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California - Eastside Sierra

August 2013

Cathedral Range

(Tuolumne area of Yosemite National Park)

see on map (Google)

GPS: latitude/longitude waypoints and helpful tracks:

download this GPX file

description

An ocean of granite in the southwest portion of Yosemite National Park, running from Cathedral Peak southeast to around Parsons Peak and Simmons Peak. Between those it includes the remarkable sculpted ridges of the Matthes Crest, Echo Peaks + Ridge, Cockscomb, and Unicorn. Also the summits of Rafferty Peak, Fletcher Peak, Vogelsang Peak.

Climbing peaks and routes include:

  • Cathedral Peak (lat/long approx N37.8478 W119.4055) (alt 10911 ft / 3326 m)
    . . . Famous very popular route is SE Buttress (5.6)
    . . . The summit is great no matter how you get there.

  • Eichorn Pinnacle - West satellite of Cathedral Peak
    . . . Famous route is West Pillar (5.9)
    . . . Many people also enjoy shorter N face (5.4)

  • Echo Peaks (1 mile / 1.5km S of Cathedral Peak)

West group

. . #1 (lat/long ~ N37.83389 W119.40299) - S ridge class 3

. . #2: S of #1 and N of #3

. . #3 (N37.83269 W119.40336) (alt ~ 11100ft/3385m)
. . . . Highest of the Echos - class 3 by N ridge from col betw 1+2.

. . #4: A narrow fin SSW from #3

Middle group (W side of Wilts Col)

. . #5: W of #7

. . #6: S of #5 and #7

. . #7: E of #5 and W of Wilts Col

. Wilts Col (lat/long ~ N37.83426 W119.40073) between #7 and #8.

East group (E side of Wilts Col)

. . #8 (N37.83384 W119.40005) - N face, short class 3 from near Wilts col.

. . #9: (S of #8) The most difficult summit of the Echos.

  • Echo Peaks 1-2-3-4 aretes
    . . . Between 1-2-3 (accessed from col 1-2): class 3 with some knife-edge sections
    . . . N arete of #1: reported class 5
    . . . arete between #3 and #4: not sure of difficulty

  • Echo Ridge (lat/long ~ N37.8348 W119.3959) (alt ~ 11150ft/3400m)
    . . . (S above Budd Lake, E of Echo Peaks)
    . . . East arete: Interesting climbing with some "knife-edge" sections (class 4/5).

  • Matthes Crest - (lat/long ~ N37.8237 W119.3972) (alt ~ 10880ft/3318m)
    . . . Amazing narrow fin of granite (S of Echo Ridge)
    . . . S ridge is famous + popular (despite long approach) as a traverse,
    . . . usually stopping at the N summit, or the notch betweeen S+N summits.
    . . . But it's especially the N ridge which has incomparable arete-climbing features.
  • Wall of E face of ridge S from Cockscomb (lat/long very approximate N37.8215 W119.3865)
    . . . perhaps called "Sunrise Wall" - W above Echo Creek.
    . . . Three routes 5.8-5.9 reported in R.J.Secor guidebook: The High Sierra (Mountaineers 2009).

  • Cockscomb (lat/long ~ N37.8356 W119.3847) (alt ~ 11050ft/3370m)
    . . . (0.5 mile / 0.9km E of Echo Ridge ; 0.7 mile/ 1.1km SSW of Unicorn)
    . . . easiest way is W face (class 5) (not very long)
    . . . other routes on other aspects - see R.J.Secor guidebook: The High Sierra (Mountaineers 2009).

  • "Althuski" (lat/long ~ N37.8411 W119.3801) (alt ~ 10875ft/3315m)
    . . . (0.3 mile/0.5km SSE of Unicorn ; 0.45 mile/0.7km NE of Cockscomb)
    . . . Fun if you like scrambling/hopping on big granite talus (some us do),
    . . . otherwise just a hump of rubble.

  • Unicorn (10823ft/3300m) (lat/long ~ N37.8457 W119.3821)

Normal route from E side (Elizabeth Lake trailhead) has some interesting moves (class 4/5) to the highest N summit from the notch between Mid + N summits, but pretty short compared to the length of approach.

NNW face to near notch between Mid+N summits from Budd Lake has longer climbing (class 4/5) (but longer approach), can find some additional interesting (optional) moves along the S arete, then descend slabs on the W face of S ridge back toward Budd Lake.

Other longer routes on other aspects (direct N reported as 5.8 A3) - more info see R.J.Secor guidebook: The High Sierra (Mountaineers 2009).

