Trip Report
Unicorn Peak - Direct North Face (5.8 A3..or 5.9+ish)
Tuesday June 30, 2015 1:40pm
Cathedral Peak seemed like a great objective for my 'opportunistic climber' friend Julia. The SouthEast Buttress is a sweet 5.6 with incredible views of Toulomne Meadows. A bit crowded, but how bad could it be on a Sunday with a 40% chance of thunderstorms? We can leave early and be done by the worst case it will be a scenic hike to Cathedral Lake. At least, that's what I told her...
With backcountry first ascents, onsight of the Evolution Traverse car to car, Nose in a day, climbs of multiple 6,000+ M peaks and other difficult ascents under my belt, I did not expect the Cathedral Peak to be a challenging objective. Especially after I have free soloed it, along with Tenaya and Matthes Crest last year. Hell, I have hiked the Budd Creek trail at least five times over the years!

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North Face of Unicorn. Route we climbed goes directly up the center.

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A bunch of bushwhacking in Toulumne? Seriously? Well at least the views are nice!

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Purdy flowers

After getting up at 5am we started up the trail. It did not seem much different then usual, but after about 20 minutes of walking I saw a campground. There were cars parked near the trail and people walking around with their coffee mugs. I was confused to what the hell happened, but my free GPS app suggested we hiked down to the visitor's center! I was totally confused.
For an ego driven male with a liter of coffee in the system, defeat was not an option, neither was common sense. Instead of hiking back up the road and taking the correct path, I decided to cut cross country till we were back in the right drainage. We gained elevation. We bushwhacked. I was still confused to what happened, and I still felt lost because the trees did not allow me to see the surrounding peaks so I could identify our location. Some more walking brought us face to face with a beautiful looking buttress. Was it Cathedral? It did not look like it, probably because it was not. The Unicorn peak was directly above us with Cathedral still a ways to the west.

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A day earlier with Bear Creek Spire in the background.

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Julia on top of the Unicorn

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Cockscomb, Matthes Crest and Echo Ridge

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Can't see Cathedral Peak from Cathedral Peak. Our proj for the summer! :)

The buttress looked large and worthy so I proposed we do some adventure climbing. Julia said it was up to me, and I got fairly excited to climb something I know nothing about. As we hiked further to the base the views opened up and we hiked through a beautiful meadow with a clear stream running down it. We got to the base and I racked up. Since we planned for Cathedral, I brought a spartan rack of singles to a #2 camalot. Taking a direct line up the buttress we made our way up. I had fun. Placing a single cam on the first 60 M pitch and four on the second, I also had a benefit of finding an old pin. The weather was getting a little iffy and Julia realized it was not 5.6. : ( For the last cruxy pitch I took majority of weight and wore one of the packs to make her life easier. It was a 5.9+ish vertical crack with not much cheater holds.
When we did top out on the summit, the views made up for the suffer my friend had to go through to get there. Well, at least I hope they did!

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On the descent

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More pretty flowers

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Bouldering up some sick crack!

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Sent the proj brah!

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More views

The descent through slot canyons was adventurous and enjoyable. When we got home I was curious to see what route we have climbed and the Secor guidebook suggests it was the Direct North Face (II 5.8 A3). I was not able to find any info about repeat ascents but thought the climbing was no harder then about 5.9+ish. Those looking for something off the beaten path will be rewarded with no lines at the base and some original views of the surrounding peaks.

....and for Cathedral Peak...WE WILL NEED A RE-MATCH! :)

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  Trip Report Views: 4,617
Vitaliy M.
About the Author
Vitaliy M. is an annoying gym climber from San Francisco.

Gnome Ofthe Diabase

Out Of Bed
  Jun 30, 2015 - 02:16pm PT
So Cool, and a nod to pebble wrestling - small rock happiness (not hell) in view of the majestic. A share here for everyone, Thank you, excellent as usual.

