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A Climber’s Guide to the High Sierra (1954), edited by Hervey H. Voge


Tioga Pass to Mammoth Pass

The Cathedral Range and Eastward

Edward S. Robbins and Alfred W. Baxter, Jr.

BETWEEN MOUNT LYELL and the Tioga Road the Sierra Nevada has two crests: the Cathedral Range running in a northwesterly direction from Mount Lyell to Cathedral Peak, and to the east of this the higher true crest from Mount Lyell to Mount Dana. Almost all this area lies within the boundaries of Yosemite National Park and is easily accessible by good trails. Most of the peaks can be climbed in a single day from the Tioga Road.

The Cathedral Range forms the divide between the upper basins of two of the most spectacular river courses in the Sierra, the Tuolumne and the Merced. The general aspect of the range differs from that of other climbing areas in the High Sierra, for forests of lodgepole pine and mountain hemlock often extend high on the shoulders of the peaks, and an abundance of nearby lakes and subalpine meadows create a friendly sort of beauty when contrasted with the spectacular expanses of rock and ice found in the higher mountain areas to the south. The beautifully castellated peaks of the northern part of the range provide a number of short but popular rock climbs. While there are no large permanent snowfields, fine practice slopes for snow work can be found in early summer, around Budd Lake and elsewhere. This range is largely granite.

The main crest of the Sierra in this region is considerably higher than the Cathedral Range. In common with most peaks of the range, (lie main peaks have easy routes for ascent from the west. The first ascent of Mount Gibbs was on horseback. There are a few small glaciers on their northern and eastern sides, the best known being on Lyell, Dana, and Kuna. It was on the Maclure lobe of Lyell Glacier that John Muir made the measurements first proving the existence of glaciers in the Sierra. In the Mount Lyell region the rock is Half Dome quartz monzonite, but farther north much of the rock is volcanic and sedimentary; Parker, Dana, and Gibbs especially are composed of the original rock that once formed a thick roof over the Sierra.

History

This is one portion of the Sierra where the climbing history should mention the original Indian inhabitants. The Mono and Yosemite Indians had a trading area in the vicinity of Tuolumne Pass, and François E. Matthes found a bow high on the slopes of Parsons Peak. White men who first entered the area, under the leadership of Joseph Reddefield Walker in 1833, traveled along the western extension of the Cathedral Range. In 1863, the California Geological Survey, led by Josiah Dwight Whitney, made several ascents, including one of Mount Dana. The group attempted to climb Mount Lyell, but they were stopped 600 feet short of the summit, which they regarded as inaccessible. Gold was found east of the crest in 1852, and several mines were established, one at the head of Bloody Canyon. Mining equipment was carried by pack train across the Mono Pass Trail until 1882, when the Tioga Road was opened by a private company.

All the main peaks of these areas have now been ascended, the last being those in the Echo Peak group and on Matthes Crest.

Approaches and Campsites

The Tioga Road, usually open from late June until November, makes this area easily accessible from east or west. For the backpacker, trails into the area include several from Yosemite Valley, including the Tenaya Lake Trail, the Sunrise and Soda Springs Trail by way of Little Yosemite, and the Merced Lake Trail combined with either the Babcock Lake Trail or the Vogelsang Pass Trail. From the south a trail leads from Agnew Meadow via Thousand Island Lake over Donohue Pass. From the east a. trail may be followed from Walker Lake up Bloody Canyon and over Mono Pass. Another trail goes from Silver Lake up Rush Creek where it joins the Parker Pass Trail and, higher, the John Muir Trail, leading to Donohue Pass.

There is a lodge, store, garage, ranger station, and automobile camping in Tuolumne Meadows. Fine camping areas may be found at Budd Lake, Cathedral Lake, the head of Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne, on the Lyell Fork of the Merced, Vogelsang Lake, and in many other places. Plans to camp at sites within the park other than those maintained by the Park Service, as well as all plans for climbing in the park, should be checked with the rangers in advance.

The Cathedral Range (North to South)

Fairview Dome (9,737)

First ascent July 4, 1863, by William H. Brewer and Charles F. Hoffmann. The east face is class 3.

Tenaya Peak (10,700)

The south slopes are class 2, and have been climbed on skis.

