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Friday, August 29, 2008

High Sierras Peak Bagging

Yes that's right, the real deal!

Getting bored of the limited sport climbing or bouldering the Bay area has to offer over the hot summer months, I decided to take up an offer from a friend and sample the more famous climbing in Yosemite Valley, or Tuolumne Meadows to be precise.

View of Echo Lake from the middle of the climb

Yosemite Valley, or just the 'Valley' as its popularly known, is a world class destination for big wall and traditional 'trad' climbing. While I'm not a traddie by any means, I've been curious to check out the climbing in the valley. Climbing feats on El Capitan is the stuff of legends, and have inspired climbers and ordinary people alike for generations.

During the summer, the Valley is quite hot (highs in the 100s), so we decided to set our ambitions on climbing at Tuolumne Meadows which 3000 ft higher, at 9000 ft is a pleasant summer destination. At about 4.5 hrs from San Francisco its a doable drive for the weekend. While I have enjoyed the scenic drive through Tioga Pass - which cuts right thru the heart of Tuolumne many a times on the way to climbing in the Eastern Sierras at Bishop - I had actually never stopped yet for any adventures in Tuolumne itself.

So this past weekend Sean and I got the typical early climber's start (butt-crack in the morning at 6 am). Early, but definitely not bright after staying out too late the previous night. We picked up food on the way in Oakdale and made good time to reach Tuolumne at about 11.30. Our plan for the day was to climb Cathedral Peak. A 5 star classic climb and one of the '50 Classic Climbs of North America'. A description of the route at Super Topo

"Cathedral Peak is one of the most aesthetic routes in Tuolumne. The climb consists of five pitches of easy and moderate crack and face climbing on perfect rock. The first few pitches are on low angle terrain that gradually steepens and becomes more difficult. Because of its quality and moderate grade, this is one of the most crowded routes in Yosemite. Luckily there are a number of variations if you need to pass a party."

So after hiding our food in bear shelters (didn't want Sean's car to be explored by hungry bears!), we huffed our way through a long 1.5 hr long approach hike to reach the base of the peak at about 2 pm.

Yes, the approach is almost over, about to reach the base of the route. Cathedral is surreal looking fin-like sharp granite monolith. I've never seen so much granite in my life as in the high Sierras!

Owing to the long nature of this route at 700 feet, most folks embark on the climb early morning. Owing to our late start we lucked out by having the route mostly to ourselves, except for a party slugging away a couple of pitches up the climb. The only worrisome part was the weather....cloudy skies with thunder in the distance. While the safest option would have been to bail, we took our chances and decided to climb on, however quietly decided that Sean would take the lead climber's role. With his greater experience with trad climbing, we were assured of a fast passage up. We managed to keep the thunder and after about 4.5 pitches of moderate slab and face climbing, made it to the top about 4.30 or so. Unremarkable descent, sore knees from the long hike back, but a raging thirst for a chilled celebratory brew!

Belaying from pitch 2

Lunch at the top was most delicious!

Despite hazy skies, here's Half Dome in the distance.

A dreamy sunset marking the descent back to the trailhead