Sun, Oct 10, 1999
I woke up from time to time in the middle of the night for various reasons. Mostly it was because my toes were getting chilly tucked down in the bottom of my sleeping bag. That was a sure sign that it was cold out, below freezing to be sure. I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised, after all we were camping at nearly 10,000 ft in the Sierra in the middle of October. Cold nights go with the territory. There were other things that would wake me up as well. My arm would fall asleep under me and lose circulation. Groggily I'd roll over to the other side or on my back so that my arm could resuscitate. Once, I was awakened by Monty's snoring. He was sleeping five yards from me in his own bivy sack, not far from the edge of Echo Lake. I was going to yell over to wake him up, but that didn't seem quite kind. His snoring stopped soon enough and I went back to sleep. Only it wasn't Monty that was snoring.
It was cold out in the morning when we woke up at 7:30a. The sun hadn't quite crested the ridge it was hiding behind. The ridge to the east was the southern extension of Matthes Crest, an impressive knife-edged ridge that we were planning to climb in the morning. We would have to get moving if we were to climb both it and Cathedral Peak before the day was out as we had planned. One of Monty's first comments was,
"Hey, my food's gone."
My own food bag was right were I left it besides my bivy sack the night before. We had been too tired the night before (and unprepared with adequate ropes for the job) to hang our food. We hadn't planned originally to camp here, but we expected Echo Lakes to be too remote for bears to visit regularly. At first I didn't believe his food was really missing. Perhaps in our tired state, he had set it down in a different location. But as we looked around, there was no sign of it anywhere. Of the two, his food bag was the most appetizing to people as well as bears. He had gorp, granola and fig bars, dried fruit, peanut butter & jelly, pretzels, and Wheat Thins. I had some granola bars and beef jerky, and not much at that. Its always a special treat to hike or camp with Monty as he always bring way more food than he can eat and does his best to give it away. But not to bears, usually. After I put my boots on, I went looking for signs of a bear raid. I guessed that a bear probably sneaked up, snatched the bag, and ran off some small distance to consume the goods. Within 5 minutes I found the remains of his snacks. The bear had stopped only 50 yards south of our camp and gone through everything. There was very little left aside from the black stuff sack that was now shredded. With the exception of the PB & J, all the snacks were consumed wrappings and all. The PB & J had been stored in plastic squeeze bottles. Half the peanut butter tube was missing, presumably eaten, and the other half of the tube was licked clean. The bear must have found the plastic distasteful, and he wised up when he attacked the jelly tube. That one was ripped cleanly in half, both halves then being licked clean. So clean that it was easy to picture the bear lapping his tongue way down in the end of the tube to lap up every dab of jelly. I picked up the remains and brought them back to Monty. We felt quite badly for helping a bear form bad habits. Shame, shame.
The sun had not quite gotten to our campsite while we were packing up our bivies, bags, and pads. My hands were freezing. I could roll up only one of the three items before having to warm them in my pockets again. One by one, I slowly got all my things packed away. When the sun hit us, things started to warm quickly. What a difference a little sunlight can make. While I was waiting for Monty to pack his stuff, I played with the ice formations that had formed in the mud surrounding Echo Lake. It was interesting to see ice crystals that had pushed up out of the mud maybe and inch above the surface. Small pebbles and sticks were suspended on top, showing evidence that the ice had formed at the bottom, pushing the ice up as it formed, rather than growing layer on top of layer. (This contributed a discussion on the Yahoo! Club a week later.) I stepped on some smooth, frozen 1/4 inch sheets of ice, watching the patterns of cracks that formed, and generally amusing myself until Monty was ready to go around 8:30a. The other campers that we had noted the night before several hundred yards to the west had not stirred. They would likely never know we had stopped by during the night.
We began hiking north, up the creek drainage between Matthes Crest and Tresider Peak. From where we were, it wasn't at all clear where the high point of Matthes Crest was. There were several points that seemed to us to be vying for the title, so we read and reread Secor's description as we hiked, looking for obvious signs of the "one easy class 5 pitch up steep cracks" that we were supposed to find on the west side. It looked impossibly steep from what we could see, even though we knew it would look more doable the closer we got to it. At 10a we had hiked through the forest, up over the numerous granite benches, and reached the base of the crest where we thought we should head up.
