Sun, Oct 22, 2006
The plans for Sunday were never very firm beforehand. We had concentrated on Saturday's outing to the Sawtooths in northern Yosemite, leaving Sunday to "Let's see how we feel afterwards." Matthew and the Gookin brothers, Glenn and Sam, had talked about doing Matthes Crest. Having done it twice, I wasn't as interested and thought I might do a long hike to Pettit and Volunteer Peaks. But Saturday had been longer than we expected, and none of us were interested in another long day. So Echo Peaks came up, another place I've been multiple times. But I'd only climbed Echo #9 once before, and not as a dayhike, so I was interested in doing the whole set as such. And so we decided on Echo Peaks shortly before settling in to sleep at the scenic overlook near the US395/SR120 junction.
We were not up at the crack of dawn, nor did we get an early start. Having slept so close to the Whoa Nelli, it seemed imperative that we breakfast there, which we did in fine style when they opened at 7a. It was nearly 8:15a before we had our act together and were heading out from the Cathedral Lakes TH. Ours were the only vehicles at this normally crowded turnout, though there would be more cars by the time we returned. We carried two short ropes, some rock climbing gear, climbing shoes, and not much else. Temperatures were near freezing at the start, but the skies were an azure blue and it soon warmed more comfortably. The weather was as fine as we could have hoped for - cool, clear, and no wind to speak of. Unbeatable for late October.
We hiked past Cathedral Peak (not a soul on the SE Buttress) to Bud Lake where we filled our water bottles for use the remainder of the day - no water among the Echo Peaks. We headed up the north side to the ridgeline between Echo Ridge and Echo Peaks, aiming for Echo #8. One of the easiest of the peaks, it takes only a few minutes to scale it from the north side, and by 10a we were standing atop its airy summit. It has a fine view of the other peaks, most notably the vertical north side of Echo #9. One could almost imagine a Tyrolean stretched across #8 and #9 as Glenn and I wondered aloud if anyone had ever tried it. Glenn and Sam headed down while I waited for Matthew to join me atop the summit a few minutes later. This order of things would be followed for much of the day.
Matthew and I went off the NW side of #8, then down the west side to the SW side of #9. We then scrambled up to where the rock appreciably steepens and we met the others again. Our two short ropes turned out to be ill-suited for this bit of rock, and without a clear plan of attack we sort of fumbled our way up and down the thing. We tried all manner of tactics to do things efficiently and safely, but we joked that none of our tactics would make it in the next edition of Freedom of the Hills. Glenn led the first two pitches with Sam on the lower end of his rope, including the crux overhang pitch. In between, Matthew and I came up, overlapped their rope at one point (we had two ropes using the same pro in a few places) and generally struggled to find comfortable places for belays on a face without any good stances. I led the last pitch to the summit, belayed Glenn up, then the two of us belayed the others at the same time. We came to find that the rope I had carried was not the one I had intended to bring, and instead of a 35m rope like Matthew's, it was more like 27m. We could only laugh at our overall ineptitude, but were happy to make it safely to the top.
We did the usual round of signing the register, taking photos, and having a snack before starting down. Our rappels were as unorthodox as our ascent, as we tried to manage the effort with our two short ropes. At one point we had the second rope unable to reach the next rap station below, but not enough spots to hold four persons while we retrieved the first rope. So Glenn and I had to rap off the second rope to a temporary position secured with some pro, then transfer to the longer first rope after it was retrieved and dropped down past us. In all we spent more than three hours for what should be a standard two-pitch climb, and it was past 1:30p before we were done.
After packing everything up and changing shoes again, we hoofed it back up to the main ridge and tagged #7 and #5 in succession. Glenn and Sam got ahead again and were on the way to #6 before Matthew and I had finished up on #5. I had given the brothers beta on climbing #6 before they took off, but it didn't do them much good. While Matthew and I were dropping our packs at the cache atop the ridge, I could hear Glenn calling out from below - they were not finding their way up the next peak. When I got down to where I could see them, they were both positioned on the near-vertical West Face looking confused.
"I told you to go up the North Ridge, what are you doing on the West Face?" I asked. It was unusual for them to ignore beta, so I was a bit surprised.
They explained that the North Ridge was a bit too vague and impossible-looking. Glenn, further ahead of his brother, had already surmounted some class 5 sections and was halfway across the face. He decided to continue his route, traversing up and right to the South Side, and after a beefy mantling move, found his way to the summit.
