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Cathedral Peak
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John Muir Route (The Mountaineer's Route) T 
Panic Pillar T 
Southeast Buttress T 

Southeast Buttress 

YDS: 5.6 French: 4c Ewbanks: 14 UIAA: V ZA: 12 British: S 4b

Type:  Trad, Alpine, 5 pitches, 700', Grade II
Consensus:  YDS: 5.6 French: 4c Ewbanks: 14 UIAA: V ZA: 12 British: S 4b [details]
FA: Wilts and Spencer Austin, 1943
Season: summer
Page Views: 52,730
Submitted By: Nick Wilder on Jun 22, 2006

You & This Route  |  Other Opinions (483)
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SE buttress solo


You can really climb all over the southest buttress. You get the most climbing if you start at it's lowest point, in the middle. Many people start up and to the right a little, which loses some vertical, and the first pitch over there isn't so good.

However you start, after 3 pitches, steadily increasing from 5.3 to 5.6, you'll probably be funneled into a chimney. It can get crowded here, and a backpack can be a real pain. Climb around to the left and it's smooth sailing however.

There are so many options, passing people is generally easy if you're competent at the grade, and there are usually people all over the face.

A spectacular climb not to be missed.


Normal full rack. No huge cams needed.

Photos of Southeast Buttress Slideshow Add Photo
Monica soloing Cathedral Peak.
Monica soloing Cathedral Peak.
Alternate 5.7 route to the left of the chimney, the so-called 'glory arete'. The chimney had a traffic jam this day, so we followed a yosar'ers advice. Beautiful pitch, fantastic exposure!
Alternate 5.7 route to the left of the chimney, th...
“This, I may say, is the first time I have been at church in California.” <br />-- John Muir <br /> <br />Taken October 30, 2011
“This, I may say, is the first time I have been at...
Such a great view from the summit
Such a great view from the summit
cathedral peak from JMT
cathedral peak from JMT
Route tracing: NA 50 CLASSIC!
BETA PHOTO: Route tracing: NA 50 CLASSIC!
April does a bit of light reading on the summit of Cathedral
April does a bit of light reading on the summit of...
April, Filip, and Alberto solo train their way up Cathedral
April, Filip, and Alberto solo train their way up ...
Ali starting his free solo of the first three pitches
Ali starting his free solo of the first three pitc...
Tamara on p2 of the "original" route up cathedral pk.
Tamara on p2 of the "original" route up cathedral ...
the SE Buttress
the SE Buttress
Euan on the summit with eichorns pinnacle behind
Euan on the summit with eichorns pinnacle behind
joe stefani toping out on the se buttress
joe stefani toping out on the se buttress
A great 5.8 variation right of the chimney. If the chimney is clogged , move right , around a corner, about 20 feet to some great stemming, chimney climbing . A few old pitons and good gear on this pitch.
A great 5.8 variation right of the chimney. If the...
View up the chimney on the 4th pitch.
View up the chimney on the 4th pitch.
Joan Bertini on the Southwest Buttress
Joan Bertini on the Southwest Buttress
On the summit looking south/ southwest back at the lake where we had started.
On the summit looking south/ southwest back at the...
Cathedral Peak in mid-June.
Cathedral Peak in mid-June.
Ali at the top of Cathedral peak
Ali at the top of Cathedral peak
Brian leading pitch 2 toward the next  tree ledge belay, fun pitch (not that all of them are not great!)
Brian leading pitch 2 toward the next tree ledge ...
Packy following up the beginning of P2.
BETA PHOTO: Packy following up the beginning of P2.
After approx. 10 minutes up the JMT from the Cathedral Lakes trailhead, you will see the obvious climbers trail on the left blocked by a log. The trail runs parallel to Budd Creek for a good portion of the hike then wraps around the left(East) side of Cathedral Peak.
BETA PHOTO: After approx. 10 minutes up the JMT from the Cathe...
Megan on the summit block.
Megan on the summit block.

