Celebration of Life 2013


Once again we honor Big Jeff's wishes: Get the word out about men's cancer prevention, and never climb a peak without me.

Note: click images to see a larger version in a new window

Big Jeff died of cancer at 43. We honor him and his wishes with our annual Celebration of Life. Here's an explanation of what that means.

Past years

  • 2000 St. Helens and Adams
  • 2002 "Peak Week", 8 peaks
  • 2003 Elephant's Perch
  • 2005 Mt. Hood
  • 2006 Adams- St. Helens traverse
  • 2007 Warbonnet Peak
  • 2008 Around Mt. St. Helens
  • 2009 Big Basin Peak, Grand Teton, and Huh's Horn
  • 2010 Mt. Adams, Mt. Baker, and 60 @ 60
  • 2011 Mt. Shuksan and Mt. Rainier
  • 2012 Mt. Rainier and Mt. Thielsen

A few words from Brian (youtube)


For this year's Celebration, Brian and I had chosen to enjoy California's Sierra range. I flew over and Brian picked me up at the Portland airport. We overnighted in Redmond and then headed south.

Day 1

We had a long list of possibilities, but the logistics of Forest Service and Wilderness Area and National Parks was a little overwhelming, especially since in many cases they overlapped. So on the way down, we decided to start by heading for Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite. About the time we spied Mono Lake, the daily thunderstorm also arrived. As we drove up the canyon above Lee Vining, it started to absolutely pour.


Mono Lake thunderstorm
But when we got up to Tuolumne, it was already drying out, but still overcast. We decided to drive around a bit to orient ourselves before picking a campsite (which might or might not exist). One immediate attention-grabber was our first view of one of the items on our list: Cathedral Peak. Cathedral Peak

Naw, not much rock around here.


Half Dome is famous when viewed from the valley floor 4000 feet below. It still sticks up when you see the other side of it from Tuolumne at about 8700'. Half Dome

There are many domes in Tuolumne, and this one (Lembert) sits right across from Tuolumne Meadows campground, where we camped. It's sunny because this was taken the following morning. Stay with me here though, because there is still some Day 1 to report.


We grabbed the last available non-reserved campsite and went for a hike to shake off the long drive. Naturally, we chose to climb Lembert Dome via the slabby face in the previous photo. It's a little steep in places, but by our route basically just a hike.

Tuolomne Meadows

But a hike with a view. And some gain, thus the setting sun.

The little bunny ears just above and to the right of Brian is Cathedral Peak again.

As we watched the sun setting, we reviewed why Ansel Adams called it the Range of Light (or was that John Muir?-- either way, you get my point.). Gorgeous.

Side note: I by no means am comparing my photos to those of Ansel Adams, but this light sure helps!

Like good peakbaggers, we tagged the top of Lembert before heading down, despite the setting sun. By the time we got back off, we were getting some color added to the Light. Sunset

Day 2

After a night spent in the crowded confines of Tuolumne Meadows campground, we had to wait at the camp office until 8am to make sure we could stay another night. With a 3.5 mile approach, a six-pitch 5.7 climb with crowds, and possibility of rain, we were a little nervous about our attempt of the SE Buttress of Cathedral Peak. Rusty old men are we.

So we left the car at the wrong spot, adding about a half mile of poofer dust on the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) because there are multiple signed trailheads for Cathedral Lakes. We figured out the short one on our return. sigh

But we easily found the unmarked cutoff to Budd Lake, which in addition takes you (us) to where we were headed.


Did I mention that this area is scenic?

That's the Unicorn to the left, with the Cockscomb to the right.

A little farther and we started getting views of our goal for the day. The SE Buttress starts about at the base of the snag in the lower left view here. Catheddral Peak
To the base of our route was about a 1400' hike. And then this is the foreshortened view of UP.
Heading home
To put that last shot in perspective, here's the summit zoomed in. The little dark spots are people. Zoomed photo

I had not been on a rope this year, so was a little wound up. Also, we had gotten a late start and there were clouds moving in. So I decided to forego carrying a camera. Brian was relaxed, but decided not to carry, either. So no climbing or summit shots.

We were climbing well, so we started catching others in front of us, who were catching others above them. Soon, we had to slow down (and stop for long periods) as the route above us got backed up. Of course, it then started to sprinkle and thunder, while I freaked out.

To make a long story short, we had no real threat or problem but did get to know some other climbers. Here we are safely back at the bottom with Ryan, an off-duty backcountry climbing ranger, and Cathleen.


But one story....

There are lots of variations to this route, but I had read a report discussing this 'crack' (actually, a chimney into which you crawl- dead center in the photo). After climbing the first few feet, you can slip inside and chimney up inside. We watched others above us do this.

Brian led the whole route, which meant that I was carrying the pack. Which meant that there was no way that fat Me was going to fit through the slot, even after climbing up where it widened up some. So this was the hardest climbing I did all week: I had to undo one packstrap to allow me to reach far enough inside to pull a cam, then climb the outside of what for me was an offwidth crack- too big to jam, yet too small to chimney. Or as a super-steep face climb. All with the pack swinging off only one shoulder because it was too steep for me to let go with my hand long enough to put the pack back on. But I made it.