Sport climber
  Jun 30, 2015 - 02:19pm PT

Incredibly cool and beautiful TR...

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
  Jun 30, 2015 - 02:25pm PT
Great story and beautiful photos as usual!
Wonder how the got A3+ when the crux was a vertical crack?
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
Author's Reply  Jun 30, 2015 - 02:30pm PT
Cheers Vitaliy. Burl and I 3rd classed a line on that peak once (facing Budd Creek, er... south maybe?) that was supposed to be, well, 3rd class.

Yeah, after lowering my friend I down-climbed that. Exposed!

It got A3 in the 60s, maybe because they did not have cams and the right gear? Not sure. It is not A3 now. :)

Trad climber
Fresno CA
  Jun 30, 2015 - 02:31pm PT
I love both Unicorn and Cathedral, and everything in between. Thanks for a beautiful trip report.


Balcarce, Argentina
  Jun 30, 2015 - 02:35pm PT
Flowers, bouldering and scenery. Now that's what I call a trip report!

Trad climber
  Jun 30, 2015 - 03:07pm PT
I once climbed this peak by accident after bushwacking through the forest looking for cathedral. Was following Ivo Nimov and his gf of the time, also named Julia. Even easy can be an adventure.
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
  Jun 30, 2015 - 03:22pm PT
Nice - possible FFA by mistake. :-)

Sounds like a Fred Beckey route - 5.8 A2, goes free at 5.8 or 5.9....

A3 in original grades could simply mean bongs were used.

Mountain climber
  Jun 30, 2015 - 03:42pm PT
Where's the close up pics of the route dude?
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
Author's Reply  Jun 30, 2015 - 03:54pm PT
Squishy, it basically goes right up the middle. I didn't take pictures of the route. What we did is I went up the slabby loose terrain directly up the middle of the buttress. There were ledge systems to the left that seemed easier, but I came to climb so thought I'd take a way that is slightly more fun.
Pitch 2 went up towards the obvious cracks that went directly in the middle of the buttress where it seems the cleanest. Took the thin one with a pin that goes to a short OW at the top. Heel toe moves to the top of it and onto a ledge with a cool crack in the corner (clean and nice) or bouldery system up the middle (which I took). I did not have enough rope to do the crack in the corner but one on the left took me up onto a ledge where I built another anchor after 2 60M pitches. From there directly up. Bouldery with fist jamming to top out and traverse the ridge for another 50 ft or less to the top. Can't get lost.

Sonoma County
  Jun 30, 2015 - 04:28pm PT
just up there yesterday. :) Thanks for the TR.

The summitpost page says that there are several 5th class routes on unicorn with no details.

I liked the corridors on the hike down.

Trad climber
  Jun 30, 2015 - 04:32pm PT
Woo hoo! Seems like an obvious thing to check out, and surprised we don't hear more about it! Glad you're out there gettin' it done for us.

Gym climber
Great White North
  Jun 30, 2015 - 04:35pm PT
Great stuff, as usual.
Your pictures are always top notch too. Do you shoot with a d-SLR or something??
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
Author's Reply  Jun 30, 2015 - 05:37pm PT
Anita, I usually use my phone, but on this outing brought my Sony a6000 mirrorless.

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
  Jun 30, 2015 - 09:35pm PT
obvious but: NICE! thanks.

Boulder climber
Lander, wy. Born 1992. student of physics and pain
  Jun 30, 2015 - 09:47pm PT
V, Your posts always make me want to go rock climbing in the sun.
and all-ready been said but w/e: great photos!

The Good Places
  Jun 30, 2015 - 09:52pm PT
this off-route nonsense will not stand, man.

