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Matthes Crest backpacking trip, September 11-13, 2009

[Note from Tad:  If you are more into pictures or video and less about the words, just skip down to the youtube video below, and give it a look see.  I Guarantee you’ll enjoy it.  For best viewing, I recommend watching it in fullscreen HD.]

I’d been out to climb Matthes Crest (5.7, according to Supertopo, but if so, only a few moves of it) car-to-car, earlier this summer with Derek (see my earlier Matthes Crest and On The Lamb blog posting for that trip report).  We had a blast, except due to some bad food at El Jardin (we suspect) the night prior — we felt like crap, so we rapped from the top of the North Tower (where the Supertopo ends), and skipped doing something on Cathedral on the way out as per the original plan.

Matthes Crest from basecamp

Matthes Crest with omnious clouds from basecamp on Saturday Sept 12, 2009.

Danielle saw the pictures, and was immediately enthralled!  This, from a mostly non-climber (Triathlons are what get her going).  She was so psyched, that we almost went back the next week.  However, in the meantime we found three other friends Clemens & Josan — another couple, and Anthony, who were also interested.  Even better, we all had a common weekend in September free!  Whoo, the game was set and we were pumped to go.  It worked out great, because that gave Danielle and Josan time to ramp up their climbing to be strong enough to have fun for a full day out on the rock.

High Energy, fast-paced trip slideshow -- Watch in fullscreen and HD for best effect

We decided instead of doing it car-to-car, that we would make a leisurely (hah!) weekend of it, and backpack out to a basecamp near Echo Lake on Friday, climb on Saturday, then relax back at basecamp Saturday night before hiking out on Sunday morning.

Did I mention this was supposed to be a leisurely weekend?  Anyway, Danielle and I arrived early enough to secure backcountry camping permits for the trailheads that we would be heading in on.  Around 5:30pm, Clemens, Josan, and Anthony arrived, and we hit the trail at about 6:15.  The goal was to establish basecamp near Echo Lake via the Cathedral Lakes trail.  This saved us about 1,000 feet of elevation gain at the expense of a longer hike on an established trail.


Danielle at basecamp drinking horrid coffee on Saturday Morning

Around 10pm, we had passed Cathedral Lakes, climbed out of the basin and were on our way down into the basin containing Echo Lake.  We found a nice flat beautiful spot to establish basecamp in the woods at the edge of a gorgeous meadow, with running water nearby.  The crew was tired, so even though we didn’t make it to Echo Lake, we decided good enough, and pitched camp.

As we were making dinner, the second inkling that perhaps this wasn’t gonna be such a leisurely weekend.  While Anthony is setting his tent up, he notices … he forgot his sleeping bag!  Damn, here we are at about 9,300 feet of elevation, with forecast nightly lows down into the mid-to-high 30’s, and no sleeping bag!  Luckily most of us brought enough extra layers that we donated a bunch to him for the evening.  That coupled with a hot water bottle re-warmed several times throughout the night made it bearable — if not particularly restful for him!

We got up around 6:45am, as the sunlight began to creep across our meadow.  Chilly in the shade, warm in the sun, we were psyched.  Peering over at Matthes Crest this morning was the first time Clemens, Josan, and Anthony had ever seen it, and they were suitably impressed!

Nasty clouds on Saturday

By the time we got to the start of the crest it looked like all hell was about to break loose.

After breakfast, we packed up and hit the trail by 9am (not an alpine start by any stretch!), and made it to the start around 10:30am.  This is when we noticed things starting to go wrong.  The day started out beautiful, not a cloud in the sky.  By the time we started hiking there were some little wispy things here and there.  By the time we got to the start of the crest it looked like all hell was about to break loose.

Bummer.  We waited around for a while, watching a team of two young women simul-climb the start, using our superpowers to will the bad weather away.  Instead of getting better, it only got worse (so much for the superpowers).  Steadily increasing winds, no sun, rainstorms hitting the ground in at least three places visible from our viewpoint.  Tantalizing patches of blue sky getting smaller and further between.  With our tails between our legs, we decided the best thing to do was to head back to camp, and live to try it another day.

