High Sierra / Tuolumne Trip ‘09 – Part 3 Backcountry & Sport Climbs

Day 6 – 7/15

The Parade of climbers continued on Wednesday. Peter, Jamie and I started off by getting a Wilderness permit and going to Ellery Lake to do a 5.9 there but had to leave early to meet up again with the rest of the gang and new arrivals.  We rendezvoused with Cliff and Vina and also met Brook and Monica who had arrived that day. While at the parking lot for the Tuolumne Meadows store (where Jamie and I snuck away to each buy an It’s It cookie and ice cream sandwich) Peter spotted  our friend David and his friend Tony driving by – the two guys Peter and I were going to the backcountry with to climb Cathedral Peak and Matthes Crest (a first for them).

After a slight change in plans in regards to the backcountry plan we all ended up going over to East Cottage Dome for some sport climbing. Cliff and Brook set up topropes on three 10ds there and we all settled in to climb and/or be a part of the Peanut Gallery as it were. I was happy to get to the top of the first 10d (they were all pretty tall) as myMe on one of the 10dsfingers were feeling pretty worked. It was a sustained climb for sure. Tony went up on a route called, “Edging Skills or Hospital Bills” a route John Bachar used to solo so we paid our respects to his recent passing in our own way.

Perhaps because thoughts of John were going through my head but it struck me how varied our groups had been so far for this trip, representing many life phases of a climber. We had at least one person in each of these age ranges: early twenties, late twenties, 30s, and 40s. And we had  one person turning 50 and one person in his 60s.

As a person at neither end of the spectrum it gave me something to look back on and to look forward to. Looking back I remembered the thrill of discovery, at being able to see a place for the first time again.

Jamie on another 10d

Looking at where I was at I realized that though I did get tired faster than I used to, I was still able to climb several days in a row, though I might be better off talking it easy on some of the days. I also realized that I had progressed farther than I had thought (and that I should stop being down on myself for not having the same sort of grade spurt that all the “young ‘uns” seemed to have these days).

Looking ahead in the spectrum I took heart to see that folks were still climbing, still having fun, and that though they seemed to need more rest, they were still pulling hard.

Thoughts from the peanut gallery indeed. I’d definitely like to go back.

Day 7 & 8 – 7/16, 7/17 Backpacking and Climbing

Thursday, very early in the morning, David and Tony took off for Cathedral Peak. Peter and I followed after we made sure to extend our campground stay (Peter had gotten the date wrong when getting the pass the first time – remember that was the day of the Bear Wake Up Call).

This was the third time I was setting out for the backcountry carrying backpacking gear, climbing gear and photography gear. I wasn’t looking forward to it. On previous trips this part had come early in the week, when I was fresher, now I was tired from climbing and hiking. But at least we were only going to be out one night instead of two so the food load was a tiny bit lighter (well, one freeze dried dinner, one oatmeal & one lunch for lighter anyway).

The hike up is pretty though we almost missed the turn off from the main trail to the more direct route. If you go out that way there is a turn off pretty close to the start of the trail (after the first “flight” of stone steps) and then another one much further along the trail marked by a very large cairn. I like to get off the main path and the horse manure the sooner the better though.

View from near our camping spotWe made much better time than the last time out (when we got hit by a thunderstorm that included a thunder and lightning pairing that was less than “one one-thousand”‘ away from us). In fact we did so much better that we were very close to the base of Cathedral and it was before 3pm. Peter asked if I wanted to do it but I saw the parties on the rock already and thought we should pass. It was a good call as hours later after we had set up camp and I checked out the base of the climbs to try to find David & Tony’s packs (while Peter went to get water) the climbing parties still had not moved and I found an additional party at the base still waiting their turn. I chatted with this couple and eventually left them at 4pm with an encouragement that they start as soon as they could (one of the partners had been taking a nap after they had missed the hike turn off and gone all the way to Cathedral Lake and then back around).