[Click to View YouTube Video]

double-cheers, as usual, Dude!
Ed H

Trad climber
Santa Rosa, CA
  Jun 30, 2015 - 10:28pm PT
Looks like a great day in Tuolumne! TFPU and adding something to the tic list...
Larry Nelson

Social climber
  Jul 1, 2015 - 09:18am PT
Cathedral Range is my favorite place to climb. Done the popular ones a few times... Mathess, Cathedral, Cockscomb, Echo Ridge and Peaks... but have only done the 3rd class on Unicorn.
Thanks for yet another fun TR.

Trad climber
dancin on the tip of god's middle finger
  Jul 1, 2015 - 09:21am PT
oh shite vitality.
go ahead.
don't be timid.

fall in love.


Ice climber
  Jul 1, 2015 - 10:31am PT
Love the photos and TR! A friend and I did the same thing but from the Cathedral Lakes trailhead. We had never been on Cathedral, but saw a big spiky summit while standing at the car, took a compass bearing on it and headed off cross country. We got to a buttress (the other side than where you climbed) and there were no people. A trail runner came by and exclaimed "Climbers on Unicorn, I have never seen that!" We sheepishly asked if she knew where Cathedral was and she pointed across the valley. So we just climbed to the top of Unicorn, then took a reverse bearing and hiked right on back to the car. Had a wonderful day out :). So for those who still go old school and have a compass (we didn't have a map...), the spiky thing you can see from the Cathedral Lakes trailhead is the Unicorn horn not the Cathedral and learn. But a great day out with friends who don't really mind when you mess up is always a great day out!
The Alpine

The Sea
  Jul 1, 2015 - 01:16pm PT
Nice V. Pretty hard to f*#k up in tuolumne, its all soo damn gorgeous. You might enjoy an ascent of the Echo peaks as well.
Vitaliy M.

Mountain climber
San Francisco
Author's Reply  Jul 1, 2015 - 04:03pm PT
Found more of an up close shot of the North Face/buttress
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Jul 1, 2015 - 06:06pm PT
Nice V!!!!
cat t.

  Jul 1, 2015 - 10:43pm PT
very sweet; sounds like a fun day of exploring!! I hope Julia liked the adventure climbing ;)
adam d

  Jul 2, 2015 - 08:09am PT
Cool...great pictures and report.

I was taking my wife up Cathedral that day. She avoided climbing the first 7 years we were together and now has been learning just under a year...this was her biggest climb yet. Sunday of course means sharing Cathedral, so we did the left side and she did great. The gusts and light rain added a little alpine flavor and she came to an understanding of "commitment" (in climbing, not marriage but...) on her own.

We camped up at a favorite spot for a few days and also did some of the Echo Peaks. Good times...

this just in

Justin Ross from North Fork
  Jul 2, 2015 - 08:40am PT
Haha, dude you aren't supposed to climb when you're lost, you're supposed to call SAR. Sick looking line, "When life gives you lemons, put them in a Corona and drink it."

Gym climber
Minkler, CA
  Jul 5, 2015 - 01:56pm PT
Hahahahah! I love the fact that you just climbed what you saw and your friend was up for it but it's pretty funny that VITALIY couldn't find Cathedral Peak!

Trad climber
  Jul 6, 2015 - 10:17am PT
Adam, sweet camping spot

right here, right now
  Jul 6, 2015 - 10:43am PT
Clint said:
A3 in original grades could simply mean bongs were used.
Tim Messick and I may have freed this DNF Unicorn line in the early 90s. I was thinking the same thing about the aid rating at the time. I remember laying back a flared wide crack, maybe tossed a single 3.5" cam in and ran it out. Bongs would have been insecure.

Great stuff, fun pictures, thanks V!

Gym climber
Small Town with a Big Back Yard
  Jul 6, 2015 - 11:29am PT
Dude, you totally missed out if you didn't go "Full Unicorn" for this send:

cat t.

  Jul 6, 2015 - 12:12pm PT
V, you know I have FOUR pairs of unicorn-patterned leggings; y'all should've borrowed them! Or at least gotten some unicorn-patterned pajamas :P

full unicorn on unicorn: