Cockscomb is an aptly named peak, particularly when viewed from the northwest, located in the Yosemite Wilderness near Tuolumne Meadows. It is often overlooked due to its proximity to Cathedral Peak, Matthes Crest, and Echo Peaks, but is an excellent climb in its own right. All of its routes are difficult, the easiest is class 4. There are two summits (west & east) separated by about 10 feet and a sharp notch between them. The west summit is a small perch that barely hold two persons, while the east summit is a knife-edge that makes for a pretty dicey perch. 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. Climb them both if you're concerned about reaching the true summit. There are grand views to be had of the surrounding peaks in this region from the top.
The easiest approach is via the Cathedral Lakes trail in Tuolumne Meadows. From either the east or west, take Highway 120 into Yosemite NP and drive to Tuolumne Meadows. The Cathedral Lakes Trailhead is located on the west end of the meadow, about a mile west of the visitor center. It is a very busy trailhead and there are usually a dozen or more cars parked there at any given time during the summer.
A second approach can be made from the Elizabeth Lake Trailhead that begins in the Tuolumne Meadows Campground. There is no parking at the trailhead which is located on the south side of the campground. You can park at the Tuolumne Store and head directly south through the campground. Check a map for the exact location to make sure you don't head off on the JMT in the wrong direction.
Permits are not required for day hikes, but Wilderness permits are required for overnight visits. These can be obtained from any ranger station in the park. The nearest location is the permit building just east of the Tuolmne Meadows campground. It is just off the road that leads to the Tuolumne Lodge, on the right hand side.
Because of the camping restrictions around Bud and Elizabeth Lakes, it is almost always climbed as a day hike.
When To Climb
Climbing is generally done May-Oct. Before and after this time Highway 120 is closed. There can be much snow on the ground in May and June, so check ahead and plan accordingly if you intend to climb at this time. Late in October the highway is often open but closed to overnight parking - dayhikes to Cockscomb can still be done easily. Even in early season when there is much snow on the ground, Cockscomb can be approached on snowshoes without too much difficulty via Bud Creek.
Camping is not allowed in the Budd Creek or Unicorn Creek drainages on Cockscomb's north side. You can camp comfortably at the saddle west of the summit if you carry water with you. You can also camp in any of the canyons south of Cockscomb, but you may not find water later in the season until you reach Echo or Matthes Lakes. Bears prowl these areas, so guard your food carefully.
"Francois E. Matthes, USGS, named this peak in 1919. 'The writer does not claim to be a connoisseur in poultry; nevertheless, he believes that the likeness to a lobate cockscomb is fairly close.' (SCB 11, no. 1, Jan 1920: 26.) Called 'Cockscomb Crest' and 'Cockscomb Peak' before being given the present name."
- Peter Browning, Place Names of the Sierra Nevada
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