|Story||Photos / Slideshow||Maps: 1 2||Profile|
Matthes Crest previously climbed Sun, Oct 10, 1999|
later climbed Fri, Jul 30, 2004
Tresidder Peak later climbed Fri, Sep 19, 2003
I awoke to the beep-beep of my watch, although at the time I had no idea what was making the noise and I woke up confused and disoriented in those first few seconds. Oh yes, now I remember. I was in the Tuolumne Meadows campground, and the appointed hour had arrived at which to rise. Not only is it very cold at 5a, it is also pitch black - what a wonderful combination. Greg was sleeping some 20 feet away, and after rising I had the small pleasure of waking him as well - misery certainly loves company, particularly in mountaineering adventures. We were to meet Monty and Michael at the Cathedral Lakes trailhead at 6a were they not to find us here sometime during the night. Looking around, I found only Greg's and my own car, no sign of the other twosome. We packed up our stuff in the cold, and I did the usual shuffle between trying to warm my fingers and forcing them to do useful work. I convinced them that they should hurry things along so that they might then enjoy the luxurious backcountry ritual of warmed air heated by the internal combustion engine so conveniently located in my car. Ahhhhh.... As we drove the few miles from the campground to the trailhead, I was able to warm myself up completely, and the only drawback I saw coming was that the car would have to be left at the trailhead.
We arrived a few minutes early, the other two a few minutes late, and surprisingly it took only 20 minutes to pack up our gear, load the extra food in the bear boxes conveniently provided there, and be on our way. The sun had not yet risen, but it was no longer pitch black, and there was just enough light to allow us to hike without lanterns. We had two ropes and two racks split evenly between the four of us, and the usual assortment of water, food, and additional clothing (I was wearing all mine when we started, including hat, jacket and wool mittens, and the others were similarly attired). The sky was quite fine, no clouds, and none of the threatening weather that had stalked me the previous day. There had even been some light rain early the previous Jevening, but there was nary a sign of it remaining.
Our goal today was to climb the entire ridge of Matthes Crest travelling south to north, described as one of the "classic climbs" of the Sierra by Secor. Of the four of us, only Greg had done this climb previously, although Monty and I had made an attempt to climb to the summit the previous season. Clearly Greg was the more experienced of the group, as the other three of us were only in our second season of climbing. Greg had a rack of impressive weight and variety. He had chocks, cams, tri-cams, hexes, slings, and biners enough for several parties I guessed. He explains that he truly dislikes being without the proper piece while on a climb, and would rather err on the side of too much, than too little gear, particularly when involving short approaches where the distance one had to carry all this stuff wasn't too great. All of this made good sense except for the part of short approaches as this one had almost seven miles before the actual climbing began. But seeing as Greg was going to be carrying his rack in his bag, none of us offered the slightest objection.
The trail to Cathedral Lakes rises gradually out of Tuolumne Meadows, almost too gradually for this early in the morning when I was more worried about keepin warm than breaking a sweat. By the time we got to the Bud Lake use trail junction I had warmed up enough to remove the gloves and jacket and finally begin to enjoy the new day. We reached the pass at Cathedral Lakes around 7:30a, stopping for a short break. The sun was basking Cathedral Peak in an early morning glow, although its warming rays were still hidden to us behind the Echo Peaks ridge to the east. It would be only a few minutes before the sun was on us, and I was sure we'd have our fill of it for the day as we were blessed with a cloudless sky.
From the pass, the trail continues upward skirting the east side of Tresidder Peak as it makes its way over towards Sunrise. Our route took us off the trail at this point as we headed southeast following the creek that feeds into Echo Lake. This is a fairly easy cross-country route with gradual slopes and obvious navigation as one simply heads towards the massive wall that makes up Matthes Crest. We climbed the west side of the crest at its southern end, heading for the small clump of trees that identifies the start of the route. Once at the start, we had another chance to rest as we set down our packs and went about setting up our ropes and gear for the climbing portion. It was 9a when we arrived, and it took us another 45 minutes before we were ready to climb.
