Type: Trad, Alpine, 1200 ft, Grade III
FA: unknown
Page Views: 9,283 total · 132/month
Shared By: kenr on Sep 18, 2013
Admins: M. Morley, Adam Stackhouse, Salamanizer suchoski, Justin Johnsen, Vicki Schwantes

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Access Issue: Yosemite National Park climbing closures and conditions Details


Amazing narrow fin of granite, above an ocean of granite. Variety of interesting moves, unfogettable rock structures, sustained for more than a thousand feet of climbing.
More interesting and narrow than the South ridge (which is what most roped parties do and call the "traverse" of the Matthes Crest). Said by some long-time Sierra climbers to be their favorite ridge traverse. More ... is it the best moderate ridge in USA?

. (All latitude/longitude points given below, also other helpful waypoints and tracks, are in a GPX file linked from
this page )

At least one of the 5.8 sections can be avoided, and much of the reputation of difficulty comes from people trying this ridge in the downward direction. So someone might find some navigation in the upward direction which keeps all the difficulty at 5.7 or less. Look forward to seeing experiences about this in the Comments.

Starting from the Cathedral Lakes trailhead on Tioga Pass highway route 120 (GPS latitude/longitude approx N37.8729 W119.3829) (altitude ~ 2615m). Follow the Approach instructions for the Cathedral Range Traverse
as far as the N end of Budd Lake (lat/long ~ N37.8431 W119.3973) (altitude ~ 3050m).

From the N end of Budd Lake, hike SSW about 0.6mile/1000meters up toward the Echo Peaks, which are west of the broad Echo Ridge, which is west of the Cockscomb peak and the Echo-Cockscomb col. The objective is to cross "Wilts col" (lat/long ~ N37.8343 W119.4007) (alt ~ 3280m), which is between the East group of the Echo Peaks and the Middle group of the Echo Peaks. Actually for much of the approach you can't see the East group, so perhaps just aim for the obvious wide steep dirt/scree gully facing north which is to the left of the (visible) Echo Peaks. This slope often has a zig-zag track, or snow in springtime).

Next (instead of continuing over and down the other side of "Wilts Col") turn Left (East) and hike gently up about 100 yards/meters to go around the N side of Echo Peak 8, then diagonal down SouthEast about 100 yards/meters between Echo Peaks 8+9 and Echo Ridge, then horizontal traverse East about 0.2mile / 300 meters on big talus under the south side of Echo Ridge and so reach the north end (N37.8333 W119.3944) of the North ridge of Matthes Crest.
. . (or could save a little distance by finishing diagonal SE and scramblingup onto the crest of the North ridge farther south closer to the mini-towers.)

Walk S on the ridge about 500m mostly flat, perhaps some scrambling moves. Meet some big "pancake" rocks, then the North mini-tower (lat/long ~ N37.8269 W119.3958) (altitude ~ 3225m).

alternate Approach 1: First do one or more peaks of the Cathedral Range Traverse

alternate Approach 2: First do the beginning of the Tenaya - Matthes - Cathedral traverse

Overall the north ridge has four sections ... from N to S:
  • the flat wide non-climbing approach.
  • the two exciting mini-towers (around 5.7-5.8) - (avoidable). These mini-towers are much lower than the two summits.
  • long (about a thousand feet) narrow ridge mostly-horizontal with several 10-15 ft "steps" (around 5.5-5.6), including the exciting (avoidable) hand-traverse (5.8)
  • arete rising up (5.7-5.8) to the North (highest) summit, including an exciting gap to cross.

Some of the more difficult moves are:
  • lower part of N arete of the North summit.
  • NW side of the South mini-tower - (avoidable if know how)
  • overhanging hand traverse - (avoidable easily)

mini-towers: Up the North end of the N mini-tower, belay near its summit. Crux move not more than 5.6 in upward direction (one party used #2 Camalot to protect), but might feel like 5.7 going down, more intimidating not knowing what it's leading to below. Traverse a little near the summit then find a way down the South end into the notch between the two mini-towers. One party tried the E side (not more than 5.6) and protected with cams up to #1 Camalot and a couple of long slings around protrusions -- careful, at least one flake with obvious slot behind it seems a big suspect). Possible belay stance could be at flake below E side of notch.