"Well, what do you know. Looks like the West Face can be soloed as well," I commented. There was no way Matthew or I were going to follow that, even if he did make it look easy.
Glenn suggested to his brother that it would probably be better that he not follow the same route, so Sam came down and joined me for the ascent up the North Ridge. We climbed under the awkward roof at the start, then up the spicy class 4 ridge with Sam in the lead. Matthew reached the base about the same time the three of us were on the summit. Matthew had climbed under the roof, but did not like the rock he found a short distance past this. The three of us then went down the North Ridge, trying to help Matthew with the moves in the lower section when we got down there. Matthew was not convinced and would have preferred a rope. But it was 3p by now and not enough daylight for more ropework if we were going to do the rest of the peaks before sunset. Matthew decided to call it a day and head back to the TH while the rest of us went on to Echo #4. This next peak would be the second hardest of the bunch, and the hardest we would do without a rope. At stiff class 4 it is no easy scramble.
We hiked down to the steep eastside gully between #3 & #4, climbing up the left side. The crux of this route is in the first 30 feet or so. I went up one way, Glenn went another, Sam watching us from below and not liking either option. With the help of Glenn from above, Sam found yet a third way past the crux and soon after that we were scrambling the final distance to the notch between the two peaks. Curious if the west side of the notch was class 3 as reported, we all took a look, surprised to find what looked like a 15-foot stretch of straightforward class 3, with a class 2 talus field below that. That might be useful to know on a future visit from that side. From the notch, we climbed back down a short distance, maybe 10 feet, then made our way up to the summit of #4 via a series of flakes and steep ramps, more class 4. Sam looked particularly relieved when we made it to the summit, though he was nervous looking ahead to the next section up to Echo #3, the highest of the bunch.
We signed into the register on #4 while briefly discussing the steep South Ridge of #3 ahead. I assured Sam that the angle wasn't nearly as imposing as it looked, and that we had already done the hardest of the soloing (aside from the short downclimb to get off #4!). He wasn't altogether convinced. After a short break we started down from #4, Glenn first, Sam following, myself going down last. I commented how I get a bit nervous being the last one down a spicy section - as though I might forget the moves and get stranded alone on the face. Not a very realistic scenario, but I still had those nervous feelings. Not surprisingly, we all made it down safely in reversing the moves, with some extra variations depending on individual preferences.
Glenn and Sam were a third of the way up the fluted face to Echo #3 when I got off the face of #4. I got a photograph of them from below, then raced up to catch them and see if I could get a photo of them on the route from above. It is a very interesting section, unlike anything else in the area. The angle of the rock is probably about 45 degrees, very consistent from top to bottom. The South Face, just off the adjoining ridge, is about 10-15 yards wide with half a dozen foot-deep grooves running roughly parallel the entire length. One jams feet in the bottom of the v-grooves, hands on each side like railings, and climbs up. You can switch from one groove to an adjacent one if the groove is blocked ahead or grows too steep. The whole thing takes about ten minutes, and is really great fun.
Once we reached the summit, it was all easier after that. There was still some fun scrambling as Glenn and Sam hoofed it out to #2 1/2 for a summit pose, then we all followed the ridgeline to #2 and on to #1. It was 4p when we started down from #1 to our packs. I talked the others into one last scramble up the class 3-4 #0 that lies between #1 and #5, a short but fun little peaklet. We climbed up the south side and down the north side, though not without some hesitation on that last descent. I knew I had climbed #0 from the north when I had been up previously, but it wasn't clear just how that was done looking from above. After much nervous hesitation we eventually found two ways down the crux and were soon back to our packs.
We reshouldered our gear and marched back out to the Bud Lake Trail, returning to the cars by 5:20p. Matthew had been back for some time, reading a book on a rock alongside the meadow. When I asked him what he might be interested in doing for our last day, he commented that he'd rather head back to San Jose. I was pretty beat after the three days we'd just finished so I didn't mind that option. We bade farewell to Sam and Glenn who were heading back to the East Side and down to Los Angeles, Matthew and I heading west for the Bay Area. It had been a fine last weekend for the year in Yosemite and we'd look forward to our next visit after the snows have given way to Spring sometime the following year.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Echo Peak No. 3
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