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Comments on Southeast Buttress Add Comment
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Comments displayed oldest to newestSkip Ahead to the Most Recent Dated Oct 13, 2014
By Chris Owen
From: La Crescenta and Big Bear Lake
Aug 15, 2006

A great classic to a wonderful summit.
By Floridaputz
From: Oakland Park, Florida
Aug 21, 2006

We decided to take a line on the left most side. There was only one other party on the climb when we started. I lead a knobby arete left of the 5.6 offwith for a variation. My wife and I were all smiles on the awesome summit.
By 46and2
From: Las Vegas, NV
Aug 28, 2006
rating: 5.6 4c 14 V 12 S 4b

PERFECT climb that is NOT to be missed; great protection most of the time (by Tuolumne standards) with a truly classic and amazing summit! I prefer the standard start as the first 5.4 splitter crack is a blast; also don't skip the chimney, it's a lot of fun (getting actually inside the thing is the crux) as chimneys go! We noticed many parties getting somewhat confused at the top wondering "which way to go", when you hit that final steep wall, follow the wide looking crack on the left side up to a stance and then over the huge flakes to the amazing summit!!!! Have Fun
PS: The downclimb from the summit looks much harder than it actually is, if you're freaked out I would recommend downleading this section as it's really easy to set up and do!!
By Josh Hibbard
From: Los Angeles Area, CA
Mar 23, 2007
rating: 5.6 4c 14 V 12 S 4b

Great climb! It seems that many parties bottle neck at the chimney, so plan accordingly. Also, there are many features inside the chimney, so you don't need to actually "chimney" the whole thing (which was a concern for me due to the pack I was carrying).
By Greg DeMatteo
From: W. Lebanon, NH
Apr 7, 2008
rating: 5.6 4c 14 V 12 S 4b

One of the greatest summits of all time.
By TBlom
Jul 10, 2008

Very cool climb and spectacular summit. We climbed the right side-ish, over many crystal studded faces, and avoided the chimney traffic jam by climbing a 5.7(?) hand/fist crack about 15' to the right. We were able to pass several parties and do the route in 4 near-rope-length pitches (w/a 70 M rope). I had a double rack, and of course had gear left over, but found placements for everything from nuts to 4" cam.
The walk-off was pretty easy after finding the way down the back slabs (kind of a zig-zag pattern), we saw a few parties rapping over this section, but there is an exposed 3rd. class descent that is a bit faster.
Make sure to bury any food under the talus to keep the marmots from stealing it.
Don't forget your headlamps!!! (if you start late)
By Josh Hibbard
From: Los Angeles Area, CA
Sep 16, 2010
rating: 5.6 4c 14 V 12 S 4b

Looks like there are two "rap stations" off the 3rd/4th class decent as of 9/6/2010. The first is a few slings around a small tree. The second is around a block. We happened to rap off the first station (toward climbers left) to a long, thin "ledge" that we took to the ridge and down the now well marked trail.
By Page Weil
Sep 20, 2010

Beautiful and easy climbing. Lots of pitches to practice your trad placements on. My partner and I started slightly left of center at the toe of the buttress and ended up on an "interesting" third pitch. There is a lieback crack between two completely blank walls. My partner did it as a difficult offwidth. The topo for the route on Supertopo labels this area as "not recommended"; i'd call it 5.10 at least.

At the chimney there was a minor bottleneck but at the belay station for the last pitch there was a serious bottleneck. We stood there with 4 other parties for literally 90 minutes waiting for summiting parties to clear the last pitch. We couldn't bail out because we were well above the last set of rap rings. Several people on the ledge were nearly hypothermic and we didn't get off until well after dark. Expect at least 8 to 10 parties on a weekend day. Bring headlamps and anything you need to wait for a couple of hours and hike off in the dark because it very well could happen.

If you are climbing with parties behind you, be considerate and climb quickly and clean the route so others can follow. If you are moving slowly, let others pass you. One slow group at the beginning of the day put 4 other groups in serious danger.

Putting in an additional rap station at the ledge before the final pitch could help a lot.
By Dave Alden
From: San Diego, CA
Feb 28, 2011
rating: 5.6 4c 14 V 12 S 4b PG13

Fun alpine route with spectacular views.
By alleyehave
From: San Diego, CA
Aug 3, 2011
rating: 5.6 4c 14 V 12 S 4b

As good as people say. Although, I will say this. This is NOT the place to learn multi pitch climbing folks. Despite its easy, laid-back climbing. This is a fairly involved climb that does require efficient technique, decent route-finding, good time-management and the ability to deal with multiple other parties, above and below you. Do not come here to hone your multi pitch skills, you're either in for an epic or a royal pain in the ass for others. :) Also, there is no way in hell this is to be considered a PG13 route(above rating). There is more pro than you could ever want.
By Chris D
From: the couch
Sep 19, 2011

With all the hype I'd read about this route I was pleasantly surprised to find that it surpassed all of my expectations. From the surprise splitter crack on the first pitch to the fun and easy chimney to the unbelievable summit panorama, this route is truly full-value. There's a lot of steep gully hiking, but it's broken up by a variety of climbing challenges, albeit solidly within the reach of any 5.6 leader with some route-finding skills. There might be one short section of face climbing that can't be protected. The rest is either cruiser or really easy to protect.