  • Peak 11357ft (lat/long ~ N37.8033 W119.3637) (about 1 mile SW from Rafferty Peak)
    . . . Boss Man (5.11)
    . . . reported also a nice 5.8 route - see R.J.Secor guidebook: The High Sierra (Mountaineers 2009).

  • Vogelsang Peak (lat/long ~ N37.7776 W119.3495) (alt ~ 11500ft/3500m) . . .
    has at least one route 5.9 or harder (though just reaching the summit does not require climbing moves) - see R.J.Secor guidebook: The High Sierra (Mountaineers 2009).

  • Fletcher Peak (lat/long ~ N37.7924 W119.3380) (alt ~ 11400ft/3480m)
    has routes ranging from class 2 - 4 - 5 - 9 - 10b. See R.J.Secor guidebook: The High Sierra (Mountaineers 2009).

The high-altitude sparsely-vegetated rock-slab terrain makes cross-country travel straightforward, so there are "enchainments" / traverses with sequences of multiple climbing peaks and routes:

getting there

The interesting climbing is usually accessed from the north, from trailheads on the Tioga Pass highway rt 120 by Tuolumne Meadows.

on other websites

area description with Comments on MountainProject

route descriptions with Comments on MountainProject:

reports + comments on MountainProject

Cathedral Range Traverse

see on map (Google)

GPS: latitude/longitude waypoints and helpful tracks:

download this GPX file

overview

This route makes a circular path along the ridge and across the peaks overlooking Budd Lake, on the south side of Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park --> see on map
Just hiking (or running) on that ridge for so long with wonderful views in both directions would be great. Even more, it includes some great narrow / arete sections, also some fun climbing peaks which might be too short to justify as an outing individually -- and optionally access to some famous routes (for those who have the speed + endurance + skill to include them).

  • total Distance = 9.3 Miles / 15 km

  • total Vertical gain = +4800 ft / +1460m

Actually this route does not include anything like the whole geographical Cathedral Range as shown on maps -- just the northwestern section, which is most accessible to trailheads on highway rt 120, and has lots of fun and spectacular climbing.

Peaks along the way are:
  • Unicorn

  • . . (Althuski)

  • Cockscomb

  • . . (optional side trip to Matthes Crest)

  • Echo Ridge

  • Echo Peaks

  • Cathedral Peak

  • . . (optional side trip to Eichorn Pinnacle)

Best climbing: Sections with the best climbing are:
  • NNW face of Unicorn [low class 5] - also traverse sections of narrow S ridge.

  • . (optional: North ridge of Matthes Crest offers amazing narrow ridge structures (5.8 or 5.7)

  • knife-edge East arete of Echo Ridge [class 4, perhaps one move 5]

  • knife-edge aretes between Echo Peaks 1+2+3 [class 3]

  • Cathedral Peak summit block [low class 5] is great, and the top section of the NW face is an interesting way to get there - (but substituting the ascent of the famous SE Buttress route (5.6) offers much more climbing and more interesting).

  • . (optional Eichorn Pinnacle N face (5.4)

location: south side of Tioga Pass highway rt 120 by Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park --> see on map 

GPS: All latitude/longitude points in this Description, also other helpful waypoints and tracks, are in this GPX file.

history

Most of the individual peaks were climbed by the 1930s. People were doing the Traverse at least by the 1980s. John Moynier + Claude Fiddler described it (with much less detail than here) in 1993 in Sierra Classics: 100 Best Climbs in the High Sierra, and again in the second edition, Climbing California's High Sierra (Falcon.com 2002). Peter Croft described the Cathedral Range traverse (in the opposite direction) in his high Sierra guidebook, The Good, the Great, and the Awesome (MaximusPress.com 2002). 

strategy

Start and finish at the Cathedral Lakes trailhead on route 120 is the simple short way.
For a shorter traverse (or to allow more time for optional Matthes Crest section or Cathedral SE Buttress climb) could ...

  • omit the Unicorn, first go to the Cockscomb - Echo col and start by climbing Cockscomb; or

  • omit the Echo Peaks, go directly from Echo Ridge to Wilts Col to Cathedral.

  • omit Cathedral Peak, just hike down out from Budd Lake.

For a more difficult traverse:
  • substitute SE Buttress of Cathedral Peak (5.6) for the normal route around the E side to the NW face.

  • add the North Ridge of Matthes Crest, or

  • start by hiking out to the S end of Matthes Crest, and traverse it partway (or fully?) toward its N end, then join CRT at Echo Ridge.

