Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Moving Forward

I wanted to write another blog post to update those who may check here but do not follow me elsewhere. Due to storage space constrictions and concerns about maintaining the photo quality on this blog I've decided to post all my future trip reports here: Cascade Climbers

Since my last post at the beginning of this year my foot has indeed recovered and I have started doing more. In March, on a break from graduate school Edward and I "accidentally" climbed the Gerber-Sink on the North Face of Dragontail Peak with a direct mixed finish (2000 ft WI3 M5). You can find that TR here.

After finishing the majority of school in June I headed to Washington. I stopped in the Tieton cragging area for the first time, soloed the South Ridge on Ingalls Peak (4P 5.4), climbed Clean Break on Juno Tower at Washington Pass with my friend Ryan (15P 5.10c), and climbed the classic Outer Space on Snow Creek Wall (7P 5.9).

I headed back to Washington merely a week later and arrived in Leavenworth with enough daylight left to solo both the historic Midway and Midway Direct on Castle Rock (both 3P ~5.6). I then went to Index for the first time before heading back to Washington Pass with friends and climbing the West Face on North Early Winters Spire (7P 5.11-) and the Northwest Face on Liberty Bell (6P 5.9). Here is a TR of my various Washington Pass climbs in June... link!

In July I finished graduate school and spent some time practicing my aid and crack climbing. After a couple weeks of weddings I headed back to Washington for a slightly longer trip. I soloed the  Beckey route on Liberty Bell and the South Arete on South Early Winters Spire, and then scrapped my initial plans due to fires and opted to go into the Picket Range. In the Pickets I climbed the West Ridges on West McMillan Spire and Inspiration Peak (3rd and 5.7 respectively). Read the TR here.

After the Pickets I headed back to Washington Pass to meet my friend Nick. In two days we climbed the two classic East Face Routes on the Liberty Bell Group: the Direct East Buttress on South Early Winters Spire (9P 5.11-) and Liberty Crack (12P 5.10 C2) my first "wall" climb. See the TR here.

After returning to Bend and heading south to see family for a week I was planning to stay home and focus on cragging locally for the fall but my friend Brian coerced me (without much difficulty) into a quick trip to the Sierra. In three days we climbed the Red Dihedral on the Incredible Hulk (12P 5.10), the Regular Route on Fairview Dome (11P 5.9), and the Third Pillar of Dana (6P 5.10). See that TR here.

All in all it's been a really good year so far, especially considering the injury and grad school. I have been climbing better than ever and I'm excited by how many routes I've also done at Smith that I've wanted to do for a while.

I plan to focus on local projects, especially some of the harder (for me) traditional and multi-pitch climbs at Smith, Trout and Cougar this fall. As things get colder I am excited to get back on Hood and other local mountains... I have many projects. In January I plan to start a training cycle (per the House Johnston book) and hopefully get some alpine routes and ice cragging trips in. Next summer I will have money and time... not sure where I will go or what I will do, but I want to go big. Anything is possible.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Das Foot Update, 2014 Retrospective

Well, it's almost 2015 and I figured I would update anyone still bothering to read about my foot and future plans. In early December I was finally able to see a orthopedic specialist (the third doctor I had visited) and get a more thorough diagnosis. The last two doctors had been able to rule out a full fracture and other than that just referred me onwards. This foot specialist diagnosed my issue as tendonitis of the peroneus brevis tendon which goes from a muscle on the in the outside of the lower leg through a notch in the ankle and inserts at the base of the fifth metatarsal. The good news is I don't need to be on crutches or in a walking boot for months. The bad news is that anytime this tendon gets irritated it pinches itself as it swells and irritates itself further in a vicious feedback cycle. I have been ice massaging it vigorously for the last four weeks to try and keep the inflammation down and although it is still there I have been able to do some physical activity without anywhere near the discomfort I was experiencing (cycling, swimming and some pretty boring walking. I have also  just started to add in more stretching and some specific strengthening exercises. I am hoping that my foot will be healed enough to allow a return to cragging by February and some alpine by March. I am excited to say that my pullup and finger strength are both at an all-time, although I have gained over five pounds in upper body muscle which may or may not be beneficial in the long-run.