And here is what happens when you mix that magical combination of thunderclouds and Yosemite afternoon lighting. This is the Cockscomb.

And those threatening clouds? They let us get back to the tent before they let loose. Then they rained and stormed for several hours.

Heading home

Day 3

When we stayed late at camp yesterday to arrange for a longer stay, we had missed getting the early start needed to do more of the Cathedral Traverse listed in Peter Croft's guidebook, "The Good, the Great, and the Awesome." So today we would go see what Croft includes with Cathedral as a great day of climbing. It turns out: a lot!

So we started out by hiking under clear skies up past Cathedral again, on the same trail. More pictures due north of Cathedral ensued.....

But this time we were headed to the Echo peaks, southerly. Our goal for now was to walk through the notch between Echo 1 and the little Echo 4, the gap to the right (but not all the way to the right). Echo peaks
When we got through the gap, we finally got to see the famous Matthes Crest. Matthes Crest
We scampered up Echo 1 and got a summit shot- mostly because I thought Echo 2 and 3 looked intimidating and wasn't sure I could do them. Echo 1 summit
But they weren't that bad. Here's looking back at 1 and 2 on the left, shot from the highpoint of the peaklets, Echo 3. Echo peaks

And more of the Echos. If you do all of them, they count 12 1/2.

The highpoint on the right is Echo Ridge, the highpoint of the Cathedrals traverse. That's where we're headed next.

Heading home

But first we have to get off. You can see Brian if you click for the bigger version.

Note a few clouds moving in again. Keep watching that weather!

Echos descent
It was an easy hike over to Echo Ridge, which led us onto the ridge proper. Fun, easy scrambling with a thrilling drop off the right allowed us to practice for the upcoming crest walking. Heading home
From the top, we had an excellent view of our next objectives. From right to left, Cockscomb, "an annoying talus peak", and Unicorn. Heading home
We scrambled down into a notch on the ridge and started heading across. And with Echo Ridge behind us, stopped for lunch. Echo Ridge
As we moved our way around Matthes Crest, we got a better idea on how it got its name.
Matthes Crest

When we got to Cockscomb, it offered some challenging route finding. We went up what we think was the wrong way and made it to just left of the notch in the center. I did not like where we were- and we still don't know if it was the right place. But from there we could see we had probably come up the wrong way, yet did not feel confident downclimbing new terrain. So we reversed our route.

After a discussion and looking at the clock, we decided we had had a long day and started heading back.

Heading home
But in this area, just because you aren't on a peak does not mean you are not rock climbing. We had to figure out how to get down through these slabs. Also note the small patch of snow near our exit at the top. That snow sits at about 11,000'. Heading home

And although you can't see the drop ahead, even the descent down to Budd Lake made us work some stone.

And yes, that is Cathedral Peak again.

And here come the afternoon thundershowers.

Budd Lake

Days 4-6

Day 4 would be a 'rest day' of sorts because we only had to climb 1500' and hike 5 miles with full packs, then set up camp under Matthes Crest.

But first we had to hike past Cathedral Peak once again. Instead of another profile shot, here's some climbers (look for the little black ants) on the summit.

Our route took us across the benches between Cathedral and the Echos, then south of the Echos into the basin above Echo Lake. Heading home

Yikes- there's the full Matthes Crest!

The standard route goes from the South (right) end to the North (left) summit. But the whole enchilada, which we were hoping for, finishes on the far left. The standard route is rated 5.7, the same as our route on Cathedral, only with a ton more exposure. But the full route includes some 5.8 downclimbing, which was making me a bit nervous.

Matthes Crest
We knew tomorrow was going to be tough, so we chose to rest, i.e. lay around camp all afternoon and stare at the rock. Camp here was at 10,090'. Camp

After a bit, a group of guys walked by not far from our camp. This was remarkable because up until that point it seemed we were all alone in this valley.

It was also remarkable because it was about 4pm, they were heavily laden, and carrying a huge tripod. What up, bros?

As they marched up toward the peak, we were able lie on our mattresses and pillows and watch the whole scene unfold. Click the movie and try to imagine how much we were blown away.

The morning of Day 5, we were stoked. But it was very windy and cold as we started our hike. I took off my hood for the photo, but notice my hands stuffed into my pockets: we had gone very light so I had no gloves or hat. Bascially, the only clothes I had with me that were not on at the moment was a pair of thin socks for my climbing shoes. Can you say three days, a tent, and climbing gear in a 35 liter pack? Leaving camp

We had cut the pages out of the guidebook (to save weight!) so thought we had the thing wired. And I thought I could see the route. But on close inspection there were many choices...that all looked harder then the rated 5.3 or 5.4 for the first three pitches.

