Cathedral Peak

It was 6AM and 27 degrees Fahrenheit. We were at elevation, still had a relatively difficult hike ahead of us, and all I could think was, “Man, I love this sh*t.”

Photo provided by Ryan del Rosario.

Ever since I saw a photo of Matthes Crest on the internet sometime last year, it’s been a goal of mine to climb an alpine route in Tuolumne. A combination of relative isolation, high peaks, and the wildness of it all, attracted me to the area.

Sure, Cathedral Peak isn’t that wild. Since my homeboy John Muir did the first ascent back in 1869, people regularly climb it in a day and can be back in a hotel room by the evening. But it was wild to me. You see, as primarily a bolt-clipping sport climber who is more used to 15 minute approaches to crags, rather than a miles long approach to the base of a mountain, this definitely fell under the “wild” column for me.

The night prior, Hannah, Bodin, and I read all the beta we could find online. I also had the foresight to photograph somebody’s guidebook and topo. As I sorted our gear, mostly Cams and slings, I felt confident that there would be no big surprises the next day.

Also, I should mention here that I almost left my Grigri belay device at home. But for some reason, I decided it might be nice to have so I threw it into the bottom of my bag. This will be important later!

Organizing our rack the night prior.

After an uncomfortable couple of hours of sleep, my alarm blared the next morning, and all I could think about was how I wanted another five minutes in bed. It was 3:30AM. We were about two hours away from the trailhead, which we wanted to start at around 6AM. Time to get moving.

After a quick breakfast of oatmeal, we packed our car and headed out around 4:15AM. Only about 15 minutes behind schedule. If you know anything about me and my time management, that’s not too bad.

After a relatively uneventful two hour drive (minus that one part where we drove through a contained fire or something? I don’t know, it got real smoky for a hot (heh) second) we reached the trailhead and started to prep for the approach. It was 6AM and 27 degrees Fahrenheit. We were at elevation, still had a relatively difficult hike ahead of us, and all I could think was, “Man, I love this sh*t.”

The climber’s trail approach to Cathedral Peak. The sun was just starting to rise.

Bodin was not shy about his dismay for the approach.

And with that we were off. The guidebook said the approach should take about one and a half hours. No problem. Sure it was cold, but carrying all this gear and hiking all this way should (and did) keep us warm.

The first half of the approach wasn’t too bad. But about two hours in, it became apparent that we had gone off route at some point. We didn’t even see Cathedral Peak. Lucky for us, smartphones are a thing that exists, and even though we didn’t have any cellular data, we were able to eventually find the correct path with the Mountain Project app.

Finally, at around 9:30AM, we reached the base of the Southeast Buttress. It had taken twice the amount of time for the approach that the guidebook said. I blame the fact that we got temporarily lost during the approach, but it was also possibly because I was huffing and puffing trying to hike uphill with an 80m rope and climbing equipment. But yeah, it was mostly because we got lost. Definitely not because I wasn’t in shape. I’m in great shape. The best.

Either way, we were finally there. Nothing to do at this point except start climbing.

As we were prepping and I was looking up at the wall, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit intimidated. Most climbs I’ve done up to this point were single pitch routes, with just a handful of multipitch routes thrown in for good measure. Though it was rated an easy 5.6, this was still a legitimate wall we were about to climb up. Nothing like I had ever done before.

Bodin led the first two pitches with relative ease, setting anchors at ledges and belaying Hannah and I up. Spirits were high and I thought we were making pretty good time.

Hannah belaying Bodin.

Pictures after pitch one.

Spirits were still high at this point.

The remaining pitches for the rest of the climb were my lead, and I don’t remember much except for how easy the climbing was. But then pitch five happened, and it was at this point we started to suspect that we were off route.

Our first clue was how chossy the route was. Any well traveled route couldn’t be this bad, could it? I would climb up a gully and occasionally feel rocks shift under my feet. If one of these let loose, it would go straight down the gully and into Bodin and Hannah at the belay ledge.

The second clue was the fact that some dude, maybe thirty yards or so to the right of us, yelled, “Hey, I don’t know what route you guys are on! I’ve climbed this like six times, I don’t even know if where you’re going leads to the summit!”

The dude that told us we were on a mystery route.


It was at this point we had two options. We could other down climb/rappel, sacrifice some gear, lose a few hours of work, and try to get back on route. Or just keep heading up. I was still leading these pitches, and thought that if I could work my way a little further left onto an arête, I’d climb into a gully system that led to what looked like it was maybe the summit?

Since I was leading, I decided to keep climbing and go towards what I hoped wasn’t a false summit. I figured, if we just keep going up we have to hit the summit eventually, right?

The climbing was pretty easy and despite the choss, if I was careful I felt confident that I could mitigate rockfall. A few adventurous pitches later and I finally reached the top! Funnily enough, in my opinion, the hardest move on the entire route was climbing over an unprotected flake to get to the summit block.

As I built my anchor and belayed Hannah and Bodin to the summit with me, a random climber popped his head out of nowhere and asked if he could tag the summit real quick. I noticed he had no harness or rope on him. We started chatting and he said he had just free soloed the route in a little over an hour and a half. Meanwhile it took us seven-ish hours to hit the top. True, we were climbing with three, but still, he climbed it faster than it took us to just do the approach!

As I belayed, I had mentioned how climbing Cathedral was a big goal of mine for a while. He then took a few pictures of me at the summit and we exchanged numbers, him promising to send them over to me once he was back in reception.

Photo provided by Ryan del Rosario.

Photo provided by Ryan del Rosario. After topping out on the Southeast Buttress and traversing and free soloing  Eichorn Pinnacle, he yelled over at me and told me to stand and wave while he took a photo.

Thanks for the rad photos, Ryan!

We started to descend as the sun was setting, around 5:30PM or so. Another group of four was at the summit with us, and we wanted to try to get down before it got too dark. As we started to traverse towards Eichorn Pinnacle to what was supposed to be a 3rd and 4th class descent, one of the members of the other group yelled over to us. “Hey! Come down this way, it’s easier!” as he bombed down the right side of Cathedral towards the ledges below.

He said it with such confidence and enthusiasm, we believed him. In retrospect, that was the wrong call.

It ended up being a lot of fairly treacherous downclimbing. In fact, half way down I remember seeing him ahead of us as he said something along the lines of, “Whoa, this is harder than I expected.” Great. Thanks, guy.

Finally, we busted our rope out and decided to rappel down to a ledge off of a tree. It was already dark by this point and this was probably the safest way we could get down.

Bodin went first, followed by Hannah. When it was my turn, I reached towards my harness to grab the ATC that was supposed to be on one of my gear loops. But it was gone! It was at that point, I remembered Hannah taking a lot of my gear to share some of the weight on the descent. “Hannah!” I yelled down, “Did you take my ATC?”

“Oh sh*t.” I heard in reply.

Luckily for me, I had my Grigri! I told you this would be important later.

I attached myself to one end of the rope as Bodin weighted the other end, and I lowered myself almost forty meters to the ledge they were on.

After that little adventure, it was just some third class boulder hopping until we were back on the climber’s trail. An hour or so after that and we were back at the car, right around 9:30PM.

Trying to get back to the climber’s trail.

Taking a short break before continuing  down the climber’s trail.

Our adventure ends with us arriving back at the cabin around midnight. It was almost a full twenty-four hour day and it took way longer than expected. But a lot of lessons were learned, and a lot of fun was had. All in all, I’m glad I did it and I can’t wait to go on another “mega-classic” again.

The biggest lesson though? Never leave home without your Grigri.

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