With a different set of partners — we might have made a different choice, but for our group, this was the only rational one to make.  Between the five of us, I was probably the one with the most alpine experience.  All of which I gained this summer on a grand total of about 5 routes, starting with the East Buttress of Mt. Whitney (5.7) in July, bailing off of Fishhook Arete (5.9) two days later due to extreme cold and wind, followed by Matthes Crest (the first time) later in July, then Red Dihedral (5.10b) and Bear Creek Spire North Arete (5.8) in August.

pine bough against dead tree
Cracked Trunk

Thunder and lightning on our way back to basecamp confirmed our choice as the correct one — even if we didn’t get rained on except for a few sprinkles. Danielle and Josan napped in the tents, while and I lounged around, enjoying the scenery, watching the clouds and photographing anything that caught my eye.

Anthony and Clemens — on the other hand — eschewing the leisurely weekend aspect of our trip, decided to hike out to the car and back.  Clemens rationale was that he barely made it out to basecamp on Friday, so taking the climbing gear back on Saturday (since he and Josan were heading home instead of making another attempt) would make the hike out on Sunday that much easier.  It may have been true, but at what cost, man!?

Anthony had a valid reason, his sleeping bag was back at the trailhead in the car.  And he still wanted to do Matthes with Danielle and I on Sunday.  That worked out great for us, because we were practically out of food, so we suckered him into bringing some energy bars back for the climb on Sunday.  Now, you might think that he would have hiked out with a light pack, and hiked back in with a barely heavier one.  But, there you would be wrong.  He made the entire trip out with a gigantic rock in his pack!  At least the hike back to basecamp was easier — no rock!

We all turned in as darkness crept across the valley.  The goal for Sunday:  up at 6am, hiking by 7am, at the base by 8am.

Close!  We left basecamp around 7:10am after a quick breakfast, and arrived at the base of the climb at 8:05.  Not bad — we cut about 35 minutes off our our approach time from the day before.  I was racked up, tied in, and leading the first pitch by 8:35am.

Not much to say about the climb itself, except it was as fun as I remember it being!  We climbed on one rope as a team of 3.  Danielle tied in about 30 feet above Anthony for the first pitch, and about 40 feet above me for the second pitch.  It only took us two pitches to get to the crest instead of the three shown in Supertopo.  We simul-climbed most of the crest with me in the lead until shortly before the South Summit.

Danielle before the 5.7 downclimb boulder problem

Danielle before the 5.7 downclimb boulder problem

After the first two pitches onto the crest Danielle was tied in at mid rope (30m from each of us), and was able to get a front and/or back belay whenever she was sketched or one of us thought her safety required it.  There were  perhaps only once or two locations that she called for back belays, and likewise a couple that required front belays.  I was impressed, she did great for someone who admits to fear of heights and especially exposure!  The entire climb is super exposed, with the crest dropping off for hundreds of feet on both sides.

Anthony took over the lead for a couple of ropelengths down through the 5.2 downclimb into the notch between the South and North Summits.  I gave Danielle a back belay for the downclimb, then led us across the notch onto the big ledge at the base of the North Summit.  At this point, it was around 4pm, so we decided to end the climb there.  We downclimbed to the first rap station, and we built a second rap station out of some new webbing and the remains of an older station that was well hidden and contained mostly ratty webbing.  We touched down by about 4:45pm, and were on the trail back to basecamp by 5pm.  We arrived there around 6pm.

Danielle and Tad hiking back to basecamp

Danielle and Tad hiking back to basecamp

Striking camp and packing up took about 45 minutes, and we were back on the trail by 6:45pm.  hightailing it homeward, we tagged the car two hours later at 8:45pm.  Phew, yeah.  Leisurely — my ass!  I didn’t even do the extra 10 miles that Anthony and Clemens did, and I was pooped!

Danielle was a rockstar!  Not only on the climbing, but I had to work hard to keep up with her on the way back down the trail.

Anthony was a lifesaver on the drive home.  I made it to Oakdale before I didn’t feel safe enough to drive anymore.  I climbed in the back, and passed out immediately.  He took us home in great time.  Danielle and I were home and in bed by about 1:45am.  Phew!

One apology is reqired:  I didn’t think to turn my cell on until we were back in Oakdale — we should have called or texted Clemens to let him know we made it back to the trailhead safely before heading out.  Clemens, sorry dude!

L to R: Tad, Danielle, Josan, Clemens, Anthony

L to R: Tad, Danielle, Josan, Clemens, Anthony


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