Matthes Crest, like most of the peaks in the area, is formed from granite. The granite is arranged in huge slabs and sheets that permit almost nothing to grow on it. There is very little loose rock or sand from what we can see, just large slabs of granite that sweep up at an ever-increasing angle until it's nearly vertical at the top of the crest. The beginning part is pretty easy, so we left our packs on in case we decided to not retrace our steps on the way down. After a few hundred yards however, the angle got sufficiently steep that we decided to change into our climbing shoes which afford much greater traction. We followed a large open book that allowed us to use our hands on the right side for an added point of contact to the rock. After about 45 minutes of friction climbing (no ropes), we began to get the feeling we were aiming for the wrong high point. It seemed that perhaps we had gone too far north before heading up. The angle was too steep to traverse the quarter mile or so south, so we'd have to either go back down and then up further south, or possibly traverse the crestline starting from above our current position. We decided to continue upward. If we went back down, it would be much later before we reached the summit, and we'd likely not be able to climb Cathedral later in the afternoon.
We soon got to a steeper crack with some chockstones blocking it that was a bit tougher than we'd climbed so far. It was only a short distance below the crest. I offered to go up first and see if we had any reasonable chance of following the ridge. I reached the knife-edged ridge at 11a, where I was treated to a wonderful view of the Yosemite High Country to the east. It was also plainly obvious that the high point was some distance south of us, quite a bit higher than our current elevation. We could likely have traversed the ridge, but it would have been many pitches, and very late before we reached the summit. Before heading down, I took a few photos including the great view of Echo Peaks (turns out Monty was taking a similar photo while he was waiting for me to return). I reported my findings to Monty, where it didn't take us long to throw in the towel. I think Monty was more interested in climbing Cathedral Peak, and didn't want to miss the opportunity. I would have liked to climb Matthes, but now I wanted to come back another day and to the much longer route along the ridge from south to north. We would come back again. Next year would be just fine.
We headed down, retracing the route we had taken up. It took nearly as long to get down as it did coming up, as we were wary of slipping on the granite faces. When the angle eased considerably, we changed back into our boots and contoured north to keep from losing altitude unnecessarily. We headed up towards Echo Ridge, aiming for the west side between Echo Ridge and Echo Peaks. The higher we got, the more obvious it became where the high point on Matthes Crest is. From this angle (which is the usual approach) others will think we were quite the boneheads to miss something so obvious. I could have taken better mental notes the day before I suppose, but you'll have to trust us that it's less obvious when approaching from Echo Lake. With easy class 2 climbing the whole way, we were soon up on the ridge and heading back down the other side. We could see Cathedral Peak now, and made a beeline for the southeast buttress. The route down from the ridge was also class 2 and presented no significant obstacles.
Once we were down in the Bud Lake drainage again, we looked for a place to dump our camping gear. The start of the southeast buttress route up Cathedral Peak was a short distance above us. Since we would be coming back down the Mountaineer's Route on the same side, there was no need to take all our gear up with us. The only trick was remembering where we left it so we could find it easily enough. Although the forest wasn't particularly dense here, many of the trees looked alike, and it would be easy to mix them up. We chose a tree in line with a couple of conspicuous dead ones, and left our stuff at the base. Taking only the climbing gear, some water, and our food (what little we had left), we headed up through the trees and scree. Last time here, it had taken John and I 5 1/2 hours and something like 10 pitches to climb a 2 1/2 hour, 4 pitch climb. I was hoping to do better my second time around. The southeast buttress route has a very wide bottom, maybe 100 yards long, with any number of possible starting points. It narrows as it reaches the top, where there are fewer route options. I chose a starting point that was far to the right (north) of the previous starting point, and a bit higher as well. We got out our climbing gear, put on our rock shoes, set up our anchor, and headed up.
