And They Came in Droves ...

5 Sep 1999 - by Michael Gordon

Doug Simerlink and Michael Gordon (Southern California Mountaineers Assoc. - SCMA) successfully summitted Cathedral Peak via the triple-star classic SE Buttress (5.6, II) on 4 September 1999. However, we were far from the only church-goers his day.

We had attempted this route about a month previous, but due to my haste in flying up the trail and not reading the beta first, we walked past the climbers trail and kept on going: all the way to the Cathedral Lakes cutoff. We scrapped our climb that day, but here we were again, a month later to get it right. I find that the more I technical climb, and the more accomplished I become, my basic walking skills and simple trail navigation skills diminish. But, boy, can I read a climbing route topo......

This time, rather than waking up real early, we figured we'd wake up casually, enjoy some nice tofu scramble for breakfast, and saunter over to the Cathedral Lakes trailhead. No surprise, many cars were found there, with a few parties gearing up to go. We would travel light: I went in wearing my harness and pro, tennis shoes, the rope, and a Camelbak. Doug carried his half of the rack, and the ultra-light summit pack (carried by the second) which would hold our shoes and his two quarts of water.

We blazed up the climbers trail (found easily this time!) passing three or four more heavily laden parties with boots and packs. We must have reached the buttress in about 1.5 hours or less.

The right hand start was open, which we immediately jumped on. Since we were climbing on a 60-meter rope, we dispatched the first two pitches as one. Doug brought me up to his belay, and I took the next pitch, quickly catching the party in front of us at the base of the 5.6 "chimney". I arrived there just as the leader of a two-man team entered the "chimney". Here's where all the BS began.

I brought Doug up to the ledge, and another team of two hit the ledge to my right, just as Mike Chen and Juan Carlos Marvizon (from the SCMA) were converging on the ledge from a left-hand variation. I granted the "chimney" to Mike Chen (before us) since he was in mid-pitch. In all, I must have been on that damn ledge at the base of the chimney for at least an hour-and-a-half, waiting on one slow team, and giving it to a fellow climbing team before we would finally continue. We would have gone for one of the variations next to the chimney, but we wanted to stay true to the "classic" route as indicated by the topo.

Before departing from the dearly beloved ledge, as we looked down the buttress, we could see helmets of all colors on the heads of the throngs climbing many variations on routes - all converging on the "chimney". It was beginning to feel like the "Hillary Step" on Everest. At one point, Doug even yelled at climbers to halt at lower belay spots, when they could clearly see a full ledge, but continued to come. It was verging on ridiculous, and our patience was wearing thin.

Finally, Doug led off, into the "chimney", quickly dispatching it. While I belayed Doug, I had two parties to my right inconsiderately and loudly chit-chatting (especially one particularly annoying team), and another team to my left flagrantly and unnecessarily using Motorola radios (on full volume) for unnecessary and non-vital communication. I've never been more pissed off while climbing.

Doug put me on belay (which I had trouble hearing because of the talkers), and I got the hell off that ledge and into the "chimney" real quick. I've used quotes on the word "chimney" because it is more akin to a tremendously deep, off-width crack which requires only one to two moves to squeeze into, and then the climbing literally becomes face/crack climbing inside of it for 20 or 30 feet. One could fall inside the thing and have their fall arrested at the bottom constriction, much like falling in a crevasse.

I took the next pitch, taking a variation far to the left, with runout and thin pro for nearly the whole pitch (all tcu's). There was some exciting exposure on this pitch and delicate moves around a shallow arete and into a dihedral, which Doug felt went at 5.9. On we climbed, trying to stay the hell away from people, especially that particular annoying party who couldn't refrain from loudly chit-chatting, continuously obscuring the sometimes difficult communication between leader and follower.

Doug took the next short pitch, which ended at the last generous ledge, just below the summit. I took the final pitch, taking a nice variation to the right on a thin finger crack and a layback flake which went around 5.8. Finally, I reached the small, one-man block just under the summit, crossing under Juan Carlos' double ropes. As I brought up Doug, Mike Chen arrived on the summit, and much to his dismay, ended plopping himself on the disposed ashes of someone. Though he wanted to doubt it, it was evident the little white fragments were indeed human bone. Curiously, whomever deposited the ashes of their friend or loved one did not scatter them or throw them - the ashes were just poured out into a relatively neat pile - perhaps for nature to take care of as she wished.

We thought we would have the summit to ourselves for a few minutes, but no - here came the particularly annoying party again. We quickly rigged a double-rope rappel and bailed. The summit views of the Yosemite high country were astounding, but were tragically and terribly marred by multiple fires to the west - some looking like controlled burns, one looking like a very large, out-of-control fire spewing smoke high into the area in the form of a mushroom cloud.

The downclimb might have been uneventful, but as we began descending the northwest side of Cathedral (continuing on to complete an entire traverse of the peak), the particular annoying party launched a large rock (which could have been prevented by more care) at Juan Carlos' head nearly missing him by a foot or so.

Juan Carlos and Mike took the descent back to the base of the buttress to fetch their packs, while Doug and I continued down the sometimes sketchy polished slabs (especially in Nike tennis shoes) which often required technical downclimbing. We met the Cathedral Lakes trail, walking the "forever" three mile walk back to the truck - our third time walking this trail in a month.

There we sat, on the gate of my truck, enjoying chips, salsa, and ale. Reminiscing about the day's climb, we reveled in the fabulous beauty of the Tuolomne Meadows region and terribly glad to have left the crowds behind us. I put that sweet bottle of ale to my lips, and OH SHIT, here comes that particularly annoying team again.......

Tom Kenney adds:

WOW!! Great TR. Sounds like quite the 'religious experience'... (:-D)

I know how you could have dealt with the motormouths...you and your partner should have broken out in a spate of yodeling, or maybe stick with the 'cathedral' theme and perform some Gregorian chant.


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