Saturday, September 24, 2011

Matthes Crest, September 21, 2011

Matthes Crest is an amazing 1-mile long knife-edge ridge just south of Tuolumne Meadows. It is commonly completed as a traverse from South to North. However, most climbers only complete the southern two-thirds of it and rappel off the North Summit. The traverse is rated 5.7, but 90% of the ridge line is really class 3. The class 5 sections are at the beginning south end, right before the North Summit, and after the North Summit (if you choose to complete the entire traverse).
Matthes Crest as viewed from the west side.
We started this day at the Cathedral Lakes Trailhead around 7:00AM. The hike begins on the John Muir Trail heading south towards Cathedral Lakes. You will hike uphill for about 10 minutes before you make a left turn on an obvious sandy trail that is normally blocked by logs. You follow this trail for ~45 minutes or 1.5 miles until the trail wants to you turn right and head toward Cathedral Peak. Instead of going right, make a left and cross Budd Creek over logs. Continue following this trail until you arrive at Budd Lake where the trail will eventually disappear. You will then hike cross-country south-west around Echo Peaks and once you pass Echo Peaks, Matthes Crest will come into view. Descend a few hundred feet and head straight to the south end. It took us about 3 hours to arrive at the south end from the trailhead.
Hike for about 10 minutes uphill on the JMT until you see this trail on the left blocked by logs. Take this trail.
After 1.5 miles, cross Budd Creek over this log (now broken).
Budd Lake.
Approximate route on Matthes Crest.
The climbing starts off with 3 short pitches of easy class 5. Once you gain the ridge, you are quickly greeted with 4th class terrain. You may or may not want to remain roped in for this short section. We put our rope away as soon as we arrived on the ridge. The rest of ridge is mostly exposed 3rd class with a couple 4th/5th class moves here and there. Remaining roped in is mostly unnecessary, troublesome, and time-consuming if you are comfortable in this type of terrain.
Jacquelyn leading the start of Matthes Crest.
Me following.
Free-soloing the 4th class right after gaining the ridge.
Traversing Matthes Crest.
Some exposed ledges.
Making some occasional 4th/5th class moves.
The South & North Summit comes into view.
I'm not sure whether most people choose to climb the South Summit or not, but to save time, we skipped the South Summit and just traversed straight to the notch from the east side of the ridge. From here, I led a 5.7+ pitch on the west face up the North Summit. Honestly, I don't know what the grade was, but it wasn't easy. If anything, I might have been off route.
Me at the summit of Matthes Crest.
We made the North Summit by 2:00PM and thunderclouds were right in front of us. The forecast has been terribly inaccurate all week. It predicted "sunny and clear" and then a day before our climb, it changed to 20% chance of thunderstorms after 2:00PM. Our intention was to complete the entire Matthes Crest Traverse, but unfortunately the thunderstorms forced us to bail. It began to rain, hail, and snow on us as soon as we made our first rappel off the North Summit. After a few more rappels, lightning and thunder started.
Thunderclouds heading our way.
Rappelling off the North Summit.
The hike back to the car was long and dreadful, maybe because we did Half Dome the day before, but I was definitely tired, miserable, and wanted the day to end. We basically just retraced our steps and finally made it back to the car around 5:00PM, making it a 10 hour day car-to-car.
This is what Cathedral Peak looked like on our way back.
I mostly made the decision to attempt the complete traverse after reading descent beta from multiple sources stating that you need two 60m ropes for the rappel off the North Summit. The complete traverse would avoid rappelling as it would just be a walk off after you finish. Well, after bailing off the North Summit with only one 60m rope, I can safely say that you don't need two 60m ropes. There were already plenty of rappel anchors built at single rope lengths and if there isn't, you can just bring your own bail gear and easily build one anywhere. Why carry the extra weight for something you will barely use? The other gear we brought with us for protection included Black Diamond C4 sizes .3 to 3 and 8 alpine draws. We barely used any of it.

Overall, Matthes Crest is indeed an incredible ridge line with stunning exposure and scenery all around. If you are expecting spectacular climbing, you might be disappointed, unless of course you complete the entire traverse. After all, the best climbing is rumored to be after the North Summit. As for the approach, it's long, boring, and I hated it. I think if I were to attempt it again, I would just backpack to the Cathedral Lakes area and spend a few days bagging all the peaks around the vicinity instead of day-tripping everything.

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