Ice Lake/Matterhorn

Wednesday-Thursday, August 6-7

What can I say? I should have reread Jim Pierce’s report of the similar trip that he and Gerry Roe had made two years before—we might then have been better prepared for what we encountered in trying to get from Matterhorn to Sacajawea. Fred Barstad’s book, Hiking Oregon’s Eagle Cap Wilderness, makes it sound too easy.

As Wednesday was cook’s day off, it was a good choice to do a backpack trip. That morning, after breakfast and cleanup, Scott Hovis, Doug Nelson, Mark Slipp and I left camp for the Wallowa Lake trailhead. We made good time on the trail, not needing to do any backtracking as we negotiated the two early junctions correctly (stay right at East Wallowa and left at Chief Joseph Mountain—a group later in the week apparently took the Chief Joseph trail by mistake). Doug pointed out that the abundant nettle by the trailside wasn’t really nettle—it had the square stems of the members of the mint family.

Soon we were on the Ice Lake trail, across the rather large bridge over the West Wallowa, and zig-zaging our way up the numerous hairpin turns. Far above us we saw the two waterfalls on Adam Creek. Near the lower falls we came upon a couple of horse people who were using a “misery whip” to remove from the trail a large (30" diameter) log that had been preventing horse traffic from reaching Ice Lake. By a quarter before two we had reached Ice Lake, and shortly after two had settled down at a pleasant camp site in the trees just west of the lake.

We spent the rest of the afternoon around camp, replenishing our water supply from the stream next to the climbers’ trail, setting up our tents (Doug’s being his poncho/tarp stretched between some trees as a dew-fly), and watching a couple does wander around (taking special interest in the bushes which we had “watered”.) Scott spotted a herd of goats up on the scree slopes of the Hurwal Divide.

I kept an eye out for the group which was climbing Sacajawea, and planned on returning via Matterhorn and Ice Lake. By my calculations, they wouldn’t get to Ice Lake before 3 p.m. Around five, I spotted a couple descending the mountain—turned out to be Obsidians, but not the expected party. The Jacobsens had preceded us to Ice Lake, and, having decided that there was enough time, went on up to the summit of Matterhorn. They reported that there was no sign of anyone coming across the ridge between Sacajawea and Matterhorn. (They did come upon a group on top—part of a family reunion— the adult of which did not take kindly to John’s criticism of his group’s ill-preparedness for emergencies.)

I had the group up at 4 a.m. the next morning and on the trail shortly after five, Mars still shining brightly in the western sky. I set a mean pace up the mountain, wanting to have ample time to negotiate the ridge between the two tallest peaks in the Wallowas. A short way up the trail we stopped to observe the goats at close range. Even with this delay, a short pause for Mark to have “three breaths”, and the mistake of climbing up to the extended ridge to the north of Matterhorn, we still made the summit in one hour 26 minutes of leaving our camp.

After congratulations all around, and a short break for snacks, and to take in the view of the Wallowas from a new vantage point, we headed north, up over the northern ridge of Matterhorn, and down to the saddle before Noname Peak. The saddle proved to be not nearly the problem that it looked like from above—though rather exposed, there was ample room on either side of the rocky outcrop to get around. The rough surface of the limestone made for easy walking, even on steep parts, so long as sandy spots were avoided.

A short ways up Noname, we came upon a vertical cave that is about 8' across, and who knows how deep. (It looked like there was snow down there.) From there we traversed around on the west side of Noname to avoid having to climb up over it, just to descend the other side. We decided later that this was probably a mistake, and it would have been easier to have stayed on the firmer rock and just gone over the top. Doug led us over the first two gendarmes on the ridge up to Sacajawea. At that point we decided that, as the traverse to Sacajawea was much more work than we had expected, the one peak was enough for the day, and we headed back to Ice Lake.

We were back at our camp by 10:30, and packed and headed down from Ice Lake by noon. (We counted 36 hairpin turns on the way down to the West Wallowa.)

— Wayne Deeter, leader


Ice Lake, Matterhorn in background


“Competition” on the climbers’ trail


Ridgeline from Matterhorn to Sacejawea


Eagle Cap & Glacier Peak


Cave at the base of Noname Peak

— photos by Wayne Deeter

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