that will be easier. Just bring a short rope and a lead climber. I would love to go out there and ski the North gullies of Finger Peaks and the North couloirs in the Whorl Cirque. There are many things you could ski during this loop. You could occupy a whole week in each zone, especially the little slide canyon. I liked the south face of Slide Mountain, just east of Ice Lakes Pass. And I liked the idea of traversing over the Sawtooth Crest at a few cols I have been to up there. The easiest crossing appeared to be just south of Eocene Peak. Another possibility looked to be just north of Blacksmith Peak. I could point these spots out in pictures for you in person. They would provide more direct access to this Finger Peaks and Mt. Whorl Cirque Zone. But our Ice Lakes Pass route went pretty easy and beautiful.

And if you did this loop, you might also find skiing the steep north facing terrain of Matterhorn might not be that fun iwth your big packs. So make your packs light, or bail like we did down Horse Creek Canyon. If we had more fuel we might have camped at the lake beneath Horse Creek Peak. This is a beautiful zone with steep north to east facing terrain above you, and a downhill glide out afterwards. None of that would have softened for us, so we were happy to call it a 3 day tour and go home. Canada is calling next anyway, gotta go pack.









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