Despite my injury from the last four plus months of 2014, it was a pretty good year for me. I went from having done only one real technical alpine route (ice and mixed) to soloing two of them in January; Devil's Kitchen Headwall and Jeff Park Glacier. I then got a hold of of Steve House and Scott Johnston's new training book and put together four plus months of solid training in preparation for my June trip. During this training period I managed to get out to climb the North Face Right Gully on Hood and North Sister in a storm, both with Travis Holman. In June I went down to the High Sierra by myself, to rock climb there for the first time. Over six days I soloed the West Ridge on Conness, the Tenaya-Matthes-Cathedral linkup, and the Swiss Arete on Mt. Sill in the Palisades. I then started graduate school and focused on my bouldering for the summer, before climbing the Backbone Ridge on Dragontail Peak in the Stuart Range. Considering that I have been climbing technical (typically roped and above 3rd class) routes for less than three years I think this is a pretty good year. I would have preferred to spend more time climbing, and being able to be more active in general would have been a huge stress relief for me this fall, but I was very busy with graduate school and in some sense it was a blessing to have something I'm so obsessed with cut away. That said, this break from climbing has confirmed for me how much I value climbing, especially alpine climbing and just being out in the mountains in general. I can't wait to be back out there.

P.S. Happy New Year!!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Injuries, Cycles and Productivity

My intention was to focus on rock climbing this fall. However, the week after climbing Dragontail I randomly threw in a hard 13 mile run. I had only been bouldering and running a little bit all summer and, especially after a long day the week before, this was probably too much. That night Caitlin and I went to a concert and I noticed my foot was swollen and hurting. The next day I tried to climb at Smith despite my throbbing foot. I ended up limping to the base of a wall and climbing a few pitches before hobbling back to the car.

I monitored the injury the next week and realized that it was probably a stress fracture in my fifth metatarsal. I tried to baby it in supportive footwear and limited my exercise to biking and steep climbing. It seemed to be doing okay for a couple of weeks but then I jammed it in a hand crack and, no surprise here, it swelled up and hurt. So I put it in a walking boot and tried to figure out what to do with myself. Luckily I had a few projects.

My car has good clearance and four-wheel drive so I checked out some cliffs that I had not been to before but could drive to. One day I managed to knock my water bottle off a 200 footer into a tangle of bushes. I rapped down the cliff to look for it, which took a while and kind of also felt like climbing while simultaneously making me wish I could actually climb all of the awesome cracks two inches from my face. I never did find that bottle either.

I also installed a hangboard at my house (about time) and began to do some stuff on that. It was hard to find motivation at first but after a while of hobbling around and sitting on my butt all day it started looking pretty appealing. I definitely gained some finger strength and increased my pullup volume. Today I cranked out 102 pullups in between doing homework and eating snacks.

Finally, I created an extensive spreadsheet of climbing areas and ranked them by drive time from Bend. I created a separate page on this site to house it called... climbing areas by drive time page so check it out!

I think my foot is finally ready to start use again after 6+ weeks in a walking boot. Hopefully I will be able to get out and start doing fun stuff soon!

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Backbone, Dragontail Peak

I forget where I first saw or heard about the Backbone Ridge. Probably when I first got a copy of the Nelson/Potterfield Select guide. The north face of Dragontail Peak where this route sits has held my imagination since I first saw a photo of it. The 2,000 foot plus wall of granite rising above Colchuck Lake is intimidating and inspiring. It is exactly the sort of thing I wanted to climb.

The north face of Dragontail Peak towering over Colchuck Lake.
My first attempt on D-tail's nordwand came in March of 2013. I arranged to climb the Triple Couloirs, a classic ice climb, with someone who I had not climbed with much before. In an obsessive push to try get onto a "real" winter alpine climb I missed my partners obvious hints that he would rather go to Joshua tree and work on his tan while smoking dope and drinking beer. After the most frustrating approach of my life, I at least managed to climb neighboring Colchuck Peak and bag an awesome ski run while he chilled out and recovered from pre-trip partying. In retrospect, even with climbable conditions and a good partner, I probably wasn't ready for that route.

Dragontail and Colchuck Peak in March of 2013.

With Triple Couloirs out of the picture for a while I fixated on the Backbone; one of the longest, most aesthetic and sustained rock routes on the face. In August 2013 I lined up some partners and time to go climb in Washington again. I suggested the Backbone but my partner countered with the Complete North Ridge on Mt. Stuart, the longest route on the biggest peak in the Stuart Range. I couldn't resist and the Backbone was relegated to a backup climb. After climbing Stuart in questionable weather, the forecast for the week deteriorated so I drove home several days early without trying any other objectives.

Looking down through swirling clouds from an unplanned bivy on the Complete North Ridge of Mt. Stuart last August.

In June of this year I again had time for a trip and considered the Washington Cascades, but a combination of bad weather and lack of partners sent me south to the Sierra for some soloing. After that trip I started graduate school, got married, and spent the hot summer bouldering at the gym. Finally classes allowed me to procrastinate enough and my friend Chris, jonesing for a multi-pitch fix, jumped on the Backbone band wagon.

