The Cathedral Traverse as seen from the summit of Cathedral Peak. Photo and annotations by Mark Thomas.
The Cathedral Traverse is a classic Tuolumne alpine climbing adventure. As described in Peter Croft's authoritative Sierra selects guide The Good, the Great, and the Awesome, the traverse includes five summits: Starting with the Southeast Buttress of Cathedral Peak, the route then heads south to climb the highest Echo Peak (#3), then skips over the other Echo peaks to traverse over Echo Ridge, Cockscomb, and finally ends at Unicorn Peak. The original traverse written up in John Moynier's Sierra Classics: One Hundred Best Climbsin the High Sierra calls to summit all of the Echo Peaks (instead of just #3), which adds a significant amount of scrambling to this traverse. Depending on how the peaks are identified, there are between 9 and 10.5 Echo Peaks (some sources add an additional small spire as #0 and a peaklet on the ridge as #2.5).
Mark and I decided to do Moynier's 14.5-summit version of the Cathedral Traverse and tag all the Echo Peaks. We brought the summit count up to 15.5 by tacking on Eichorn's Pinnacle on the west shoulder of Cathedral Peak. It was a full day of athletic summit tagging. This page gives a trip report for our Cathedral Traverse adventure.
The Cathedral Traverse. Map underlay from Peter Croft's The Good, The Great, and The Awesome, which includes a description of the Traverse.
Stats / Timeline
13 miles, 6500 ft elev gain/loss, 17.5 hours, 15.5 summits
4:50 - Cathedral Lakes Trailhead
5:38 - Sunrise
6:15 - Start climbing Cathedral Peak SE Face
8:48 - Cathedral Peak summit
10:00 - Eichorn's Pinnacle summit
12:03 - Echo Peak #8
1:50 - Echo Peak #9
2:52 - Echo Peak #7
3:04 - Echo Peak #5
3:22 - Echo Peak #0
3:48 - Echo Peak #6
4:22 - Echo Peak #4
4:54 - Echo Peak #3
5:00 - Echo Peak #2.5
5:04 - Echo Peak #2
5:11 - Echo Peak #1
5:45 - Echo Ridge highpoint
6:34 - Cockscomb summit
6:50 - Get separated, yell and head scratch
7:50 - Reunite at end of ridge between Cockscomb and Unicorn
8:02 - Unicorn Peak summit
8:24 - Sunset
10:20 - Trailhead
The Cathedral Traverse, Peak by Peak
Cathedral Peak. Eichorn's Pinnacle is the distinctive pinnacle on the left ridge. (Photo by Mark Thomas.)
The SE Face of Tuolumne's Cathedral Peak is often listed as one of the best 5.6 alpine rock climbs anywhere. With a mellow approach on trail, excellent rock quality, and an airy summit, Cathedral Peak has it all. Including the crowds. But since Cathedral was just the first of several summits to climb during the day, we started early and were already halfway to the summit when the next party arrived at the base. We climbed the route in five relatively long pitches. It was a fun warm up for the day.
Cathedral Peak SE Buttress Topo. (Photo/annotations by Mark Thomas.)
Steph leading up the first pitch of Cathedral Peak. (Photo by Mark Thomas.)
Looking up The Chimney at the beginning of the fourth pitch.
Steph leading the fifth and final pitch. (Photo by Mark Thomas.)
On the summit of Cathedral Peak. The rest of the day's traverse (i.e. Echo Peaks - Echo Ridge - Cockscomb - Unicorn Peak) forms an arc in the distance.
Eichorn's Pinnacle (Photo by Mark Thomas.)
From the summit of Cathedral, we downclimbed and traversed towards the distinctive form of Eichorn's Pinnacle on Cathedral's western flank. The North Face (5.4) is the easiest and shortest (one pitch) way to the summit. Even though Eichorn's Pinnacle is not part of the Cathedral Traverse, it just begs to be climbed. My main regret is that we were too much in a rush to get on with the day to take the classic climber-standing-on-top-of-pinnacle-victory-pose photo. Guess that's what Photoshop is for.