Michael and Greg made up one rope, Monty and I the other. Greg and I were to lead respective ropes on the first pitch, so we went about assembling the racks we were to use on lead. Greg pretty much hoisted the entire collection he'd brought with him, so feeling somewhat inadequate with a rack about 1/3 the size of his, I supplemented mine with some additional pieces that Michael and Monty had brought with them. Greg went up first while Michael belayed from our cozy spot below (it was made all the more cozy by the appearance of the sun to warm us while we waited). In order to speed things up a bit, I searched out a second line to the right of Greg's route and started up before Greg had finished the pitch. The rock was quite cold so I started climbing with a pair of wool gloves with the fingers exposed. This only lasted about 30 feet before the climbing became too difficult for me to trust without bare hands [seems there a market for some sort of rubberized climbing gloves here]. The route is described as "three easy class 5 pitches" followed by the exhilarating, mostly class 3 knife edge traverse for almost a mile to the base of the summit. I wouldn't have used the term "easy", but it was certainly exciting fun. I ran out of rope just above and to the right of where Michael was positioned to belay Greg as he lead off on the second pitch. A second party of two had arrived at the base to add a bit of pressure on us to keep moving, and looking down on the east side of the crest I could see a third party of three approaching the start as well. It was going to be a busy day on the crest, and we were glad to have arrived first. Monty started up as the other parties readied their gear below, and the first of them had reached Michael and Greg's first belay spot (what Monty and I would like to believe was the easier route) before Monty had joined me.
Once Monty reached our small perch he surveyed the possibilities for the second pitch as he prepared to take over the lead. Looking up, there were some tough-looking cracks to the right, and straight above some easier face climbing that had no places for protection. I was quite content to let Monty lead this one, and I double checked to make sure my anchor wasn't going anywhere should we fall. Monty headed off to the right, choosing the protectable cracks, but even here he struggled to get a decent placement for the first piece. He managed to get one in, then decided to move left a bit onto the face portion, where he found himself a bit more exposed, but with better hand and foot holds. It took some time to get up this pitch, but I had little to complain about. I was fairly comfortable, the sun was shining brightly now, and I was glad I wasn't leading this one. We lost track of Greg and Michael for the moment as they were further to the left, up and out of view from our route up this steep section (definitely on the second pitch they had the easier route).
Monty set another couple pieces before finishing the pitch far up and out of my view. After cleaning my anchor and waiting for Monty's signal, I started up, cleaning the route ahead of me. That first piece I almost wished he hadn't placed as it forced me into the awkward crack to retrieve it before I could move out to the easier face. Seconding with a rope from above, I had less reason to fear the exposure and would have preferred to climb the face the entire way. After joining Monty, we switched positions again, as I took over the lead for the third pitch. This last pitch was really just a short class 3-4 pitch to bring us to the top of the crest, and I can't remember actually placing any protection on it. It was 11:30a when we finished the third pitch and met up once more with the other two. There was no sign yet of the other two parties, but we expected to see them shorty. There was only a short debate as to whether we should continue without a rope at this point. All of us were willing to continue unroped as long as there would be no quibbling should one of us decide they'd prefer it at some point.