Chris is a meticulous planner and a solid rock climber. Our abilities are closely matched; Chris is a little better on hard pitches and I'm a little more comfortable running it out and moving fast on moderate terrain. We both have lots of multi-pitch experience and know what to expect on long routes. Not wanting to blow our one weekend we did plenty of research and planning. Then in true alpine climbing fashion threw all the good advice out the window, slimmed down the rack, lightened the packs, and told ourselves that we could climb the route much faster and with less stuff than most people suggested.

Chris has climbed a lot of routes in Red Rocks and has dialed his system for a long climbing day to a very small pack with water bladder, jacket, and a couple energy bars. He carries everything else on his harness. I was coming from a more alpine background and brought a light-weight 30L pack with more food and a camera. The second pitch of the route is a 5.9 off-width and this is definitely the crux of the ridge. We had read many comments saying that a #6 Camalot was the only way to protect a chunk of the pitch, but this cam is quite large and heavy. Instead we took doubles to #3 and one #5, I rationalized that the 5.9 off-width on Stuart's North Ridge was short-lived and had plenty of other places for gear.

We left Bend Friday afternoon and ate burritos made with Chris' favorite hot sauce in the car. After sleeping in the truck near the trail head, we started hiking at 5:30 in the morning. We blazed up the trail and easily reached Colchuck Lake (5 miles) in 90 minutes, circled the lake and started hiking up the glacial moraine to the base of the route. We encountered a little bit of sketchy snow and ice crossing to the start of the rock. Fourth class scrambling led up ledge systems to the ridge and the real climbing. We started climbing lower than anticipated due to water on the rock from rain the day before. Chris went up a wet corner and we simuled through to the base of the off-width, during which we heard heated conversation from above. We arrived at the belay ledge to find a man and a woman preparing to retreat, they said they had left the trail head at 2am and the man had decided they were going too slowly, the woman was evidently not happy with his decision. While they rigged a rappel off the ledge, Chris and I stared at the off-width which looked awesome and not that hard from below. Chris said he was psyched and asked for the lead, I didn't argue. He racked and took some deep breaths before starting up. He inched his way up the slot very slowly, from below I began to feel antsy, why was he taking so long? Eventually he committed to the top section with the #5 cam tipped out well below him. I followed and realized how glad I was that Chris had led the pitch, but it was still my favorite pitch of the whole climb. Chris would cite one of my leads as his favorite, an exposed traverse with heinous rope drag. Ironically, each of us hated leading the other's favorite pitch.

Taking a break to use the squatter at Colchuck Lake only 90 minutes after leaving the car.

Looking up at the route from Colchuck Lake.

Early morning light on Colchuck Peak and a very melted out Colchuck Glacier.

Another shot up at the route from the base of the glacial moraine.

Colchuck Peak with the moon above as we climb up the fourth class section low on the route.

While we were on the off-width two locals from Wenatchee caught us. The rope-gun, John, was obviously on top of his game and knew where he was going. Above Chris led another careful pitch up wet slabs before I took the lead for that traverse with awful rope drag. The other two guys passed us on adjacent cracks and shot up to the Fin, an amazingly positioned slab of white rock at the top of the ridge. We then ran out a short traverse on loose rock before I blasted off on a lengthy simul pitch up stair step terrain, chasing the other climbers. Chris led another quick simul pitch out ledges to the base of some cracks on the Fin, which I then climbed to a large ledge. I led yet another pitch up, stretching our 70m rope to reach a ledge at the top of a fun corner. Chris moved our belay down the ledge and let me have yet another stellar lead as I blasted up a sketchy wet corner to a dead end before cutting right around an arete on loose flakes, I reached the vicinity of the belay I'd seen the other party use and asked Chris how much rope I had left, "half-way" was what I heard so I punched it. I placed a marginal nut and hesitated briefly before pulling through an awesome undercling section to a short chimney and a belay on the crest of the Fin. Chris came up and traversed right to easier ground before we half-assed a short step and scrambled to the summit. In retrospect, Chris let me lead way more than my share and I guess I owe him some belays! On top, the clouds cleared just enough to give us spectacular views and we snapped some pictures joyfully before scrambling down.

Chris at a rest on the off-width before tackling the crux.

Colchuck Lake looking inviting.

Colchuck Balanced Rock and other spires east of Colchuck Lake.
Awesome views to the north and west with the Sandpiper (rock diving board) and Stuart Lake.

Chris coming up a corner at the end of the rope stretcher on the Fin with Colchuck Lake behind.
Dragontail's summit shrouded in cloud.

