Cathedral Peak

THE SIERRA
Tuolumne Meadows, Cathedral Peak

Cathedral Peak (10,911 ft.) is the focal point of the Yosemite high country. Visible from many vantage points in Tuolumne Meadows, its sweeping buttresses are unmistakable. Its narrow summit has been the goal of many an alpine traveler, including John Muir in 1869. More...








Notes
THE SIERRA, Tuolumne Meadows, Cathedral Peak

Cathedral Peak (10,911 ft.) is the focal point of the Yosemite high country. Visible from many vantage points in Tuolumne Meadows, its sweeping buttresses are unmistakable. Its narrow summit has been the goal of many an alpine traveler, including John Muir in 1869.

This view, from Budd Lake, is of the southeast flank of the peak. The very popular Southeast Buttress route (5.5) ascends this face.

When the Lyell and Tuolumne Glaciers dominated the landscape and Tuolumne Meadows was scoured by ice, much of the rock on Cathedral Peak remained just above the grinding tides. Unlike the glass-slick, glacier polished slabs of lower elevation domes, the beautiful white granite of Cathedral is highly featured and nearly ideal for climbing. In many areas large feldspar phenocrysts protrude from the rock, often as single domino size crystals, but sometimes as massive aggregates of several crystals. When securely imbedded in the surrounding rock, these features become irresistible footholds and handholds.

The high point of Cathedral is airy and spectacular. It is a slightly sloping, square-ish platform large enough for a couple of people to sit comfortably, but small enough that standing upright is somewhat unnerving. An often used, gray metal register box is bolted directly to the summit.

Such a summit is where I want to be on a summer's day. A warm sun; a deep blue sky. The sun glistening on emerald wavelets of a nearby lake. Glacier sculpted granite in every direction. A meandering river finding its way through the rich greens of a grassy meadow. A pair of sterling black ravens playing in turbulent currents above the Lodgepole pines. Distant peaks and far away passes stirring the imagination.

Sometimes the best climbs are the ones you don't plan. One Saturday, Phil Warrender, Greg Bender and I were lucky enough to be the first group to climb the Regular Route on Fairview Dome. We topped out early and while having lunch on the summit, noticed that Cathedral was just a mile or so away. Ummm... The cross-country walk over to Cathedral didn't look too bad. In fact it looked interesting. Greg said he had other things to do and offered to take all of the gear back to the car. That was that! Phil and I grabbed our climbing shoes and headed for Cathedral. We did a variation of the Southeast Buttress that bypassed the initial pitch or two of the route. It was a very pleasant day of climbing.

If you do the route late season, note that the 3rd class descent off the peak faces north. Late one September, Ron Van Horssen and I climbed the Southeast Buttress and upon reaching the summit discovered the descent was caked in ice and snow. Without question the descent was impassable without a rope, and maybe would have required crampons. We thought there would be some snow, but not this. So, the choices were downclimb the route, or downclimb the route. The old adage, "don't climb up anything unroped that you're not capable of climbing down" took on a new dimension. Both of us had done a lot of climbing that season, so the downclimb went well, if not perversely enjoyable.

Snow and ice are the magic ingredients in the mix of processes that have sculpted the peaks, valleys and meadows of the Tuolumne. When Winter snows blanket the Yosemite high country, and the roads and campgrounds are buried in snow, some of this magic is restored. To ski through Tuolumne Meadows is to revel in the spirit of the mountains and celebrate a connection with ancient and powerful forces.

Cathedral Sunset is another photograph of Cathedral taken from Budd lake. This is a scan of a print. Unfortunately the original transparency was "misplaced" by a now defunct adventure travel magazine along with 39 other 35mm transparencies. Yow! It still hurts to think about it. Please contact me if you happen to see (or think you have seen) this photograph.


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