Cathedral Peak (10,933)

The first ascent was made by John Muir in September 1869, probably by Route 1.

Route 1. East slope and west face. Class 3 except for the summit pitch, which is class 4. Three fourths of a mile north of Budd Lake on the Budd Creek Trail, go west and ascend a broad talus slope to a shallow notch on the ridge. Descend on the west side of this notch and follow a series of ledges to the broken rock north of the ridge between the summit and the west peak. Climb a series of ledges to a sloping ledge just below the summit block. A wide sloping crack goes up to the west of the summit block. From here traverse eastward to a mantelshelf and climb to the summit.

Route 2. West face. Class 3 with one class 4 pitch. Leave the Sunrise Trail from a point about a half mile north of Lower Cathedral Lake and climb talus and slabs of the west face to a point opposite and just below the notch on the ridge between the summit and the west peak. Scramble up over blocks and slabs to the sloping ledge just below the summit block. Follow Router to the summit.

Route 3. South face. Class 4. From the south ascend the talus chute toward the main chimney to the west of the summit, as high as possible. Then traverse to the left to the base of the chimney proper. Ascend the chimney for about 125 feet, then traverse to the right and upwards to a ledge just below the crest and east of the west peak. Climb to the ridge and follow Router to the summit.

Route 4. Southeast buttress. Class 5. First ascent by Charles Wilts and Spencer Austin. Follow the broad southeast buttress of Cathedral Peak. The climb is long as well as difficult in comparison with other climbs in this area, involving almost 500 feet on 60° to 70° slabs. Other routes on the south face and the southeast buttress offer the most interesting possibilities for new routes of class 5 to 6 difficulty on Cathedral Peak.

Route 5. Northeast face. Class 5. Climbed by Frank Tarver and Gordon Petrequin July 1953. Start about 100 yards to the right of the lowest point on the northeast side of the southeast buttress. Ascend to the ridge which rises on the left and follow it to the summit.

Eichorn’s Pinnacle (the prominent pinnacle below and west of Cathedral’s west peak). Class 4. First ascent July 24, 1931, by Glen Dawson and Jules Eichorn. From the notch between the pinnacle and the west peak, descend a short distance on the north, traverse out onto the side facing Cathedral Lake, and climb to the top.

Cockscomb Peak (11,100+)

First ascent by Lipman and Chamberlain in 1914. Second ascent by Jules Eichorn and Glen Dawson in 1931, by the west face. There are various class 4 and 5 routes.

West face. Class 4. From the northwest corner of the peak ascend on the west face to a large flat ledge exposed to the east. From here traverse to the south by the west face to a wide cleft. The summit is the knife-edge east of this cleft which is a few inches higher than the large block to the west.

Unicorn Peak (10,849)

From the north, this peak appears to be a single spire on a ridge; however there are three pinnacles, of which the north one is the true summit. There are many possible routes on the west face, and the poorly defined north arête, many of class 5 difficulty. The first ascent was by the northeast face by Francis P. Farquhar and James Rennie in 1911. Twenty years later, with Farquhar, Robert L. M. Underhill introduced the use of modern rope management to the Sierra on the north face.

For a class 3 route from Elizabeth Lake, ascend to the notch between the north and middle pinnacles and follow the arête to the summit.

Echo Ridge (11,100+)

This is the prominent summit between the Cockscomb and Echo Peaks.

Route 1. West ridge. Class 2. From Budd Lake go up to the col between Echo Ridge and Echo Peaks, and from there scramble east to the summit.

Route 2. North face and east ridge. Class 4. First ascent by Joe Firey, Peter Hoessly, Ron Hahn, and Ed Robbins in 1949. From the east end of Budd Lake ascend talus to the base of the eastern chimney on the cliff at the base of the north face. Two or three pitches lead onto the broad east ridge. Ascend to and traverse the ridge from this point, or proceed along the north face (class 3) to a notch, cross to the south face and traverse west until beneath the peak at the north end of the ridge, and then scramble to the top. Some of the rock on the north face is rather rotten.

Echo Peaks (11,000+)

This group of pinnacles west of Echo Ridge can be approached from Budd Lake or Upper Cathedral Lake. The numbering is indicated on Sketch 5, which lists the most prominent nine.

