Return to Cathedral Peak

12 Aug 2002 - by Andy Steele

Cathedral Peak was my first long roped climb (my first "real" climb being Northwest Books of Lembert Dome--the night before), and I had fond memories of it, so it was great to go backand lead it this year with my friend Caitlin. She had also previously gone up Cathedral, but by the Class 3-4 John Muir route, so we were both psyched to go out for a great day of climbing. Starting up the John Muir Trail, we turned off onto the Budd Lake trail after about a half mile. This trail leads up the drainage to the east of Cathedral Peak, and affords amazing views of the both Cathedral and other Cathedral Range peaks awash in early morning light.

Leaving the trail, we scrambled on slabs and through dusty talus up to the start of the buttress itself. We gathered our senses, then quickly racked up, eager to start the climb before the morning rush hit. There was another party on the first pitch at the lower, traditional start, so we started uphill, and I led up on some steep ledges that quickly turned into a corner. The knobs off to the right above the dihedral looked fun, but probably runout, so I opted to stay in the crack and work around the corner to belay. The corner was small and flaring, so I stuffed in my smallest cam and hoped it would hold, starting out on the undercling. As it turned out, the undercling/lieback wasn't as bad as it looked, probably 5.7, and the fantastic Cathedral Granite lent its unyielding friction, which was greatly appreciated.

Caitlin followed, and then I set off again up through more corners and easy ledges before finally joining up with the more regular route. Another pitch or two brought us to the chimney (5.6) which is one of the classic elements of the Cathedral Peak experience. However, we arrived to find a party of three beginning to make their way through it, so I opted to go out right and climb the crack that leads around the chimney block. (Note to climbers: check out the nasty bloodstain just below the chimney from a bad accident in the summer of 2002. Don't worry, he lived.) The crack proved to be the crux of the climb, being somewhat wide and awkward. After much grunting and swearing, I got comfortable and got in my #3 Camalot as high as I could, then made a few minor offwidthy moves to the top. This crack is probably in the 5.7-5.8 range, if only for its awkwardness.

From the top of the chimney block the climbing is clean, invigorating, varied, and offers up stunning views from every perch and belay. On the last pitch, I led over some blocks and slightly down into the VERY EXPOSED gap just below the summit block. Watch for rope drag on this wandering pitch, and also watch your feet as you go across the gap, because, though it's easy, any fall could be really nasty here. The crack to the summit is exposed and easy fifth-class (5.3-5.4).

The view from the summit is jaw-dropping. Since there didn't seem to be any parties immediately behind us, we lounged on the summit, had some snacks, took some pictures, etc. The bolts that are sometimes on the summit block are just as frequently not there, as was the case last August, but it doesn't realy matter too much. Sure, being able to rappel off is nice, but anyone who has climbed up to that point and has a clear head will have no problem down climbing the short summt crack. I belayed Caitlin down it, then coiled the rope and climbed down myself. We squeezes through the notch facing the north side and skirted across the occasionally exposed slabs, where we then went back over the notch to get to the east side of the peak and scrambled down.

A few more hours brought us back to the car and onto the road to El Portal where we downed Sal's tacos and beer! Great fun!

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