The Cathedral Range

10 Jul 1999 - by Chris Gould

On the weekend of July 10-11, Dan Rampe and I took off to Tuolumne to climb in the Cathedral Range. Dan is a veteran rock climber who's been climbing since AC/DC released Back in Black. Me? I've been climbing since Ricky Martin took the world by storm. This would be my first multi-pitch rock climb and although it's 5.6 rating is well within my gym ability, a bunch of questions ran through my head as I packed for the climb. I'd only climbed 5th class on real rock a couple of times last summer. How would I climb on real rock? What if I came down with vertigo? What if it turns out that I'm afraid of heights? What if I'm so afraid of heights that I freak out, break down in tears and wet my pants? Surely Dan, whom I used to work with, would call up my work mates and tell them and I'd never be able to show my face in the office again. Hmmm, I could take a few weeks off between jobs and go climbing. Realizing that there is a bright side to everything made me feel a lot better and I stopped worrying.

I picked up Dan in the city about 8pm Friday and we started the journey to Yosemite. After a couple stops, we rolled into the park shortly after midnight. The next morning we're first in line and get our permit for Cathedral Lakes. Relieved at getting this coveted permit, we head down to the TM store parking lot to sort out our gear. I suggest that we put all our food in one bear canister.

"Can't, I can't fit all my own food in my canister," Dan replies.

"Remove the packaging before you put it in."

"I did, it won't all fit."

I record now, for posterity, the contents of Dan's bear can for our overnight trip:

If I have a fear of heights, it is equally offset by my partner's fear of starving in the wilderness.

We finish packing and head up the Budd Creek trail. Along the way we admire the cascading waterfalls and ooh and aah at all the wildflowers that we can't name. Around 9500', I begin to notice that we're not alone in the area. We have several tiny winged admirers, so delighted by our presence that they send word out to arrange for a greeting party at Budd Lake. Our plan is to drop our bags at the lake while we climb some of the Echo Peaks, then move over towards Cathedral and climb it on Sunday. We arrive at Budd Lake. Within seconds the sky darkens as the swarm descends upon us. I tear through my bag to find the repellent and start to put it on but the mosquitoes come in too fast and I have to abort to swat a few. Swat or repellant? Swat or repellent? There are too many of them! I can't decide! Instead I run around in circles, swinging my hat and cursing. We hastily grab our climbing gear and run up towards Echo Peaks where the breeze keeps the mosquitoes away.

As we head up towards Echo Peaks, we have some debate about which of the 9 peaks we're actually looking at. After consulting the topo from Roper, we decide that we're looking at Peaks 5 and 1. Since the north side of 5 looks to be easier than 1, we decide to climb it first and find it to be easy third class, as described. We descend the other side, traverse around another peak and come up a gully.

What the hell is that?

Another peak is now visible between what we thought were 1 and 5. After some head scratching, arguing, name-calling, accusations, many map-rotations, and finally reconciliation, we decide that what we actually climbed was Peak 7 and now we are looking at Peaks 1 and 5. We decide, again, to climb peak 5. Although described as easy 3rd class, there's one move that seems like 4th class to me. Dan thinks I'm a woos. We continue on to Peaks 1, 2, and 3 and find their north sides to all be easy third class.

From the top of Peak 3, Peak 4 looks much more impressive than the others. I change out of my boots and into my rock shoes and Dan belays me on the downclimb to the notch between the two peaks, then leads to the top of 4. The north side of 4 is mostly 4th class, with possibly a couple 5th class moves. Apparently it is not climbed very often. The summit register dates back to the 80's, but there are only a couple dozen entries, the last one dating from last year. Among the few entries in the register, we find Peter Croft ("Traversing through...") and John Moynier. As we sit on the summit, drama unfolds around us in the park. Over on Matthes Crest, we hear climbers shouting about a stuck rope, reminding Dan of the time his rope got stuck on that climb. And down by Little Yosemite Valley, we see a helicopter, which can only mean bad news. We learn later that the helicopter was sent to retrieve the body of a hiker who slipped and was swept over Nevada Falls.

We find a couple slings on the summit, and as I don't particularly feel like downclimbing it we decide to rappel. There's no telling how old the slings are, so Dan backs them for my rappel with a bunch of cams. He sinks a couple behind one rotten looking flake then puts a couple more in. Although it's a bomber anchor, I can't get the hollow sound of the flake out of my mind and I'm hesitant about putting my weight on the rope. The anchor comes from the left near an edge, so I climb out to the right and then get ready to shift my weight below the anchor. Just as I move I hear a hollow grating sound and cast a hurried look towards the flake, my foot slips, and I swing to the left, smashing my hand and tearing several layers of skin off my knuckles and the back of my hand. Although it looks pretty ghastly at the time, it turns out to be manageable. The first rappel (Dan actually down climbed) takes us halfway down the east face where we find a couple of bolts. We rappel the rest of the face and decide to call it a day.