Sketch 5. Cathedral Peak Area
[click to enlarge]
Sketch 5. Cathedral Peak Area

Peak 1. Route 1. East face. Class 3. First ascent on August 4, 1936, Owen L. Williams. Ascend the center of the east face to the notch between Peaks 1 and 2 and follow the ridge north to the summit.

Route 2. West face. Class 4. Ascend the west face to the notch between Peaks 1 and 2, and follow the east side of the ridge to the summit.

Peak 2. East face. Class 3. Ascend the east face to the notch between Peaks 1 and 2. Follow the ridge south to the summit.

Peak 3. This, the highest of the Echo Peaks, was climbed July 7, 1931, by Norman Clyde and Carl Sharsmith.

Route 1. East face. Class 4. Ascend the gully on the east face to the notch between Peaks 2 and 3. Follow the ridge south to the summit.

Route 2. West face. Class 3. From the summit of Peak 2 traverse on the west face of Peak 2 and ascend the ridge to the summit of Peak 3.

Peak 4. First ascent by Owen L. Williams and Ethyl Mae Hill, August 6, 1936.

Route 1. Class 4. From the summit of Peak 3, descend the east side of the ridge between Peaks 3 and 4 to a point about 30 feet below the notch. From here climb the northeast face directly to the summit.

Route 2. Class 4. Climb from the left of a prominent row of shrubs at the base of the northeast face, directly to the summit.

Peak 5. Class 4. Ascend the north ridge.

Peak 6. Class 3. Ascend vague northeast ridge.

Peak 7. Class 3. Ascend northeast ridge.

Peak 8. Class 3. Ascend north face.

Peak 9. Class 5. First ascent by Charles Wilts and Spencer Austin. Descend from notch west of Peaks 8 and 9 until the south face can be easily reached, traverse out on the south face and go straight up to an overhang. Traverse east and up and back west to the arête. Then go along the arête to the summit.

Matthes Crest (10,900+)

First ascent by Jules Eichorn, Glen Dawson, and Walter Brem on July 26, 1931. This is the spectacular knife edge on the south slope of Echo Ridge. In the past it has borne other names since it has also been known as Echo Ridge, and Echo Crest. The present name, in honor of François C. Matthes, the geologist, was made official in 1946. The north peak is the higher.

Route 1. East face. Class 4. Ascend the east face directly below the north peak.

Route 2. South arête. Class 5. First ascent by Charles and Ellen Wilts in June 1947. Ascend the south arête above a group of pines and traverse along the ridge.

Route 3. North pinnacle. Class 4. Ascend the north arête and then go out on the east face and climb to the summit.

Peak 10,700 (0.7 N of Columbia Finger)

This is a cockscomb between Columbia Finger and Tenaya Peak and was ascended prior to 1948. The south peak is the highest.

Route 1. Class 4. Approach up the south arête. Near the top traverse north on the west face, then up the face to the south summit. The peak on the north end of the ridge is class 3.

Columbia Finger (10,400+)

A cockscomb; first ascent July 22, 1921, by William H. Staniels, Donald E. Tripp, and B. H. Bochmer.

Route 1. West face. Class 3. Ascend the easy ridge north of the pinnacle and climb the west face.

Johnson Peak (11,000+)

First ascent in 1933 by H. B. Blanks. This peak can be climbed easily from Elizabeth Lake.

Rafferty Peak (11,178)

First ascent by Edward W. Hernden. Second class by talus and ledges from the col at the head of the middle fork of Rafferty Creek.

Peak 11,300+ (1 SW of Raflerty Peak)

First ascent in 1931 by Julie Mortimer, Alice Carter, and Eleanor Smith. Class 2 from Booth Lake, the largest in the group of small lakes between Fletcher and Emeric creeks, southwest of Tuolumne Pass.

Fletcher Peak (11,100+)

No record available.

Vogelsang Peak (11,511)

Ascended before 1923 by F. E. Matthes. Class 2. From Vogelsang Lake climb to the saddle between the main peak and the north peak, then south to the summit.