  • start by climbing Tenaya Peak NW buttress, then (? after optional visit to Tressider Peak ?) go to Matthes Crest and traverse that from South to North, then join CRT at Echo Ridge. See Tenaya Matthes Cathedral Traverse

approach

Trailhead is at Cathedral Lakes trail (shuttle bus stop) on Tioga Pass highway rt 120 in Tuolumne Meadows. (GPS latitude/longitude approximately N37.8729 W119.3829) (altitude approx 8580ft / 2615meters). About 8.7Miles / 14km west on route 120 from Yosemite National Park east entrance at Tioga Pass.

The plan is first get to Budd Lake, then to the base of the Unicorn climb ...

(1) Start on the Cathedral Lakes trail and go SW about 0.35Mile / 550meter distance, uphill vertical +260ft / +80m) to point (GPS lat/long ~ N37.8693 W119.3867) (altitude ~ 8840ft/2695m)

(2) There turn Left off the main trail (no sign or marking) onto a well-beaten path about two feet wide which starts gentle down, then flat a little, then steeper down.
Normally this turn is blocked by one of more logs. It comes about 200ft/70m after the main trail trail curved S up steepish - just after the main trail had curved W up steepish for about 200ft/70m - (and just before the main trail curves W up steepish yet again). Note: The southern endpoint of this second trail is Cathedral Peak, not Budd Lake.

Go roughly S about 0.6Mi / 1000m close to Budd Creek with some ups and downs. Next the trail goes onto a long + wide rock slab area, and at the same time slowly curves to the right - SSW - away from Budd Creek. It's true that one branch of Budd Creek runs down from Budd Lake, but if you try to stay close to this creek, you'll soon be off the trail bushwacking (which is doable and perhaps fun, but more work and time) - and if you follow the obvious east branch, you won't even go to Budd Lake. It's easy to miss the trail here on the slab. The key is to recognize is that the trail often runs between two parallel lines of rocks, with the individual rocks spaced about 3-6ft / 1-2m apart -- and be on the lookout for when those lines curve Right. The slab ends after about 0.25Mi/400m. About another 0.1Mi / 120m there is a move up R on rock, and continue on the dirt trail for another 0.3Mi / 500m to key turn-off point (lat/long ~ N37.8527 W119.3936) (altitude 9540ft / 2910m). This is about 1.0Mi / 1600m from leaving the main Cathedral Lakes trail (with overall gentle uphill of +700ft / +215m).

This turn-off point comes after the Cathedral Peak trail comes in sight of a little creek below its L side, and hooks R around the end of a big fallen tree, then goes gentle down curving L, then roughly flat a short ways aiming straight at a tree. There it's easy to see the Budd Lake trail going off to the L - (At that point the Cathedral Peak trail turns half-R and goes uphill away from the creek.)

(3) Here turn L (SE) off the Cathedral Peak trail (no sign or marking) and cross a small creek on broken logs. This turn is easy to miss. It is often blocked by one or more logs along the side of the Cathedral Peak trail.

This little creek is the west branch of Budd Creek, and the unofficial trail to Budd Lake basically follows this creek. So immediately after crossing the creek, turn R (SW) and start hiking on this (narrower) trail to go generally SSW about 0.7Mi / 1100m (with overall gentle uphill of +460ft / +140m) to the outlet of Budd Lake
(lat/long ~ N37.8431 W119.3973) (alt 10000ft/3050m). 

(4) Next objective is to get to the base of the N-NW face of Unicorn Peak.
Go SE (on the E side of Budd Lake) about 0.35Mi / 600m, aiming for a col/saddle above a rock slab slope. The slab is steep-ish, likely requires some wide zig-zags to get up - (wouldn't want to have to come down this when wet).

From the col (10290ft / 3135m), see Unicorn peak to the East across a wide bowl. Go down a little SE, then contour around the bowl, E about 0.3Mi / 500m E, then N about 0.35Mi / 600m to reach a flat/gentle area under the W face of Unicorn Peak.
(lat/long ~ N37.8452 W119.3841) (alt 10270ft/3130m).

Total distance from trailhead about 3.1Mi / 5km, with a total vertical gain about +1840ft / +560m (including some ups + downs).

traverse

Unicorn high point is the North summit (lat/long ~ N37.8457 W119.3821) (alt ~ 10830ft/3300m). From the E side of the Unicorn, hike upward diagonally around to reach the bottom of the rock of the NNW face. Then climb the rock up to the notch between the north peak and middle peak of the Unicorn -- or aiming for some point between the north summit and the notch. Interesting climbing, and it might be possible to find a way to do this all at the grade of class 4, but it's sustained and not short, so it would not be surprising if some class 5 moves will be encountered.