Chris coming up the undercling section on the last real pitch of the Fin.

The whole route had taken us longer than expected and it was already after 7pm. We cramponed down the snow field on the east side of the summit and descended into the Asgard Pass gully. Neither of us had ever been up or down Asgard but we had heard it was loose and not fun. I was a little concerned about our route finding as the light was quickly fading. We found a trail, sort of, and started down. In hindsight, there were no cairns and our "trail" was really just a goat track. After lots of loose talus and some sketchy chimneys we found ourselves in some trees looking down a cliff. We back-tracked, crossed some flowing water and went down third class, moss covered, streams to reach a talus field. Extremely unstable rocks went on forever in the dark. We kept traversing down and left. Finally we hit some trees and headed down, eventually reaching the cairns marking the real Asgard Pass trail. At this point we were only a couple hundred yards from the end of the talus slopes and the actual trail, definitely not the most efficient descent. We hiked the last six miles back to the trail head slowly on weak legs and sore knees, arriving back at the car at 12:40am. We ate a snack and fell asleep in the back of the truck. In the morning we drove to Leavenworth and ate breakfast before driving back to Bend, much too sore and tired to contemplate even a little cragging.

Mt. Stuart sticks out of the clouds beyond the summit of Colchuck.

Looking down into the Enchantments from the summit of Dragontail.

I'm stoked to have finally ascended this truly beautiful feature and that I was able to have so much fun doing it. This is the third peak, and second rock route I've climbed in the Stuart Range. While Backbone is only half the length of the Complete North Ridge, it is a little more sustained and has worse quality rock. I would say it's roughly two thirds of the Complete North Ridge in terms of time commitment. Once more I found that many pitches were close to 50m and that things took significantly longer than expected. Many people mention that route finding is a issue on this ridge but I would say that it is still a lot easier than the lower North Ridge, or maybe I'm just more experienced now. I definitely felt that I climbed more confidently and quickly on this trip, but then again I had not been climbing much last summer before Stuart and we had an experienced party to chase. The next time I go to the Stuart Range I think I will be looking to either climb technical winter routes, or some of the high quality rock routes on Prusik Peak.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Marriage, Grad School, and Bouldering on Plastic

If you read the title of this post and thought that it sounded like the most boring thing ever, well, you'd probably be correct. I'm writing this more as an update, filling in the blanks if you will.

Now, I'm not saying that July was a boring month for me or that I'm not satisfied with my life choices, far from it. But this is a place to write about mountain adventures and neither marriage, grad school nor bouldering at the gym are close to or even really contributing to that. I suppose an outside observer might think that my Sierra solo kick was a last hurrah. Now I'll just settle down and make babies I guess, nothing else to do.

While that may sound reasonable to my parents and in-laws, that's not really the direction I envisage. This next year may be slower than I want it to be in terms of big mountain adventures, but it is a chance to get some other things in line. Marriage really won't be changing much, Caitlin and I have been together for five and a half years at this point and getting married was a formal declaration of our relationship and a great excuse to get everyone together and throw a good party. Grad school is only a year-long program and will ideally allow me to make a little more consistent money while still having enough time off to get gnarly. July was really the first month of classes, along with getting married and attending two other weddings. As a result we were pretty busy.

On top of that it's been very hot in Central Oregon and outdoor cragging has been less-than ideal. So, I took to the gym. I've pretty much decided that this is the year to really work on my technical climbing. I have limited time but a good gym a mile from my house. On weekends Smith, Trout and I-rock are going to be a lower time commitment than a real alpine objective. After taking a week pretty much all off, to recover from those big days in the Sierra, I started pulling on plastic. Let me tell you, V0 feels really strenuous after having climbed nothing harder than 5.7 for the last 100 pitches/3 weeks of your life.

My training program is as follows: Two gym sessions a week, both start with core. The first session I focus on hard bouldering, starting with V0 and working up through the bouldering grades. Once I reach my max (V3-4 because I'm weak) I do 4-6 problems with 3-5 minute rests in between. I then finish by doing as many pullups as I can with a weight belt. Once I can do ten I increase the weight. My second session I go to the hangboard and do 4-6 sets of 5 pullups, alternating between pockets and crimps. Then I go to the bouldering area and do a 4x4 on jug hauls. For the rest of my days I either go running or cragging with whatever time I have. My goal is to continue to average around 300 minutes of aerobic work per week which based on past experience should maintain that fitness fairly well with minimal stress. I'm four weeks in and am already seeing my grip strength and upper body strength improve. Hopefully I can do some multi-pitch rock routes on August weekends and see big dividends from all this training at the crag come fall.

