Saturday, October 16, 2010

June 27, 2010 - Yosemite Valley and Cathedral Peak (Sunday)

Watch for links to video below, and click on pics for larger versions.

After a kooky night that included Dan bolting out of the tent and barfing his guts out at 3am for no reason whatsoever (!!), we cooked up a hearty breakfast -- where I realized just how excellent my choice of breakfast food for this trip had been.

This was my first time trying it out, but as I was assembling it in my kitchen before the trip, I knew it was gonna be good: warm flour tortillas stuffed to the gills with cooked diced potatoes, onions, and green peppers, plus crisped up spicy mini pepperoni slices and a couple chunks of bacon, all doused in sriracha, rolled up tight and crammed down my hungry pie hole. OMG IT WAS GOOD!!!!

Of course, the requisite teasing of Peter about his "issue" with his sunglasses the day before was in order, after which we (ARRG! AGAIN...!) put on packs, left the backpacker's campground and started walking the long path down to the shuttle stop to catch the 10:55am bus the dispatcher last night had said would come and take us to Tuolumne Meadows.

About halfway there, it finally hit me (like an idiot!) after nearly two days of hoofing it around under heavy packs with all kinds of winter gear attached to them in 85 degree Yosemite Valley temps: why the HELL have we been walking these paths back and forth and back and forth with heavy packs on??? There's a free shuttle system that runs the whole loop of the Yosemite Valley!!! GRRRR... HAHA Oh well... too late now.

As we were walking, I noticed a strange squishy wetness running down my back, into my pants, and down my legs. ACK! My Cambelbak bladder had split, and it was slowly leaking its 100 oz of water into the world. Dammit.

Anyway... we reached the shuttle stop a little early, and had time to do a quick doublecheck of the dispatcher's information with what was posted at the stop. The doublecheck revealed that the information we'd been given was completely wrong (no surprise at this point), and if we wanted to stick to our original plan of shuttling up there, we would have to wait til 5pm tonight to do it!!!!

At this point, having been completely frustrated and hosed by the dispatcher the night before, we were faced with a couple of options:

1. Leave the car here and shuttle to Tuolumne at 5pm--late--summit like we were supposed to, and end back in the valley after cutting short our time by a day.

2.Drive ourselves to Tuolumne, do the original route, end back in the valley carless, and then send Dan or Peter hitchhiking back up to the Meadows to get the car (which would have resulted in a VERY long wait for the people left behind in the valley, OR...

3. We could just drive ourselves there, fart around in the Tuolomne area, and instead pack in and out to and from our car there. Not the original plan, but #3 ended up being the best, smartest, and fastest way for us to finally leave civilzation behind and get out into the wild.

Soooo... back on with the heavy packs, and still more trudging, this time back to the car once more to drive ourselves to Tuolumne so we could at last kick this thing off. The drive to Tuolumne Meadows was uneventful, but about two thirds of the way there, all three of us began to notice the alleged "4 feet of snow" from the dire warnings of the rangers in the last few week just didn't seem to be materializig as we drove higher and higher.

When we at last reached our destination, parked the car near the trailhead, got out and looked around, every one of us realized that we'd never SEEN so much snow. The level of retardedness of the information on conditions we were given was quite mind-boggling.

As it turns out, it was lucky we DID suffer all the shuttle drama and difficulty down in the Yosemite valley that forced us to drive ourselves here. If we hadn't, we'd have taken a shuttle here carrying every piece of gear the rangers said we needed , and been forced to carry a lot of extra weight we just didn't need.

We hastily stripped down our packs to just the stuff we needed and left the rest behind in my car, and (at long painful last) managed to get on the trail upward and inward--toward Cathedral Peak.

As we hiked, we ran into a bunch of people coming out toward the road. Bizarrely, every party gave us dire warnings about getting lost in the snow up ahead, and freaking out about how they'd gotten lost themselves and wasted many hours trying to find their way back.

