Trip ReportThe Croft Cathedral Traverse
There I was - Hanging one handed on a crappy crimp, my feet desperately searching for purpose, my heart rate going through the roof, while I was thinking, "Why did I get myself into this?"
Just kidding, that never happened, the whole thing was actually a blast!
(Quick aside - my camera was dead for this whole thing, so if you're not in the mood for a text only, i.e. bunch-o-reading trip report, move along, ya'll been warned ;) On the positive side, my battery failure may have saved you all from having to see a bunch of sweaty summit selfies. )
I have loved the Cathedral (sub) range every since my first trip there, and always found myself returning. Why? Perhaps it's the fond memories of some of my first alpine excursions there. I think it's a bit more though. The whole area gives me this sense of calm, and peacefulness, that I find different than many other wilderness areas. Whereas some parts of the wilderness on the East coast give me this odd sense of foreboding - especially at night, the Cathedrals (and the Sierras in general, I suppose) just make me feel happy.
Anyway, that said, ever since I read about people doing various Cathedral traverses, I knew it was something I wanted to do. I chose Croft's version because a) it's in a guide book (written by someone I maybe kinda idolize), and b) it's in a guide book AND it leaves out Matthes Crest, so I can feel a little bit better about myself for skipping that - more on that later.)
Since I consider Cathedral Peak the crux of the route (or at least I did before on sighting the down climb on the East side of Cockscomb), the key factor on deciding to do the traverse was feeling comfortable soloing it. Fortunately this summer, I'd had the chance to take a few less experienced climbers up it with a rope, and it doing so, had the chance to really feel it out and think about whether or not I was ready. It turned out that pieces I ended up placing were placed "because I should", and I knew that the traverse was doable. Of course, there's nothing that says you can't use a rope for the outing, but I knew that I wanted to do it by my self, and that a rope and even a minimal rack would introduce a ton of extra weight into the equation that really aren't merited.
I found myself on a Friday night pretty wiped mentally from the past week of work. I had friends staying up in the park, but I kind of desperately needed to do laundry, and in general spend a weekend catching up on life at home. I had also just been up to the meadows the prior weekend. BUUUT, my climbing shoes were staring at me, still clipped to my pack from that last trip, and I knew that I really wanted to spend my Saturday in the mountains, not in my bathroom scrubbing tile (as badly as I still need to do that!) I gave in, packed my stuff, and around 2AM I was asleep in the back of my car just outside the Tioga Pass entrance to Yosemite.
I had originally envisioned a Cathedral Traverse being very well planned, starting with an early bed time, and an alpine start - beginning actual climbing on Cathedral just as the sun rose. Instead, I was drinking Pete's from the Meadows Grill at 10am packing my little assault bag.
I drove to the trailhead, and left at 10:30. I brought 5 liters of water, electrolyte tabs, 2 pro bars (thanks Ben, they really are good), several gu packets and other bars stolen from work, a shell, R1, and a headlamp. I DID bring climbing shoes, and skipped my approach shoes in favor of actual trail runners. Overall I was happy with this choice. As much as I love my guide tennies, they just aren't as comfortable for running and moving for a whole day.
Climbing Cathedral sans rope was as fun and casual as I expected it to be. A dream come true. While I expected for sure to do my standard route, I ended up following someone else's rope up one of the 5.7 routes for a bit, and the variety was nice. It was probably only 15 feet of more difficult climbing anyway. I hit the summit about the same time as nice family of three did, about an hour and 45 minutes from when I started.
The descent went quickly, I grabbed the 4 liter bladder I stashed at the start (I'd have to be crazy to do that climb with an extra 9 lbs, cmon), and headed over to the Echo Peaks.
This was finally exciting, as it was new ground for me. While in my earlier days, Unicorn and Cockscomb, etc, excited me, moving on the higher grades pushed them way to the back burner. But climbing new peaks is always fun, and I had four more in store that I had yet to stand on (OK, Echo ridge isn't much of a peak, but it is actually the high point of the traverse, and I found the down climb slightly above trivial - at least the way I ended up going.)
It was nice to finally see the Echo Peaks up close, instead of just from a distance as I passed by to Matthes, or looked across the way from Cathedral. They looked like a ton of fun for a rest day - I'll have to go back some day to bag all 9. Nonetheless, #3 was it for me that day, as the high point. I was slightly worried it would be difficult to determine which this was, as I didn't intensely study beta ahead of time, but it proved quite obvious once I was there. This was an easy summit, and the decades old cookie jar summit register was there to reassure me I had the right one.