In the meantime here is some stoke... Mt. Hood Climber's Guide just came out and is AWESOME!

My new copy of Mt. Hood Climber's Guide and a set of ice tool leashes I made while I should have been reading my text book. Get stoked for winter!

And, the last wedding we went to was in Leavenworth! Caitlin and I did some hiking up to Colchuck Lake, but only did a short pitch of climbing on the fun Classic Crack (5.8+, FA by Beckey).

Dragontail Peak and Colchuck Lake make for a nice cool/shaded hike with a great view and swimming hole at the end. Get out and climb in the mountains while the weather is good!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Sierra Solo 3: The Palisades

The day after climbing the Tenaya-Matthes-Cathedral Linkup I drove down to Mammoth Lakes to meet my friend Jimmy. We hung out at Stellar Brew with his friend Tess and I splurged on a salmon avocado sandwich. Then we walked up to Mammoth Brewing and took advantage of high altitude by getting an afternoon buzz from a flight of tasters. Afterwards I went and sat in the local mountaineering store and thumbed through guide books before wandering back to my car and taking a nap. I woke up hungry and sad. I just wanted to go home. I was in the middle of an amazing week of climbing and rambling around the High Sierra, and all I could do was think about hanging out with my friends in Bend and drinking beer. So I ate a granola bar and called my mom to chat. Ten minutes later I hung up the phone grabbed a burrito with Tess and then hit the road. I needed to get out on my own and away from civilization again.

That night I slept down a dirt road somewhere off 395. I slept amazingly as I hadn't camped below 9,000 feet since the previous Friday. The next morning I drove into Bishop and wandered around for a few hours. I got some water, ate breakfast and drove south through the mounting, oppressive heat of the desert. In Big Pine I drove around in circles a few times before finally finding Glacier Lodge Road and slowly grinding my old truck up to the trailhead for the North Fork of Big Pine Creek, a quick access point to the northern Palisades.

In the parking lot I sorted gear and chatted with a nice, stocky guy with bushy white eyebrows and piercing blue eyes. He introduced himself as Doug and said he had been a climbing guide in the Palisades for years. He gave me in depth beta on my objectives and helped me make some key decisions. I had never been into the Palisades so his help was invaluable given my ambitious plans. After the trip I looked him up. You may have heard of him. His name is Doug Robinson and he wrote a short piece for the 1972 Chouinard Equipment Catalog called "The Whole Natural Art of Protection." He's also done a lot of things in mountains that get described with words like "first" and "fastest," but he just seemed like a friendly guy, stoked on the mountain adventures. The last thing he said to me before driving away was, that he wished he could be there when I came back out, to hear my stories.

I then hiked up the North Fork of Big Pine Creek (which is amazing!) and four hours later I hopped around to a delightful and protected sandy ledge above Sam Mack Meadow, at 12,000 feet. I pitched my tent and went to sleep in one of the most beautiful places imaginable.

The first view of Temple Crag as you hike up the North Fork of Big Pine Creek... pretty impressive.

Temple Crag above Second Lake.

Looking over Second Lake with Temple Crag on the left and the Palisades (North Pal, Starlight, and Thunderbolt) visible on the skyline just above and right of the broad snowy gully.
Home sweet home! The moraine of the Palisade Glacier is getting the final rays of sun on the left. The skyline (L-R) starts with the edge of Sill, V-notch, Polemonium, U-notch, North Pal, Starlight, Underhill Couloir/Notch, Thuderbolt.

Sunset from my window.
My plan was simple, climb the classic Swiss Arete to the summit of Mt. Sill and then traverse the ridge line NW over Polemonium, North Pal, Starlight and Thunderbolt Peak before descending the North Couloir on Thunderbolt. This would allow me to tag five 14,000 foot peaks in a day and do the classic Thunderbolt to Sill Traverse (IV 5.8) in reverse.

Mt. Sill above the Palisade Glacier and its terminal lake. The Swiss Arete follows the left hand ridge on the skyline and cuts across the face.

Eating breakfast on the terminal moraine of the Palisade Glacier. Above me (L-R) is V-notch, Polemonium, U-notch, North Pal, Starlight, Underhill Couloir/Notch, and Thunderbolt. The previous picture of Mt. Sill is taken looking just to the left.
The next morning I took my time. Something was lacking, my mental energy was depleted and I felt a lack of motivation. Physically I felt great, I had slept well, felt energetic and knew I was acclimatized. Despite that, I lacked the excitement and motivation to climb. I strolled up to the edge of the glacier and sat for a while observing the peaks and eating breakfast. It was beautiful but as I looked at the gullies I saw that they were filled with hard, blue ice. After climbing around the Yosemite high country (Conness is ~12,600ft) I had been certain that sun cups and soft neve would fill the gullies, but I had underestimated the "most alpine" sub-range in the Sierra. As a result I had guide tennies, no crampons and a light ice axe. This would make descent mid-traverse difficult and dangerous.