This walk along the crest for me was the most enjoyable part of the climb. I really only like using a rope when it's necessary as I find it cumbersome to carry and progress is quite slow (it was almost two hours to get up those three ptiches, 2 1/2 if you count the prep time). I'll take a fun class 3-4 any day over a roped pitch. While the others started ahead, I flaked the rope into my pack so that we'd have easy access to it should we need it. It took only a few moments to catch up to them as this ridge doesn't allow one to just skip along. It drops off sharply on either side, and the top of it varies in width from several yards to a couple feet. In a number of places, we would be walking along a thin ledge with our hands over the flake that comprises the knife-edge. The rock is very high quality granite and rough, providing solid placements for our hands and feet. We switched leaders at various points along the way, but not by any ordered process. As one person would find a dead end up the particular route they chose, the next person behind would strike out on another possibility until the easiest route was found. Michael had been with me when we climbed the Northwest Ridge of Mt. Clark earlier in the year, and that had been a frightening climb since he'd little previous experience on class 3, and none with so much exposure. Michael was still making a few jokes now and then, so I knew he hadn't reached the frightened stage, but he readily admitted to anyone who might ask that he was quite scared. Pack and all, he handled it beautifully, and I suspect he might even have been enjoying himself.
There are several class 4 sections along the crest, but all of them were fairly short. One was so short that we could have just jumped down the eight feet to the landing below, but for the sport of it we made a short downclimb of it. At one point, close to the middle, we found an impasse that forced us down on the west side about 20 or 30 feet, but for the rest of the route we were never more than five feet from the crest. As we approached the twin summits, it was not obvious that the north peak was the higher summit. I had this urge to climb the south summit, and as I was in the lead at this point I started picking a route to the top of it. I could hear Greg calling from behind to take the crack that leads down the east side to the notch between the summits. I don't think he realized at the time that I wanted to climb the south summit, and anyway I sort of ignored his pleas as I continued up. It seemed like such a shame to miss it now that I was in the neighborhood, and I highly recommend it as an enjoyable little scramble off the main route.
After reaching the small perch that comprised the south summit at 2p, I took a moment to take in the views and snap some photos as well. The north summit was indeed higher from this vantage point. To the west was an excellent view of Echo Peaks, the higher reaches of the Cathedral Range to the east, and the Clark Range to the south. Afterwards, I carefully retraced my steps. The others had gone on ahead, so I watched their route from above so that I wouldn't miss the proper traverse point. Looking back to the south, I could see none of the other parties that we had seen while on the ropes. The one party in particular had started so quickly that we had expected that they would have passed us long before now. Soon enough I was behind the other three on the east face just before the notch. Greg reached the gap first and set up to take some photos of the other three of us crossing this tricky class 4 section. It is very exposed, falling hundreds of feet should one slip, and there are no ledges or cracks to walk along like we'd had previously. But there were bomber holds in the rock (even some holes that you could put your fist in) and some thin flakes that provided the hands with a good deal of security in crossing this section (only about 20 feet).
Once at the notch, we climbed a short way down on the west side and prepared for our final roped assault on the north summit. We stopped long enough for a short lunch while we scouted the route to the summit. There is an obvious crack that takes the direct route to the summit, though it looked harder than the 5.3 rating Secor gives. it. Michael and Greg set up to climb a daring rib just left of the crack, while Monty scouted both left and right before choosing another line to the left of Greg. Meanwhile, the other parties came into view, crossing over from the notch between the summits. One of the parties decided to head down the class 3 route below us, and we never met up with them. The other party joined us and set up to climb the short crack route to the summit. At one point there were three separate ropes all making their way towards the north summit, and you'd have thought this was a practice route just off the road somewhere.
Greg's lead looked quite bold, though he'll tell you it wasn't too hard with great holds. Still, it was impressive, even as Michael seconded the route behind him. Monty was out of my view most of his lead, so I stood there feeding out rope watching the other two parties climbing. It was funny to listen to the comunications passed back and forth between the various members. We were all pretty good about ending each shout with our partner's name so that they would not be confused with the other climbers nearby.
"40 feet, Greg!"
"What? Oops. What, Monty?!"
