Sep 10, 2017
I had originally planned a hike to Mt. Dana for Sunday, allowing Jackie her first climb of a CA 13er, made easier by two days of acclimatization. She had so much fun with the rock climbing on Hoffmanns Thumb that she elected to do Cathedral Peak when I offered that option. To avoid the worst of the large numbers of parties that descend on the SE Buttress on a summer weekend, we got up at 5a in Mammoth Lakes where we were staying and headed straight to Tuolumne Meadows, eating breakfast along the way. We found a spot right in front of the Cathedral Lakes TH, though there were plenty of cars parked on both sides of the road. We packed up our gear that included a number of jackets to help us with the 37F temperature and headed out just after 6:30a. We found a pair of climbers shortly before the turnoff to the climbers' use trail, wondering if we knew where to find it. Not exactly sure, I had a pretty good idea and soon had led us to the correct spot, marked by a collection of branches blocking the junction. The trail was in excellent condition and easy to follow. Work has been done to improve it up to the base of the SE Buttress, allowing the many trail threads that used to wander up that way to recover over the past 10-15yrs.
We found a party of four at the left (south) end of the base, the only ones to get there before we arrived around 7:40a. We climbed higher along the base of the buttress to the far right side where we would have this alternate start to ourselves. We would be well up the rock face by the time others had assembled below us, most of the arriving parties choosing the longer start from the left side. Our short pitch strategy worked so nicely on Hoffmanns Thumb that we used if for much of the SE Buttress ascent, taking what is normally done in 4-6 pitches and stretching it to 8-9 pitches. This would allow us to communicate more easily between belay stations and we could watch each other do most of the climb. Though quite steep, most of the route is class 3/4 terrain with solid rock, tons of chickenheads and other features, and ample places to set up a belay. I placed very little gear, at most two pieces on a pitch and none on a few of them. Having been up this way more than half a dozen times now, I was fairly confident of my abilities on it. I carried a set of nuts but placed only cams to make it easy for Jackie to retrieve gear. She was pretty efficient at cleaning out her anchor at each belay and climbing quite well. Consequently, none of the other parties below ever came close to catching up to us, despite our short pitches. We met up with an English couple on a parallel course shortly before the chimney. They were more experienced climbers and used fewer belays, but because they were placing a lot of gear on each pitch our progress up the buttress was similar. We waited for them below the chimney, then followed behind as the second climber went up the chimney and cleaned gear. I had friendly conversations with them at various belay points and we would reach the summit just behind them. Meanwhile, from above the chimney pitch, I could see at least four parties converging below. A slow party managed to be the first to the chimney at which point the rest of the parties would have to wait some time for the bottleneck to clear. We never did see or hear anyone else, even after we'd left the summit.
Jackie was all smiles during the rock climb and enjoyed it immensely, as did the rest of us on the mountain under ideal conditions with stellar views, blue skies with little white clouds and cool temps. After the other party had descended the summit, I set up a three cam anchor from which to lower Jackie off the west side of the summit, a fun, 30-foot drop to easier terrain on that side. I then packed up all the gear and downclimbed the standard class 4 route on the southeast side, then went around to find her napping in the warm sun below. We downclimbed the class 3 route on the west side leading to the slab sections below Eichorn Pinnacle, by which time Jackie was through having fun. "I just want to get off the mountain." Rock climbing and trail - good; other stuff - not so good. The slabs dropping west towards Cathedral Lakes and the JMT seemed to her to go on forever. For my part, I liked the terrain far better than the talus and scree slopes we'd climbed the other day, and was still having a great time. Below the slabs we reached treeline and wandered through the forest for another third of a mile before finding the trail. Once there, it became more of a highway, as we both discovered just how popular the JMT can be on a Sunday afternoon in September. There were day hikers, backpackers and even two rangers. One asked if we'd seen a man with a large straw hat. I said we hadn't, and asked if it was a missing person. "Sort of," he replied, then adding, "he ran off when I was talking to him. Wasn't even going to write him a ticket." Ah, the Yosemite circus. Jackie kept up a ferocious pace that I had trouble matching. I was carrying almost all the gear and couldn't dance down the granite steps as deftly as she could (doesn't help that I'm more than three times her age). It was only when we got back to the TH at 1:30p that I realized why the rush - she had to go to the bathroom and didn't want to risk an unpleasant fresh air incident in the woods. We weren't driving more than about 15min back towards San Jose when she dozed off, sleeping the sleep of the contented for most of the ride home...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Cathedral Peak
This page last updated: Sun Sep 17 19:32:08 2017
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