The V-notch and U-notch couloirs on either side of Polemonium Peak. 'Schrunds, rock fall and bare ice are visible.

I looked over at Mt. Sill and begrudgingly decided that I should at least go look at the Swiss Arete. If I climbed that route at least I would feel like I had done something. I hiked part way across the Palisade Glacier then turned around and went towards the Underhill Couloir on a whim. Then I saw a party of two across the glacier headed to the Swiss Arete. In a mad frenzy to talk to other climbers and relieve my soloist's burden I sped back across the glacier and caught them at the bottom of the gully up to the Gayley-Sill pass. It turned out they were two guys from San Francisco and they were moving slowly, taking their time. It's amazing what a short interaction can do to your psyche... here were two guys going to climb the Swiss Arete, an amazing climb. Hadn't I heard from Doug, just yesterday, how fun it was? That he had climbed it 30 plus times and would love to do it again. Why did I doubt myself? I had let ambition get in the way of enjoying being right here, right now, having an adventure. I was so focused on all the climbing I was trying to do, that I had lost sight of the reason for the climbing. Suddenly I knew that I could do it, and more importantly that I could have a good time.

Lookig across the Palisade Glacier at the Gayley-Sill col with Mt. Sill on the right. Can you see the two climbers on the glacier?

Here is a close up of the gully to the Gayley-Sill col. Can you see the two climbers now?
I scrambled up the rock to the base of the L-shaped couloir, then followed footsteps up next to the Swiss Arete but said screw it and jumped on the rock early. I found amazing climbing, just like I knew I would. The crux came fast and passed easily... I love a solid hand jam. My cracked hands bled on the rock but I didn't care. I took a direct finish straight to the summit and hopped around like a little kid exploring every nook and cranny. I spent over an hour on the summit eating, staring at the mountains, taking photos, and basking in the warm sun.

Looking up the Swiss Arete. Blocky crack climbing on solid rock, a lot of fun.

Looking down the Swiss Arete (the jumbled ridge on the right) from the summit of Mt. Sill. The Palisade Glacier is visible on the left with the terminal moraine (where I ate breakfast) and its lake in the upper left.
I saw this view looking south from the summit of Mt. Sill... and then I jizzed in my pants!

Summit selfie on Sill. Looking south.

Summit selfie looking west along the ridge line with Polemonium, North Pal and Starlight (L-R).
I descended down loose rock and sketchy snow to the top of the L-shaped couloir and whooped with joy. I ran down the soft sun cups and scrambled down the gully to the glacier. By 12:30pm I was back at my tent. I packed up and did the familiar boulder-hop walk-jog routine down to the trail. I stopped at Third Lake and swam briefly before retying my shoes and hoofing it down to the car. I took off my shirt, dumped water on my head and drove. My week of soloing was over. I was going home.

Back in the land of flowing water and plants. An erratic boulder right in the middle of the stream on rock benches above Sam Mack Meadow.

Rehydrating beneath the Palisade Glacier with North Pal, Starlight and Thunderbolt (L-R) above.

Sierra Solo pt. 2: Tenaya-Matthes-Cathedral Linkup

The morning after climbing Conness I took my time... eating, napping, eating, walking around, drinking water, drinking more water, using the out house, staring at the mountains. Conness already felt like an easy climb, amazing but fairly boring too, and I was ready for something more. I drove into the park around noon and headed to the Tuolumne Visitor Center. I badgered a poor volunteer with questions, made a couple phone calls, then headed to Lembert Dome. I couldn't resist and scrambled up the NW Corner route before getting promptly lost, sliding down some moss covered slab, and eventually walking the un-enjoyable road back to the car where I traded running shoes for Chacos and a good book and walked over to the river for a couple hours.

That night I dirt-bagged in the back of my car after a big dinner of potatoes and chilli. In the morning I drove to Tenaya Lake and B-lined from the car to the base of Tenaya Peak, a big buttress behind the lake. An intermittent climber's trail gave way to wet slabs, then dry slabs, then easy climbing. I romped up the buttress making terrible time. The problem with climbing in the Sierra is that every time you glance over your shoulder you waste about ten minutes staring and drooling out of your slack jaw. At least I was enjoying myself. About 1:45 after leaving the car I had climbed some 5.6 or 5.7ish lichen covered crack up the final headwall and scrambled over to the summit.