(Alternate way to this notch: Climb the slabs of the W face of the ridge S from the Unicorn toward the talus heap ("Althuski"), then go N along the broad ridge.)

Getting from the notch to the N summit is traditionally graded class 4, but one usual way includes an exposed overhanging move (positive holds) - which many people might grade as class 5.
. . (The notch can be reached more easily from the E side from the Lake Elizabeth trailhead, but that requires a car/bus shuttle, and misses out on some interesting climbing.)

Come back down off the N summit the same way. Could also tag some of the other (easier) summits. Or there are some interesting moves along the narrow ridge going south from some of the other Unicorn summits. More interesting if stay more directly on the arete where possible. More exposure to play with if make some moves on the W side.

Next go easy 0.3Mi / 500m S on the broad ridge to the next high spot, sometimes called "Althuski" (lat/long ~ N37.8411 W119.3800) (alt ~ 10875ft/3315m). It's a heap of big granite rocks -- fun if you like descending from its top by hopping from rock to rock. Otherwise can be bypassed on its W side. 

Cockscomb (lat/long ~ N37.8356 W119.3847) (alt ~ 11060ft/3370m) is about 0.4Mi / 620m SW from the rock heap, but it's more complicated to get there. The easy way to climb the Cockscomb is on its W face -- which is most easily reached by going around its S side ... Perhaps leave the Cockscomb NE ridge fairly early, then horizontal across dirt until fully around the base of the SW end of the peak. - (? a more aesthetic way might be to stay closer to the NE ridge and aim for the notch between the N and S halves of the Cockscomb ? see this photo

(Other folks report going around the N side of the Cockscomb, or climbing it by its NW face -- or even traversing the peak by its E face and W face (some did not like rock quality on W face).

Descend W to the Cockscomb-Echo col (alt ~ 10660ft/3250m).

(If need to retreat from here in wet weather, note that between this pass and Budd Lake are two large steep-ish rock slabs to be descended (slippery?). So consider instead first going down SW then around the S and W sides of the Echo Peaks.) 

Matthes Crest is optional, but the rock structures on the arete are so interesting (especially the section north from the North summit) that it's tempting to visit it somehow. Several options for embracing or avoiding different sections of the Matthes ridge. See North Ridge description - also this discussion, also Comments on the South ridge traverse page on MP + Comments on the North Ridge page on MP.

Echo Ridge - W summit is higher (lat/long ~ N37.8348 W119.3959) (alt ~ 11150ft/3400m) than E summit - (also higher than Cathedral Peak). The upper section of the East arete has wonderful knife-edge sections. Many people grade it as class 4, but might be a low class 5 down-climb move off the E summit.

For maximum fun climbing, try to spend as much time as possible directly on the top of the ridge - "balls over the razor" - or make moves across from one side to the other - or look for chances to climb on the steeper side.

We saw a report that it might be possible to start by climbing somewhere on the N face of the E ridge.

After the high point of Echo Ridge can find some additional narrow arete moves on the West arete a bit lower.

Gentle down to Wilts Col (lat/long ~ N37.8343 W119.4007) (alt ~ 10760ft/3280m) - between Echo Peak 8 at the N end of the east group of Echo Peaks, and Echo Peak 7 at the NE end of the middle group of Echo Peaks.

(If need to exit now from this Traverse, it's maximum class 2 from Wilks Col down to Budd Lake and out the trail to the highway 120.

Echo Peaks are numbered 1 to 9, in three groups:
(1) Echo Peaks 1 to 4 form a N-S line on the West, and the arete across peaks 1 to 4 is overall narrow and in some sections knife-edge;
(2) peaks 5 to 7 are the Middle group;
(3) peaks 8 + 9 are the line on the East - (Peak 9 is the most difficult summit to reach).

For more on climbing Echo Peaks + Ridge, see R.J.Secor guidebook, The High Sierra (Mountaineers 2009)

Tallest of all the "Echos" is Peak 3 (lat/long ~ N37.8327 W119.4034) (alt ~ 11100ft/3385m) - so the easy fun accomplishment is to get to the summit of high peak 3, and also traverse the narrow arete line between peaks 1 + 2 + 3. The obvious easy way on or off that line is the E side of the col between 1 + 2. From Wilts Col the easy way to get there is to traverse low around the N side of peak 7 and peak 5.

