Just mentioning Yosemite makes climbers who have not been there yearn for the experience. For those who have, it brings back fond memories of night time bear encounters, epic climbs, and a feeling of smallness. For all the climbing that I have done in The Valley, I have had very few opportunities to explore the high country of Tuolumne Meadows. I have had my eye on this route ever since I first saw pictures of it, a perfect dagger of granite slopping upwards towards the sky.
Laurel and I were planning on meeting long time friends Kris and Sara Linstrom to climb the Southwest Buttress of Cathedral Rock. As we slowly drove the winding road through the ancient pines we passed a car with trunk open and saw a human scrambling down the scree slope. I turn to Laurel, “I think that was Kris!!!”. I pull a u-turn and sure enough, there was Kris standing on the side of road. As long time friends do when any significant time passes between them, hugs were exchanged and excitement was in the air. I know we could have stood there on the side of the road and talked for hours but instead we decide to head to camp to get some dinner and PBR’s (the only true rock climbers fuel). A siege tactic was formulated and we willingly retired to our sleeping bags to rest up.
I always find it easier to get up in the morning knowing that something amazing is planned for the day. Gear packed and bellies full we headed off on the 45 minute approach. The giddiness grew in my stomach as the peak came into view. Every step bringing us closer to the goal. As we quickly passed the only other group on the trail, we were happy in thinking we would have the entire face to ourselves. We reached the base of the climb to find 4 parties on the wall and 2 more waiting. This route is unique because it has 4 different starting points which all funnel together as you get closer to the summit. Kris and Sara were up first. They were making good time, easily passing a few parties on the ascent. As Laurel and I got started, a pair of rude climbers decided to weave themselves into our rope and gear making is quite difficult to clean and follow. They passed us only to have to wait at a bottle neck. We reached the bottle neck soon after and quickly decided to pass the hoard of climbers waiting for the easy line and do a fun 25 ft. hand / fist / bigger then fist corner crack. Jam, jam, jam, gear, jam, jam, fist, gear, chicken wing, cam, cam, lay back, cam, cam, cam, ledge!! Beautiful. We reached the last pitch as the shade slowly crept in. With the sun gone, a biting breeze and colder temps set in, no longer kept at bay by the sun.
Now we wait. 15 minutes. 30 minutes. 45minutes. An hour. An hour and 20 minutes go by before it was our turn to summit and descend. Shivering and huddled together, Laurel and I remove our cold stiff hands from our armpits and start climbing. As I reach the top of the pitch a hurricane force wind came screeching over the top, blasting me in the face. I didn’t care because now I was in the sun again!! I set up the anchor and prepared to summit. To reach the summit the leader must climb to the top, set up a second anchor, bring the second up, take pictures, lower the second to the previous belay, then down climb the 20 feet back to the previous anchor. Since we didn’t quite know how to get down, we waited for the group that came up after us to show us the way. We looked out over the Sierra high country as the sun slipped below the horizon, watching mother nature’s canvas unfold before our eyes.
Unroped, we made our way down small ledges precariously perched above the abyss, jumping small gaps with nervous a “I better not fall” smirk, and 5.7 down climbs that we should have been roped up for. As we get towards the bottom our impromptu guide turns and says, ” Just so you guys know this is the advanced descent. You could have rappelled near the top and made it down a lot safer.” In our minds, we hurled rocks at him. In the dark we find our packs and start the hike out by headlamp. We make it back to the car and are greeted by Kris and Sara, their worries fading into smiles knowing we were safe.
Another great climb with great friends. Couldn’t ask for anything more.