The summit ridge. Which way to go from here?
In his excellent book Rocky Mountain National Park - Classic Hikes & Climbs, Gerry Roach says of this route "reach the ridge 200 yards west of the summit and scramble east along it (Class 3) to the summit". Roach's description is, I think, intentionally vague. Part of the skill and fun of mountaineering is making some routefinding decisions, and being given precise instructions removes that element of the climb. Roach doesn't want to take that aspect away.
I will give more details, but I'm not sure I have found the best route, since I call it Class 4. You can have some fun exploring around up there.
ApproachSee the Getting There section on the main page for reaching the basin near Grace Falls, a location of exceptional beauty.
Disclaimer: Note that much of the approach once you descend into the basin by Grace Falls involves slogging up (and down) extremely loose talus and scree, everone's favorite activity. Rocks of all sizes are easily dislodged. Whether several hours of this grunt work is worth the short but fun scrambling on the summit ridge is something you will have to decide for yourself.
On the summit ridge
From Grace Falls the Little Matterhorn rises prominently above you to the north west. Your first objective is to gain the summit ridge. There is a low point on the ridge near a climber-eating lizard that guards the way.
Follow the upward slope and turn towards the lizard as soon as it looks to your taste. From below the lizard appears to be a large gendarme, not taking on its lizard-like appearance until you are closer. Once you arrive there is no need to tackle the lizard directly, it can be passed alongside without disturbing it.
On the narrow ridge you are faced with three choices: skirt the ridge to the right, skirt it to the left, or tackle it head on. Combining these options is another option. The famous Capitol Peak knife-edge ridge has prompted much discussion on this subject.
Once past the lizard the best route seems to be stay to the north (left) side of the ridge. There is some downclimbing involved and the exposure is not for the faint of heart. The rock is covered with lichen and it can be slimy after a rain. At one point it seems best to cross over to the south side. The ridge is mostly class 3, with an occasional class 4 moved thrown in to spice things up. It all goes, but comfort with exposure is necessary, and this is not a good place to be in bad weather.
The summit is nicely perched at the end of the ridge.
There have been at least two fatalities from falling near here, so take your routefinding decisions seriously:
July 31, 1953
Kathryn Rees was near the summit with her party of eight other women when she lost her balance and fell a fatal 150 feet. Sandra Miller, one of the group's leaders fell en-route to get help and slipped on a snow slope, resulting in a tumble to her death.
Source: Accidents in North American Mountaineering, 1954
August 16, 1992
Jon Hofstra fell 1,000 feet while descending a 4th Class chimney. He was later found dead and evacuated by helicopter.
Source: Accidents in North American Mountaineering, 1993
Source, SP member John Kirk's lists: http://listsofjohn.com/Accidents/LittleMatterhorn.html
Essential GearBasic hiking gear. Be prepared for sudden weather changes. Early in the season an ice ixe might be useful for the area below Lake Helene.
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