Next, one short way to Cathedral Peak is by down-climbing the W side of the col between peak 3 and peak 2. The top section is fun scrambling, but lower down the rock gets loose and with dirt. A longer obvious way (with less loose rock) is to return to Wilts Col and go N down (on dirt) from there. Another possible short way (not checked by us) is to return to the col between Echo 1 and Echo 5, and go directly N down from there.

(If need to exit now from this Traverse, it's non-difficult cross-country travel from Wilts Col to Budd Lake, or from W side of peaks 1-2-3 to hit the trail N below Budd Lake.)

Next hike/run cross-country N about 1 mile / 1700m to the southeast base of the summit cliffs of Cathedral Peak. Likely it's easier to aim a bit east of the cliffs, to hit the normal trail (improved with stone steps) to Cathedral Peak, and finish on that. 

Cathedral Peak (lat/long ~ N37.8478 W119.4055) (alt 10912ft/3326m) has a great summit block with a great view, no matter how you get there. A very attractive option is to climb the much more difficult SE Buttress route [5.6] to the summit of Cathedral Peak - (the usual start for that route is 100-125ft / 30-40m W along the base of the cliff from where the hiking trail meets the cliff.)

The normal route to the summit goes up the trail around E side of the summit cliffs. This trail now has stone steps. It stays pretty close to the base of the cliffs along the E side, at first N, then curves NW. After about 0.15Mi / 230m distance with vertical gain of +390ft / +120m it reaches a barrier. For a nice view / snack spot without the difficult + exposed summit climbing, here turn R and go N thru a narrow slot in the rock to a flat spot. To continue to the summit, scramble up about 25ft diagonal Left, then horizontal Left (W) around the N corner of the summit cliffs, past some bushes to wide ledge on the NE side of the NW face.
. . . (For a more interesting adventure, do not read the following instructions, instead figure it out for yourself, like John Muir when he was here first in 1869) . . .

details: Next climb the NW face, likely with some zigzags (many people find it easiest to go all the way over to the SW side), finishing (50-80ft higher) at the NE side of the face. Next diagonal up Right to a notch, and cross the notch to the S face. Traverse horizontally SE about 10ft to the bottom of twin cracks. Climb up those about 12ft to the SW side of the summit block, then to the flat top for a great view.

descent -- From the summit of Cathedral Peak, return the same way ... down the twin cracks, across to and down the NW face, around the N corner, and down the E side to the southeast base of cliff. Next down the unofficial Cathedral Peak trail, first steep-ish SE, soon curves NE gentler, later NNE (careful not to lose the trail while on the wide long slab) to meet the official Cathedral Lakes trail. Finally NE down on that back to the trailhead on highway rt 120. (descent distance 2.7 miles / 4.4 km).

GPS

All latitude/longitude points in this Description, also other helpful waypoints and tracks, are in a GPX file linked from this GPX file.

protection

Light alpine trad rack, long slings for around rock horns. Significant portion of climbing on narrow ridges best protected by the leader's skill in running the rope around rock features. Almost no fixed gear. In early season, might need snow or ice protection at some points. Anyway,
most people who try this traverse do it solo. 

which direction? clockwise or counter-clockwise?

The advantages I see in starting with Cathedral are that

  • ensures that you have time and energy to do Cathedral Peak.

  • SE or E side of Cathedral gets morning sun, while N-NW face of Unicorn does not.

The advantages of starting with the Unicorn I see are:

  • Do the interesting climbing of the Unicorn NNW face in the upward direction.

  • East arete of Echo Ridge is nicer in the uphill direction.

  • If start with the great summit of Cathedral, every other summit of the day might feel inferior (unless do the side trip to Matthes Crest).

  • If save Cockscomb and Unicorn for later (and do not do the NNW face of Unicorn) then the climbing on those peaks seems smaller than the Echo Ridge (or optoinal Matthes Crest). If start with those peaks, might feel like a nice warmup.

  • If need to bail out later due to bad weather or lack of time or energy, then it's easier to descend on dirt from Wilts Col / Echo Peaks or the open country between the Echos and Cathedral Peak, than to descend the rock slabs below Cockscomb - Echo col or the SW side of the Unicorn (and then the second slab on SE side of Budd Lake) - especially if things are getting wet.

on other websites

photos on nearby routes

trip reports

route description with Comments -- on MountainProject

Matthes Crest - North Ridge

GPS: latitude/longitude waypoints and helpful tracks:

download this GPX file

overview

Amazing narrow fin of granite, above an ocean of granite. Variety of interesting moves, unfogettable rock structures, sustained for more than a thousand feet of climbing.
More interesting and narrow than the South ridge (which is what most roped parties do and call the "traverse" of the Matthes Crest). Usually said by long-time Sierra climbers to be their favorite ridge traverse. More ... is it the best moderate ridge in USA? or in ?

