Echo Peaks

26-27 Jun 2004 - by Harlan Suits

From Cathedral Lakes, Echo Peaks look like a rubble pile with a few bumps on top. It's only when you hike over to the south side that you see the striking arc of orange-tinged granite pinnacles that make up this mountain. A strong climber can do them all in a day; however, Steve Cochran and I wanted to camp in the beautiful cirque of upper Echo Creek, so we made a weekend of it. First in line at the Tuolumne kiosk, we were lucky that there were two slots left for the very popular Cathedral Lakes trail. After a 3- to 4-hour hike over Cathedral Pass, we set up our tent at a bubbling creek with Echo Peaks on one side and Matthes Crest on the other. Processions of ant-like climbers could be seen inching along Matthes in silhouette.

We planned to do half of the pinnacles Saturday afternoon and half Sunday morning. Nature had other plans. As we approached the Echo Peak no. 4., a huge wall of cumulonimbus piled up over Matthes, with thunder soon to follow. Roped up and ready to go, we waited for a half hour but the clouds continued to build. It seemed foolish to scale a lightning rod in such conditions, so we bailed. A few drops chased us back to our tent, but the clouds stalled over Matthes and came no further.

Later, as a consolation prize, I hiked up Echo Ridge and enjoyed expansive views of most of Yosemite Park. After dinner Steve pulled out a flagon of red wine, the perfect antidote to high-altitude sickness. The mosquitoes were in town, but not swarming.

The next day we wondered how many peaks we could pack into the day before we had to hike out. We retraced our steps to No. 4's east face. Steve found a stimulating 5.7 start to this fourth-class route. In retrospect, the flakes farther left were probably within the route's rating. Two pleasant pitches brought us to the top of this isolated pinnacle. It seemed the perfect level of difficulty for me, having done little rock climbing in the last three years. We downclimbed a short pitch to the notch between 4 and 3, then enjoyed two easy pitches of fourth class to the summit of 3. From here, we unroped and enjoyed airy third-class climbing to peaks 2 and 1. A delightful scramble so far.

The other pinnacles are more detached from each other than 1 through 4, with a scenic passes in between them. There are 10 peaks total if you consider that Roper's Peak 6 and Secor's Peak 6 are two different pinnacles. Steve and I climbed the north face of Roper 6, which included a short fourth- to low-fifth-class bulge. While descending this peak, we tossed rocks at a large marmot trying to get into our packs. The beast was persistent and wouldn't desist until we actually pelted him a few times. As we left the area, the marmot followed us but we quickly outdistanced him--or so I thought.

Peaks 7 and Secor 6 were fun third-class romps. The latter had a marmot turd on the uppermost rock, and I suddenly realized that I preferred this to the aluminum boxes and jars that some people think should be deposited on mountaintops. Peak 5 was third class. Roper 6 was a treat: I would rate it 5.5 or 5.6. Because of the the rope-eating texture of the rock (very rough, lots of crevices) we avoided rappelling and downclimbed this peak as well. Retrieving my pack, I was shocked to see that numerous little half-moons had been chewed out of the shoulder straps; worse, our furry friend (hereafter known as the marmot from hell, or MFH) had made Swiss cheese of a capilene t-shirt he pulled out of my pack. He must have had a powerful hankering for salty treats. The pack was still usable, but my t-shirt was decidedly punkish, with several large holes.

It was 4:30 and we decided to call it a day. Unclimbed were Peaks 8 and 9, which is the most impressive and hardest pinnacle at 5.7. We descended and packed up our camp. Instead of contouring around to the Cathedral Lakes trail, we took the direct route out over Echo Ridge. On a whim, we polished off Peak 8, a 10-minute climb, before descending into Budd Creek drainage, arriving at our cars at 7:30.

Logistics: I was surprised to find that the hike out from the Echo Peaks ridge only took one and a half hours. The Budd Creek approach is definitely the quickest way to get to Echo Peaks, even if you're going to the south side of the mountain. We found Rick Booth's writeup on Echo Peaks on very useful. On our trip I think we confirmed that the most efficient way to climb the first four peaks is to climb the east face of 4, then traverse 3, 2 and 1.

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