Driving up was even slower than expected with holiday traffic. We parked at the Cathedral Lakes trailhead at 2 pm and hiked to the base of Cathedral Peak by 3:15.
The sun was now even lower in the sky.
We had to wait a while to climb the fifth pitch.
By the time we reached the sixth and final pitch, it was after 10 and the sky and rock were black. Our Petzl Tikka and Reactik headlamps were super helpful here. Reed followed where a pair of climbers instructed him to go to reach the top, then he told me where to go. It was a bit spooky feeling thousands of feet of air below me, but not being able to see much.
There were no bolts on the summit. Old ones there had been cut off.
On the way down, we followed the path of the pair, who followed the climbers ahead of them, who had climbed down with a little alpenglow to guide them. We had the Supertopo with us, but the directions didn't make sense in the dark.
We caught up to the couple after two rappels. At this point we were on the right route down, but didn't know it. The couple headed down to the west and we followed them. This was our collective mistake. We should have gone uphill to the north, crossed east over the ridge of Cathedral, and down on real trails.
Instead we continued downhill. The woman was tired and unsteady, so we stayed with them. Downclimbing was very slow due to the steepness. I finally sacrificed some slings and carabiners to get us safely down two really steep sections. Around 2:30 am we joyously reached the forest and dirt to walk on. By 3 am we hit the John Muir Trail, and finally reached our cars at 4 am. What a marathon! It was 25 F in Tuolumne Meadows, so I was really glad to I had brought my down jacket. Reed was wearing shorts and it took him over an hour to get his legs warmed back up.