It’s amazing how emotions play with your physical abilities and here’s a great example. Last Monday I started swimming again, which in itself is a bomber thing, I love swimming laps in the morning before work. For me, it only takes that first day, that first commitment to go then I’m hooked. I felt like I finally made it over a hurdle that I myself put in the way so the week began upbeat and I was looking forward to see how I would perform in the mountains on Thursday after swimming Monday-Wednesday. For the past couple of weeks I’ve been dealing with a few things that finally came to head on Tuesday and Wednesday. You know how it is…it was the kind of issue that consumes your thoughts and puts undue mental stress on your body. Less sleep, mental stress, and no logical answer just a few things that can destroy your ability to perform physically at a high level and Thursday and Friday I could definitely feel it.
Thursday afternoon I left Walla Walla for the drive over to the Wallowas, specifically the West Fork Walla Walla River Trailhead just outside of the town of Joseph, Oregon at the end of Wallowa Lake. I arrived at a decent time and was packed an on the trail in less than 30 minutes, this time I even remembered to fill out the wilderness area permit and put it on my pack. The trip consisted of hiking up to Ice Lake setting up a camp on the west side of the lake as high as I could Thursday night then climb up to the Matterhorn and a few other peaks on Friday and stay till Saturday if I needed a little extra time to complete my peak list for the week.
I actually felt pretty good Thursday evening, I made excellent progress which I attribute to the swimming earlier in the week. It only took me a few hours to hike from the trailhead up to and past the lake. If you know anything about Ice Lake, it’s basically an uphill hike for 7.5 miles from the West Fork Trailhead. I set up the tent and was inside by 7:30 and by 8:30 I had pumped water and had something to eat and was ready for some sleep.
At 5:00 am my watch alarm sounded and I quickly shut it off and went back to sleep, which is a little unusual, I’m typically excited to start the day when I’m in the mountains. 6:30 am, I turned over and grabbed the watch and noticed the time and forced myself to get up. I just felt lethargic, like all the energy left my body and I knew I had a long hard day planned. It wasn’t that I felt sore, the elevation was below 8000’ so it wasn’t the elevation, and I didn’t push it too hard the night before and then it hit me. I had been so caught up in the mental stress and it finally hit me, sucked all my energy and now I’m facing a day of climbing the highest peaks in the Wallowa Mountains.
One peak at a time, just summit the Matterhorn and when you do the exhilaration of the summit will propel you on to Sacajawea then on to the Hurwal is what I kept telling myself so by 7:30 I was on my way. The Matterhorn is directly to the west approximately 1 mile from Ice Lake and rises up an additional 2000’. There’s an unmaintained trail that’s used by climbers/hikers along with the occasional mountain goat that begins at the west end of the lake and climbs up to the summit of the Matterhorn and the previous evening I set my camp just off the unmaintained trail. I started up the trail feeling blah, you know the feeling, and it was at that point that I started thinking about adjusting my plans for the day. The trail is fairly steep, and it wasn’t too long before I was a few hundred feet above the lake and about even in elevation with Bonneville Mountain which is located to the east. The trail continues upward to the west then to the southwest up a sub-ridge off of the Matterhorn until you reach the summit ridge. It took a couple of hours to hike up the ridge, longer than I had anticipated, but considering how I was feeling I was happy with the progress. I sat on the summit for 15 to 20 minutes enjoying the views and just giving up the remaining thoughts from the previous week. I kept thinking of how lucky I was to be able to see such a majestic landscape.
I would’ve been totally satisfied with spending all day on top of the Matterhorn, but I knew my real objective was further to the north, Sacajawea Peak. Sacajawea Peak is considered to be the highest peak in the Wallowa Mountains, standing at 9838’ while the Matterhorn is listed at 9826’. I’ve noticed that the elevations can change for both peaks depending on which map you’re looking at so some maps show the Matterhorn at over 9840’ which would place the peak higher in elevation than Sacajawea Peak. Since my project requires 500’ clean prominence the Matterhorn is not on the 100 highest list, while Sacajawea peak is, if the Matterhorn was higher than Sacajawea Peak would be dropped, so to be safe both were climbed.
The mile and a half traverse over to Sacajawea Peak is fairly straightforward with a little class 3 to 4 scrambling required through the middle section. The scrambling section was the most enjoyable part of my day; it required my total focus and attention. The limestone ridge had peculiar weathered out formations along with pockets and ledges for foot and hand holds. In no time I was on the final slope up to the summit of the peak. I signed the new summit register that was placed under the rock cairn the previous week, snapped some pics, and ate a power bar and some gorp. Across to the east from the peak you get a great look at the Hurwal Divide, which I had planned on climbing after Sacajawea. Climbing over to the Hurwal Divide (highpoint) would have required a 3.5 mile (one way) traverse from Sacajawea Peak and I just wasn’t feeling it. I’ve grown to know when I’m not “feeling it” to not push it so I decided to head back to Ice Lake eat some lunch and hike back out.
Instead of making the full traverse back to the Matterhorn I traversed back to the intermediate peak that lies between then dropped down the scree slopes into the Ice Lake Basin. I found a few goat trails that made the descent quick and painless. At the base of the scree slope I found a spring flowing directly out of a crack in the limestone so I took advantage of it and filled my water bladder, pure Wallowa Mountain spring water gotta love it. I continued down following a small stream then made a traverse to the south and regained the climbing trail and was back to camp before 2:30pm.
At camp I pulled the fly off the tent, jumped inside for some relief from the mosquitoes, and starting heating water for some ramen noodles. I stayed at camp for a couple of hours relaxing, eating, and drinking. I still felt drained but well enough for the 8 mile walk out so I packed up camp and started the hike. The hike out was uneventful and I was standing at the car by 7:30pm and was off to the R&R in Joseph for an amazing double cheeseburger and large fries. I inhaled the burger on the drive between Joseph and Enterprise. (Yeah I know it’s only 6 miles, but with road construction it took extra time).
I left this trip feeling a little defeated and actually when I got home I was ready to take a week off from climbing to recharge. I was beginning to wonder if climbing for two straight months was starting to take a toll. Why did I take on a project that requires climbing/hiking to the top of 100 peaks and not another list that would only require 30ish? Yes the question popped into my head. I knew from the start that I would have good and bad days in the mountains and this was definitely one of those “days”. After a couple of days to reflect on the climb I’m satisfied with what I accomplished and I know it’s just a matter of time before I’m standing on top of the Hurwal Divide (it’ll make a nice day hike anyway). This week…yes this week I’ll be heading down to the Strawberry Mountains with my sights set on four peaks on the list.