Cathedral Peak, Tuolomne Meadows
In early June, 2000, Bob and I headed west for a week-long climbing trip to the Yosemite and Lake Tahoe climbing areas in California. Bob had been to these areas before, but it was my first venture away from East Coast crags. This is my account of our ascent of Cathedral Peak. I'm just now getting around to posting it.
Another (shorter) version of this trip report (with Pictures!) can be found HERE
In the High Country of Yosemite National Park, North of Yosemite Valley, is Tuolomne Meadows. On Tuesday of our week-long trip, we headed for the quieter, cooler, more "backcountry" routes of Tuolomne. We had a leisurely breakfast at camp, then drove north on the Tioga road about 45 minutes, stopping occasionally to admire the view or a waterfall. By the time we got on the trail, it was after 10 am. We were headed for Cathedral Peak, an awe-inspiring mountain with a dramatic shape. The hike in was enjoyable. We saw only one other party (briefly) on the approach, but didn't see them (or anyone) again all day. The last part of the hike involved crossing some snow, and finally, steep talus. This part was very tiring.
So we made it to the base, and I was pretty tired. We had some lunch, met some locals (marmots), and made our "preparations" for a long day's climb. So we begin climbing. I take the first pitch, and things are going well until the flake I am climbing runs out. Face moves are involved to reach the next flake system, which looks bad to me. Instead, I angle up left, taking us off route. I have to do an unpleasant traverse right to get us near a decent belay stance.
Bob takes the next pitch and thinks maybe we started from the ground in the wrong place, but now we are on-route. Actually, you could probably climb anywhere along this buttress and it would still be 5.6-5.7. I lead the third pitch and had a little bit of routefinding trouble. I downclimbed a section after running out of holds and gear, then went left to what seemed like easier ground, then belayed from a cozy alcove sheltered from the wind, but a little on the (slim) shady side too.
Bob leads the next pitch (the "chimney" pitch). We both had to adjust our gear and packs to get through this pitch. After Bob completed the chimney pitch, I followed and lead another short pitch. The wind and exposure were easily felt up here. Then Bob lead toward the summit. I followed to find Bob below the summit block and the sun going down on the other side of the mountain. The summit block was a square-ish protrusion to my right about 30' high with a double hand-crack running up the side. "It's getting late; we've got to go!"
says Bob. "But we're *this* close to the summit!"
says me. "Hurry up!"
He's been to the summit on a previous trip, so I lead up the 30 feet of double crack (with one piece of gear) to the summit and snap a few photos. The summit is about 6' square, with lots of exposure as you leave the safety of the hand crack and top out. (check out the pictures noted above) What a view!
I downclimbed the summit block to join Bob (I couldn't rap from the bolt anchors because Bob didn't join me on the summit, in order to save time.) And so we began our descent. This is the epic portion of the story. The downclimb route on the back side of the mountain was mostly 4th class with some exposure, but was difficult to find and had plenty of snow. The sunset was beautiful, though certainly not welcome.
When we finally downclimbed the main portion of the rock, we had to traverse a steep snowfield. Bob's advice: "Grab a rock and use it as an ice ax." With that, he heads across. I followed cautiously. After that, it's down the very loose scree with cries of "ROCK!" to anyone who might be below. This is about when it gets dark and I start to feel exhausted. We had a little routefinding trouble in the dark, but not too bad, because we had a creek to follow toward the road and our rental car. Two or three hours later (I lost track) we emerged at the car and I thought I was dead. My legs were like rubber and I was just in pain. We got back to camp around 11pm and crashed, too tired to eat. Can't wait to do it again! Miscellaneous:
Routes/ratings: Cathedral Peak, Southeast Buttress, 5.6 (var. 5.7), 10,940' , Class III, 5 to 7 pitches
Guidebooks: Rock Climbs of Tuolumne Meadows or Sierra Classics
Getting there: Fly into San Francisco. Rent a car and drive to Yosemite. Tioga road north to Tuolomne.
Where we stayed: Hodgdon Meadows Campground, Yosemite (make reservations early)
Gear needed: Standard rack, Set of nuts, mid-sized cams, plenty of runners, YMMV.
Where we ate: Camp food. Stock up at a market when driving in from San Francisco.
Weather: Though warm in the Valley in June, the high country can be chilly. Hiking in a T-shirt and long pants was fine. A jacket was definitely needed when climbing in the shade and after dark. Good approach shoes and a headlamp a must. Be prepared.