Parsons Peak (12,120)

First ascent by Marion Randall Parsons before 1931. The ascent can he made either from the head of Ireland Creek or from the Bernice lake area south of Vogelsang Pass. Class 2.

Simmons Peak (12,504)

First ascent in 1931 by Sierra Club members. Class 2 from upper Bernice Lake.

Mount Florence (12,507)

First ascent by Theodore S. Solomons and F. W. Reed August 4, 1897. Class 2. From Washburn Lake follow the stream toward Mount Florence. At the source scramble over shale and weather-beaten rock to the summit.

Peak 12,700 (1/2 SW of Lyell)

No record available.

Peak 12,100 (2 SW of Lyell)

No record available.

Peaks on and near the Main Crest

Mount Dana (13,050; 13,053n)

First ascent June 28, 1863, by W. H. Brewer and C. F. Hoffmann, who found the view so impressive that J. D. Whitney climbed the peak the next day.

Route 1. Class 1. From the Tioga Road many easy routes are available up the west and south slopes.

Route 2. Glacier route. Class 3. Ascend over the glacier on the north side of Mount Dana to the prominent couloir that heads just east of the summit (ice axe necessary), or climb the rock east of the couloir.

Mount Gibbs (12,700; 12,764n)

The first ascent was on horseback, August 31, 1864, by W. H. Brewer and F. L. Olmsted (père). The ascent from any direction except the east is class 1.

Mount Lewis (12,200+; 12,296n)

No records. The ascent from Mono Pass at the northwest is class 1.

Kuna Peak (12,951; 12,895n)

First ascent in 1919 by Walter L. Huber. Third class routes may be selected on the northwestern side.

Kuna Crest (12,200+; 22,207n)

This is the long ridge extending in a northwesterly direction from Kuna Peak and forming the east wall of Lyell Canyon. First ascent by Walter L. Huber in 1909. Class 3 routes may be selected on either the east or west side.

Mammoth Peak (12,225)

This is the high point at the north end of Kuna Crest. First ascent by Walter L. Huber in 1902. Careful inspection will reveal many class 2 and 3 routes.

Parker Peak (12,850; 12,861n)

First ascent by Norman Clyde in 1914. It may be easily climbed from the Parker Pass Trail where it passes between Parker and Koip peaks. Class 1.

Koip Peak (13,000+; 12,979n)

First ascent by François E. Matthes before 1919. Most easily climbed from Parker Pass Trail where it passes between Parker and Koip peaks. Class 2.

Mount Wood (12,663; 12,637n)

No records are available.

Koip Crest (12,000+ to 12,600+; 12,120 to 12,585n)

Koip Crest extends south from Koip Peak to Blacktop Peak and then southeast from Blacktop Peak. On the northern section of the crest there are nine pinnacles. The first traverse, by George Templeton and Milton Hildebrand on August 9, 1939, took 12 hours. Class 4.

On the southern section (southeast of Blacktop) there are seven pinnacles; the largest and highest is the round one at the northwest end joining the Eocene plateau of Blacktop. This pinnacle is class 2 from Blacktop, class 3 from the southeast arête. From the southwest it is possible to make a class 5 climb up the most prominent chimney on the southwest face of the highest summit. This chimney strikes the ridge just east of the summit. The first ascent of this last route was made by Richard M. Leonard and Jim Koontz August 1950.

Blacktop Peak (12,723; 12,700n)

No records except for the traverse of Koip Crest (above).

Donohue Peak (12,073; 12,023n)

First ascent in 1895 by Sergeant Donohue, U.S. Cavalry, on horseback. The northwest face affords class 1 and class 2 routes.

Mount Lyell (13,090; 13,1140)

The highest peak in Yosemite National Park was described as an “inaccessible pinnacle” by the first party to attempt it, Wm. H. Brewer and Charles F. Hoffmann in 1863. It was first climbed by John B. Tileston, August 29, 1871. The first winter ascent was on March 2, 1936, by David R. Brower, Lewis F. Clark, Boynton S. Kaiser, Einar Nilsson, and Bestor Robinson, who skied up the Merced Canyon from Yosemite Valley via Bernice Lake and crossed the north ridge of Maclure to Lyell Glacier (4 days).

