Whorl Mountain sits just inside the boundary of Yosemite National Park, immediately south of its more famous neighbor, Matterhorn Peak. The Whorl massif is essentially three peaks set atop a high and sharp ridge that runs south from Matterhorn Pass and separates the Spiller Creek drainage from Matterhorn Canyon. What is unique about Whorl is that it is one of those mountains that (especially when seen from the Virginia Peak area) looks absolutely unclimbable except by mountain goats and climbing gods, but actually has a route up the mountain (the SE face) that is doable by average folks. It also has incredible views like its more famous northern neighbor, but without the attendant crowds.
The most common route up Whorl is the SE face, which originates from the Spiller Creek drainage. By far the most common approach to Spiller Creek is via Horse Creek Pass out of Twin Lakes (Bridgeport). The Horse Creek trail is easy to follow for the first few miles. However, inside the Hoover Wilderness boundary, the trail gets sketchy as it travels in and out of heavy talus, streambeds and thick brush areas. The last two miles before the pass consist of medium to large talus and bits of permasnow which can be very tiring to negotiate with a large pack. Once at the pass, travel down the Spiller Creek drainage is easy. A few good camping spots exist just south of Horse Creek Pass (see below).
Spiller Creek may also be reached either by hiking up Cold Canyon from the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail out of Glen Aulin and then angling cross country NW into Spiller Creek (this is the long way), or by coming over Virginia Pass from Green Creek and then climbing over the Twin Peaks-Virginia-Stanton ridge (this is also long and arduous, but probably the most scenic approach). Getting over the TP-Virginia-Stanton ridge is accomplished either via Stanton Col (just SW of Virginia Peak) or "Twin Peaks Pass" (just NE of Virginia Peak).
Secor rates Stanton Col as class 3 and this pass may present some difficulties. Use a system of ledges to approach the pass from the east, crossing at a notch near the NE ridge of Stanton Peak. The west side involves a class 3 descent on ledges and loose gullies, then traversing west to avoid a large cliff band above Spiller Creek. If you descend straight down from the pass to Spiller Creek, you may become stranded on these cliffs.
Twin Peaks Pass is easier. Careful routefinding will keep the difficulty to class 2. The east side approach is straightforward, with the main difficulty coming as you climb up the waterfall below the large unnamed lake due north of Virginia Peak (this waterfall can be skirted on its left side, via two conveniently located seams that you will see as you get closer to the falls area). The west side requires some routefinding. As with Stanton Col, a direct descent will leave you stranded on cliffs. The proper way is to traverse diagonally down to the LEFT from the notch just north of Virginia Peak (skirting some very loose class 3 chutes directly below), then quickly reverse course and traverse diagonally down and to the right below these chutes to the Horse Creek Pass area. Twin Peaks Pass has horribly loose talus and scree, but it is a lovely and quick way to get from Virginia Pass to Horse Creek Pass.
In winter & spring, these two passes are used in the Saddlebag to Sawtooth ski tour.
The Horse Creek trailhead originates from the west end of Twin Lakes, which is about 15 miles southwest of the town of Bridgeport, CA. You can park at the private Mono Village campground here for a modest fee (unless you want to walk in to this area for several miles, there is no other alternative to paying for parking at Mono Village).
The approaches from Horse Creek or Green Creek (Virginia Pass) traverse the Hoover Wilderness and thus require a backcountry permit for entry. Permits can be obtained from the US Forest Service ranger station 1/2 mile south of Bridgeport on US 395. The trails are subject to a quota during high season (late June through mid-September). Out of quota season, permits may be self-issued at the ranger station. The trails out of Tuloumne also require permits available from the Tuloumne Meadows ranger station.
When To Climb
For the SE Face route, the best time to climb is late in the season (probably at least after mid-July), when the chockstone at the top of the summit ridge is free of snow and ice and you can tunnel under it. If the chockstone is not clear, you are looking at a very tough, exposed Class 4 climb around it.
There are two recommended camping areas to use as a base for Whorl Mountain. The first is just south of Horse Creek Pass, at the small tarn shown at 10,560'+ on the USGS 7.5 minute quad. However, this campsite may see some traffic due to its location at the pass and at the base of the popular SE Slope route of Matterhorn Peak. Perhaps a better camping spot for Whorl is to continue south from Horse Creek Pass, descending slightly to the obvious bench, until you reach a sandy flat spot just beneath the middle and north peaks of Whorl. Early in the year, you will find very small streams coming down from Whorl Mountain here, and there is also a small tarn on this bench that can be used for water (seen at 10,440'+ on the USGS 7.5 minute quad).
- Whorl Mountain
Trip report and photos from October 2001 trip up Whorl Mountain and Matterhorn Peak, Yosemite NP