Sierra Summits are All About the Journey

Posted on in by John Degrazio

The 2014 Sierra peak bagging season is unofficially over. Another excellent year of Yosemite adventures is winding down to a screeching halt. As I gear up for some of the biggest adventures of my life over the next 14 months, I want to share two of my greatest trips of 2014.


Whorl Mountain and Northeastern Yosemite from Matterhorn Peak by John P. DeGrazio

I recently spent a Sunday in Northern Yosemite on one of the park’s lesser known, but no less dramatic 12,000+ foot summits: Matterhorn Peak. This one had been on my short list of treks to complete in 2014, and it was a thrill that was shared with four other mountaineer friends.

We completed the 14 mile journey in 11 hours as some of us were noticeably sluggish. It was, after all, the end of the season. The day started early, but apparently not early enough at Twin Lakes campground just outside of Bishop, CA. After hiking through Horse Canyon, we hit several talus slopes that bogged us down a bit. We actually hiked into Yosemite National Park from the Hoover Wilderness. A second class ascent up the Matterhorn was all that separated us from our goal.


On the Matterhorn Summit by John P. DeGrazio

On the ascent, I was feeling a bit fatigued. A couple of last minute tours that week had me attempting my third 2000+ foot climb in four days. The Matterhorn hike gained over 5,000 feet. I experienced what I can describe as an outer body experience on this climb. With weaker legs, I approached the remaining section of scrambling like I was guiding myself. It was almost surreal how I caught myself giving instructions to my legs as if they were not my own. This new technique was very effective, and I’m excited to try it on future excursions. In the end, we all were happily atop Matterhorn at 12,279 feet. The return was a bit monotonous, especially since the last couple of hours were spent descending talus in the dark. We were thrilled to make it back to Bridgeport to celebrate with juicy Rhino burgers.

August was another successful month with a summit of Mt. Tyndall (14,018 ft). I was able to share this experience with another close friend, and we were able to find success in the wake of a failed summit attempt on a different peak the previous day. Tyndall is a classic Sierra Nevada California third class climb and one of the most fun routes I have ever ascended. The trailhead is outside of Independence, CA and about 20 miles north of the Whitney Portal.


Shepherd's Pass at Sunrise by John P. DeGrazio

I arranged my schedule to meet my partner after a day of work guiding in Yosemite National Park. Work ran late so we didn't hit the trail until 8:30pm. Backpacking in the dark is not for the faint of heart, but is actually a great experience with much cooler temperatures than trekking during summer sunlight hours. At about 1am, we decided to drop our gear and bivy under the stars. We woke up to an amazing sunrise the next morning just below Mt. Keith. After establishing camp, we headed up Shepherd’s Pass. It wasn't very long but quite a challenge, especially since it was our plan to camp at Anvil and make this trek each of the next two days as well. Upon completing our scouting hike for the next 2 days, we were graced by the presence of a mountain lion about 30 feet away from us in our camp just after dinner. We decided to sleep in the tent that night.Our journey up Tyndall followed a failed attempt at Mt. Williamson which is also over 14,000 feet. High winds and poor route data led us to conclude we should descend before making a final attempt at its summit. One good thing came from approaching one of the false summits. We saw a big horn sheep on the back side of Big Willy which helped us view our failure as a success. With so many wins on several mountains, we were both at peace with our decision to climb another day.


Mt. Tyndall from Mt. Williamson by John P. DeGrazio

After a decent night sleep, we decided to head up the pass one more time to attempt Tyndall. Witnessing our third consecutive beautiful sunrise energized us up the pass. Tyndall’s class 3 was much easier that Williamson because it was hard granite as opposed to the loose talus on Willy’s slope. We shared an exceptional view on the summit and truly reflected on the value of the journey and how it isn't always about making a summit. As you may have guessed, we trudged back to our truck with the help of our headlamps and made it to Lone Pine for some delicious Mt. Whitney burgers with five minutes to spare before the restaurant closed.

Sharing your greatest adventures and burgers with close friends helps an explorer gain much needed perspective. You don’t always need to acquire a summit to be successful. The journey is what’s important and finding the right people to do it with help make the memories spectacular. Something tells me we’re not going to find good burgers in Nepal, however.

John Degrazio

John has hiked and biked through thousands of miles of the Sierra Nevada and also enjoys the sport of rock climbing which offers incomparable adrenaline rushes and unique perspectives.

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