Fri, Sep 19, 2003
Driving from San Jose solo, I met Sam at the gas station inside Yosemite along SR120 near Crane Flat. He was waiting for me when I arrived around 6:15a. He greeted me with a warm smile and a firm shake, a middle-aged gentlemen close to my age - I took an immediate liking to him. We left my car at the station, not really sure if anyone would mind it being there all day, and drove the forty miles up SR120 to Tenaya Lake in Sam's truck. It was 7:20a when we set out, not at alpine start, but then this was just the warm up hike. We took only rock shoes for climbing gear along with a few articles of clothes, food, and some water. The weather was beautiful, a typically warm Sierra September day, only a few wispy clouds all day.
Our first objective was the NW Buttress of Tenaya Peak. I had climbed it a month and a half earlier with Matthew using a rope, a climb that took us all day. Without a rope I expected we should take less than two hours from the car. In 35 minutes we covered the lower, brushy slopes just above Tenaya Lake, making it to the start of the route where we found plenty of low-angle granite slabs (along with an old climbing boot we found half buried in some scree). We climbed with our regular shoes for about two-thirds of the height of the route, covering all the lower-angled slopes that would be rated class 3. Though the route was completely in the shade, our constant motion kept our bodies plenty warm, allowing us to climb in just tshirts. The sun was shining brightly on Mt. Hoffmann and Tuolumne Peak. As we climbed higher, the views behind us opened up to the far northern border of Yosemite, and much of the Sierra Crest from Tower Peak to Mt. Conness. We switched to rock shoes and continued up, relishing the class 4 slabs and crack systems. When we came to the roof, normally bypassed on the right, we both paused. I was looking at a line to the left I thought might not be too hard while Sam went one better and started up the line straight through the middle. It was a bold effort and I cheered as he cleared the roof where I expected the crux to be. He continued up out of sight, exploring the route further before he would signal me to join him. After a few minutes he retreated, finding the rock above too bare and too spicy. He retraced his steps nicely through the roof, then we both went the easy way to the right. We continued up another hundred feet or so, mostly over class 4 terrain. Before we reached the top I wanted to explore the route out to the right further, looking for an easier exit, or just to see what was there. I found a straightforward class 3-4 ramp that took us within a few feet of the summit, and almost before we knew it we were standing on the summit. It was just after 9a when we topped out, 1hr45m from the car - not bad we thought, and much better than the last outing. To the east we spied Tresidder and Columbia Finger, next in our sights. We stayed at the summit maybe five minutes before taking off again with almost the whole day still ahead of us. We now had the sun with us for the rest of the day, but it was never overbearing, really quite pleasant.
The walk over to Tresidder is very easy on gently rolling terrain with only 200ft loss in elevation along the way. We headed for the lower north summit (which I hadn't visited) with the intent to traverse the summit ridge from north to south. We approached the summit from the northwest side, finding a short class 4 route up (the easiest it turned out). Getting over to the highpoint of the north summit requires some delicate steps across some notches in the thin ridgeline, or more humble scrambling along on all fours. Unlike the smooth granite we found on Tenaya, the rock on Tresidder is rough, pocked with many quartzite chickenheads. This would be good if they were solid like those on Cathedral Peak, but instead they were less than trustworthy and more than one came off while using them. So caution and careful hold placements were key on this. Going first, Sam eyed the north summit almost suspiciously before creeping over slowly. I followed him to the north summit, then carried on to start the traverse.