North end of South mini-tower looks pretty difficult to take directly. Easier to first traverse around to its W side, perhaps after dropping down 10 feet below notch, then rising traverse on narrow ledges (one party protected with smaller cams). Then choose where to switch to climbing upward to the crest -- at least three different options -- what looks to be most protectable is to aim for the straight-up crack which finishes roughly at the summmit (width range 1-2 inches, took standard protection fairly well, difficulty around 5.7-5.8). (for those traveling S->N, getting down this NW side could seem more intimidating - see ideas in Comments). Belay anchor rock horns near summit. Getting down the South end of South mini-tower is not as difficult.

One guidebook seems to imply that most parties should plan on just skipping the mini-towers (see Variations 1 and 2 below). This is assuming they are going in the S->N direction (which seems more difficult and intimidating through the mini-towers). Also roped parties will find the mini-towers slow because it makes sense to set up belays both near the two summits and in the notches. And many roped parties traversing in S->N direction are getting low on time and energy by the time they reach the mini-towers.

But the mini-towers are key parts of what makes the Matthes Crest such a remarkably great climb, so it's worth at least taking a "nibble" on them -- especially parties going in the N->S direction. Parties going S->N might consider tagging the summit of the South mini-tower, then returning to the notch at its South end, then use Variation 1 below to pass around their W side to the N end of the N mini-tower, then climb the N mini-tower up and back before finishing easily to the end of N ridge.

Variation 1: It's possible to avoid both mini-towers by going below on their West side. In the N->S direction, see an obvious non-narrow ledge system roughly horizontal and walk S on that, then when roughly under the notch at S end of S mini-tower, go upward to reach the crest, with some thoughtful moves and zig-zagging to keep the difficulty at class 3.

In the S->N direction, from near the notch by the S end of South mini-tower, start down W side, at first diagonal down back S a little ways, then traverse 10-15 feet north, then down a wide vertical crack with positive holds inside or nearby to reach non-narrow ledge system, and walk North on that.

Variation 2 is an alternative which more completely avoids both mini-towers, and perhaps make the approach or return a little easier. See under Comments below for details.

long mostly-horizontal section: About a thousand feet with lots of fun non-difficult narrow-arete-traverse moves, but also some thoughtful vertical "steps" about 10-15 ft each (easier to figure out in the upward N->S direction).

hand traverse: One of the "steps" leads to a slightly-overhanging traverse section on the E face about 10-15ft wide, with about a hundred feet of open air underneath. Felt around 5.8, don't know about protection - (hopefully we'll start seeing some detailed guidance for that below in the Comments). Anyway it's
. . avoidable: Go down the gully on W side about 20ft, a couple of thoughtful moves up out of S side of gully, then diagonal SE up to crest.

N arete of N summit: Most parties get up to (or down from) the North summit by climbing close to the arete. The East and West sides have different styles of climbing moves and protection possibilities. Key sequence by bottom of arete has stemming and jamming moves, around 5.7 (but those lacking solid jamming technique will find it harder, and soloists should feel very confident in their jamming to take this on). Hand-size cam is useful for protection, and about half of hand-width for a smaller crack alongside.

Not far north from base of arete, lots of people do a stemming / step-across move over an exciting gap, also mentioned in a modern guidebook - (photos see link further below). But this might be avoidable by going below the crest on the East side.

This N summit is the highest on the Matthes Crest.

