Technical Peak Climbing Yosemite Backcountry Part 1
The first of a three part series – Alan Dixon and Don Wilson
This summer, after years of “no-rope trips” together, we switched gears to do some technical alpine climbs in the Yosemite Backcountry. We decided to do two Tuolumne alpine classics, the Southeast Buttress of Cathedral Peak and the West Ridge of Mt. Conness. Our last alpine summit was Mt. Lyell, the highest peak in Yosemite National Park (more later on the reasons for choosing Mt. Lyell).
Fun: All of these peaks are moderate technical climbs. Our goal was to not stress out—just enjoy being in the Sierras on some of the finest alpine climbing in the world!
Three part series
This trip report of our climb of the Cathedral Peak’s Southeast Buttress, is the first of the series.
- Cathedral Peak – Southeast Buttress. “One of the [finest] most aesthetic routes in Tuolumne.”A Sierra backcountry classic on “an outstanding granite pinnacle”
- Mt. Lyell. Highest Peak in Yosemite. It “stands at the triple divide between two great Sierra rivers (the Merced and Tuolumne Rivers) and Rush Creek (which feeds Mono Lake).”
- Mt. Conness – West Ridge. “Peter Croft called it the best route he had done in the Sierra backcountry…” “perhaps the best moderate alpine climb in Tuolumne.” “great fun, like two Cathedral Peaks stacked on top of each other.”
We had a simple plan for each peak
- Stage each trip out of the Tuolumne Meadows campground
- One day approach hike in to the base of the peak
Assess the route that evening and prep for the climb
- Next day a pre-dawn summit attempt to avoid nasty, unstable and violent weather in the area
- Hike out the same day as the climb
Jump to: Gear We Used on this Trip
Unstable weatherWeather was a major factor for all our climbs. The Sierras had entered into a long-term pattern of unstable and violent weather a few weeks prior to our trip. Rain was so heavy the week before that a huge landslide closed one of the major roads into Yosemite. Almost 3 weeks later, it had yet to be dug out.
Part 1 – Cathedral Peak
Jump to: Gear We Used on this TripWe already had cloudy skies and spitting rain the afternoon we hiked in to Cathedral Peak. The serious rain was supposed to start around daylight the morning of our climb. We did everything we could to get started as early as we could and summit as fast as we could. That evening we climbed the first pitch before dark and fixed a rope.
We settled into our bivy sacks a bit after dark. We slept fitfully worrying about the weather. During the night the sky continued to get darker and more threatening. About 4am raindrops on our face woke us—a light rain shower passing over. We looked at each other and said “Screw this! lets get go climb.” It only took us about 10 minutes to suit up, pack up, and hang our backpacks in the trees away from marmots (no food in our packs!).
We were grateful for a fast start after fixing the first pitch the evening before. We quickly hit a rhythm, and climbing in the dark under headlamps knocked off the first 2 pitches before light began to seep through the clouds. As stated above, the Southeast Buttress of Cathedral Peak is an incredibly classic line. Perfect rock, good protection, moderate 5.6-5.7 climbing, face, cracks, chimneys – it’s got it all.As with many alpine climbs, an early start paid off. It started to rain as we descended off the peak. At the base of the climb we met another party sheltered under some pines. That had humped all their stuff in early in the morning. And unfortunately, they were getting ready to hump it all back out without climbing.
Most of the gear used for the trip is in my Standard Gear List
Select gear variations for this trip
|Hyperlite Mountain Gear SW 2400
(some may prefer larger 3400)
|Used this pack to haul everything to all 3 climbs.
Light, super durable, (waterproof, seam sealed bag), great frame/carrying capacity, good pockets.
|Climbing pack I used on trip
|Black Diamond Shot (discont.)
Black Diamond Bullet (current)
|Like the low weight and low cost of BD Shot. A bit too small and got shredded a some climbing in chimneys.
|Climbing pack I wish I had
|Hyperlite Mountain Gear Daybreak Pack
|Larger and more durable than the BD shot pack. (Pack not yet released when I was climbing)
|Sierra Designs Elite DriDown Hooded Jacket
|Given the wet weather all trip. I wanted a jacket with water resistant down and a very water resistant shell.
|MLD Grace Duo Tarp
|Shared tarp at bivy site in case of rain. Huge coverage. Low weight. Great ventilation and views.
|Sleeping bag or Quilt
|Hammock Gear Burrow Quilt “+30”
|Pers fave. Great value! (with 2 oz over fill = “+30F”)
|MLD Superlight Bivy (7.0)
|Perfect for bivying on a ledge. Protection from light rain gives time to setup tarp.
|Bear Vault BV500 (41) or Wild-Ideas Weekender (31)
|(Alan used) Wild-Ideas lighter but pricy
Bear Vault is a better value (Don used)