This is arguably the most fun, exposed, gorgeous rock climb in all of Tuolumne Meadows, possibly in all of Yosemite. Matthes Crest is the definition of classic. It provides all the ingredients necessary for a full-on adventure in the High Sierra, while the climbing is moderate enough to allow most parties with adequate climbing experience to have at it. The key to this day is being okay with major exposure, and unless you bivy the night before, being okay with a solid car-to-car mission.
Matthes Crest is prime for any takers right now so get it while the gettin’s good, before the snow flies once and for all. Generally you’ll want to allocate 2-3 hours of hiking from the car to get to the base of the route, and 2-3 hours to hike back out. Depending on your exact trajectory the route should take about 3-6 hours. The standard traverse runs from south to north. There’s a south summit option, a north summit option, or you can keep climbing and drain the whole crest to it’s terminus on the north end. Most parties start from the south, climb 2-3 vertical pitches to the Crest, simul-climb their way to one of the two summits, rappel off, and hike back to their car. Bring a light alpine rack (depending on how comfortable you are), long slings, and while there is room to place nuts, you can find numerous bomber cam placements and bypass nuts if you so choose.
Matthes Crest garners a grade of IV, 5.7 because of the approach and descent hike, as well as the exposure once on route. All you really need to know is if you’re looking for some High Sierra fun before winter, are cool with a long day out, and like to climb, you absolutely must do this route. I climbed it a few years back but somehow forgot how fun it is. Here’s a breakdown of our day and a good way to measure the mission in case you want to tag this Tuolumne mega-classic before winter.
With Dave N. Campbell and Karey Franklin from Patagonia, and Jillian Raymond on board we woke up in the dark around 6 a.m., slowly packed up our camp near Saddlebag Lake, and headed over to the trailhead for Cathedral Lakes to gear-up. We took our time, made some espresso, and welcomed the suns rays to another glorious day in the Sierra Nevada. Often I find I’m racing on days like these from the moment I wake up until the moment we get back to the car. Sometimes it’s nice not to rush, to move swiftly rather than race.
It was a vibe we carried through our day that aligns with the brilliant foliage that’s absolutely going off all along the Eastern Sierra right now.It also works with the tranquil setting of Tuolumne Meadows, one of the more spectacular places to climb, hike, and camp anywhere. Dave took all of the shots that accompany this piece except for the few I got with my GoPro and G12 that I’ll note when appropriate.
It was pretty cold when we started hiking in, and there’s actually a bunch of snow hanging out on the Sierra Crest and in select high elevation north-facing locales all throughout the greater High Sierra.
There were even a bunch of “blooming onion” type ice crystal formations as we made our way deeper and deeper into Tuolumne that were pretty cool to check out. The ground was frozen enough that if we do happen to get a good dump soon, it’s game on for winter, for sure.
As the sun crept higher and higher on the hike-in the impending colors played with our surreal surroundings in a magical way. You know you’re on a beautiful hike when you forget your objective is to actually go climb something.
But with alpine ponds and views like this over to John Muirs’ church, Cathedral Peak, it’s nice to enjoy every blissful second of the day.
After a few hours hike we approached the base of the route, geared-up, and started to climb. There’s about 500 vertical feet to climb at first before getting to the Crest proper. We did this stretch in two pitches, often times parties break it up into three pitches. Here’s a shot I got of Dave on the sharp end getting us going.
These first few pitches are pure fun. Beautiful granite that’s super knobby and featured throughout characterize these lines that are fairly easy with a few 5.7 moves scattered about. But the real joy lies in the traverse of the Crest that to the very end of the line almost goes for a full mile! Here’s a couple of sick shots Dave got to give some perspective. One of Jillian,
and one of Jillian and Karey (this my personal favorite-check out Mt. Conness in the lower right!).
I took a bunch of shots using my GoPro on the route and while they are clearly no match for Dave’s artistically crafted photos these POV shots give an added taste of the exposure. This one is looking off to the right while climbing,
while this one goes directly back on route.
Here’s a view of Jillian out in front of me as we simul-climbed,
and a blurry shot that gives a filtered glimpse into the raw, unique, funky moves that speak to this completely amazing route.
This is a final action shot of me setting up a quick belay for Jillian and Karey as they approached the South Summit. Dave just scampered up this final section of the route sans rope, maybe because he’s done this route a dozen times, maybe because he’s just a badass climber, or probably because he was having so much fun he couldn’t wait to get to the top for a well deserved beer.
Seriously, does this guy look fired up or what?
Smoked trout, Truckee sourdough, and some Mammoth Epic IPA’s? I’ve never had such a rad snack on the top of a route,
but what a place for a cheers to our party of four on one of the most classic climbs in historic Yosemite National Park.
It’s a solid mission to get the Matthes Crest done in a day, especially car-to-car, but as long as you remain aware of your surroundings (and remember your headlamp) you’lll get a few views on the way out that’ll be burned into your memory indefinitely.
Yosemite Valley proper is prime for some perfect fall climbing right now and where you can get away from lingering snow, the High Sierra will be perfect for at least another week or so, or really until our first real dump of the winter. Even though it might feel a bit off if you’re a snow junky, take advantage of what’s on tap right now and go climb some rock! There’s a reason Yosemite is the epicenter of rock climbing in the world, and a route like Matthes Crest is as highly regarded by those that can climb anything, anywhere, as those who can’t. It’s simply one of the most fun days you will ever have out on world-class rock, with a backdrop so profound it can’t be accurately replicated thorough pictures or words; you just have to be there.