We retrieve our packs and move to a spot higher up where there are no mosquitoes. During dinner, we admire the profile of Mt. Conness and I resolve to get on top of it by the end of the summer.

The next morning I hear Dan rustling in his sleeping bag.

"Slide, you up?"

"Yeah."

"The mosquitoes are swarming."

I open my eyes and see several little profiles crawling on the outside of my bivy sack. I unzip a corner and see hundreds of them all lined up, revving their engines and ready for breakfast. For several days after this, every time I close my eyes, I relive this scene and immediately open them again. I dart from my bag, put on as much clothes as I can and repeat my mosquito dance from the previous day.

"Bastards!"

"F*ckers!"

"F*cking bastards!"

This is as creative as we can manage at this time in the morning. Within minutes I'm roasting in my fleece and the MSR stove, which roared the previous night, is once again clogged and sputtering. (I resist the urge to digress on my stove here.) I resign myself to a breakfast of Clif bars and pack up. The mosquitoes hassle us all the way to the base of Cathedral.

Upon arriving at the Southeast Buttress, another party who camped at the base of the climb is just starting out. While trying to cover up my cuts with Band-Aids and tape, another party of 3 arrives and starts climbing farther up. Dan is bummed. We decide to start where the party of 2 started. We soon realize this was a mistake.

Dan will lead all pitches and I follow. The first pitch is 5.2 and in my rush to get away from the mosquitoes I practically run up this pitch. Finally, relief! There is a nice belay ledge at the top of the first pitch and Dan and I fit comfortably with a woman from the team in front of us. After a 10 or 15 minute wait, they are ready to move up.

The second pitch is rated 5.4 and follows 2 cracks up to another big belay ledge. It seems harder than it's rating. The cracks are too close together to stem. Each combination of 2 feet and 2 cracks seems awkward, but the pitch goes by fairly quickly as well. The party above us has some problems on this pitch and is moving really slow. While waiting at the belay, the wind picks up and the clouds grow dark. The weather is moving in from the North and the peak blocks our view. It doesn't look like an electrical storm, but it does look like it could rain and we're a jacket short. In the back of our minds, Dan and I are both thinking of hypothermia.

It gets windier and colder. On the third pitch, the woman ahead of us kicks a rock off on me while belaying her partner. Dan yells, "Rock!" It misses me, but I think he makes up his mind then that we should get ahead of them. Both parties decide to skip the 5.6 chimney in favor of the 5.7 face (although this pitch has the hardest rating on the climb, it seems one of the easiest, probably since it's a face climb and is more like climbing in a gym.) The first party climbs off to the left, and Dan takes off up the right of the face, climbing 30 feet past their belay station. As soon as the other party clears our rope, I follow. No nice belay ledge here! I meet Dan on an 8 inch wide ledge anchored to a couple of seemingly precariously balanced slabs. In minutes he is off. As the leader of the other party climbs up to this little ledge, Dan is just finishing the next pitch. The other leader decides to wait and as we talk, the sun comes back out, although it stays very windy. Down below we can see another party of 3 just starting out. I say goodbye and climb up to meet Dan.

The last two pitches are very enjoyable. Lots of holds and lots of exposure. 4 hours after we start we reach the summit. The summit is about 7 or 8 feet long by 3 or 4 feet wide and drops off steeply on all sides. The last move to the summit block crosses a 3 foot gap. Dan suggests I jump it. Yeah, right! I backstep and get a foot on it thinking I'll step across, then think better and downclimb into the notch and up the other side.

Great views from the summit! To the North Conness stands out most prominently, while below us is Fairview Dome. Eichorn Pinnacle sticks up on the west end of Cathedral, while to the southeast the Cockscomb, Unicorn, (some map maker got those two mixed up if you ask me) and Echo Peaks form a ring with Cathedral around Budd Lake. To the southwest, Half Dome sticks out behind Cloud's Rest and a bunch of smaller domes fill the foreground. In all directions the view is filled with granite. It's too cold to linger long though, and after snapping a few pictures we rap 70' down the north side of the summit (nice ledge below the bolts to start the rappel here.) From there it's a bit of 3rd class downclimbing and then a walk back down to our packs.

As I approach my pack, with an assortment of cams and biners clinking on my harness, I take off my helmet and stop to look back at Cathedral and reflect on the climb. Seconds later I am doing the mosquito dance again.

"Bastards!"

"F*ckers!"

"F*cking bastards!"


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