Rappel down the W side of the N summit. Some recent guidebooks and most websites say that double-ropes are needed for these rappels, but recently some parties have been rappeling down the W side of N summit with a single 60-meter rope (see the Comments below, also this Discussion Forum thread).

alternate Descent 1: Return back north down the North ridge (for maximum enjoyment of great arete climbing). Could use Variation 1 (or Variation 2) to shorten this.

alternate Descent 2: Down-climb the SW side of N summit into the notch between the S summit and N summit. Could be tricky doing this on-sight as a down-climb -- some moves will likely feel like 5.7 -- see details in South ridge Traverse description and Comments. Also the SuperTopo guidebook has a detailed topo for this section. Then make rappels with a single rope in the gully down the West side of the notch (rock horns on the south side of the gully. Down-climb? Lower section can be down-climbed at 3rd class with a few moves of 4th class. But there's a short upper section with down-sloping holds at 5th class (unless trust a delicate-looking flake?).

alternate Descent 3: Climb South down the South ridge -- finishes with three or two downward pitches including some 5.5 moves (one guidebook suggests this would be difficult) -- rappel options unknown. For more info see South ridge Traverse

return to trailhead:
Could just go back over Wilts Col ... but if did one of the rappel descents, then it's less work to instead make a traverse W low under the S side of Echo Peaks, then a rising traverse over a broad shoulder (lat/long ~ N37.8373 W119.4060) (alt ~ 10300ft/3140m) on the W side of Echo Peaks. Then down toward Budd Lake - or a little shorter is to aim for a bit R (E) of Cathedral Peak, go gently down until meet the unofficial Cathedral Peak trail, down on that and it joins the Approach route.

More climbing? If have extra energy and time on your way out, try additional summits of the Cathedral Range Traverse )

stem/step-across move on N arete of N summit ...
. - mountainproject.com/v/10783…
. - mountainproject.com/v/10820…

views ...
. - looking south to the North Ridge
. - both N ridge + S ridge profiles seen from W
. - N arete + N summit + notch + S summit seen from W
. - mountainproject.com/v/10618…
. - mountainproject.com/v/10608…

action ...
. - traversing on the mini-towers
. - N to climber descending N ridge

- approach on Trail : 2.05mile/3.25km with vertical gain +1420ft/435m
- approach Off trail : 1.6mile/2.6km with vertical gain +930ft/285m
- climb up N ridge : 1200ft/380m length with vertical ~ +480ft/150m
- Total with return : 7.6mile/12.3km with vertical gain +3130ft/960m
. . . for rapping off + returning around W shoulder of Echo Peaks.
. . . (Returning over Wilts Col is shorter distance but more vertical.)

GPS . All latitude/longitude points above, also other helpful waypoints and tracks, are in a GPX file linked from
this page
. But they're given mainly for planning + reference. This is a "friendly" area for wilderness navigation with a map (and compass). For experienced parties using the detailed instructions above, carrying a GPS device should not be necessary for navigating the approaches + routes in good weather.


In the Cathedral Range area of Yosemite National Park, along the south side of Tuolumne Meadows.
North (highest) summit (altitude approx 10,880ft/3318meters) is at latitude/longitude approx N37.8237 W119.3972) -- about 3.5 miles / 5.6km south from the Tioga Pass highway route 120.


No fixed gear in place (except perhaps some anchor slings near the N summit).
Quality of Trad placements not yet known, because most people who climbed this ridge in the past did it mostly solo - and the roped parties who did it went in the opposite direction. Hopefully as more roped parties do this route, we will start seeing detailed guidance in the Comments below.

Recommend "alpine" trad rack plus additional long runners/slings for around horns and thru holes. Likely much of the effective protection will depend on the leader's skill in running the rope itself around structures and choosing a route that weaves cleverly around both sides of rock features.

Some moves (especially downward sections on the mini-towers) might be difficult to protect for the following climbers. In such cases it might be appropriate for the less-capable climbers to go first and place Trad protection which the more-capable climber going last could remove (or leave).

Reminder: Two ropes needed for the obvious rappel descent.