The Fun Stuff
If I ever got stuck on a desert island, I'd hope to get stuck with Survivorman, Frank Sinatra, and Emeril.
Unfortunately these were not the people with whom I set out from Tahoe on the fine, sunny morning of March 19 to scamper up and snowboard down the Matterhorn. The sun and blue sky was a welcome sight after months stuck in college up in Washington... a place where, unlike California, it actually snows.
No, the three men in the car were a far different set of characters. I haven't yet had the relief of climbing with fellow women, and I very much look forward to the experience. Meanwhile, I'm happy with the boys. For their privacy and safety, they will be referred to hereafter as Hippy, Manbeast, and Old Man. Hippy has a dog, lives out of his truck, and likes to make random pleasantly phrased comments about the evils of Western medicine. Manbeast is pretty self-explanatory, expressing affection only toward his fat cat, his girl, and his dinner. Old Man is a 20-something work-from-home troll of a man; the highlights of his day are inspecting the mess of his growing beard for tasty bites of last night's dinner and glaring out at the world over his black cup of coffee each morning. I'm Manbeast's girlfriend, who earns her space on the truck by keeping up, always sharing her leftovers and dropping hints whenever the boys start climbing up the wrong peak ("Wow, that peak way over there is awful pretty. Looks kinda like the one we were plannin' on climbing, don't it guys?").
We had shoved our snowboards and mountain gear in the back of Hippy's big red truck (to the objections of the poor dog) and set off on the highway. We passed many redneck outposts scattered across western Nevada and eastern California, butted up against the awesome Sierras jutting out of the desert. I'd gladly buy a trailer and work as a casino waitress just to wake up every morning to that view. And the gas prices.
The guys are solid backcountry snowboarders (when they get on the right mountain), but when it comes to finding the greasiest, saltiest grub in the land, those boys shine. About 45 minutes north of Bridgeport is the Topaz Lodge 24-hour Casino. It's a gem, and the locals agree -- they were in stuffing the slots after church that Sunday morning. (Desperate exaggerated stereotyping aside, everyone we met were truly wonderful, friendly people.)
Coming up to the peak
Bellies full, the climb began. Manbeast, Old Man and I struggled to navigate our splitboards up the first three miles of patchy snow and bushes. Hippy was the mule, hauling his board on his back to camp in the end of the valley around 8000'. He had strapped a bottle of red wine to the back of his dog to haul up, so we enjoyed the crisp evening in luxury and splendid company.
We awoke at the crack of 10 AM to solid cramponing snow.
Peeping over the summit
Some skiers we had seen the day before had caught the early part of the corn-window around 1:00, so we figured we'd make a lazy ascent and aim for a 3:00 ride. We rolled into the bowl below the Matterhorn, and then huffed our way up the east couloir to the saddle. The expanse of the Sierras laid out before us. I've spent most of my time in the central and north Cascades, and I've got to say, the Sierras take the cake. I only say that because as an ex-Forest Service ranger, I hate trees. Manbeast pulled me into a wind-protected corner and we slipped out of our crampons for the last scramble to the summit.
Hippy's dog summited. I hope Jack doesn't hear that.
The descent line
We dragged our snowboards over the rige to take a peep at Ski Dreams. Old Man reached the top of the line a bit ahead of me. He stabbed his snowboard into the snow and let out a whoop. "Oh man, this is going to be epic!" he shouted at me. "But I don't like epic," I replied, thinking he was kindly telling me it was suicide. It wasn't until I too touched the snow that I realized we were standing atop a beautiful descent line of delicious, wind-packed powder.
The cool chute
It was the best line I've had yet. We floated down Ski Dreams into the bowl, playing with the curves of the wide chute, and then swung across the valley to the top of the final chute through 100' beautiful walls to camp. Only the finely aged cheese and sausage we had waiting for us at camp were able to break the grins on our faces just enough to chew.
Camp to car, on the other hand, blew chunks. Postholing for three miles, I've discovered, isn't any more fun when you have a snowboard on your back.
To end on a positive note, the 24-hour casino diner was waiting for the boys with platters of nachos, cheese sticks, cheese-fried steak and big hamburgers to coat our aching muscles with fat, grease, and calories. We satisfied our stomachs and burped out happy noises of delight.
Summary of Useful Information
The conditions of Matterhorn at the time were perfect for touring and climbers accessing with snowshoes except for the first three miles, where extensive postholing and sketchy snow conditions must be suffered. From about 8000' upwards, we had solid cramponing in the morning up the east couloir to the base of the summit scramble. We had wind-packed powder coming down off the top of Ski Dreams around 3 PM. Even the chute pictured had good edging snow.[img:281512:alignright:small:The cool chute] Spring corn!