Little Matterhorn (GNP)

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Montana, United States, North America
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Little Matterhorn (GNP)
Created On: Jun 4, 2010
Last Edited On: Aug 15, 2010


Little Matterhorn

Little Mattherhorn is a small peak that sits above Avalanche lake at the foot of Sperry Glacier. It rises sharply on all sides forming a striking spire that reminds one of the Matterhorn of European fame. The elevation gain from the base is only about 600 ft. While this peak is diminuitive compared to the much higher surrouding peaks, make no mistake, the climb can be intense and has a few exposed pitches that can be dangerous for those with limited climbing skills. If your tolerance to exposure is low, this may not be a climb for you. However, once on top the views are quite rewarding. One can see Sperry Glacier, Snyder lake, Avalanche lake, Floral Park, Mt Edwards, Gunsight Peak and Mt Reynolds among others.

Getting There:

On the summit, Avalanche Lake belowOn the Little Matterhorn with Avalanchle Lake below.
This peak is in Glacier National Park located in Northwestern Montana. To get there follow directions on the Summitpost park home page.

Red Tape:

Little MatterhornApproaching from Comeau Pass

Vehicle single entry fee for Glacier National Park is $25.00 for 7 Days, $12.00 per person for single hiker, motor biker or bicyclist. See Plan Your Visit for other information regarding all of the National Park entrance fee information.

An "America The Beautiful Federal Lands Recreational Pass" goes for $80.00 which gives entrance to all National Parks, National Forests, BLM, US Fish & Wildlife, and Bureau of Reclamation sites for one year from date of purchase.

If you are planning on visiting Waterton Park make sure you have a passport to simplify crossing the border.

See Rules and Regulations governing Glacier National Park.

CLIMB REGISTRATION: You do not have to register for day climbs in Glacier National Park but it is recommended. Backcountry travel regulations can be found at Backcountry Travel. There is also information from the Park Service on Mountain Climbing in Glacier.

As with all hiking and climbing in Glacier National Park use caution and practice good manners with the wildlife. You are in bear country. Carry bear deterrent spray, don’t hike alone and make some noise. For more information please go to the Park's web site for Bear Information. The U.S. Forest Service also has helpful information on Grizzly Bear Management.

Approach Information:

Little MatterhornMeadows and Streams with Gunsight Mountain in the background.

Distance to Summit: 11 miles by Sperry Trail, 10 miles by Snyder Lake route

Elevation Gain: 5400 ft. by Sperry trail to Comeau Pass.

Getting to the base of this peak is not easy and requires some hiking. It requires a full day to summit and return without camping overnight. There are two standard approaches and both start at the Sperry Chalet Trailhead across from Lake McDonald Lodge.

Snyder Lake Approach

The Snyder Lake approach is shorter by about a mile with approximately 500 ft. less of elevation gain, but it is more difficult and about half of it is off trail. To take this approach, hike 4.4 miles on the Sperry trail and take the Snyder lake spur trail that takes off to the left (north). This trail is marked well. Hike to Synder lake. After that the approach is off trail. Climb the cliffs,(class 3,4) at the head of the lake to the highter basin which encloses the second Snyder lake. Bushwhack and boulder hop around the right side of the higher lake to the base of the soaring headwall that connects the Little Matterhorn and Mount Edwards. Climb the right side of the headwall (class 3) and then traverse left to the top of the head wall near the base of the Little Matterhorn. (Source GMS Journal)

West Face Approach via Sperry Trail

The Sperry Trail approach, though longer, is the recommended route and frankly is more picturesque. Hike the Sperry Trail for nine miles to Comeau Pass (8000ft). Looking north towards the foot of Sperry Glacier, beyond the pass, the sharp spire of Little Matterhorn can be seen. Hike "line of sight" towards the peak, picking your way along glacial rock, snow fields and run off streams flowing through carpets of lawn-like grass. The hike is about a mile in distance and a loss of about 600 feet of elevation from Comeau Pass. During summer, this area is like a landscaped garden with natural waterfalls and is very enjoyable.

Route Climbing Information:

Climbing the DihedralThe Lower Section of the climb-climbers seen in dihedral on enlarging photo

Little Matterhorn Route Overlay

Left DihedralThe Dihedral
West Face Route

(See photo with overlaid route graphic) Note-many people bring a short length of rope for short belays on this climb for safety. However, it can be done without rope for strong climbers who are confident in their climbing skills. Use your own best judgement. It is helpful to study the route graphic on this page and then the peak as you approach it to plan your ascent.

Beginning at the south west base of the peak, scramble up a scree field of red rocks and climb short cliffs to a band of red rock in the first tier of high cliffs. Traverse northward along the west face looking for a break in the cliffs that allow a climb to the main south ridge of the peak.

This break is a left facing steep dihedral (two sided chute, with rock sides on the left, open to the right (see photo), class 3,4) and approximately 200 ft long. There are many hand holds and ledges. The rock is generally stable and not crumbly like other areas of the park.

Little MattherhornThe South Ridge extending away from main peak
The West FaceUpper Portion of the Route-climbers seen on upper traverse ledge on enlarging photo
Little MatterhornThe Most Difficult 50 feet
Little Matterhorn Route Overlay

Once on top of the south ridge that extends away from the main peak, scramble onto the main west face and traverse north along a ledge that is farily easily found and negotiated. Continue to look for an opening through the upper cliffs. If you traverse around towards the north side, you have gone too far. Retrace your steps looking for the break in the cliffs that allow you to ascend. Climb the lower section of this break for about 50 ft. and then the most difficult section for another 50 ft (class 4+) to a scree covered ledge.

At this juncture, head north again (left) around a bulge and then scramble up easy class 3 cliffs to this amazing summit.

North Face Route

Little Matterhorn from Avalanche LakeLittle Matterhorn from Avalanche Lake

The North Face Route begins at Avalanche Lake and ascends directly up the north wall to the summit. It has been climbed, but was reported to be extremely difficult with many dangerous pitches. Ascending by this route is not recommended except for the most skilled and accomplished climbers with technical ability.

The elevation gain from Avalanche Lake to the summit is just under 4,000 feet. To reach Avalanche Lake is a 2.9 mile hike along a trail from the Avalanche Lake Trailhead.

Edwards writes that the first ascent was "climbed from Avalanche Lake directly to the summit of Little Matterhorn. They described their first ascent as a grueling technical ascent involving seven very intense pitches. They had difficulty finding safe rappel routes on the descent, and reached Avalanche Lake after sixteen hours on the face".

Camping and Weather:

On the summit of Little Mattherhorn as seen from Comeau PassThe author and echoguy standing on the summit of Little Matterhorn

The nearest campground is a backcountry campground at Sperry.

For those who want a real bed and a great meal the a room can be reserved in advance at Sperry Chalet.

Reservations are necessary for both Sperry Chalet and the Sperry Campground.

The options for camping include:
GNP Campground Information, USFS Campgrounds, Camping on the Blackfeet Reservation or East Glacier Campgrounds.

Weather in the high country can change at a moments notice. Be prepared to carry a light jacket and other gear such as gloves for the frequent weather changes.

Make sure you check out the Glacier Park Weather and always have extra protection if the weather changes.

Essential Equipment

In addition to the usual gear please note that a rope may be needed especially for returning from the summit of Little Matterhorn.

When to Climb:

Little MatterhornLittle Matterhorn from Sperry Glacier Basin

The best times to climb Little Matterhorn are July through September.

Guidebook and Links:

A Climber’s Guide to Glacier National Park; J. Gordon Edwards

Glacier National Park in Pictures

Glacier Mountaineering Society

Visit Montana