At least one of the 5.8 sections can be avoided, and much of the reputation of difficulty comes from people trying this ridge in the in the downward direction. So someone might find some navigation in the upward direction which keeps all the difficulty at 5.7 or less. Look forward to seeing experiences about this in the Comments.

location:  In the Cathedral Range area of Yosemite National Park, along the south side of Tuolumne Meadows. North (highest) summit (altitude approx 10,880ft/3318meters) is at latitude/longitude approx N37.8237 W119.3972) -- about 3.5 miles / 5.6km south from the Tioga Pass highway route 120.

approach

Starting from the Cathedral Lakes trailhead on Tioga Pass highway route 120 (GPS latitude/longitude approx N37.8729 W119.3829) (altitude ~ 2615m). Follow the Approach instructions for the Cathedral Range Traverse as far as the N end of Budd Lake (lat/long ~ N37.8431 W119.3973) (altitude ~ 3050m).

From the N end of Budd Lake, hike SSW about 0.6mile/1000meters up toward the Echo Peaks, which are west of the broad Echo Ridge, which is west of the Cockscomb peak and the Echo-Cockscomb col. The objective is to cross "Wilts col" (lat/long ~ N37.8343 W119.4007) (alt ~ 3280m), which is between the East group of the Echo Peaks and the Middle group of the Echo Peaks. An obvious wide steep dirt/scree gully leads up its N side (often with a zig-zag track, or snow in springtime).

Once down through the dense trees (about 150m) on south side of col, turn Left and traverse East about 400m across the southern slope of Echo Ridge, then up NorthEast about 200m to get up onto the north end (N37.8333 W119.3944) of the North ridge of Matthes Crest.

Walk S on the ridge about 500m mostly flat, perhaps some scrambling moves. Meet some big "pancake" rocks, then the North mini-tower (lat/long ~ N37.8269 W119.3958) (altitude ~ 3225m).

alternate Approach 1: First do one or more peaks of the Cathedral Range Traverse

alternate Approach 2: First do the beginning of the Tenaya - Matthes - Cathedral traverse

climbing

Overall the north ridge has four sections ... from N to S:

  • the flat wide non-climbing approach.

  • the two exciting mini-towers (5.7 or 5.6) - (avoidable). These mini-towers are much lower than the two summits.

  • long (about a thousand feet) narrow ridge mostly-horizontal with several 10-15 ft "steps" (around 5.5-5.6), including the exciting (avoidable) hand-traverse (5.8)

  • arete rising up (5.7) to the North (highest) summit, including an exciting gap to cross.

mini-towers: Up to the top of the N mini-tower, down the other side to the notch, then up to the top of the (higher) S mini-tower and down its other side - is what I remember working for me.

One guidebook warns that the mini-towers have tricky moves, loose rock, and are difficult to protect (especially protecting the following climber if going in the opposite S->N direction) - and implies that most parties should plan on just skipping the mini-towers (see Variations 1 and 2 below).

My observations are that one sequence up the N arete of N mini-tower felt like exposed 5.6 in the upward direction (but 5.7 as an on-sight down-climb). I found a loose flake near the S arete of N mini-tower in a location tempting to grab, but then I found a way to do the move without using it. One sequence down-climbing near that S arete felt like 5.6 exposed.

I'd suggest that parties trying the mini-towers respect the guidebook warnings by rehearsing/reversing key moves (and methods for protecting in reverse) in case decide to back off when see what comes later. Those who have not recently practiced much down-climbing might find some mini-tower sequences harder.
The mini-towers are key parts of what makes the Matthes Crest such a remarkably great climb, so I suggest it's worth at least taking a "nibble" on them.

Variation 1: Two different guidebooks say it's possible to avoid both mini-towers by traversing on ledges (difficulty ? class 3 ? class 4?) somewhere below along their West side, then rejoin the crest of the ridge for the long horizontal section.

