Highway to Heaven: Matthes Crest

Highway to Heaven: Matthes Crest

Tioga Pass opened today! So it's a good time to hype Tuolomne, and especially the most bizarre and very amazing rock formation called Matthes Crest. When we put together the Pullharder High Sierra Favorites List earlier this year, I realized we didn't have a report on Matthes Crest. Not because we didn't love it, but most likely because it was "too easy" for a Pullharder writeup. But easy doesn't mean unworthy. If it's too easy, run it out. If that's too easy, solo it. If that's still too easy, solo it barefoot...or link it up with some surrounding climbs like Cathedral Peak for a big day. There are plenty of ways to make great moderate climbs challenging. Plus, in this case you're in the middle of the cool highlands of Tuolomne while the hordes sweat it out in sweltering Yosemite Valley below. And if the beauty doesn't affect you, check your head! --rest peacefully, MCA...


Cruisin' the Highway!

While it's ostensibly a peak, Matthes Crest is really just a long thin fin of rock in Toulomne, one of the most sublime places on Earth. Which is to say, Matthes Crest is a ready made one-peak traverse in a Heavenly setting.  A few safely soloable low 5th class pitches lead to a whole lot of very exposed, bomber, easy ridge climbing: a veritable highway and a good way to prep your psychology and fitness for one of the bigger and awesomer High Sierra traverses! The whole thing is well over a mile long, and is a great solo (or simul-climb)-- it is ridge traversing at its finest. A moderate grade, perfect bullet granite (until after the North Summit) and moderate elevation make it the ideal reintroduction to Sierra for your upcoming alpine season.

I climbed this route in fall 2010 with Carlos Gonzalez; I thought the first mile of climbing, to the North Summit, was spectacular. We soloed until the final pitch before the North Summit (high point), where there are many options 5.7-5.9.We chose the supertaco-called "5.9 wide" pitch option, which, as it turned out, was no way 5.9 0w. It's like 2 moves of 5.9 comfy crack. Then the summit is cool little high point before you rappel or have the option to continue on the ridge. The classic route ends at the summit (North summit, highest point), but the ridge continues another half a mile or so. Still, most rappel from here.

There's a good deal of hype about the third of Matthes Crest beyond the North Summit. It's quite a natural line so we continued over the summit and went for the full thing. But don't believe the hype! I think people just say how good this section is to brag that they did it. Poseurs!--with a "u" in there, French-like!


The "Wave" on the seldom-climbed last third of the ridge

I actually had a poor opinion of this last section, at least in comparison to the amazing first mile. First of all, the last third required a couple rappels, which to me undermined the purity of the line. Secondly, the rock was a lot looser (some Tuolomne knobs broke on me, though I didn't fall), which means roping is preferred, so we moved more slowly. Third, the route doesn't stay as true to the crest in this last section. Fourth, there isn't really an end to the route, you just sort of stop climbing and walk off onto dirt when you're at the base of some really steep bit of rock near the end (which feels unsatisfying to end a route while there is still rock left to go--though it looks sickly wicked and unclimbable). And lastly, the climbing on the section after the summit actually wasn't especially good; only the "wave" was truly memorable and of the same caliber as the first half of the climb.

Yes the wave is cool feature, but the first half of the climb really makes Matthes Crest essential. I'm glad we went for the whole thing if only because it's the natural way to end the climb...but it was unfortunate to be looking forward to future hyped climbing instead of appreciating the first half more! Check it yourself and you'll see why the first mile at least makes the Pullharder Favorites List. Enjoy the Summer season-- or if you don't, with less climbers out there, we'll enjoy it twice as much for you!


The route goes right to left along the ridge. The high point is the left (North) summit.