Monty pretty much ran out the entire length of rope just short of the summit while the other two parties made it to the top (ours was the most indirect route). I had great respect for Monty's lead as I followed up it. There was a good deal of friction on our rope just as Greg had warned us about, although we chose to disregard it at the time. Monty strained a good deal to keep pulling the rope up, and I constantly had to shout up to him to take it in since he couldn't feel the slack as I ascended. I got stuck at one of the chocks Monty had placed as I spent a good deal of effort attempting its removal. Five minutes passed and I still didn't get it out although a few choice words managed to escape in its stead. I resorted to using a carabiner as a hammmer and banged on the cleaning tool until I thought it might bend or I might smash my fingers with a misplaced blow. If you have a hard time imagining the difficulty of this, remember that a carabiner is less than half an inch wide, all its sides are rounded, and the tool I was striking against is less than a quarter inch in thickness. All this while hanging on the rock as your feet start to cramp and beg to be relieved. I just couldn't give up on it, as my pride would not allow me to reach the summit and explain to the other five up there that I couldn't get a piece out. Oh, the shame of it! Finally, a particularly hard blow managed to dislodge it, and I was able to continue up to finish.
As I reached the ridge, I looked north to scan the route that continues along the ridge off the summit. The first 50 yards or so looked exceedingly tough, although probably class 4. The up and down of the ridge along here would make proper protection tricky. It was 3p now, and the others were concerned about getting off before dark. It seemed we'd be able to complete the route in three or four hours which should allow us to return to the trailhead under headlamps and flashlights. The others seemed in solid agreement that we should head down instead, so I offered no resistance. We could always come back another day. I still had a good deal of energy left and was itching to climb some more, so I started thinking about alternatives for the last few hours of the day.
Monty was in nice little cubby on the ridge just short of the summit, and was perfectly happy to get a rest in while lying in the sun. The others were about the summit, either signing the register, taking photographs, or discussing the best way to get our butts off the summit. It turns out that the other two climbers were not strangers, as Greg had met them just a few weeks earlier while climbing the West Ridge of Mt. Conness. They were two brothers from the Tahoe area who ran a catering business, providing them with plenty of free time to climb. Only the older brother had a good deal of experience. That explains why they had started so quick but then we didn't see them for several hours, as the inexperienced one had slowed them down. They were a jovial set, and agreed to let us all use their rope for the rappel off the summit.
The two brothers went first, followed by Greg and then myself, while Monty was still content to nap away. While the last two were still coming off the summit, I climbed down a short class 3 stretch and then tossed my rope down for the second rappel. When I reached the end of the rope I was a bit short of the obvious walk-off point, but with some careful scrambling I was able to walk down the remaining 25 feet or so unaided. The others came down in turn, and all the while I was changing my shoes and trying to stay out of the fall line for the little pebbles and rocks that came down with each climber. At one point there was a slip, a shout, and as I looked up there were two rocks, each somewhat larger than a softball, bouncing crazily down towards us. The two of us below at that point dove for cover as they careened past us making an awful racket. I was scared nearly out of my wits and my natural reaction was to get angry at the thoughtless clod who had dislodged them (a bit of an overreaction, to be sure). We quickly realized they hadn't been rocks, but Monty's boots which he had tied onto his fanny pack. I don't think at first that even he had realized they weren't rocks tumbling down.
As I sat waiting for the others, I looked across to the west to the ridge that held Columbia Finger and Tresidder Peak. We'd be heading back right by Tresidder on our return, so it would only be a short diversion to climb up and return. When I asked the others if anyone wanted to join me for a trip to Tresidder, only Michael seemed to take me seriously at first, probably because it was now 4p and there seemed little time to do anything but return to the trailhead before dark. Even though it was less than half a mile off our return track and only 800 feet of elevation, the others had had their fill for the day and were content to let me go off on my own. I had been carrying one of the ropes all day, and it was now being used for the last rappel to bring the last two climbers down. To give me another 15 minutes or so, I swapped with Monty and took the climbing rack, leaving him to coil and pack the rope when it was done. Saying a quick goodbye, I headed down the west slopes of Matthes Crest in more or less a beeline for Tresidder.
