Abbreviated Cathedral Range Solo Traverse

Morgan Brown

Glacier NP
New Mexico
New Zealand
Sequoia/Kings Canyon
Bloody Canyon
Cathedral Lakes
Cathedral Range
Clouds Rest
Mount Conness
Mount Dana
Dunderberg Peak
Glen Aulin
Hetch Hetchy
Koip Peak
Mono Pass
North Dome
Peak 11500'
Ragged Peak
Mount Ritter
Sentinel Dome
Smith Peak
Stanton Peak
Mount Starr King
Tresidder Peak
Yos. Valley
Vogelsang Peak
Yos. Falls
Yosemite Falls 2
Virgin Islands
Kim & Morgan
Mom & Dad

Books that Morgan

The High Sierra: Peaks, Passes, and Trails
By R.J. Secor. The High Sierra hiking/climbing guidebook. Amazingly exhaustive. An indispensible trip planning aid.

Scroll down for the photos

To see some annotated photos, click here

On September 20, 2003, Kim was at Kayo's bachlorette party in Yosemite. I couldn't stand putzing around here while she was having fun in the mountains, so I decided to have some fun of my own. I had read, somewhat enviously, of other peoples' adventures in the Cathedral Range. The range is full of many easy technical summits and close enough to Tioga Road that interesting multi-peak combinations are possible. In fact, there is a semi-recognized "circuit", which consists of climbing Unicorn Peak, Cockscomb, Echo Ridge, Matthes Crest, all 9 Echo Peaks, Cathedral Peak, and Eichorn Pinnacle. Lacking the climbing ability/confidence to free-solo 5.6 rock, and lacking the endurance to do all of those darn summits, I settled for a compromise: start at Elizabeth Lake, climb Unicorn Peak, then Cockscomb, then Echo Ridge, then as many Echo Peaks as I felt, then back to the car.

I left Palo Alto at 03:30, arriving at the Tuolumne Grill parking lot at 07:45. By the time I had gathered my gear and started hiking, it was 08:00. I bounded uphill quickly in the cold morning air, walking with my hands in my pockets rather than use the gloves that I'd stashed inconveniently in the bottom of my pack. After snapping some photos and eating half a granola bar and some coffee crystals at Elizabeth Lake, I made my way up the class 3 slabs on Unicorn Peak's ENE face, and stashed my pack below the summit block slightly before 10:00 and put on my rock shoes. If I had consulted my notes more carefully, I would have known that the north summit is the highest of the three summits. But I was too lazy, so I climbed the middle summit over class 4 terrain. The last move, an awkward class 4 hand jam, gave me pause for the spectacular exposure. I chose to downclimb a slightly different route. I quickly traversed to the notch between the north and middle summits and this time consulted my notes, "noting" that a hand traverse of some sort would be involved. I climbed class 3/4 blocks to a large platform with an ancient bolt. From here, I dropped a few feet into a chimney and immediately started the exposed hand traverse, and quickly bounded up another 20 feet of class 3/4 blocks to the summit. No register on either summit. I downclimbed quickly and was back to my pack at 10:15, where I ate more coffee and the rest of my granola bar.

The traverse over "Mount Althuski" was uneventful, and I reached the base of Cockscomb's west face at 11:00. I quickly started climbing, but it went slower than on Unicorn. I started right of the summit and followed a crack system toward the summit. I had to backtrack a couple times on steep, holdless faces. This was harder than the "class 4" that I had expected. About 20 feet below the summit, you come to an unavoidable chimney. After dropping into the chimney, you climb to a notch between two summit blocks. Again I did not know whether the east or west summit block was higher, so I climbed both. The west summit block was straightforward class 3/4, but upon reaching the top I noticed a piton with two slings on the east summit block. I downclimbed and climbed a steep, but solid crack to the east summit, The climbing here is 5th class by any modern standard. The downclimb was pretty slow, and I silently wished for a rope, but it went OK. I got back to my pack at 11:30 and ate a small "lunch" consisting of Gu, Balance Bars, and coffee crystals before heading off toward Echo Ridge.