Unfortunately I hadn’t found David and Tony’s packs, though I did leave word with the couple at the base should they see them. Peter and I had dinner then went to sleep. Around 9pm I saw two headlamps coming directly at our tent (which was just a mosquito net teepee type tent). “David, Tony?!” I asked. No answer. The lights just kept coming directly at us. Peter woke up, “Tony, David?”. The headlamps spoke this time, “Nope. Sorry for going through your camp”. We said it was OK. I’m betting it was the couple I’d seen start at 4pm though I couldn’t figure out why they’d be going back our way since we were on the opposite side of the ridge from the climber’s Cathedral Peak trail. Perhaps they were going out that way because it was the way they had come in (though it was the much longer way around).

Matthes Crest

The next day dawned still without sight of David or Tony. We went forward with our Matthes plan anyway. We struck camp but left our packs (sans any food) hanging in a tree and hiked over to Matthes, a fair distance with many ups and downs. We had the advantage of having done it before though and made good time. At one point we saw two people ahead of us on the boulder strewn portion of the approach to the base of Matthes but they didn’t stop when we called out. Arriving at the base of Matthes around 8:30AM we found out that it was a couple from Norway and not our friends. They had bivied near Echo Peaks but had almost been eaten alive by mosquitos since they didn’t have netting. We lined up to be next but a couple of guys showed up who proceeded to make a sling belt and a swami belt of sorts for themselves. They wanted to solo the first pitch so we let them go ahead since we were waiting for more room at the first belay.

David and Tony had still not shown up and we figured at this point that they had turned back and not stayed the night, so we decided to go on without them for our second run on Matthes. Peter led the first pitch and I did the second, turning it into a harder climb than it needed to be by going a little “off route” (there’s more than one way to do the second part). The swami belt guys had roped up for the second pitch but even so we didn’t really see much of them the rest of the day. I had to cut my 2nd pitch short as I ran out of slings (which were necessary with all the drag going on) so Peter finished it off and then we were on to a lot of simul-climbing. We’d done the crest before minus the North Tower so we knew what to expect. We shortened his 70 foot rope and each carried coils with us. He “led” most of the way though it being a traverse 90% of the time we were really both leading if you will.

Peter seemed driven to go fast, he apparently really wanted to be able to hike out in time to go to the “Woah Nellie Deli” (a restaurant at a Mobil gas station outside of Tuolumne near Mono Lake). I didn’t argue with him, we’d both done Matthes before and the real reason I’d been interested in doing it again was to share it with the newcomers. There was a change of plans from last time we did it though. Last time the guide described a 5.2 ramp with a 5.6 stem to get from one side of Matthes to the North Tower. Peter had started that part and ended up very off route. I had followed it as a down lead and found myself doing a hairy move in which a foothold had broken off. This was also after another “adventurous pitch”. It was quite a nerve shaker let me tell you. Well this time I went down first. I started down one ramp and then to another then realized it was the same wrong one we’d done before so I climbed up, removed a piece then set one again for the way I had spotted. Shortly before this a few sprinkles had started to come down from the sky. I was actually surprised enough by this (being positioned that I only saw blue sky ahead of me) that I asked, “I’m getting wet, where’s this coming from?” To which Peter laughed and said, “It’s rain”. I looked up in the opposite direction and saw darker clouds. I was a little nervous then because I was at the traverse part of the climb and wasn’t sure if the rain was going to get worse quickly. After Peter followed me over he congratulated me on the route finding as at first the ramp looked like it wouldn’t be easy at the stem part but once you did it you realized the holds were solid and it was indeed the way to go.