Tresidder is not on the SPS or PCS peak lists, but ever since Morgan Brown had posted a note about it and his attempt to reach the summit, it has had my interest. Morgan had gotten quite close to the summit, within 10 feet by his estimation, before being turned back by the class 4 section. Full of confidence, I expected a short bit of exhilarating climbing, and expected that it would take only an hour diversion from the return route. Possibly, I might even meet up with the others before they returned to the trailhead at Tioga Road.
The easiest part was getting down the sandy slopes of Matthes. skating and sliding, I skirted around rocks and shrubs looking for the sandiest route I could find to the bottom. From there I headed almost straight for Tresidder, with a bit of careful downclimbing in portions of Echo Peaks' south slopes. I had tried to stay high on the slopes in order to avoid losing elevation, but I don't think it saved any time. I had to slow in places to pick my way through the ledges and traverse across the sloping granite faces. I reached the trail south of Cathedral Lakes at 4:30p and found a convenient rock to leave my pack at. I would have left a big "Do Not Disturb" sign on it, but I'm afraid the squirrels would have paid it little regard. If they wanted the few granola bars left in it, they would have them, sign or no sign. I took my camera, and a water bottle, and started up the east slopes towards the peak.
My confidence turned to respect as I found the rock faces above the trees to be a bit more than I had bargained for. Class 2 gave way to class 3, and soon I was climbing some very tricky class 4 slabs with a good deal of exposure. The summit looked so close in only a short time, and it lured me up further, exposing me to a greater degree than I had felt the whole while on Matthes Crest. Partially this was due to being solo, and partially because it was really tough. I started to get that scared feeling which told me that I was probably over-extending myself. 30 feet short of the summit on the east side, I decided to turn back. Foiled! About this time I heard my name being shouted from below. I shouted back, but could not determine where the voices were coming from. It occurred to me that from below I might look like a small fleck of paint about to peel off, but in fact they didn't see me either. They just sort of expected that I'd be up here somewhere and so gave a shout from below.
I didn't give up on the mountain yet, only on this particular line of attack. I retraced my steps for about 30 yards and then tried a line up more to the right. This brought me up to the crest of the peak, although I was no closer to the summit. Scanning the ridge to the summit, it appeared a very difficult ascent indeed. This looked like the side that Morgan had climbed first when he had been stopped as well. Certainly it seemed more than class 4. Perhaps if I continued circling the peak I would find a way up. The west side of the peak is quite short, maybe only 40-50 feet vertically. An approach from the west side was definitely a lot easier, if less impressive. I downclimbed to the base of the peak on the west side, that in itself took some time as it was class 3 with some loose sand on the rock slabs making them slippery.
Once down on the west side, I walked around towards the southwest side of the peak before I found another possible line of approach. This turned out to be the key to the summit, but it was very sustained class 4 up the entire 40-50 feet. I had to climb some cracks, up a small slanting chimney, and over a few chockstones on my way up. The route took me circling around to the east side (where I could look down less than 20 feet to where I had turned around earlier) before I climbed the last massive blocks to reach the summit. No register on top, but a very large rappel sling was there, which made me feel better about having been a bit frightened on the ascent. It was 5:30p when I reached the summit, about twice as long as I had expected, but the climbing had been proportionately harder too, and much more exciting to boot. An excellent recommendation for a good scrambling lesson.
I took a few photos, but as usual I didn't stay long. The view west was obscured by haze, but Half Dome's profile was unmistakable nonetheless. The views to the north (mislabeled "northwest" in the photo), northeast, and east were much finer, and highlighted the excellent weather we had all day. I climbed back down to the base of the summit blocks by the same route since there didn't seem to be any alternative, and besides I didn't have that much time left before it would start to get dark to play with finding another way down. I briefly flirted with heading south to climb Columbia Finger, but I had spent too much time on Tresidder and reckoned I ought to be heading back. From where I was, the summit looked exceedingly difficult, and I hated the idea of going over their and finding I couldn't reach the summit (later I found it was class 2). I completed my circle of the peak by heading down around the south side of the peak and descending the east face again. Before heading down, I took a photo of the summit block that looked impressive from this southeast angle (Actually its pretty impressive from every angle). I intentionally kept further to the south than my ascent so that I would return to the trail south of where I left my pack. It would have been a bit problematic to return to the trail not knowing in which direction my pack lay.