I re-traced my steps, and soon was on my way to, and then on top of Echo Ridge. This was pretty much class 2 to the summit. The summit however was nice and airy, and I made my way to the end of it, which appeared to drop off. Croft described the down climb from this as class 4, and peering down the end of the little ridge line, that didn't seem to be it. I made my way back maybe 20-30 feet, surveyed my options, and found what I think I'd describe as a 4+ down climb to the sandy slopes of the South East side.
Over half way done, I was quite excited, and hurried on to Cockscomb. There was a party of two women half way up it, and I just picked the most direct line to the belayer. Some steepish but easy cracks, and knob climbing got me there. There were two different summits, so of course I had to tag both to be on the safe side. They were so close together that this barely added much time or effort.
At this point, Croft suggests you could re-trace your steps and skirt the peak on the west side to head to Unicorn, rap (well that was out), or do a 5.6 down climb on the East side to continue on. Going back the way I came hardly seemed like the fun way to do a traverse, and I had plenty of day light, so I opted for the East side down climb. This proved to be the crux for me, with the most tedious climbing. I'm sure that being a little tired, and it being completely new territory were factors. I kind of tunneled under something near the East summit, and found myself on a flat platform, with a corner system leading down to the sandy ground. It did not look like trail runner terrain, so I put my climbing shoes on for the first time since Cathedral, and headed down. I'm not sure if this was THE way down, or if there was an easier exit elsewhere, but it looked like it would go, and it did - albeit a little slowly. Parts of it definitely added a little excitement to the day.
With the down climb off Cockscomb out of the way, I could taste the finish. I made haste over a small boulder field of a hill (Croft calls it a "tedious bump" I think) toward Unicorn, and its three summits. Again, not being sure which was "the" one, I took the safe approach and made sure to stand atop them all. As I expected, the one closest to the road (I mean, it IS called Unicorn peak, so logically the horn would be to the "front", right?) was the true summit after all, as it was the only one where I spotted a bolt.
Incidentally, I don't know who's kidding themselves thinking that bolt would protect anything. Aside from it looking museum quality (read: old and manky), due to placement, I'd say it would keep you out of a coffin, but definitely not out of a hospital. Funny how 4th/low 5th climbing has such worse fall potential than steep 5.10 terrain. Anyway, getting to the final summit was simple and fun, and there I was.
As much as I wanted to sit atop Unicorn and relish the day, I figured it would be smarter to quickly reverse those few moves while I was still in take it serious mode (as opposed to "relax, you're done" mode), so I gave my self about a minute before heading back to terra firma. I made my way back to the flat ground between Unicorn and the boulder pile "bump" (does that thing get a name?), and there I enjoyed some choclatey sea salted goodness, and took in the views.
While it's nothing like a big boy traverse like you might find in the Palisades or Evolutions, there's something awesome about staring at the 5 high points in their horse shoe like configuration, and imagining the path you just travelled drawn out. Speaking of "big boy traverses" - though Croft's Cathedral Select certainly makes for a sublime day, I couldn't help but feel it was a tad bitter sweet, as for most of the second half, I could feel Matthes Crest staring me down - calling me out if you will, for leaving it out. Though I have done the full Matthes traverse, I certainly don't feel ready to tackle it sans rope, and I feel like including it but rapping from the North Summit would be a worse sacrilege than ignoring the feature altogether. Perhaps one day in the future I'll have it in me to give a TRUE Cathedral traverse a go, but for now that's out of the question.
Anyway, to wrap this up - I made my way down to Budd Lake, and, my pack feeling quite light, I found the energy to run my way out to the car once I hit real trail. Surprisingly, I felt pretty good the whole time, and it was one of the most enjoyable parts of the outing. While I'm not yet a runner, I've been working at it, and I think this was the first time I felt what the whole "runner's high" might be about. I hope so, because it was good.
How long did this take? I didn't time it, as I think that would be missing the point of the whole affair.
OK I'm fooling no one - I left at 10:30, and returned at 7:07, for a C2C of 8:37 :) I'm sure I can shave a bit off of that in the future, too (gotta keep at that cardio thing.) I didn't time how long it took me to down an entire bag of Kettle chips and a Mammoth IPA from the Meadows store - but I assure you it was fast.
(Image borrowed from Steph Abegg's wonderful write up of her Cathedral traverse, since I had nothing to post with it. Read it here - http://www.stephabegg.com/home/tripreports/california/cathedral - if you haven't already seen it.)
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