Cathedral Peak

30 Aug 1998 - by Tony Cruz

The high country around Tuolomne Meadows is one of the loveliest areas in the Sierra, or the world for that matter. It is made even more beautiful by several nearby mountains with pointy granite spires. One of these is Cathedral Peak, first ascended in recorded history by none other than John Muir himself.

To get there, Greg Johnson, Pat Ibbetson, his brother Ryan and I took the John Muir trail south from Highway 120 across the western end of Tuolomne Meadows, near Pothole dome. We hiked for no more than 2-1/2 easy, forested miles across three small streams. Many flowers were still in bloom and it seemed like early summer. After some gentle switchbacks we left the trail, walking east toward the peak. I spotted a large frog in what looked like a gopher hole. After a few hundred yards of this easy cross-country hiking, we reached the grassy, rocky western slope of Cathedral.

The higher we went, the steeper it got. I fell behind the others and turned north for a bit after I encountered some class 3 boulders and slabs. About 20 minutes later I was surprised to find the others a few dozen yards below me; they had braved the class 3 while I stayed on class 2. By then the saddle between the summit and the Eichorn Pinnacle was in full view. Above us we saw a party of four summit and quickly leave the area. We hiked to a tree just north of the pinnacle beneath the saddle. Ryan decided that he had had enough. He's young and fit, but this was the closest he had gotten to a Sierra summit and he wanted to avoid the more difficult and exposed climbing ahead. We dumped our packs and had a snack. I extracted a half-length of 9 mm rope and a few chocks while Greg and Pat took out a few slings.

The first section was a class 3 crack leading to slabs and ledges. Greg went first and to my surprise Pat asked for a belay. I hopped up behind him without difficulty. The view of the Eichorn Pinnacle and one of the Cathedral Lakes behind it was stunning as was the panorama of the high country. Hundreds of peaks were in view, including Conness, the Sawtooths and Half Dome. We carefully proceeded southward on exposed class 3 slabs. After a few dozen yards there was a very exposed class 3 move that Greg climbed without much hesitation. Pat and I both did that part with a belay from Greg. A scramble of a few yards put us next to the summit block.

Greg scouted and found the crack on a steep 15 foot section leading to the summit. We each took turns poking over a rock to look at the view and tremble at the exposure. We pissed and moaned about how difficult it was going to be to get up. The views of the Cockscomb, Ritter, Lyell and hundreds of other peaks was terrific. After about 20 minutes, Greg decided that he would take a shot at leading, belayed from below by me. He is a much better rock climber than Pat and me and he put on his rock climbing shoes. Neither Pat nor I would have braved it, even if we had brought climbing shoes. Greg draped a sling between two boulders behind me and he was off after I clipped in. He hopped over a rock, into a depression, over a rib, into another depression and went up the class 4 crack in just a few minutes. On the summit he clipped into a sling on two bolt anchors. We screamed happily as he stood on the top for a victory photo, spreading out his arms.

We weren't sure if the rope was long enough for a rappel, since the landing was well below the belay point. So after Greg threaded the rope through the sling, he down climbed as I belayed him. He was back in no time and Pat and I were now very confident now that we could do the summit top-roped. Pat took a long time to get up and down. He was a bit of a chicken, refusing to stand on top like a man. But he made it. Then it was my turn, with Greg belaying me. I took several minutes to make the first move into the crack, but after that it was quick and easy. I flopped onto the summit to say hello to a guy who had just soloed it the hard way from the east. I stood up, had my picture taken, took several photos and got down.

Greg belayed a solo climber who appeared while we were summiting and whose timing was perfect for us to assist him. Two other rock climbers summited and gracefully left the summit and went on to do the Eichorn Pinnacle.

Greg belayed Pat and me over the tough section on the way down and Pat went ahead of us to join his brother. I asked for a rappel on the last section (wondering why Pat had asked for a belay on the way up but not on the way down). Greg threaded the rope over a 2 inch root and pulled on the rope to show me how secure it was. I insisted that he thread it over several roots and he did, after making sure that the resulting friction would not be too much for us to pull the rope down.

Ryan was bored and eager to go home when we reached the tree. He had been waiting for hours. He and Pat left ahead of us. Greg stayed back while I labored down. I tried to persuade him to leave, but he stayed within shouting distance until I was out of the class 2 talus Then he disappeared into the forest.

Greg said that he caught up with the other two and took off at 7:20 p.m. I made good time and got to my van at 7:09, seeing no sign of them, so one of us had the incorrect time. The round trip was 10 hours, but nearly half of this was spent on the last couple of hundred feet. I think most climbers could do this route in 5 or 6 hours without hurry.

NOTE ABOUT YOSEMITE CREEK CAMPGROUND: We met Pat and Ryan at the trailhead after breakfast on Sunday but Greg and I camped at the Yosemite Creek campground on Saturday. This campground is about 5 miles south of Highway 120 and the road to it is rough. But I was told by a ranger that it had only filled up three times this year, which is why I tried it. The Tuolomne Meadows Campground is more conveniently located but it filled up on Saturday.

NOTE ABOUT TUOLOMNE LODGE: It has a nice restaurant that opens at 7 a.m. Greg and I took advantage and had a "Lyell" breakfast there: two eggs, a huge serving of hashbrowns and bacon or ham and toast and coffee for about seven bucks.

NOTE ABOUT THE YOSEMITE HIGH SIERRA CAMPS: At the restaurant, I heard several people talking about them. These five camps and the Tuolomne Lodge are situated on a trail loop in the high country, spaced 5 to 10 miles apart. I obtained a lottery application and will take my whole family on a loop hike next summer if I win. If you are interested, send in your application no later than November 30 deadline.

Bob Day adds:

> Greg belayed a solo climber who appeared while we were
> summiting and whose timing was perfect for us to assist him.

That solo climber was me. Thanks again for the belay! I was indeed most fortunate to run across your group up there. The exposure on the summit block was a bit more than I was comfortable with. Easy moves, but no room for error.

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