Before the climb
Jen Hopper and I had climbing plans for the weekend of May 12th-13th but we hadn’t decided on exactly what trip we would do. After getting the announcement that Tioga pass was going to open on Friday we decided to make an attempt on Cathedral Peak by the SE Buttress.
Friday night we drove to Bishop and got up early Saturday morning for a morning of climbing at the Owens River Gorge. Jen and I each lead three sport routes to build our confidence and were back to the car by noon.
Rock climbing in the Gorge Saturday morning.
In the afternoon we drove to Tuolumne Meadows to have a look at the approach to the SE Buttress via Budd Creek. There wasn’t much snow in the meadows, so Jen threw on her lightweight hiking boots and I left my gaiters in the car. Jen and I had both been on this approach before, but it had been a while. So, we set out around 2:30 pm from the Cathedral Lakes Trailhead looking for the turn off up the Budd Creek drainage. With all the snow and footprints we somehow missed the turn off and headed way too far down the John Muir Trail. We then took off cross-country to try and get back onto a more correct approach. A few postholes in knee-deep snow quickly made us regret this decision. Jen post holed through the snow and landed ankle deep in water resulting in soaked and cold feet. My feet were doing slightly better, but soaked as well. After dropping back into Budd Creek, we found the trail and headed back to the car. We were discouraged with all the snow and the difficultly of traveling, we were on the verge of calling off our attempt on Sunday since we hadn’t actually gotten to the base of the route to check out the snow cover.
Hiking out on the trail, we ran into two climbers who had just done the SE Buttress and they confirmed the route was free of snow and there were two rappel stations off the 3rd class slabs that made it safe to descend through the snow. Back on track, Jen and I decided to have a go at climbing the route on Sunday. In order to dry out our gear and feet, we decided to look for a hotel in Lee Vining. We got a room at El Mono Motel that was so comfy and warm with a heater to dry our boots. When you add in the great coffee and pumpkin coffee cake that was baking as we checked in, the place gets an A+ from both Jen and I. After a quick dinner at the Mobile Mart we went back to the motel to organize our gear.
Jen Hopper and myself on the approach to the SE Buttress.
We were up and at the trailhead walking by 7 am on Sunday. A short way up the trail we ran into two people coming out and they politely asked us, “Are we near the 120?” I said, “Where are you guys coming from?” It turns out they had climbed the SE Buttress yesterday and descended in the dark which resulted in a bivy out in freezing temperatures. They looked pretty much like popsicles so we told them they were about 10 minutes from the 120 and finally some heat in their car. Jen hadn’t slept a wink and was feeling a bit sluggish. We set a slow pace on the approach over mostly snow that had thankfully hardened overnight and were at the base of the SE Buttress by 10 am. A little bit of organizing and we were climbing at 10:30 am. We thought for sure there would be another party on the route, but there wasn’t. We had all of Cathedral’s SE Buttress to ourselves, a truly rare occasion!
Jen led the first pitch off the ground on a left facing downward sloping crack system. Then, it was my lead up and left onto a ledge were I found a piton driven downward into a crack. I clipped it and headed a poorly protected face to another ledge with a tree.
Leading on the SE Buttress.
Rope drag forced me to stop at about ½ a pitch and Jen took over for pitch 3.
Jen leading on the SE Buttress.
I lead another ½ pitch to the base of the chimney and brought Jen up. Then, after a bit of negotiating, Jen agreed to let me keep leading through the chimney. The crux is really getting your body into the chimney, which was quite a struggle. When trying to get into the chimeny I realized I should have moved my water bottle off the back of my harness. I yelled down, “Hey Jen is this biner the one my water?” I unclipped it and moved it onto my rack and was finally into the chimney. I placed a bit more pro into thin cracks inside the chimney and set a belay where I could see Jen come up. I had placed pro deep into the chimney and with the pack on Jen could have more easily climbed the face. But, being the great partner she is, she struggled and wriggled into the chimney and cleaned all the gear with the pack on. Pitch 6 Jen lead up a crack system with a few ledges and set a belay on a nice ledge a full pitch up. I took over for our 7th pitch of the day and lead up until right below the summit and ran out of rope on a nice big ledge.
Jen and I on the summit. Where are the other climbers to take our picture? Oh..that's right we have the entire route to ourselves.
Jen lead the final summit pitch around to the right then down left to the 15 foot chimney and onto the summit. We arrived at the summit at 4:30 took a few snapshots and then realized we needed to get down quickly!
Rapping off down the snow covered ledges.
Jen lowered me down the chimney onto a ledge. I set up an anchor with two cams and then Jen rappelled off the other side off of me (tied into the anchor). I untied and scrambled around to Jen. We then descended some 3rd class slabs to the first chaparral tree with some webbing (like new) tied around it. We threaded our rappel rope through set a backup and I rappelled down to a ledge. I scouted out the next rappel while Jen started down to me. We traversed on a nice ledge 50 feet to the north and set another rappel on an equally solid looking bush (with a backup). I went first with the pack and we were finally off the snow and close to the north notch descent. We changed into our boots and ate some food. Then we dropped down to the snow covered scree/talus slope and to our other pack. We packed up the climbing gear and were on our way to the car at 6 pm.
Dropping over the notch and down the snow to the base of the route.
On the descent neither Jen or I were feeling particularly well, but I’m sure Jen was feeling worse due to the lack of sleep. Post holing in the soft snow drained our energy further. Finally back in the mostly melted out Budd Creek climbers trail we moved quickly and were back at the car in the daylight.