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Matterhorn Add-on Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

View to the Lakes Basin from the Matterhorn summit (bobcat)
At the Matterhorn summit (bobcat)
Snowy cirque below the Matterhorn summit ridge (bobcat)
Purple alpine paintbrush (Castilleja rubida) on the Matterhorn (bobcat)
Ice Lake from the lip of the cirque below the Matterhorn (bobcat)
Sketch of the route to the Matterhorn summit (not a GPS track) (bobcat) Courtesy: National Geographic Topo
  • Connecting hikes: Ice Lake Hike
  • End point: Matterhorn summit
  • Trail Log:
  • Hike Type: In and out
  • Distance: 3.6 miles round-trip
  • Elevation gain: 1,980 feet
  • High Point: 9,826 feet
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Seasons: Summer and early Fall
  • Family Friendly: No
  • Backpackable: Yes
  • Crowded: Summer weekends

Contents

Description

For decades, the Matterhorn was considered the Wallowas’ highest peak, but a remeasurement of the surrounding summits accorded that honor to Sacajawea Peak, two summits north on the ridge at 9,838’. The Matterhorn stands at 9,826’ and is a much easier summit than Sacajawea Peak although both can be reached from Ice Lake. In summer, watch for signs of encroaching thunderstorms: you do not want to be caught at the summit area exposed to lightning, driving rain and low visibility.

A path leads along the north shore of Ice Lake below the scree dominated slopes of the Hurwal Divide. At the far end of the lake, a small alpine beach invites dallying on the way back. Boot paths lead up a small creek tumbling down an alpine slope. Try to keep to the path more traveled to avoid exacerbating braiding of the trail. At some point, the path will head left across the creek, rise to cross another creek, and then progress over a meadow before rising steeply again. In places, the way is marked by small cairns. Isolated whitebark and limber pines decorate rock outcrops here. After the meadow, the beautiful granite benches become less and less vegetated as you ascend into the high alpine zone. Keep heading up along the path and switchback up a high ridge on loose, dark limestone which transitions to light marble on the summit ridge. Looking north, you can see the layout of the ridge lines, with Sacajawea Peak beyond an intermediate marble hump and the dark curving ridgeline of the Hurwal Divide. Below a snow tarn glistens turquoise in a cirque. Stop to check for mountain goats, which could be anywhere in this area or on the Hurwal Divide ridge. Continue heading up, observing a shallow tarn down to the left, and then make a traverse to the ridgecrest. You will probably arrive first at a false summit just a couple of feet below the actual summit, with its register, which is just to the south.

On a clear day, there are views from here across the expanse of the Wallowas. To the south and southwest, there are the Frazier Lakes, the Lakes Basin, the Eagle Cap, Cusick Mountain and Red Mountain, among other sights. One can see north along the U-shaped glacial valley of Hurricane Creek below the Matterhorn’s steep western headwall. East and southeast are Bonneville Mountain (the closest ridge) and then the high ridgeline extending from Mt. Howard in the north to Aneroid Mountain, with the Sentinel Ridge leading south from Petes Point.

It might be tempting to head along the ridge to bag Sacajawea Peak on the same excursion. The first section, to the intermediate hump with its interesting karst “well” is a walk in the park. However, the ridge between this hump and Sacagawea holds several gendarmes whose negotiation will necessitate some exposure. Unless you have the experience and the confidence to make the necessary moves, head back down the Matterhorn and approach Sacajawea Peak from a different direction.

Returning from the Matterhorn’s summit, drop down the ridge and then detour to visit the tarn in the cirque east of the summit ridge. Walk out to the edge of this bowl to a pine-shaded rim to get magnificent views of Ice Lake sparkling below. This is a great lunch spot, with some of the most beautiful terrain in Oregon at your feet. From here, it is a simple cross-country jaunt to connect with the boot path that leads down to Ice Lake.

From the Wallowa Lake Trailhead, the round-trip distance to the Matterhorn's summit is 19.0 miles with an elevation gain of 5,360'.


Maps

  • Maps: Hike Finder
  • Imus Geographics: Wallowa Mountains: Eagle Cap Wilderness
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Eagle Cap Wilderness
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service: Wallowa-Whitman National Forest

Trip Reports

Guidebooks that cover this destination

  • 75 Scrambles in Oregon by Barbara I. Bond
  • Hiking Oregon’s Eagle Cap Wilderness by Fred Barstad
  • 100 Hikes/Travel Guide: Eastern Oregon by William L. Sullivan
  • 100 Classic Hikes in Oregon by Douglas Lorain
  • Oregon Hiking by Sean Patrick Hill

More Links


Page Contributors

Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.