Southeast Buttress 5.6
Trip ReportA Yosemite First Timer + a Tuolumne ascent
This journey begins in the foggy town of Marina CA, where climbers Mike and Griffin spend evenings flipping through guidebooks eying infinite potential of California alpine climbing. Constant statements of "dude, the south buttress looks soo good, and a winter ascent of Conness would be most radical" echo the paper-mache walls of college housing. But these were only statements. One second we were imagining thousand foot granite walls, the next our minds were absorbed into our textbooks. So much ambition, so little free time.
Finally, after weeks of saying "yea, as soon as summer starts", here we are.
2:00 pm Sunday May 19th, 2013
"Griffin, how does Cathedral sound?"
"Sounds like were goin on a drive"
We drove out to Tuolumne that afternoon from the Monterey area, more talk of potential routes punching through lulls of Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Eddie Murphy's "Delirious. Stopping for a meal of greasy burgers in Merced, we discussed the promise of Sierra Granite.
This being my first time to the Yosemite area (EVER...), I couldn't contain my excitement. I would simply start shaking whenever I imagined looking up at my mind's fabrication of Half Dome.
The whole drive was magnificent. Watching flat plain turn into rolling hills, hills to valleys, valleys to towering cliffs, cliffs to massive bodies of alpine fresh water, and then the granite.
We arrived in the valley just as sky went dark. Greeted at the gate by the words "Yosemite National Park", it started to set in. This was not a dream. I am actually here. As I caught my first glimpse of El Cap I nearly sh#t myself. Even though the texture of the wall was indistinguishable, the sheer size of this piece of rock left me nearly running my car into a tree. We stopped at the meadow to look. We watched the tiny dots of headlamps spin on the wall, showing brief moments of color on the black face. "Holy shit" were the only words that came out of my mouth for an hour or so.
We left the valley around 9 pm, making our way towards Tenaya Lake. Even though it was too dark to see the scenery, I knew I was surrounded by giants. We found a spot to spend the night and set up our bags in a spectacular clearing, watching the satellites pass.
We woke up at 5, made some coffee, and scarfed down the most difficult peanut butter bagel I have ever eaten.
We packed up and started up the trail towards the peak, the icy ground crunching under each step. We were surprised to see snow, but realized that it wasn't all that surprising.
The snow however, covered the trails in certain places and led us to meander through the woods, eventually convincing us that the adjacent peak to the East was Cathedral.
We spent quite a bit of time hiking out that way, and about three creek crossings later decided that we were definitely going towards the wrong peak.
At this time (~7am) we started out cross-country to the base of Cathedral.
By the time we reached the base of the climb I had lost track of time. We looked up to see the most incredible display of granite flakes and aretes I have ever seen.
Trying to pick a line was like trying to pick out candy from an annihilated pinata. There was so much to choose from and we wanted to do it all! Finally we chose and line and racked up.
I led the first pitch. It was nothing like the Pinnacles choss I was used to. It was perfect. There was no shortage of pro and the climbing was beyond spectacular. As I set my first granite anchor I realized that I was in absolute heaven. Mike followed up and we exchanged a few comments like "You've got to be kidding me" or more simply "Wow". Another party of two as well as a curious marmot followed shortly behind us.
We exchanged pitches, meandering along the crack systems that engulfed our greatest imaginations. Alcoves and ledges were our snack breaks. We took our time. No need to rush. We truly wanted to enjoy the route.
I was given the arete pitch that Croft so appropriately claimed as "great climbing". This 5.7 pitch was simply awesome, and with breathtaking exposure.
What a cool dude.
Mike took the last 5th class pitch through the 5.8 crack. I yelled up to him how awesome it looked. As I followed and removed his elegantly placed gear, I couldn't help but think how lucky I was to be in this place at this time. I took the last 4th class pitch that Muir so famously soloed in heavy boots, up to the summit block.
When I reached the summit I let out a big ol' "WOOOOOOOO!" It was my first true ascent, I'm allowed that right? Mike followed up and we sat there for a few minutes reveling over the beauty that surrounded us.
However, the backside was covered in snow. This made it extra interesting. We rapped off a solid tree on which someone had left some cordelette, down to a granite outcropping. On this outcropping we traversed out towards the east ridge via steps that I kicked in the snow with my approach shoes. To be honest this was one of my favorite parts of the whole climb. We descended to the east via some granite blocks and then a nice staircase (of which at this time I decided to sing Stairway to Heaven) all the way to where I left my pack in some trees.
We packed up, ate some candied ginger and rice cakes and started hoofing it back to the car. We got lost.... a few times.
I guess we were so fixated with how incredible the day had been thus far that we kept losing the trail. Eventually, after wandering in shoes drenched in cold water and mud, we found the trail back to the highway. We got to the car, drank some water, popped off our shoes and just smiled.
On the drive home we talked about how absolutely incredible the day was. We talked about how there were only a select few people we would go on missions like that with. We were truly stoked.
When we got home at 12:30 am this morning, I was absolutely exhausted. I knocked out, fast. Waking up today I feel different, and as I write this I am stoked to know that I will be headed back in the mountains this afternoon to have another one of these incredible memories.
We live an incredible life.
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