Variation 2 is an alternative which more completely avoids both mini-towers, and perhaps make the approach or return a little easier. See below for more details.

long mostly-horizontal section: About a thousand feet with lots of fun non-difficult narrow-arete-traverse moves, but also some thoughtful vertical "steps" about 10-15 ft each (easier to figure out in the upward N->S direction).

hand traverse: One of the "steps" leads to a slightly-overhanging traverse section on the E face about 10-15ft wide, with about a hundred feet of open air underneath. Felt around 5.8, don't know about protection - (hopefully we'll start seeing some detailed guidance for that below in the Comments). Anyway it's
avoidable: Go down the gully on W side about 20ft, a couple of thoughtful moves up out of S side of gully, then diagonal SE up to crest.

N arete of N summit: The new 2013 edition of the Supertopo guuidebook has a topo diagram two of the key moves leading into this.
Lots of people do a stemming / step-across move over an exciting gap (or two) near the bottom of the arete - (photos see link further below). Many of the moves higher up are on the W side of the arete. Difficulty around 5.7 or 5.6 - (hopefully we'll soon be seeing some guidance about protectability in the Comments below).
This N summit is the highest on the Matthes Crest.

descent

Make a long double-rope rappel down the west side of the N summit. Then make a second double-rope rappel. See details in South ridge Traverse description and Comments on MP.

alternate Descent 1: Return back north down the North ridge (for maximum enjoyment of great arete climbing). Could use Variation 2 (or Variation 1) to shorten this.

alternate Descent 2: Down-climb the SW side of N summit into the notch between the S summit and N summit. Could be tricky doing this on-sight as a down-climb -- some moves will likely feel like 5.7 -- see details in South ridge Traverse description and Comments on MP. Also the SuperTopo guidebook has a detailed topo for this section. Then make one (or more?) less-long rappels with a single 60-meter rope down the West side of the notch.

alternate Descent 3: Climb South down the South ridge -- finishes with three or two downward pitches including some 5.5 moves -- rappel options unknown. For more info see South ridge Traverse on MP.

return to trailhead

Could just go back over Wilts Col ... but if did one of the rappel descents, then it's less work to instead make a traverse W low under the S side of Echo Peaks, then a rising traverse over a broad shoulder (lat/long ~ N37.8373 W119.4060) (alt ~ 10300ft/3140m) on the W side of Echo Peaks. Then down toward Budd Lake - or a little shorter is to aim for a bit R (E) of Cathedral Peak, go gently down until meet the unofficial Cathedral Peak trail, down on that and it joins the Approach route.

More climbing? If have extra energy and time on your way out, try additional summits of the Cathedral Range Traverse.

statistics

- approach on Trail : 2.05mile/3.25km with vertical gain +1420ft/435m

- approach Off trail : 1.6mile/2.6km with vertical gain +1000ft/305m

- climb up N ridge : 1200ft/380m length with vertical ~ +480ft/150m

- Total with return : 7.6mile/12.3km with vertical gain +3200ft/980m
. . . for rapping off + returning around W shoulder of Echo Peaks.
. . . (Returning over Wilts Col is shorter distance but more vertical.)

GPS

All latitude/longitude points in this Description, also other helpful waypoints and tracks, are in a GPX file linked from this GPX file.

protection

No fixed gear in place (except perhaps some anchor slings near the N summit).
Quality of Trad placements not yet known, because most people who climbed this ridge in the past did it mostly solo - and the roped parties who did it went in the opposite direction. Hopefully as more roped parties do this route, we will start seeing detailed guidance in the Comments on MP and other websites.

Recommend "alpine" trad rack plus additional long runners/slings for around horns and thru holes. Likely much of the effective protection will depend on the leader's skill in running the rope itself around structures and choosing a route that weaves cleverly around both sides of rock features.

Some moves (especially downward sections on the mini-towers) might be difficult to protect for the following climbers. In such cases it might be appropriate for the less-capable climbers to go first and place Trad protection which the more-capable climber going last could remove (or leave).

Reminder: Two ropes needed for the obvious rappel descent. 

strategies

My questions for the Matthes Crest are: What are the most remarkable rock structures and interesting climbing sequences? How can I do those in the most fun way? How can I make sure I don't run out of time or weather before I get to those?

I had already done lots of nice ridge-traverse routes in Europe and USA, so I wasn't mainly interested to just "tick off" one more. Instead I wanted to experience what makes Matthes special.

My answers so far are that the most interesting rock and climbing are on the North ridge. The most fun way to experience those (like most rock moves) is in the upward direction -- easier to work out on-sight, easier to protect. The obvious way not to "miss out" is to start with the best climbing.

Climb the North Ridge in the upward direction N->S, that's the idea I've tried to describe in detail here above. (Not a new idea: climbing Matthes from the north was suggested in 2002 by John Moynier + Claude Fiddler in their guidebook Climbing California's High Sierra, page 357).

