Climbing Matthes Crest
Matthes Crest is one of the iconic, classic High Sierra climbs, and it’s been on my todo list for god knows how long. A granite knife ridge cutting straight through the sky, this beast of a rock is tucked away in the backcountry of Tuolumne Meadows away from Highway 120 and any main trails. This was my one sufferfest this summer that didn’t feel too much like suffering. We somehow ended the long day still smiling and laughing.
Rewind to one week prior, Josh and I headed out to Tuolumne for a weekend of ticking off as many multi pitches as possible. Luck was not on our side; I ended up getting sick a few days prior. After one climb on Dozier Dome, one impossibly short nap, and lining up behind many groups of climbers, we decided that it was probably better for me to just go home. So home we went on a beautiful Saturday in the High Sierra. It was bad. Runny nose, extreme congestion, constant peeing, boogers everywhere. I don’t think I left the house until the Thursday after.
With Matthes Crest slated for that coming weekend, Josh asked me what I wanted to do. Should we go? Should we save it for another day when I was at 100%? I’d barely gotten out all week and I was still a walking mucus machine. I was maybe at around 75% better. It was the end of August; summer was coming quickly to a close. Soon, Josh was going to be extremely busy with school. It was now or never. Per Friday summer rituals, we loaded up the car and drove down to Tuolumne.
We missed our first wakeup call but still made it to the Cathedral Lakes trailhead by 7am. It seemed relatively empty. Not too many people were around. Maybe there wasn’t anyone doing Cathedral or Matthes today? We crossed our fingers, loaded up our packs and headed in. Determined to not have an epic like the last time we were on this trail, we kept our eyes peeled for the climbers’ trail that lead to Cathedral Peak. Soon we crossed the creek and were headed towards Buck Lake. From Buck Lake, we traveled west towards a giant scree slope—our way into the valley where Matthes lay. The going was slow; I took two steps forward and one step back each time. And then there she was, Matthes Crest in all her beauty.
We got to the base of Matthes around 10:30/11am. I was pretty proud of myself for pushing through, despite all the coughing and nose blowing I was doing. But we were damn wrong about the crowd of people. It was a party at the base. Climbers were everywhere. Josh and I looked at each other. There was no way we weren’t going to be stuck behind a line of people. We didn’t want to run out of daylight. We set a 1pm turnaround time. If we weren’t on the wall by then, we’d head out and try again tomorrow. A long wait was ahead of us so I settled down for a nap in the shade.
Josh gently shook me awake and said that the crowd was clearing out. I looked up and saw hordes of people making their way up the approach pitches, all over the wall. We got our harnesses on and racked up, ready to roll. As soon as the people on the line we chose we’re off the first pitch, Josh started on his way up. I think we ended up breaking this part into three short pitches to avoid climbing up the next follower’s butt. By the time we reached the ridge line, there wasn’t a person in sight. Josh tucked the rope into his pack and we began to traverse.
We took our time and had the whole ridge to ourselves until just below the South Summit. There were parties up top who’d set up a highline between the two summits. Everyone who was on the ridge before us was backed up below the South Summit trying to rap. Two guys who were doing the Tenaya-Matthes-Cathedral linkup slung some rocks and were rapping down right below us.
It wasn’t worth sitting there waiting along the ridge for our turn to summit and rap. The linkup guys had the right idea and we followed suit, rapping some parts and down climbing others. Unlike Cathedral Peak, we didn’t feel like having a ridiculous epic. Unlike North Peak and Conness, I didn’t want to cut my feet off or never climb those two again. We’d just have to come back which is never a bad thing. The hike out of the valley felt like the roughest part of the day. It seemed as if we’d never reach the scree slope that signaled downhill trail for the rest of the day. We had plenty of time so we hiked at a leisurely pace, taking in Cathedral Peak at sunset—which was much more relaxing than being on top of it during sunset, and marveling at just how beautiful Tuolumne was.
We didn’t summit. We turned around. But it was okay. It was a pretty spectacular day.
Gear: Norrøna bitihorn lightweight pants, Pivotte Touring Tank, Woolx Basecamp Hoody, Adidas Outdoor Flyloft Jacket, Outdoor Research Isolation Pack, Salewa Firetail 3 Approach Shoes, La Sportiva Mythos, Black Diamond Solution Harness