Route 1. North glacier and north face. Class 2 to 3. This is the easiest and most popular route; however, it requires careful judgment. A rope should be carried, especially if there are inexperienced people in the party. The difficulty may vary considerably with the season, depending on the amount and condition of the snow or ice. Ascend the talus and the west end of the glacier to the notch between Mount Lyell and Mount Maclure. From here climb toward the summit of Lyell along sloping class 2 ledges somewhat above the snow, but below the rock face. After a rather short distance on these ledges, ascend a narrow, steep crack at 65° to the arête (class 2 to 3). Then ascend the arête to the summit (see Sketch 6).

It is also possible to climb to the summit slopes up ledges or chutes a little farther east, but this will necessitate climbing rather steep snow above the glacier. Nevertheless it is a popular route, and may be reached from rather high on the Donohue Pass trail by walking to the moraine below the east lobe of the glacier, crossing the moraine through a saddle, climbing directly up the face of the glacier, crossing the bergschrund, and proceeding westward along the base of the cliff above the glacier until a series of ledges is found by means of which the easy summit plateau can be reached.

Route 2. North glacier and east arête. Class 3. From the base of the glacier, climb to the col east of Lyell, crossing the upper snowfield as soon as possible. Ascend the east arête to the summit.

Route 3. Southwest gully and west ridge. Class 3. From the head of the Lyell Fork of the Merced ascend the obvious gully to the col between Mount Maclure and Mount Lyell and follow the arête to the summit.

Route 4. South face. Class 3 to 4. From the Lyell Fork of the Merced ascend the talus chute directly to the summit. Care must be taken on the loose rock in the upper portion of the gully.

Route 5. East arête. Descended in 1950 (Sierra Club High Trip); no known ascents. Descend the north side of the east arête to snow, then cross the lowest gap to the south face and follow the talus to the next

Sketch 6. Mounts Lyell and Maclure from the northeast, showing Route 1 on each.
[click to enlarge]
Sketch 6. Mounts Lyell and Maclure from the northeast, showing Route 1 on each.
low point. Descend to the snow and traverse east to the rock between Upper and Lower Marie Lake. Go around the west side of Lower Lake and to Rush Creek.

Mount Maclure (13,000+; 12,988n)

First ascent by Willard D. Johnson in 1883.

Route 1. East ridge. Class 2 to 3. From the col between Mounts Lyell and Maclure ascend the talus and ledges to the summit.

Route 2. South face. Class 3. First ascent by a Sierra Club party led by Ted Waller, 1934. From the Lyell Fork of the Merced ascend on the left side of the prominent gully on the south face and then traverse east to the ridge. Follow the ridge to the summit.

Route 3. Northwest ridge. Class 4. First ascent by Al Steck and George Steck. From the V-shaped pass between Simmons Peak and Mount Maclure follow the ridge to the summit.

References

Text (SCB): Cathedral Range: 1920, 21; 1932, 113. Cathedral Peak: 1935, 103. Cockscomb Peak: 1920, 21; 1949, 110. Dana Peak: 1928, 68, 319; 1922, 246; 1931, 108. Echo Peaks: 1935, 104; 1948, 110. Foerster Peak: 1923, 395. Koip Crest: 1940, 122. Mount Lyell: 1910, 218; 1915, 251; 1924, 55; 1922, 247; 1926, 304; 1938, 7, 110; 1941, 143. Matthes Crest: 1949, 110.

Photographs (SCB): Budd Lake: 1919, 470. Cathedral Peak: 1919, 470; 1920, 24; 1935, 110. Columbia Finger: 1928, 28. Dana Peak: 1928, 48; 1933, 71. Echo Peaks: 1915, 292; 1920, 21. Mount Florence: 1923, 470; 1931, 47; 1944, 46. Mount Lyell: 1915, 250; 1917, 231; 1932, 22; 1935, 104; 1944, 46. Mount Maclure: 1909, 94; 1917, 231; 1923, 410; 1935, 104; 1944, 46. Matthes Crest: 1930, 59; 1935, 110; 1949, 86. Tenaya Peak: 1919, 487. Unicorn Peak: 1909, 95; 1910, 149; 1911, 1; 1912, 225; 1915, 224.



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