The route involves just one pitch of steep and juggy 5.4 along a pegmatite vein on the upper north side of the pinnacle. (Photo/annotations by Mark Thomas.)
Looking up the pegmatite vein. (Photo by Mark Thomas.)
The 10.5 Echo Peaks, as viewed from the south. (Photo/annotations by Mark Thomas.)
There are 9 summits in this massif that rises in the Cathedral Range of Yosemite National Park, although some sources include a smaller pinnacle (#0) and a satellite peaklet (#2.5) to increase this number to 10.5 summits. The climbs to the tops of the various peaklets range from class 3-5 and have many possible variations. The easiest summits (#8, #7, #5, #2, and #1) take a few minutes of scrambling to climb, while the most difficult summit (Peak #9) is two pitches with a 5.7 crux. The highest summit is #3. Even though Croft's version of the Cathedral Traverse entails just climbing the highest of the Echo Peaks, we thought it would be fun to tag them all. Since it requires about 4-5 hours to climb them all, this added a significant amount of time to our traverse. But it was worth the fun! We climbed the Peaks in an order that seemed to be quite efficient both in space and ease of climbing: #8, #9, #5, #7, #0, #6, #4, #3, #2.5, #2, #1.
Echo Peaks from the north.
(Photo/annotations by Mark Thomas.)
On top of Echo Peak #5 (third in our climbing order), Mark and I discussed that it "sure would be nice to have a map and route line for an efficient way to tag all these summits." So here it is! This is a plan view of the Echo Peaks and an efficient way to tag all 10.5. (Map concept by Steph and Mark, final graphic design by Mark.)
Mark on the top of Echo Peak #8, the first we climbed. Behind him closest to the left is Echo Peak #9. Behind on the far ridge are Echo Peaks #4, #3, #2.5, #2, and #1. Echo Peak #6 and #5 are also visible.
Steph leading the first pitch up the SW Face of Echo Peak #9. At 5.7, Echo Peak #9 is the hardest of the Echo Peaks. The rock is a sea of knobs and I admit I was a bit uncomfortable with the idea that a foothold or handhold might break loose, despite the fact the knobs seemed solidly attached. (Photo by Mark Thomas.)
Looking up the final knobby portion of the second pitch of the SW Face of Echo Peak #9. In this photo Mark is on the summit.
Echo Peaks #8 (left) and #9 (right) are separated by a huge chasm. I wonder if anyone has summited #9 via a tyrolean traverse. (Photo by Mark Thomas.)
After #8 and #9, we headed towards Echo Peak #7. (Photo by Mark Thomas.)
After #7, we climbed Echo Peak #5. This is me on the summit of Echo Peak #5, with Echo Peaks #4, #3, and #2 behind. (Photo by Mark Thomas.)
After tagging the tiny Echo Peak #0, we climbed Echo Peak #6 via its vague N Ridge, shown in the photo. This is Class 4. We rappelled the W Face. (Photo by Mark Thomas.)
Natural handhold I found while rappelling the W Face of Echo Peak #6. I wouldn't trust it, but it was pretty cool.
After #6, we climbed Echo Peak #4 along the left side of the gully between #4 and #3 on the east side. This route was 4th class on solid rock. (Photo by Mark Thomas.)
Looking towards Echo Peak #3 from #4.
From the summit of #4, we climbed just right of the S Ridge of Echo Peak #3. This route looks improbable straight on, but it was 4th class up solid ribs of granite.
Black and white version of the previous photo.
From #3, we scrambled along the 3rd clsas ridge connecting Echo Peaks #3, #2.5, #2 and #1. Echo Peaks #0, #5, #6, #7, #8, and #9 are also in the photo.
Billy and Wombie on top of Echo Peak #2. (Photo by Mark Thomas.)
We ended our Echo Peakbagging adventure with Echo Peak #1. Here Mark is on its sharp summit crest.
Echo Ridge from the north. (Photo by Mark Thomas.)
Echo Ridge is just the high point between Echo Peaks and Cockscomb. It's an easy class 2/3 scramble from the Echo Peak side and class 4 on the Cockscomb side. The class 4 can be avoided by dropping to the south side, which is what we did.