To us, it just looked like they were ill equipped--or they just weren't thinking when they headed in in the first place. I had difficulty imagining ANYONE getting lost in such an approach area... seems a little ridiculous to me if looked at a map, you're following your landmarks and have any kind of basic idea how to navigate in the wilderness. We even ran into a few parties of bigtime backpackers who you'd think would have that skill... but apparently not. LOL

Anyway, we encountered our first significant snowfield on the trail about an hour and a half up the trail, but we stuck to our original plan--to traverse around the base of the back of Cathedral and continue toward our destination.

Dan and Peter were lots of fun, and Dan is a great navigator who did a great job of keeping us on course and heading up to where we needed to be. Having never been in the area before, I was glad he knew where he was going. :-)

And then, just cresting a ridge, we happened upon one of the most startlingly beautiful places I've ever had the privilege of witnessing in the wild--so we decided to set our camp there (but later... there's still climbing to do today).

We dropped our heavy packs and stripped the weight down to a couple liters, a length of 6mm rope in case we needed it, and generally went a lot lighter. We started up the Mountaineer's Route on Cathedral Pe and akmade really good time, and soon enough, we were halfway up the mountain with about 800 vertical feet to go.

The higher we went, the terrain got rougher, and we had to pick our way up the shoulder of the mountain more carefully. Eventually, it changed to class 3/4 scrambling over huge boulders and talus, grown through with tough scrub, and the terrain got tougher still.

Eventually, it became apparent that the stiff mountaineering boots I brought with me on the errant "OMG, SNOW!" advice of the park rangers might actually be more problematic than helpful the closer I got to the summit, and as the terrain became increasingly more fragmented.

The problem, I found, was that although they're quite flexible in the ankle **for mountaineering boots**, they weren't flexible ENOUGH, and forced my knee outward involuntarily during climbing moves, which threatened to roll my toe off whatever foothold it had purchase on in the rock--Mostly fine, but kind of dangerous in spots with more exposure.

Also, we'd left our crampons and ice axes behind at our campsite (thinking we wouldn't need them), and although not super exposed, ahead was a large snowfield with significant enough exposure from a slip with no way to arrest that you could easily fall down the huge trough at the base of the Eichorn Pinnacle on your way the valley floor 1,500 feet below.

I wasn't comfortable with that, given the gear I had with me (and that which I lacked), so I pretty much decided a couple hundred vertical feet below the summit that it would be unwise for me to continue farther up the mountain. Dan and Peter thought it over and decided to press on toward the summit.

Our designated turnaround time was 6:45pm, but they made slower progress than expected over that snowfield and upward toward the summit since they'd left me, carefully picking their way across to find a reasonably safe route, and they shouted back to ask for a few more minutes.

I wasn't too concerned, given the fine weather and the fact that there was plenty of daylight left, and that we had no significant soft snow or rockfall hazard to deal with on the descent.

As I waited, I had a chance to observe my surroundings, and I was just blown away, especially knowing that around the ridgeline across the snow was a sharp nearly vertical cliffdrop straight to the valley floor.

Dan, an experienced rock climber, and Peter both reached the highest point on the mountain below the unique spire of rock that marked the path to the true summit 20 feet overhead before deciding that their lack of rope and some minimum protection made ascent of the final summit block unsafe. Bummer... they had to settle for stopping just below summit. Smart choice, however.

It was a spectacular, safe ascent with no incidents, and it was an unbelievably beautiful day, and as we descended back to our campsite, the vistas we just staggering. Hard to believe this is just a few short hours from my front door, really.

After descending the high boulder fields and steep, rough rock, we walked back onto stable snow and rock along the dazzling shoulder of the alpine lake cirque, at the base of which the rest of our gear was parked.

The sun began dropping lower into the sky, and slight tinges of orange started to come out, and as we cruised back into our chosen camp spot for the night, we looked up and saw the cirque bathed in reddish orange hues that just took my breath away. The peaceful silence, broken only byt the sound of the snowmelt rushing out fron under the snowfield across the lake, was powerful, cleansing, and utterly sublime. Just an unbelievably beautiful place to camp. (We theorized that camping here might not actually be allowed, but we weren't entirely sure -- so we went for it.) P.S. Bear canisters SUUUCK.

We pitched the tent, filtered some water to refill our bottles, cooked up some stupendous hot meals, it got dark... listened to the bats... and crashed. a completely awesome day.

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