September 17, 2011
Almost 142 years ago to the day John Muir completed the first documented ascent of Cathedral Peak in Tuolumne. Writing about this experience Muir stated:
This I may say is the first time I have been at church in California, led here at last, every door graciously opened… the sweetest church music I ever enjoyed.
I can’t say that my experience ascending Cathedral Peak for the second time was on par with Muir’s first. For starters I didn’t do it in cowboy boots. But I can say that I’ve never been to an actual church in California. I can also say that years of fortunate experiences have allowed me to enjoy being on top of such spectacular summits. However, it’s the music and the company that made this trip especially enjoyable.
The day after Ben and I linked up Royal Arches and North Dome we wanted to repay Linda, Marzena and Jill for graciously picking us up at the end of that adventure. Marzena and Jill had never been up Cathedral Peak so the prospect of sharing such a special climb with them was highly appealing. However, we awoke to a rather cloudy morning and this made for a pretty lazy start to the day so it’s not surprising that we found ourselves at the trailhead organizing gear and getting ready to hike to the base around noon.
By this point the clouds had started to break and the sky was mostly blue during the approach. I think everyone (except for Marzena) was feeling a bit tired so it was roughly 2 when we reached the leftmost route up the face. Just as we started to flake the ropes a brief period of rain struck. It only lasted for a few moments and by the time we got our rain gear on it had past. But the event was enough to make us consider if it was wise to start the route. A bit of deliberation later Linda decided that since she’d been on the route before the prospect of doing it again and potentially getting rained on wasn’t too appealing.
Feeling (perhaps foolishly hoping) that the weather would hold and seeing the desire that Marzena and Jill had to do the climb I decided that I was game to lead the first pitch. We were initially going to ascend with me leading and Jill seconding on my rope while Ben would lead on doubles for Linda and Marzena to follow. But now that we were a party of 4, we decided that just having one leader would be the easiest way to go.
Racked up with a set of nuts, a single set of cams from #0.5 to #2 and 4 tri-cams I picked a line for the first pitch and ran up it until I was out of rope. Ben followed trailing the two doubles for Marzena and Jill. Ben lead the next pitch and aside from managing three ropes at the belay the climb was going well, especially because the rain hadn’t returned.
For the start of the third pitch we were just below the chimney section. This is typically where the many routes up the face meet and get funneled into a single stream of climbers. So I wasn’t surprised to see at least one party waiting to get through the section. However, Cathedral Peak is very featured and we’d read of variations to the left and right of the chimney that can be used to alleviate the congestion. No better time than now to try them.
Here’s the variation that we took. On the very lefthand side of the ledge below the chimney pitch (typically the ledge that people belay from for the chimney pitch), go straight up for around 15-20 feet of very easy climbing. You’ll find yourself in a bit of a small corner with a fantastic hole in the granite that can be girth hitched. Up and left of the girth hitch there is a finger sized crack that leads out to an arête on the left. Keep your hands in this crack and move out to the very well featured and protectable arête. It isn’t obvious that there is anything out to the left to climb, but trust me, there is and the mysterious feeling adds to the adventure. From here you can continue straight up towards the summit, bypassing all the groaning and struggling parties in the chimney. At a rating of 5.7 and featuring some fantastic exposure, I can’t recommend it enough.
After that section the rest of our route was pretty typical climbing for an afternoon on Cathedral. I got to the summit blocks and waited for some traffic to clear before making the final push to the top. As I waited, two free soloists came marching up the rock, one carrying a banjo and the other a guitar. Immediately I began to smile, hoping that we’d get to hang out as a group on the top and enjoy a world class view with some accompanying music.
After a short wait I brought Ben up to the party and he gave Marzena and Jill a belay while I shot some video of the music scene. Once we were all on top I couldn’t help but feel extremely fortunate. Not only did the rain stay away, it was sunny and beautiful. The climbing ended up being more enjoyable than I had even remembered. Plus I got to share a summit that is always incredible with three people that I am fortunate to have in my life. Add into that the mood that the music set and it’s a day that can’t be repeated.
We ended up sitting on the summit for almost an hour, soaking up the sights and enjoying the music. I can’t thank everyone enough for making that one of the more memorable and enjoyable hours that I’ve had. The only bummer of the day was that Linda didn’t get to experience it with us. However, I did manage to get a couple videos where the wind didn’t totally destroy the audio. I’ve posted them below along with a couple other photos from the day.