It was 1p now, the weather was fine, and we had this normally busy route all to ourselves. Life was sweet. We climbed more quickly than we had in the past. The actual climbing portion wasn't any faster, but the setting up and dismantling of anchors was getting much quicker with practice, as was our placing of protection in the cracks.Those tasks took 95% of our time on the rock, so the time savings was considerable. After the second pitch, we hooked up with the route I had taken before. Now I was familiar with the available belay spots and could avoid some of the mistakes I made the last time. We were able to stretch the rope to its limit since we knew where the best belay spots were, and avoided making unnecessary, extra belay stops. I was leading the odd pitches while Monty was leading the even ones. On the fifth pitch the rope ran out a short distance from the summit. I set up the anchor and belayed Monty up, who then continued up to the summit. At 4p we were both standing on top, 3 hours after we had started. Yes, we were getting better at this.
We enjoyed our time on top, taking in the views, and snapping the usual pictures. On the top are a couple of bolts (courtesy the Sierra Club, I've heard) and numerous slings that make a pretty bomb-proof anchor point. They also make a great rappel anchor that doesn't require you to leave behind any of your own gear. I don't know why I didn't think of this last time, but the west side of the summit block has a great, nearly vertical drop of about 30 feet that has rappel fun written all over it. Monty had the privilege of going first and discovering for us both that it's not so easy to rappel over an edge. The physics of it are such that the rope wants to pull you down right into the edge, crushing your hands under the rope and smacking your chest and face into the rock. If you stand on the edge and try to step down leaning backwards, the rope wants to drop you down immediately until it runs directly from the anchor over the edge (along with the above mentioned unpleasantries). We quickly figured the better approach was to sit on the edge and drop down slowly, letting the rope come to rest on the edge as smoothly as possible. It's difficult to do this gracefully the first few times, and it was good that we weren't being graded. Once over the edge, the rappel was both fun and easy, and Monty was soon unhooked on the wide ledge below. When he was done, I hooked my rappel device on and repeated the ungraceful maneuver getting over the top edge. Like Monty, I found the rest a snap although I didn't have that smooth flow you see in the movies where they seem to fly down a hundred feet and smoothly stop at the very end of the rope. Wouldn't the flesh be burned from their hands stopping the rope like that? Someday I'm going to set up a practice rappel and do this a hundred times or so until I can get in the movies.
The way down the Mountaineer's Route is somewhat circuitous, requiring about 20 minutes to cover some class 2-3 rock before one gets to the north ridge that leads down the easier scree on the east side. After having so much fun rappelling down the summit block, we wondered if we couldn't just continue rappelling down the north side as a short cut to the east face portion of the Mountaineer's Route. Looking over the edge and down at the north face, I could see a rappel sling that looked pretty old about a half-rope length down from the top. Unfortunately I couldn't see any further down, and it would require at least a second rappel anchor to reach the easier slopes below. If we had more time we could take the risk of going down, since we could climb back up if need be. But it was later in the day now and we didn't want to risk having to get back to the car after dark.
So we packed up our rope and changed our shoes, and headed down. We went by Eichorn Pinnacle, a side climb that I've wanted to do but would have to wait for next year. We made swift progress heading down, taking only 45 minutes to return to our gear that we had stashed. Loading up one last time, we continued on down. We kept to the left of the drainage area, staying high on the Cathedral side. We soon picked up a use trail, which lead us down to the main trail we had taken just yesterday on our way from the trailhead. At 5:30p we were back at the car, about an hour ahead of our own expectations we had had back on the peak at 4p. Seemed we might well have had enough time to climb Eichorn, but still had no regrets. Our friend Michael had not been able to join us for either climb up Cathedral this year, and I knew he wanted to very much. Climbing Eichorn would give us an extra incentive to climb Cathedral again next year. We retrieved our food and ice chest from the bear lockers at the trailhead, packed up the car and headed out, savoring the beers we had left on ice to reward ourselves at the conclusion of our weekend...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Matthes Crest - Cathedral Peak
This page last updated: Wed May 16 17:05:17 2007
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