Tenaya Lake from low on the NW Buttress

Looking up the route from where the real climbing starts. "Real climbing" being a relative term on this route.

Looking to the NE at Tuolumne Meadows and the mountains beyond. Sawtooth Ridge is just left of the prominent pass on the horizon.

Looking down on Tenaya Lake from a snowy ledge... it's always nice to get above something like this.

Looking down at the Valley past Half Dome and Mt. Watkins with Cloud's Rest just out of view on the left.
Looking back down the NW Buttress onto Tenaya Lake from the summit.

Another shot of Tuolumne, this time from the summit. You can see Mt. Conness (right most peak on the horizon).

In the distance ahead I could see the dark outline of the Matthes Crest and off to my left the tip of Cathedral Peak nosed over a ridge. A fun little Mountain Project route page under Tenaya Peak had suggested that you use the NW Buttress of Tenaya Peak (which I had just climbed) to access the famous Matthes Crest Traverse (South to North) and then tag the classic SE Buttress on Cathedral Peak during the stroll back to the car. I had never climbed or even been to this area before. I had done some research before hand, however, and decided it was doable. Now I was on the ground and in position, I just had to go and see what the day had in store. That, and try not to waste all the daylight taking pictures.

The imposing fin that is the Matthes Crest. The traverse goes from right to left (S-N) and follows the skyline practically the whole way.

Cathedral Peak from the walk to Matthes. The SE Buttress follows the right hand skyline.
I walk/jogged across the basin behind Tenaya, eating and drinking while I moved. Then I dropped down into the deeper valley west of the Matthes Crest. I tried to keep my breathing in check, moving fast without blowing my load early. From the valley I side-hilled and scrambled over to the base of Matthes. An hour after leaving the summit of Tenaya I was looking up at the first couple pitches. I ate some trail mix and and started up the golden, knob-covered fins.

Golden knob climbing craziness on the first two pitches of Matthes Crest.

The climbing was easy with some minor route finding. The only problem was the grit. Little pieces of decomposed granite sand made a slick coating on some of the knobs and I meticulously brushed them off before using each one. Traversing out left to avoid a steeper section I placed my left foot on a knob. I felt the grit grind beneath my rubber. I started to grind to the side, trying to get the grit off, but the sensation continued. I changed the angle of my shoe and suddenly the knob rolled under my foot. I lifted it away and listened to the former knob bounce down the face. What happened to high quality Sierra granite? Suddenly I felt like I was climbing at Smith Rock... choss and chicken heads! I traverse back right looking for solid knobs, if I could find good rock and get up on the ridge top I would be fine. I saw a solid knob, it looked solid anyway. I reached out to grab it with my right hand... pop! That knob bounced down the face too. "What the fuck?!" I thought. Here I was in Yosemite National Park, on one of the most classic, most famous routes. Every hand and every foot was on these beautiful granite nubbins and they were just rolling out of their sockets like it was free gumball day at Chuck-e-Cheese! I want a refund! This play-place is not safe! Then I remembered, "Oh yeah, this is climbing. You could die. You knew that when you came up here and you came anyway. This is your choice, deal with it." It let my anger trickle out, just enough, focusing my attention. I tested the next knob. It held. I slowly oozed my weight onto it. One knob at a time, then a crack between fins. A shitty hand jam, then the edge of a fin, then a leveling. The ridge crest. My body let out a little shiver. I twisted my neck like a turtle trying to hide in a shell I didn't have.

The view from (relatively) level ground.
I stood there for a few minutes, numbly snapping pictures. "Why not? I'm here right. Might as well take a few photos." I thought about the climbing. Easy, yes. Fun? Not really. Why was I here? I had forgotten. I looked forward along the ridge. It was easy climbing. I thought about descent; there was probably more rap tat further down the ridge, so I continued. Then the climbing was easy, suddenly fun and not even exposed as I walked between large fins. The rock was obviously improving. I thought there must be a reason this route is so highly regarded so I decided to continue as long as I felt like it. Soon after, easy down climbing led to a ledge traverse. On the balls of my feet I scooted along with my arms over my head and a few hundred feet of air beneath me. My stomach clenched but I looked down anyway, comfortable but uncomfortable. The broken knobs weren't forgotten but neither was my enjoyment.