I didn't get far. I walked 5 feet then came to a nasty downclimb featuring the aforementioned questionable chickenheads. I started downclimbing the southeast side to reach the lower point 15 feet down, but got stuck about 5 feet down. I hadn't bothered to change into my rock shoes which didn't help, but I wasn't sure it would have helped much either. I found I would have to trust a single hold to climb down further, something I was unwilling to do. I imagined I might be able to jump clear of the rock and land on the ridge below, about seven or eight feet down, but if I missed I would peel off the east side another twenty feet or so. Much as I hated to, I gave up and climbed back to the north summit. This was one of only two obstacles we couldn't surmount along the ridge between the north and south summits. The second obstacle was much more difficult than the first - as far as we could see it could only be done with a rappel. The climbing along the ridge was very airy and very exciting - the best we had all day really. Parts of the ridge were so thin that we worried large chunks of the knife blades might break off as we weighted them. None of them broke. There were a few sections requiring face climbing on the chickenheads, and these had similar excitement - especially when one of the holds broke off as I climbed up. Eventually we came to the north side of the south summit, a route I had spied on my first visit to Tresidder but rejected as too difficult. We studied it a good deal while we rested up. Several rappel slings half way up didn't make it look any easier. There were a couple of hand and off-width cracks running vertically between the summit blocks that could be used for various jams. The first move off the floor was the most awkward, shifting a hand from a hold under a small roof to higher above in one of the cracks. Finally working up enough nerve I went first, and with a bit of sweating found it easier than I had expected, but still close to my limit. I consciously avoided using the slings for aid lest I lose my claim of a free ascent, though I came darn close to grabbing one as I struggled up. Once on top I was elated, then took a moment to photograph Sam when it was his turn to have a go. He managed beautifully and we celebrated a fine traverse on the summit.
Getting down is no easy feat, rated class 4 but probably closer to 5.4 or so. Fortunately I had climbed the south side of the south summit before and knew the route. I had forgotten how tricky it is, and I'm sure we would have taken a great deal longer if we had to figure out the route from above. Once down the ramp-chimney near the bottom, it was an easy walk of almost a mile over to Columbia Finger. From the north Columbia Finger looks like a fifth class climb, its most daunting aspect. From other angles it doesn't look to rate much at all. We found the short class 3 route up on the west side once we had climbed most of the north ridge, but I stopped short of the summit, intrigued by the sheer wall of the North Face. I went around to that side to get a closeup of the face and a quick study. We found the summit pinnacle to be composed of three blocks, about five feet high each. The rock is very close to vertical. Upon close inspection one finds tiny ledges maybe an inch and a half wide between the blocks. I started to think I might be able to climb it. The trick was how to get a foot up on the ledge and pull myself up without getting pushed off by the vertical wall. Sam offered to spot me, so I changed into my rock shoes to give it a try. I fell off the first ledge three times trying to maintain a vertical stance to stand on it, though I wasn't high enough that Sam needed to intervene to break the fall. Once on the tiny ledge I inched right so I could reach up to the ledge on the second block. This one was deeper, maybe five inches, but only about a foot long horizontally. Mantling up onto this ledge was the crux of the climb, and I did so quite gingerly - a fall even into Sam's arms could have been painful (maybe for both of us!). Once on the second shelf the last block was easier since I could reach around to the right and get a good grip. It was an exciting little bouldering problem! I didn't make it look easy enough so Sam decided to forgo the extra credit and went around to the class 3 route. On the summit we found a PVC pipe with a damp register inside. We signed it, resealed it, had a snack. It was 11:30a, not yet noon. Onward!
Our next stop was to be Echo Peaks. Having climbed all of them previously, I was intrigued by an approach up the West Face, a class 4 route I hadn't tried and had little beta on. We walked back north towards Tresidder before heading down at the lowpoint between the two formations, taking a diagonally downward tack towards Echo Peaks. We crossed the JMT and then down further into the forest to cross the lowpoint before heading back up the west side. We emerged from the forest with a full view of the whole west side. There is a good deal of steep, sandy talus to climb here (three-fourths of the elevation gain is done before the actual rock climb on the West Face), and it was here that we both started to feel a bit fatigued - we'd been at it five hours by now. We angled to the large talus fan pouring down from between Peaks #2 & #3. Once we reached the solid rock, our fatigue disappeared as we began to climb another beautiful section of granite. There were many variations possible via any number of flake/ramp/ledge combinations. We chose a line closer to the summit of #3, and topped out on the ridge about 50 feet below the summit. We scrambled up to the top of #3, the highest of the Echo Peaks, arriving there at 1:15p. We signed into the register, finding a small Frodo action figure in the can with the register. I decided to bring Frodo with me for future adventures.
