On August 11th my sons Jeremy and Jon, British mountaineer Dave Gregory and I set out from Tuolumne Meadows Campground on the Elizabeth Lake Trail. We continued south past Elizabeth Lake and climbed a use trail for about a mile to a saddle on the long ridge between Johnson Peak and the unnamed peak SE of Unicorn. We walked up and right (NW) for a couple of hundred yards and attained the top of the ridge. A great morning view of the Cockscomb SW across a canyon made our snack break one of the most beautiful I've experienced. We then contoured around to the base of the Cockscomb and made our way to its southern side. We climbed up a gully - big, sandy blocks of granite - to within seventy feet or so of the summit spires. We faced west and broke out the rope at this point. A half-length pitch of easy class five climbing (watch out for possible loose blocks!) ends on the large southernmost summit block. A traverse (starting with a few spectacular 5th class moves requiring stemming between spires) leads to the highest spire, a true spike on the NE corner, the top of which can be patted but not climbed (by me at any rate).
We down-climbed our route and set off across the broad, sandy saddle between Cockscomb and the Echo Ridge. I tripped over various tree roots and boulders, mesmerized by the awe-inspiring views of Matthes Crest to the south. That's an incredible piece of rock! I've got to learn to sit still to watch it, though. My elderly shins don't need more scars. We worked our way up the east slopes of Echo Ridge (much steep talus and tangled scrub pine) to a high notch between the summit crags. Two or three class 3 or 4 rock climbing moves put us on top of the ridge. I found this notch back in 1984. I've not seen it mentioned anywhere, too insignificant, but it's a fairly easy connection between the Cockscomb and the Budd Lake drainage.
We scrambled thirty feet or so up to the summit of Echo Ridge and took a break. Mattthes Crest dominated my attention, but views in all directions were sublime. Echo Ridge is the highest of the Cathedrals and affords unequaled views of Yosemite. We had a perfect day - cool, clear, bright. Climbers atop Cathedral Peak were visible -- Hoffman, Conness, Vogelsang, Clark, you name it.
We headed down the ridge to the SW for about 300 yards. A true sidewalk in the sky, the ridge crest drops off steeply to the SE and can be avoided by the faint of heart. Dave Gregory and Jeremy didn't much like this ridge walk; they thought it looked potentially loose. I must add that it held me without complaint and I'm not a light person. Then we made our way to a sandy saddle just before the dark and spooky-looking Echo Crags. We faced north and tried to find a good way down the talus. After the steep stuff, it was less than a mile to Budd Lake. Jon found a conveniently inclined rock and managed to soak his head upside down and backwards in Budd's soothing waters.
The use trail took us to the main Cathedral Lakes Trail and then to the road. A shuttle came along just as we hit the bus stop. What great timing! Our adventure took eight and a half hours (with the shuttle's help) from tent door to tent door. As near as I can figure, we walked around ten miles. Best of all, no driving was involved.