Matthes Crest as seen from Echo Ridge. (Photo by Mark Thomas.)
Matthes Crest as seen from further east along Echo Ridge (Photo by Mark Thomas.)
Cockscomb from the west. (Photo by Mark Thomas.)
The easiest route on Cockscomb is class 4, which is what we climbed. There are two summits (west & east) separated by about 10 feet and a sharp notch between them. The west summit is a small perch, while the east summit is a knife-edge. It is difficult to surmise which is actually higher as they are within a few inches of each other. The west summit seems to be climbed most often while the east summit is a more difficult challenge.
Steph surveying the final bouldery 4th class route to the summit. (Photo by Mark Thomas.)
Looking towards Unicorn Peak (at the far end of the ridge) from the summit of Cockscomb. One more peak to go!
From Cockscomb, Unicorn Peak is just an easy and relatively short ridge scramble away. We were now thinking we might get down to the trail before dark afterall. But little did we know that an episode of "How Does This Happen? (Mountain Edition)" was about to ensue...
...After we descended from the summit of Cockscomb, Mark went to pick up his pack (which he had left below) and since I had kept my pack with me I cut over to the west ridgeline to survey the route (which I assumed was around the NW side of Cockscomb) and wait for Mark...
...Meanwhile Mark was picking up his pack and making his way to the south ridge (he knew, as I did not, that the standard route around Cockscomb is around the E side) to meet up with me....
..."MARK! MARK!" (Where the #%&@ is he?!) "MARK! MARK!"...
..."STEPH! (Dang, can't she learn to wait up?) STEPH! STEPH!"...
...(we didn't realize that there was a mountain between us blocking our voices)...
...Mark figured I had barreled on ahead, so he continued on towards Unicorn Peak around the east side of Cockscomb. He made it to just below the high point on the ridge, where the terrain opened up enough to determine that clearly I was no where in sight or sound....
...Meanwhile I figured Mark had somehow not seen me waiting for him and had continued onward; so I started traversing towards Unicorn Peak around the NW side of Cockscomb. Halfway to the high point, and clearly no fresh footprints in the unavoidable snowfields. Worried that Mark might be hurt somewhere, I dropped my pack and ran back to where we had last seen each other below Cockscomb...
...Of similar thought, Mark decided to leave his pack on the ridge near the high point and run back to where he had last seen me below Cockscomb....
...Meanwhile I had made it back to below Cockscomb. No Mark. So I ran back to my pack and continued towards the high point on the ridge, gaining it via its flank rather than the ridge (where Mark's pack lay). I sat on a boulder in bewilderment...
...About the time I reached the high point, an equally-bewildered Mark was turning around from our last point of contact below Cockscomb, after determining I was not there....
...Fortunately neither one of us had quite given up on the yelling tact of locating one another, as this time there was no mountain blocking our voices. I heard a vague "STEPH! WHERE ARE YOU?" I managed to croak out a "ON THE HIGH POINT!"...
... "WAIT THERE!" ..."OK!"...
...I checked my watch. Great, just enough daylight left to tag Unicorn Peak and finish the Cathedral Traverse!
Unicorn Peak backlit by a colorful evening sky. (Photo by Mark Thomas.)
Unicorn Peak is an impressive granite formation located due east from Cathedral Peak, across the Budd Creek Drainage. The summit area is really a thin ridge, comprising three summits. The north summit is the highpoint.The easiest route is from the south along the ridge between the middle and north summits. The route is all class 2/3 apart from a single class 4 section just before the summit which entails an exposed bouldery move around a huge block.
Steph tackling the 4th class crux traverse to get to the North summit of Unicorn Peak. The move involves going down and around to the left (only about 4 feet down); there is a lot of exposure but great holds. (Photo by Mark Thomas.)
Mark on the North summit of Unicorn Peak, just before sunset.
Video - Finishing the Cathedral Traverse
More on my website
This trip report is copied from my website, which has several other climbing trip reports and photographs from the North Cascades and elsewhere: www.stephabegg.com.