While taking a short break, we looked over to Echo #4 just to the south. It would have been nice to tag that one too (the second hardest of the Echo Peaks), but it would have taken more time and caused us to skip Cathedral Peak most likely. Instead, we headed north following a fine up and down a highly fractured ridgeline, tagging #2 and #1 in the line. We tried to continue the line north from #1 and found we could climb it a considerable distance down before it got too spicy for our liking. We lost some time backtracking, but we found more exciting class 4-5 downclimbing off #1 by deliberately not taking the easier route. Once off the rock we headed for Cathedral Peak. Up till this time I had assumed we would climb the SE Buttress, but when I brought it up on our traverse over there Sam balked. He didn't really want to tackle a 5.6 route solo. In the process of playing the (fish)line carefully, I suggested we should at least go around to the base of the route to check it out, and if he didn't want to go up the SE Buttress we could take the nearby Mountaineers Route. Sam was on to my ploy and wouldn't give in easily, but we went off to the base of the route.
When we arrived I began to extoll the virtues of the route, pointing out how it appears less steep from the bottom than from afar. There were no other climbers on the route, somewhat surprising even for a Friday, but a single climber was at the base gathering up some gear. Turns out he and his friend had just returned from soloing the route themselves, and when I told him I was trying to talk Sam into joining me on it, this young guy in his twenties started in on how it was the best possible route in the world. I couldn't have asked for a better shill, and we laughed about it a good deal. But it was just enough to make Sam consider it further, and eventually he took the bait and got hooked.
We changed into our rock shoes, packed up our other ones, and headed up. This would be my sixth time on the route, the fouth time soloing it. I love it every time. I also never take the same route twice. Not on purpose, but because there are a variety of options and I never remember which way is easiest. The one conscious choice I made this time was to try the 5.6 face variation at the crux before the chimney instead of the 5.7 crack I'd taken in the past. Others tell me the face is easier, but frankly I don't like either variation, and they are the only two moves on the route that really give me the willies. Sam and I both did the face variation, and afterwards I think it will be the last. I just don't like the exposure and too much reliance on several single footholds. We continued up and reached the summit at 3:45p, elated. It was all downhill from here. I had originally hoped we could tag Eichorn Pinnacle as well to round out the tour, but we were supposed to meet Matthew at the Tenaya Lake parking lot at 5p and it was pretty certain we would already be late.
We headed down the west side of Cathedral Peak, then continued west, passing the largest Cathedral Lake on the north side, heading for its outlet. I was uncertain about this last section, not knowing if we could downclimb the steep section between Cathedral Lakes and Pywiack Dome. If we got stopped here it would cause a several hour detour for us to hike back north along the JMT before we could pick up the trail along Tenaya Creek. Peering over the lake's outlet, we found a wide bowl of granite slabs, about class 3 in steepness. There was almost no water leaving the lake this late in the season which helped make it easy to descend the slabs that would normally see more water. At the bottom of the slabs we found ourselves in a thick forest with many downed trees that slowed us unexpectedly. This went on for about a third of a mile, pretty much ensuring that we'd miss our meeting time. Oh well, nothing to be done now. We followed the creekbed flowing southeast of Pywiack Dome down to where it meets Tenaya Creek, then picked up the maintained trail, which we took nearly back to the parking lot.
One last cross-country section and we could see the parking lot to the west through the trees. As we neared we could see Matthew lazily pacing around his car. I signalled to Sam to go into stealth mode - I wanted to see if I could sneak up on Matthew without him seeing me. This took some time and some doing, but I managed to get within about eight feet of him before he spied me. I tried to spook him just before his eyes had turned to see me, but he wasn't fazed in the least. I got this trick from a friend of mine who said the Indians used to play this "game" with their enemy as a sign of bravery. If you could touch an enemy brave and escape it was a far braver thing than to sneak up and take his scalp. He said they called it "counting coo" (don't know about the spelling). A fun game that can really scare your friends. Try it on someone you don't know in the backcountry and you'll really scare them!
We left Matthew's car in the parking lot as part of our plan for the next day. Hiking from Yosemite Valley, Matthew only wanted to hike Tenaya Canyon one-way before heading off to Piute Mtn the following day. This way his car would be waiting for him. We drove Sam's truck back to my car, then took the two cars down to our tent cabin in Curry Village. Showers, pizza, and beer followed, roughly in that order. It had been one of the better scrambling days yet this summer...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Tenaya Peak - Tresidder Peak - Columbia Finger - Echo Peak No. 3 - Cathedral Peak
This page last updated: Sat Jun 4 21:31:00 2016
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