One of the last pitches on Matthes Crest

The sprinkles stopped and the Norwegians had come down off of North Tower by then so I looked at it with an eye to climb it too but Peter said he wanted to skip it and I was fine with that, particularly since the sprinkles had started again. Perhaps next time, but really the airy traverse is what most folks think of when they think of Matthes Crest and we’d done that twice now. We rappelled down, the last rappel put me at a place where you still needed to downclimb for a bit but then it was the long slow boulder strewn descent to a meadow floor and to the scenic hiking beyond. This time when we passed a green grassy area we’d come through in the morning the mosquitos were out en force. Tired as I was I practically ran through that portion. I ended up eating 3 mosquitos total during this backcountry trek. We passed large patches of snow which also had some mosquitos near by but in general it was a nice enough off trail hike. We got back to our bigger packs, put them on and then hiked out. The last portion of the trail I ran out of steam and Peter got to the car twenty minutes before me. But… we still made it down to the restaurant.

While waiting for our food Peter asked me what my plans for Saturday were. I told him, I’m not sure, Rick was coming up (he knew Rick as one of my “Twitter friends”). I sighed and said, but I’m going to feel bad because I don’t think I’m up for a multipitch tomorrow. Peter agreed, “I don’t see how you have the energy to even talk right now”. Then he suggested I give Rick a call to judge what he wanted to do. So I did (we were out of Tuolumne so I had good cell reception though not much battery power). I basically told Rick I was pretty beat and would understand if he didn’t want to make the 3 hour drive just to climb something easy with me. Fortunately he had also done some strenuous work and was agreeable to just calling it a rain check for next time. We still chatted a while though. It was fun to hear someone’s actual voice versus just reading their “tweets” and I definitely look forward to climbing with him.

When we got back to camp we found a note from David and Tony, they hadn’t been able to find our camp and had lost their guide book for Matthes Crest so had decided to hike all the way out.

Day 9 & 10 – 7/18 , 7/19

Saturday Peter asked how I felt about going home early. I was reluctant as I wanted to at least hang out more with our friends who had come up Wednesday so instead we had our first real rest day, no uphill hiking, no climbing. Instead we Wildflowers by the Lyell Forkdid a leisurely hike up the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne river which went right by the campgrounds. Peter fished and I took pictures until my SLR battery died and then I did some much needed creek splashing. Action Wipes had worked great for me during the trip but a nice river dunk is hard to beat and let me get the dust out of my hair as well. It rained on us off and on throughout the day but it felt rather nice. Peter ended up catching a number of Golden Trout and so that helped him decide to stay and join the campfire with Cliff, Vina, Brook and Monica (they had gotten their own site). That night we had a real feast. We had the fresh fish and Brook and Monica had brought up home grown vegetables. Brook made an enchilada of sorts with the vegetables, some cheese, red sauce and tortillas and Peter made a type of Spanish rice, again using the fresh vegetables. Beer and wine topped off the evening.Fresh Feast!

Sunday Peter and I left early, stopping only to get breakfast at the Tioga Inn and talk a little bit of climbing talk with the staff there. We stopped in Bishop so I could buy some Chili Cheese bread from Schatt’s to bring home to my husband since the poor guy hadn’t made it out to Tuolumne even for a weekend. It was a poor substitute for climbing but I couldn’t bottle Tuolumne for him.


Sometimes I feel bad for going to the same places to climb over and over again, I think to myself, I should go out of state instead. But this trip reminded me that it’s not just the location that matters or even the routes you do. I’m very grateful for my climbing friends, old and new. Even though I went on the trip without a trad rack or even a rope I was able to climb and lead, and even former strangers entrusted me with their gear and their lives. Tuolumne reminds one of the nitty gritty. The backcountry and multi-pitch routes (even the ones not marked “PG” “X” or “R”) still require a certain type of commitment. And yet, as I told Nina when we viewed the rose colored panorama seen from the top of Daff Dome, “This is why we climb Trad”. And for me the whole trip — with the new friends and old friends, and even my understanding husband trusting me out on a 9 day climbing trip — was also a reminder of why I climb at all. I do it for and because of the Outdoors, the challenge, the beauty and the people.

Full set of pictures will be up in the Rockgrrl Gallery here: http://www.rockgrrl.com/gallery/view_album.php?set_albumName=highsierrastuolumne2009

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