The supertopo for this route is spot-on. Use it and you almost can't get lost. A very "civilized" peak, with an easy to follow trail, clear approach, and absolutely spectacular views from the car to the summit.

DON'T miss Eichorn's Pinnacle on the way out! Don't believe what the nay-sayers say about the quality of the climbing...it's great fun, and the summit gives an awesome view of Cathedral Peak, Matthes Crest, Budd Lake, and an ocean of unparalleled beautiful granite.

A day I won't soon forget!
By Kurtz
Jul 8, 2012
rating: 5.6 4c 14 V 12 S 4b

What a great climb! What a great day! Trad-with-Dad with my 12 y.o. daughter. Wish we had enough time for the Pinnacle.

The only surprise we had was the descent. We were the second-to-last party and it was starting to get dark. Getting the last climber off the small summit block requires either some 5.6ish downclimbing or a "toprope belay" (drape the rope over the block and have the first descender belay from below and behind. Of course, the rope will snag when you pull it.

Luckily, another climber led us down, but it was a bigger slog than I expected. If anyone has better descent beta, please add it!

Once off the block, the basic idea was to scramble down the back side, staying skiers left until you find a way to traverse all the way to the right ridgeline. Hop over the ridge and pick up a climbers trail that leads back to the base. I guesstimate that we crossed the ridgeline 100-150 yards from the summit.
By Ryan Myers
From: Tempe, Arizona
Nov 11, 2012

The Cathedral Peak and Eichorn's Pinnacle link-up was an incredible day in the mountains. Highly recommended.
By kenr
Aug 17, 2013

As of August 2013, the route around the East side of the rock peak is a improved trail -- even with some stone steps (and official-looking carabiner-icon signs near its top and bottom). Anything near the E side not on that trail is forbidden as part of a plant restoration zone.

The descent from the summit goes roughly like this:
Just below SW side of summit block, go down steep about 12 ft on double cracks - (positive holds or jams, but not all obvious or straightforward to see how to use) - traditionally graded class 4, but likely will feel like class 5 to those inexperienced with down-climbing ... so just plan on continuing the belay from the final pitch of the ascent.

Next traverse NW about 10 ft to a notch in the summit range. Cross the ridge to the NW face. Descend about 20-30 ft NE diagonally to near the NE edge of the NW face, to a ledge. Then down SW like another 20 ft.

Next work down like 60-90 ft whatever way works. The goal is to end at the NE edge of the NW face, at a flat spot with some bushes -- which is at the boundary between the solid rock above and the talus slope below. There is a narrow ledge system (not difficult) which spans across pretty much the whole face, so the idea is to spot that flat spot, then down-climb to that level but no farther.
. . (There is also a wider ledge above that, which is tempting, but then it requires a low class 5 down-climb move to reach the flat spot.)
Many people find it easiest to first traverse all the way over to the SW side of the face and go down there, then traverse all the way back across to the NE side.

From that flat spot, traverse horizontally around the N corner through bushes onto the East side of Cathedral Peak. Scramble down about 30 feet to the new improved trail. Down on that trail along the base of the cliff of the E side of Cathedral Peak summit area, at first SE, then curving S -- back down to meet the approach trail near the bottom of the SW buttress climb.
By Jonathan hudson
From: baltimore, MD
Aug 25, 2013

GPS cords for the bud lake trailhead. Lat 37º 52' 10"N, Long 119º 23' 12"W
By Martin Edwards
From: Richmond, VA
Jul 17, 2014

I agree that the arete left of the chimney is fantastic climbing, and a worthy alternative to the standard chimney. I used it to avoid several parties jammed up at the base of the chimney.
By Ash Gambhir
From: San Diego, CA
Aug 6, 2014

By Howard.
From: Irvine, CA
Aug 17, 2014

Got much fuller value whilst passing parties: did the harder crack variation to the right of the chimney pitch. Later, did the steep hand crack leading to the summit ledge before the true summit block. Anybody try it and have an opinion?
By Ian Kesterson
From: Oakland, CA
Sep 3, 2014

Fantastic climb. Celebrated my partner's recovery from knee surgery with this route. Next time, less gear and climbing in approach shoes. We started on route B, but ended up casually passing folks somewhere in the middle area. Met many new friends at crowded belays.
By Countzen
Oct 13, 2014

The climbers route Beta in the Tulumnoe free climbs guide book (supertopo.com/packs/tuolfree.h... ) is pretty off. We were hiking in pre-sunrise and using that book as beta for the approach and got pretty lost. The actual climbers trail has been uploaded by me to wikiloc.com.


Also some descent beta since I couldn't find visuals anywhere.