Looking along the ridge at easy ledge scrambling.
I continued along the ridge and nothing was as hard as it looked. It was like the rock version of Casaval Ridge on Shasta, just real climbing instead. I was finding the easy gaps through intimidating rocks in a fun exploration that seemed like it was part of a planned maze, each new space revealing itself to me as I moved. I passed over two other guys rapping off before the South Summit. They said it looked too sketchy, but I was just hitting my stride and their lack of confidence buoyed me up. I knew exactly what I could and couldn't do. Minutes later I stood on the South Summit.

The next tower looks hard but when you get on it, it's easy, not to mention fun.

Looking at the North Summit from the South Summit... at least there are lots of options.
The direct down climb to the notch below the North Summit is called 5.7. I guess I do a lot of down climbing practice but it felt easy to me. I saw it and knew it would go. From the notch I mantled onto a sandy ledge. I looked around before finding the start of the left-leaning diagonal crack (it was behind me), that is the "crux" of the route. I looked at the crack for a minute before finally breaking out my rock shoes for the first time that day. The feet are not good and the moves are strenuous for 5.7 but luckily this part is short and the best quality rock on the route. A mere ten feet later I pulled onto a ledge and scrambled the easy remainder to the North Summit.

Looking back along the Matthes Crest from the North Summit.

I gave a whoop and and took some photos before heading over to look at the down climb. This next section was rated 5.8 but after the last down climb off the South Summit I felt it might be doable. I went down to a rusty piton/bolt stance and considered using it but instead continued. I laybacked off a hand jam (strenuous), and dropped down to a notch. One more committing step-across and that was it, I was done. I started up the next tower but suddenly felt unmotivated and tired of the ridge. I went back to the notch and looked down the west face. I saw some rap tat and easy slabs so I headed down there. I got to the tat and found it to be sun bleached on a hollow flake. I looked down again and made a poor decision... to down climb the rest of the slab. It took me 45 minutes to slowly move down 200 feet of rock. The flakes were thin, hollow, and some moved. The slab was grit covered and decomposing. It reminded me of rolling nubbins. I got to the bottom feeling less-than-stoked about the "classic" Matthes Crest. It was good, bad and everything in between.

Looking back up at the chossy down climb section.

Looking back south at Matthes Crest before I drop down to Budd Lake.
I knew I needed water and a look at the topo map showed the fastest way to Budd Lake was around the right side of Echo Ridge. Unfortunately, not being familiar with the area bit me in the butt and some sketchy glisading followed by wet-slab down climbing got me to Budd Lake later than anticipated. Having seen the north side of Echo Ridge now I would instead go over the high saddle between Echo Peaks and Peak 11,168 (USGS topo).

Looking back up at the convoluted terrain I had to come down to reach Budd Lake.

Budd Lake and Cathedral Peak... time for a drink.

At Budd Lake I looked up at Cathedral's SE Buttress, now imposing and dark in afternoon shade. I considered just heading back to the car but then ran into some National Park Service scientists on the far side of the lake fixing a fishing net. A girl in the group asked if I'd just done Matthes. We got talking and she told me she had already done Cathedral and reassured me that the rock was excellent and the climbing phenomenal. I headed over to at least take a look. Two parties were just retrieving their packs at the base and one of their number was kind enough to show me a topo. I waited til they left, ate a sandwich and put on my rock shoes. It was 5pm. I started climbing, traversing around to find the ideal route up the slab. By the time I passed the belay ledge at the top of pitch two I was absorbed. This was by far the most fun and interesting climbing of the day. I even followed the NPS lady's recommendation and climbed in the chimney despite having a pack on. I topped out on the summit less than an hour later, took some photos, down climbed, scrambled and B-lined for Cathedral Lakes.

Looking up at the SE Buttress of Cathedral Peak.

Relaxing on the ledge right after the chimney pitch. My socks portray a stick figure farting with the words "powered by burritos." Thanks for those TJ, they are pretty awesome!

Looking back on Budd Lake from the summit of Cathedral Peak. The peak's shadow is visible in the lower left.

Looking SW over Eichorn Pinnacle and the Catherdal Lakes from the summit of Cathedral Peak. My car is in the valley yonder and I need to get hiking.

I was elated and so pleased that I had topped my day with this perfect climb. I walk-jogged to the right of Cathedral Lakes in the setting sun and headed down smooth slabs next to cascades of water. I ran through the twilight forest singing Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman at the top of my lungs to scare away any bears. I hopped the creek and was back at my car at 8:01pm, having left at 9:06am. Almost 11 hours on the go and I even had time to take some pictures! It felt like Christmas, only better.

Looking back up at Tenaya Peak's NW Buttress, my first climb of the day, now illuminated by the setting sun as I run towards the car.

Back at the car and a little out of it. I guess I forgot to smile despite a sense of deep satisfaction.