For some reason, I erroneously expected Echo Ridge to be a simple hiking traverse. In fact, it is an extended stretch of third class climbing, separated by irritating patches of scrub pines. The easiest approach may be to simply descend to the saddle north of Matthes Crest. However, I tried to stay high. The crux of the route comes just before the highest tower. You can climb a class 4+ notch, or, like I did, descend painfully. The highest tower has a class 3 notch that pops you out onto hikeable terrain.

I reached the base of the Echo Peaks around 13:00 -- the traverse over Echo Ridge had been pretty demanding and sapped a great deal of mental and physical energy. I felt kind of sluggish after lunch, and was hoping to catch a second wind, but after Echo Ridge, none was forthcoming. The sheer number of Echo Peaks was overwhelming, so I resolved to climb one that looked fun. Randomly, I settled upon #5, which boasted perhaps 100 feet of enjoyable and steep third class scrambling. #3 looked like the best scramble and best view, but I decided to make the long trek back to the car.

I started downhill at 1:30 over the fantastic sandy slopes toward Budd Lake. On the way down, I met the guy who keeps a great website of panoramic images, Bounding quickly toward Budd Lake, I stumbled across a woman peeing against a rock. Unfazed, she greeted me. I chatted for a while with her and her friend as I filled my water at Budd Lake. Good-sized trout jumped in the middle of this sunny day. I resolve to do some flyfishing here someday. Soon, I was hightailing it down the high-quality Budd Creek use trail. Soon I came across a couple carrying ropes who planned to climb Cathedral Peak. It was about 14:00, and they were making slow progress. I didn't have the heart to tell them that they would not be climbing Cathedral today...except in the dark, perhaps. Oddly, they had a large Rhodesian Ridgeback dog with them. The poor pooch was weighted down with a huge "doggy pack". Apparently the climbers had put both climbing racks in the dog's pack, which must have weighed 30 pounds.

From here, it was a sheer slog. I had over a mile to walk from the Cathedral Lakes trailhead to my car. I had the brilliant idea to walk along the road and hitch a ride. A half hour of dusty hiking later, I arrived (on foot) at my car. People are too busy driving 45 mph in the 25 mph zone to stop for a smelly climbing hitchhiker, I suppose. Anyhow, I arrived back at the car at 15:30 for a 7h30m "car-to-car" time (for what it's worth, fast climbers would probably do this in 3 hours!). I got a chocolate bar and gatorade at the Tuolumne Store and headed down to Crane Flat to meet Kim and the bachlorette party. Unfortunately, all but two of them were off hiking North Dome, and didn't return for an hour and a half. Still, it was nice to see Kim before heading home. I stopped at my favorite, the 50's Roadside Diner for a big chicken fried steak and a butterscotch sundae. Ah, the perks of civilization!

Click on small images to start "slide show"
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Tripmap of my Cathedral Range ...
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Panoramic image of Unicorn Pea...
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Happy climber in the cold air ...
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North (true) summit of Unicorn...
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Happy climber on the north sum...
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Rusty old bold on prominent bl...
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Elizabeth Lake and the endless...
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From left to right: Mount Alth...
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Unicorn Peak and Tuolumne Mead...
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Unicorn Peak zoom from the sou...
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Cockscomb from the north, take...
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Unicorn Peak and Mount Althusk...
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Happy climber on summit of Coc...
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Matthes Crest, Echo Peaks, and...
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View up lower portion of "clas...
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Mount Althuski and Mount Dana ...
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Happy climber on Echo Ridge, b...
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View of most of my traverse fr...
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Echo Peaks from Echo Ridge.
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Cathedral Peak and Budd Lake f...
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Happy climber from Echo Peak #...
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Panoramic view from summit of ...
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Budd Lake from Echo Peak #5. ...
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The highest, and most spectacu...
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Cathedral Peak and the interes...
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Unicorn Peak (left) and Echo R...

© 2008 , Stanford Exploration Project
Department of Geophysics
Stanford University

Modified: 12/09/08, 21:25:18 PST , by morgan
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