Thursday, June 26, 2014

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.

1 comment:

  1. Nice TR! Love the fart socks and the photos. Great stoke. Stevee B.