When a second group arrived, we graciously invited them to go first. But they wanted to wait until it warmed up, and to see our route. I laughed, explaining that was exactly what I was after. Then Brian and I took off. Brian is at the first belay here, about 120' off the ground.

Pitch 1
And this is me, just below the belay. Fingers numb.
Heading home
And the view back to the ground from that belay. Note that even more people have arrived, and they are sitting out of the wind, enjoying the sun, and probably laughing at me as I shiver and hope Brian climbs fast.
Heading home

Despite the August date, it really was cold down there in the shade. While climbing, my hands were going numb. Remember, we're at almost 11,000' here.

So it was really, really nice to get up into the sunshine. Even so, I left on all my layers. And it was blowing like crazy!

From this point, the guide book says it's mostly 3rd and 4th class for a while. Looking at the crest, I couldn't believe I would ever climb that without a rope. So we left it on and simul-climbed, me with the mistaken idea that Brian would be putting in protection as we climbed.

Heading home

He did. Here's one of the three pieces he put in over the next hour of climbing. Note that it's very, very exposed. Here I am on my toes with about a 400' drop right behind me. The rope in the pack wasn't helping.

Then one of the highliners (we named him 'Tigger' because of the way he bounced around) went running, and I mean running, across the rock right above me. As he bounced by in his tiggerific way, he yelled gleefully, "You're off route, it's called Matthes Crest."

And here's Brian working some crest.

Crest, indeed.

We had been making good progress and were getting near the South Summit. But I hadn't been feeling well all morning, and it was developing into feeling rather dizzy. Not a good thing up here.


Brian on the crest

So somewhere near where Brian was in the picture above, I sadly decided to bail. We downclimbed the west (left) side of the ridge and went back to camp.

The arrow on the right shows the start point, and the arrow on the left shows the place from which you normally rappel. The line shows our approximate descent.

We went back to camp and I lay down for a while. We tried a few field remedies, and suddenly I felt OK. Not wanting to waste a beautiful afternoon, we took off for a hike to explore the ridge off to the west. The north end of the ridge is anchored by Tressider Peak, and the south end Columbia Finger (pictured). Columbia Finger
Once we gained the saddle, we got a huge view off to the west. That included smoke from the developing Rim Fire. Columbia Finger

Because we had only brought with us the severed pages of the guidebook for Matthes Crest, we knew nothing about the Finger, not even its name (determined later on SummitPost). But it looked cool and we knew we would get some great views from the ridge. We weren't disappointed.

It looked impossible to climb, but the blocks out the ridge looked fun.

Columbia Finger
To our surprise, we were able to find a winding route all the way up. Here's our summit shot, leaning against the summit block. Note the hair- and the hand on the rock-- it was blowing a little too hard for us to stand up without hanging on. Heading home

I mantled up onto the summit block, but there was a pothole with about three gallons of water in it, which I am awkwardly straddling as Brian gets the best butt shot (or at least the fullest) of all time.

Heading home
After that, we ambled over toward Tressider Peak. Heading home
And then headed back to camp. Heading home

We got up early the morning of Day 6, planning on getting down to the Meadows and doing a couple more pitches before heading for home. This time we hiked down the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail), a bit of a long cut but new terrain instead of walking the same Cathedral Peak trail.

Note the skim of ice on the water.

Heading home
When we got back to the trail head, I was distracted by this license plate (click for a bigger version, Dan). Note Brian walking out in the middle of the road. A bit odd.... so I walked out to see what he was looking at. Or as it turned out, what he wasn't looking at: the car was missing! Heading home

I'll skip the details, but our car had been towed to the lower Yosemite Valley. We didn't know much about it, but we DID know that we had left all our stuff inside it, including wallets, my work computer, etc. We were not happy. And we had to get down to the valley without even a penny between us.

Fortunately, we were able to convince the bus driver to take on two smelly climbers on credit. When we got down there, we found out the rest of the story.

Heading home

Note the paw prints on the driver's door. Also note that in the photo above, the window is open.

We had been warned about bears breaking into the car, and we had rented a bear can to carry our food in the backcountry. We had thought we had all the food out of the car, but the rangers found a small bag of cookies we had overlooked. So the take-away here is don't leave food in your car.

But my theory is slightly different: When we get together, Brian often brings me smoked salmon. And I had sat on the tailgate eating salmon, wiped my hands on my pants after, and in other ways spread salmon smell all over the car. Then, when we parked the car we left a small gap at the top of the windows. I think the bear smelled the salmon, placed his claws on top of the window (which would not have been possible had we rolled them fully up), walked his/her feet up the door, and pulled.

At any rate, it was a cold drive back to Redmond that night without a window. We were both wrapped up in our puffies, hats, and gloves when we finally arrived at 2:30 am.

What a great trip! I highly recommend visiting the backcountry of Yosemite for incomparable solitude and scenery- just be careful about where you put your salmon!

Heading home

Home | 2013 | Back to top of page | Questions :: e-mail to splattski