Photo by Claude Fiddler
The Matthes Crest is a dramatic fin of rock with two summits separated by a deep notch. It is named for Francois Matthes, author of The Incomparable Valley, a highly readable introduction to the geology of the Yosemite region. Matthes coined the term “cockscomb” to describe Yosemite peaks featuring this geology. When told that this peak had been named after him Matthes was greatly pleased and said: “he knew of no other unnamed feature in the Sierra which he would rather have chosen.”
The first ascent of the crest was made by legendary Sierra climbers Jules Eichorn, Glen Dawson and Walter Brem in 1931. The trio of teenagers was on their way to the “Underhill Camp.” This is the get together that introduced a
number of Sierra Club members to roped climbing. In other words the intrepid climbers had no formal training in belaying or placing protection when they made their ascent! Climbing with “clothes line, no protection and wearing
basketball shoes” was standard practice for the obviously talented group of early Sierra climbers. Glen Dawson climbed the formidable Mount Huimphreys in 1929 at the age of 16, with no rope, on his first trek into the High Sierra.
Back in the day, the local Tuolumne climbing crowd would seek refuge from the mind numbing runouts of Tuolumne climbs on outings to the higher country. The Matthes Crest and South Buttress of Cathedral Peaks being the most popular
ways to forget steep edging and twenty feet between bolts. Strolling along the mini gorge of Budd Creek, lounging at Budd Lake, and finally climbing one or both of theses routes added to the experience of climbing in Tuolumne. The
finest finale to these days was to hike to Tenaya Lake for afternoon refreshment.
The climbing on the Matthes Crest is on chunky granite. Chicken heads, feldspar crystals, flakes and cracks are everywhere on the spine of the
crest. These features make for ladder-like, easily protected climbing. The crest starts on huge gold tablets of exfoliating granite. The climb starts by walking on this sidewalk in the sky. As the ridge narrows and the climbing begins, the walls on each side get steeper and bigger. And then the move comes where the walls on either side fall away, the climbing difficulty is up a notch and the electric charge in the body says it’s time to rope up. As mentioned, protection is easy to find and traversing this ridge can also offer its own inherent safety net. But beware rope drag! Short pitches are in
The summit register and chasm between the north and south summit is reached after a few pitches of climbing. The entire backcountry of Yosemite surrounds the summit. The route back of course is the mirror of the route to the summit — the perfect climbing time machine.
Permits: This climb is usually done as a day (no permits necessary) climb.
Special Concerns: Camping is not allowed in the Budd Creek drainage. Beware thunderstorm cycles that make Cathedral Peak and Matthes crest prominent lightning rods.
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Access: Park at the ever popular Cathedral Lakes trailhead west of the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center in Yosemite National Park. The creek at the trailhead is Budd Creek. Follow the trail toward Cathedral Lakes for 1/2-3/4 mile. You are on the lookout for a use trail that leads to and parallels Budd Creek. Don’t worry if you don’t find the trail, just head up and toward Budd creek and you’ll eventually run into the trail. Follow the trail about 3 miles to Budd Lake. From Budd Lake hike to a small saddle between the Echo Peaks and Cockscomb Peak. At the top of the saddle there is a perfect view of the Matthes Crest. Traverse to the junction of the crest and Cockscomb Peak. This marks the beginning and end of the route.
Guidebook: Climbing California’s High Sierra: The Classic Climbs on Rock and Ice
, by John Moynier and Claude Fiddler. Falcon Publishing; 2nd edition (December 2001), $30
Contact: Yosemite National Park, (209) 372-0200; www.nps.gov/yose/