It’ll be easy, I said. It’s only a few pitches of 5.6, I said. We’ll be in and out with tons of time to frolick and lounge, I said. That’s how I talked my friend, Joe, into spontaneously driving to Tuolumne Meadows with Josh and I to climb Cathedral Peak with us one June weekend.
I didn’t lie. It wasn’t hard. It was six pitches of 5.6 or easier because of traffic jams, a little more than anticipated. But tag it and bag it? Nah. What we thought was going to be a short adventure turned into a 14 hour sufferfest.
We arrived at our dirt pullout outside the park around 1am. Bleary eyed and exhausted, the three of us stumbled around, set up our cowboy camps and passed out within minutes. Sunrise came too soon; we’d set an 8am set out time. We packed up all our things, shoved them in the back of the already stuffed Ford Focus and jetted off to the Cathedral Lakes trailhead.
The road was already rapidly filling up when we arrived. We made a quick breakfast of oatmeal, racked up, packed our snacks and started on the trail. Josh and I each assumed the other knew where we were going.
Within fifteen minutes, we passed the well defined climbers’ trail off the side of the main trail. We kept hiking. And hiking. And hiking. After a good few miles of uphill, we stopped to look at our map.
We had two options: keep going the way we were going and hike all the way around Eichorn Pinnacle to the back side of Cathedral, or go back the way we came and take the proper climbers’ trail to the base of the climb. We chose the latter.
We retraced our steps and about two hours later, ended up where we needed to be. Because of our late start, there were several parties starting all over the base of Cathedral Peak. We opted to wait it out for a bit and began climbing around 2pm, hoping that most of the traffic was gone. We were wrong. I led the first pitch. Josh led the second.
By the time we’d gotten to the third pitch, there were people everywhere, climbing over our rope in an attempt to beat other people. We opted to skip the traffic jam chimney and skirted around it to the left. We spent a lot of time waiting for belays to open up, and the sun began to sink in the sky.
The three of us summited around sunset with one other person belaying up his second. Joe and I lowered off the summit, placing gear for Josh to down lead. Our ropes got stuck, tension was high. It was a mess. Light was fading fast and none of us had brought headlamps.
The two people coming down after us gave us a bit of light for the down climbing, the bush rap, and the crappy descent trail. We got really lucky. We ended up losing them as our pace slowed on the way out and hiked the rest of the way via iPhone light. The three of us reached the car around 11pm, chugged a bunch of water and stuffed a bunch of snacks in our mouths. Our bodies ached, feet hurt, skin fried… but it was quite the adventure.
Gear: Outdoor Research Isolation Pack, Black Diamond Creek Pants, Pivotte Touring Tank, Mountain Hardwear Desna Grid Fleece Jacket, Adidas Outdoor Flyloft Jacket, SCARPA Iguana Shoes, Black Diamond Solution Harness, La Sportiva Mythos Shoes
A note on Cathedral Peak June 2016 conditions
Cathedral Peak’s approach and descent are currently free of snow. There’s a bush at the top of the class 4 slab down climb that has a sling on it. We left a non-locking carabiner so people can rap down.
For other climbing epics I’ve had like Cathedral Peak, read on for climbing the Matterhorn and climbing Prusik Peak.
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