But isn't the North Ridge already included in the Traverse S-to-N route?
Yes in theory - (though in a direction unfavorable both for on-sight and for protecting).
No in practice: Most rope parties start from the South then stop at the N summit (or sooner). So they get neither anything like a complete traverse of the Crest, nor much of the best climbing which is most unique to Matthes.

The main reason I know for starting at the S end is because it doesn't seem much fun to finish a full traverse by down-climbing those South-most three or two pitches. (Not good enough for me, especially since most roped parties do not come even close to finishing a complete traverse of the Crest.)

Another advantage of having the North ridge as a distinct route is that it spreads the traffic.

Specific strategies ...

  • Avoid down-climbing: To reach the highest summit with lots of interesting narrow-ridge sections and with minimal concern for protecting following climber(s) on down-climb, or working out moves on down-climb ... Bring two (light?) 50-60 meter ropes, start with Variation 2 (to fully skip the two mini-towers), climb the N ridgem, rappel off the N summit.

  • Maximum great narrow-ridge climbing: Start by trying the N + S mini-towers (with Variation 1 in reserve in case decide to back off them). Climb the N ridge, working out the moves in the uphill direction, also rehearsing/reversing some of them to feel confident doing them also in the downward direction. Roped parties can also rehearse strategies for protecting in the downhill direction. Return back down the N ridge in opposide direction, perhaps use Variation 1 or Variation 2 to make it shorter.

  • Easier ridge route with less rope-weight and longer pretty hike: Start at S end of South ridge of Matthes Creat. Climb N up that ridge to the S summit, then down-climb into the notch between S + N summits. Make rappel(s) with single 60-meter rope. See Traverse South Ridge description and Comments, also detailed topo diagrams in SuperTopo guidebook (either 2004 or 2013 edition).
    Or for an easier fun ridge with a shorter pretty hike, might want to consider this peak .

(Not sure how this would help, but R.J.Secor guidebook reports a class 5 route on the East side of the N summit.)

on other websites

photos : views ...
. - looking south to the North Ridge
. - both N ridge + S ridge profiles seen from W
. - N arete + N summit + notch + S summit seen from W
. - www.mountainproject.com/v/106184931
. - www.mountainproject.com/v/106083496

photos : action ...
. - traversing on the mini-towers
. - N to climber descending N ridge 

photos : stem/step-across move ...
. - www.mountainproject.com/v/107835477
. - www.mountainproject.com/v/108208847

route description with Comments -- on MountainProject

discussion -- on MountainProject

variation 2

This is a way to completely avoid both mini-towers, along with avoiding the wide flat section of the ridge which is N or the mini-towers. (A less radical way to avoid the mini-towers is Variation 1 in the Description above.)

alternate Start: To use Variation 2 as an alternate start of the climbing, after hiking the Approach to get S past the Echo Peaks and Echo Ridge, hike farther S down along below the W side of the Matthes Crest. You will see the two highest summits roughly at the middle of the Crest. and you can also see lots more of the ridge north of those highest points -- and two mini-tower points (much lower than the two summits) well north of the summits. About 75-100 yards S of those mini-towers, see an area of weakness in the rock of the west face just below the ridge.

Climb up into this, then through a small notch, and up gully above with loose rock about 25-35 ft, finally sharp L onto a ramp up NE to crest of the ridge - (mostly class 3, a couple moves class 4).

alternate Descent: To find Variation 2 as a descent ... after down-climbing most of the North ridge, and a ways after the exciting (avoidable) overhanging traverse on the E side -- but still a ways before reaching the two mini-towers ...
Meet the narrowest fin-with-vertical-sides so far on the Crest. There might be a cairn of rocks down in a floor crack in the notch at the south end of that fin.

From that notch, diagonal back toward the south, on a gently descending traverse, soon reaching a ramp, for say 35-50 feet. Then straight down a wide gully with some loose rock in its center -- down like 25-40 ft there is a little notch in the rock at the bottom of the gully, just below a pit which accumulates loose rock. Down through this notch (class 4 move on slopy footholds and unusual but positive-enough hands). Next move a bit N (descender's right) (class 4?) to more positive holds (including many side-pulls and a couple of underclings). Then down and down whichever way seems to fit your down-climbing style and avoids loose rocks.

Returning N to the trailhead from here might be easier by the shoulder (lat/long ~ N37.8373 W119.4060) around the W side of Echo Peaks (instead of going over Wilts Col).

more . . .

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