Dancing with Hypothermia--Cathedral Peak Edition

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Trip Report
California, United States, North America
Date Climbed/Hiked:
May 12, 2007
Trad Climbing
1989 Hits
79.04% Score
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Created On: May 16, 2007
Last Edited On: May 16, 2007

Heading to the Meadows

Anonymous Summitposter (AS) and I headed up to Tuolomne Meadows this weekend to clmb as Tioga Pass opened Friday. AS is relatively new to rock climbing and I thought Cathedral Peak would be a climb commensurate with his experience.

The South Face of Cathedral is a fun, moderate 5.7 climb to the ~11,000 ft summit of Cathedral Peak. I climbed it last fall and had a lot of fun and I wanted to go back and lead every pitch. Since AS doesn't climb much higher than 5.7 this would be a good climb for him to get an idea of what alpine climbing is like.

We left the trailhead at around 8:20 am Saturday. I took two jackets, a light climbing rack, two granola bars, and a liter of water. Based on the trip last fall, I expected us to be back by early afternoon with enough time to knock off a climb on Stately Pleasure Dome and have fish tacos in Lee Vining. Oh, how I wished...

The Climb

The hike into Cathedral is about 4.5 miles and gains about thousand feet. There was quite a bit of snow up there yet so we didn't get to the base of the climb until about 10:30 or so. One other party was ahead of us. I took off up the slabs placing pro more for the piece of mind of my second than for me. The climb is so mild it feels good running it out big time. On the third pitch two soloists ran past us.

Unfortunately, AS's inexperience was starting to show. At altitude he was climbing slowly and took a lot more time to follow me up a pitch than I did to lead it. I lead us through the chimney on the 4th pitch--it was a lot of fun for me but AS struggled quite a bit getting through it with the backpack he carried. We didn't get to the summit until about 5:30 pm. It took us about 1:45 hours to downclimb wet, snow covered slabs to the base of Cathedral Peak. At this point we're dealing with a setting sun with a two hour hike back to our car. I was starting to get worried.

Stumbling around in the dark

As the sun started to set I started following the snow footprints of the other two parties that climbed Cathedral that day. The descent trail follows a drainage for awhile and then cuts to the John Muir trail which leads to HW 120 where we started. As it became dark we had one headlamp between us and I became disoriented. When we stumbled on the John Muir trail I led us in the wrong direction--towards Yosemite Valley rather than Tuoloumne. All the while I thought I was heading east along the Meadows and we had just missed the turnoff towards the Cathedral Lakes trailhead. Oops.

At one point we hiked near a dome in the dark where a slab avalanche cut loose. It scared the piss out of us.

At 11 pm we started thinking seriously of bivouacing for the night. I wanted to keep on searching for the car but AS was getting seriously tired. We both had light jackets on, had ate about 1000 calories that day, and no shelter but what we could build. I didn't look forward to a night out in the open.

By midnight we set up a lean-to shelter against a rock by covering logs with pine branches. It wasn't ideal but it was the best we could do. By midnight the temperature had dropped below freezing. I started shivering whenever I stopped moving for a few minutes. We had been hiking around in wet shoes & socks so we had to warm our feet on each other's bellies before we crawled into our shelter.

In the shelter AS and I spooned next to each other but our collective body heat wasn't enough to keep us comfortable. Around 2 am I started shivering violently, this continued for another hour before I could doze off for a few minutes before shivering woke me up again. Never in my life had I been so cold.

At dawn we stumbled out of our shelter and tried to get into our frozen shoes. AS had to warm my feet before I could get them into my frozen trail runners. After an hour of hiking we met two women who reassured us we were heading towards HW 120 and our car. At 7:30 am I had a beer to celebrate the end of a needlessly long climb.


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rhyang - May 16, 2007 2:08 pm - Voted 10/10

Takes guts ...

.. to write something like this up. I've only had one forced bivy - never again !


Dragger - May 16, 2007 2:31 pm - Voted 10/10

Nice Job, Sheets.

I can vividly remember summiting this climb at sunset once and struggling to return to the car, as the batteries on my headlamp began to die. I was also with a somewhat less experienced partner. It was October 16th, 2004 and we were fortunate to make it out that night because a large snowstorm hit the area a few hours later that closed the passes, left a number of people stranded, and two dead on El Capitan. Thanks for posting.


idahomtnhigh - May 17, 2007 7:02 pm - Voted 10/10

Glad you made it.....

...with no serous injuries. One time coming down off a mountain in Oregon me feet got so cold I was not able to down climb anymore and we had to stop and rewarm my feet. Scary feeling when your not sure your going to make it back to the car as planed.

Viewing: 1-3 of 3

Dancing with Hypothermia--Cathedral Peak Edition

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