I judged it pretty good, as I hit the trail about 50 yards south of my pack and found it easily enough. I hoisted it on my back and hurried to see if I could catch up with the others. It was 6p now, and the sun was going to set in about 45 minutes. I still had 4.5 miles to go, so there seemed little chance I would return before dark. I tried jogging a bit, but my body told me to stop and my mind convinced me the others had too much of a headstart besides. No matter. I would meet them at the Chevron at the junction of US395 and CA120. At first that might seem a strange meeting place, but they have a nice restaurant there (or so Michael had told us) where one could get sandwiches, gourmet pizza, and fine beers. That was beginning to sound very nice.
I enjoyed the late afternoon walk by myself, the quiet around Cathedral Lakes, and the softer light that bathed Cathedral Peak and Eichorn Pinnacle. I played with some of the settings on my new camera, trying some of the larger sizes ( here's a great one for your computer's wallpaper, but be warned, it is quite large - 590K!) I also tried using the flash in some forest shots, but can't say I knew what the hell I was doing really. Mostly just playing around on my way back. A few deer had come out to graze at dusk, and as dutiful national park critters, gave me ample opportunity to photograph them. I also had a nice view of Mt. Conness in the last light of the day before the trail heads down to Tuolumne Meadows. After the sun set, it got darker fairly quickly as I began to have a tough time seeing the roots and rocks along the trail. Giving up my hope of returning without a flashlight, I finally resorted to using one with about 15 minutes to go. I was surprised to find Monty still at the trailhead although they had returned 30 minutes earlier. Michael had gone back to the campground to legitimize the campsite they had commandeered the night before. Greg and I had simply packed up and abandoned our campsite so there was no need to return, but of course that offered no guarantee that we'd have a place to sleep tonight. Monty had expected Michael to have returned by now to pick him up. While I was packing my things away in my car, Michael did return, and we then drove both cars down towards Lee Vining to meet up with Greg who had gone ahead.
We pulled into the complex at the Chevron about ten minutes behind an enormous bus loaded with German tourists. Where they had come from or where they were going I never found out, but they had created a bit of a panic inside at the food counter as the proprietors struggled to meet the huge demand. And I have to relate that they did an admirable job. They took orders while everyone was standing in line, and when they came to us and found we weren't with the large party, they gave us a seat and a pitcher of beer and told us they'd get to us just as soon as possible. The owner commandeered two acquaintances of theirs who ran a catering business in Tahoe and were in the area for a weekend of climbing. He put them to work behind the grill making sandwhiches to feed the horde. It turns out the two climbers were the same fellows that had joined us at the top of Matthes Crest earlier that afternoon, and we all got quite a kick out of the coincidence. To enhance employee moral behind the grill, the manager began instigating a series of whisky shots accompanied by rousing songfest which fairly drowned out all conversation throughout the building. Perhaps 60-70 sandwhiches were prepared, wrapped and delivered before they were able to attend to the other customers, but we hardly minded. We had an unlimited supply of beer, a pizza and other food on the way, and we were enjoying ourselves tremendously. All climbing adventures should end with such troubles.
Afterwards, somewhere around 11p, we were the last customers to leave the store and head back to our homes. Ours for the evening was the Tuolumne Meadows campground. There was still one more day for climbing fun although Monty and Michael had decided they would rather head home in the morning and Greg preferred a climb near the road to more wandering in search of peaks (my preference). It would be left to the morning to decide our course of action.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Matthes Crest - Tresidder Peak
This page last updated: Wed May 16 16:58:31 2007
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