Little Matterhorn

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

September 18, 2005

Dave Svilar, Will McElwain


The main attraction is the scramble along the summit ridge from left to right.  Mostly 3rd class with a move or two of 4th on beautiful granite.

* photos by Will

I'd like to say that my memories of the fall of 2005 were fond ones.  Perhaps there is no better place to be than Colorado in the fall with its incredibly stable weather patterns, mild temperatures, and outrageously brilliant aspen leaves.  While these events were taking place in the great outdoors I was waging a battle inside the walls of an institution called "Rocky Mountain High."  I was less than one month into my first year as a high school science teacher just beginning to realize that teaching is one difficult job.  The guilt associated with my ineffectiveness at my new profession was eating away at my sanity, and most importantly, my sleep.

I desperately needed something positive to happen in my professional life.  As if god himself had heard my non-existent prayers, in walked a misfit boy to my 2nd period introductory science course named Kevin.  With a shaky grasp on my curriculum I often resorted to classroom conversations that were horribly off-topic, many of which included questioning students about their personal lives.  Kevin instantly made it clear that climbing was his one and only interest.  Here was a student that I can connect with I thought to myself.  Teachers enjoy picking individual students from their pupils in which they will focus their attention, much like the bouldering fanatic who spends days or months trying to climb the same 12 feet of rock.  Kevin would become my "project".  I fantasized about taking this young student-climber under my wing and showing him the ways of rock, science and life.  After growing to become a successful climber and family man he would hearken back to his days at Rocky Mountain High and point to his relationship with Mr Svilar as the real turning point in his life.  He'd tell others, "There are some great teachers out there, but there's only one Mr Svilar.  He was more than just a teacher - an inspiration and guiding light.  A true icon of the profession."

I wish I could tell you that the relationship between Kevin and I blossomed through our love of climbing, but sometimes truth is a bitter pill.  Kevin dropped out of school two weeks later citing my worthless class as a deciding factor to forego high school in favor of a job browning taco meet at the local Qdoba's.  However, all was not lost as I did get my hands on his guidebook, "Colorado Mountain Scrambling Routes" (or something like that).  Looking for something that didn't require ropes I convinced Will to meet me in Estes Park for an outing on a route recommended in the book on a satellite peak of the more famous Notchtop, called Little Matterhorn.

Dragging myself out of the drudgery of my failures back in Fort Collins, Will and I marched up the trail from Bear Lake past the turnoff for Flattop and into a cirque below Notchtop filled with several mildly attractive lakes.  We were to climb Little Matterhorn, but even as we trudged up its slopes I couldn't keep my eyes off Notchtop which loomed above us and, at least to me, seemed to beckon.  Notchtop would have to wait, and once on the summit ridge the Little Matterhorn gave us what we came for.  Scrambling eastward towards the true summit we scrambled along beautiful granite which intermittently provided fun moves and titillating (always wanted to use that word.  Look for it again in future write-ups) exposure in a setting that was spectacular if one could ignore neighboring choss-pile Flattop.

It was fairly obvious when the scrambling was complete as the ridge ended at an abrupt cliff.  If that wasn't obvious enough other scramblers had built the most obnoxious cairn I'd ever seen that could have easily been mistaken for a small house.  At one point we stopped on the ridge so I could kick a small boulder off the edge of the cliff.  This was truly one of my most memorable geologic re-arrangements.  Next time I will make a point to kick off that enormous cairn.

The enjoyment with Will on a beautiful Sunday in the park was short-lived as I had to return to the reality that was beginning to be my life.  It had been awhile since Sunday had meant five days of consecutive work, and my Sunday night blues had become as consistent as Colorado high pressure in the fall.  When I attempted to return the book to Kevin at Qdoba the manager informed me that he'd been fired four days prior.  I accepted the book as a small token for my pain and suffering and added it to my large shelf stuffed with guidebooks.  However, instead of grabbing for another guidebook and another outing, I grabbed for my gradebook.  Back to my job.  Back to my job where my motto was looking like "No Child Wants to Come Back."  

Notchtop beckoned, but would have to wait for another day.


Dave slithers through the squeeze chimney.


The enormity of the view is surpassed only by the size of the cairn.


Will gets artistic as the camera looks towards Flattop and Longs Peak.


Dave takes some of his frustrations out on a large rock that he kicked over the cliff.


Dave scrambles the ridge while showing his better side.


One of the few aspen trees in RMNP.

-written March 2006

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