In 1957 Charlie and I made two trips to the Yosemite backcountry, and one to the Palisades area of the High Sierra.  The first one in June was quite early, maybe even a weekend or so before school got out for the summer. The Mines Road to Tuolumne Meadows was just barely open, after being closed all winter by snow. We hiked and camped amidst snow fields, but it was an “early year,” and much of the snow in the Meadows,  and even up around Budd Lake, where we camped, had already melted or blown away.

    Our main target on this trip was to climb Cathedral Peak, a beautiful granite block with pointed spire top that is one of the principal mountain features to be seen from the road through Tuolumne Meadows. Following a route described in the 1954 “Climber’s Guide to the High Sierra” as  “Class 3” (airy, but not difficult). we had no trouble reaching the summit. (Yosemite granite is the solidest, most easily climbable rock in the world, it seems.) The actual summit block was a little tricky but, with a little rope belaying for safety, we all made it to the actual tiptop. As expected, the 360-degree panorama of mountains, meadows, lakes, and forests, was spectacular.

    Getting down off the mountain was something else, again. We had passed over a few icy areas on the way up that had given us a little pause, and we weren’t as happy to go down over the same stretches. Someone suggested that we rappel off the extremely steep south face. None of us had ever done a rappel that extreme, but we decided we would. It was two full rope lengths (close to 300 feet) to the talus slopes below, so we had to all get halfway down, retrieve the rope, and go the other half. The upper part of the face was near vertical, and controlling the speed of the descent was not easy. I had a pair of Army fatigue pants on over my jeans, and the rope friction wore a hole through the fatigues. Hot! I have never been fond of that kind of airy exposure (I mean the rappel, not the exposure from the hole in my pants), but this was an exhilarating trip, and I don’t think I had any fear on the descent.

Cathedral Peak. Our rappel route was directly down from the summit to the sparse trees - the shorter wall, but still two rope lengths long.

   We had planned to go direct from our campsite at Budd Lake up over the Coxcomb Ridge to climb Unicorn Peak, but a massive snow cornice above the lake made that impossible. Instead, we worked our way back toward Tuolumne Meadows and around to the Elizabeth Lake side of Unicorn. The south face was very snowy, and we were getting some new snow as we climbed. At the base of the main summit block, I decided that I didn’t have it in me to go on. The others continued the climb, while I waited in the snow. Getting a little cold, I decided to start working my way back down the slope toward Elizabeth Lake. Glissading and kicking footholds in the snow, I hit a really soft spot, my glissade got out of control, and I went racing down the slope. I must have slid fifty feet or more, bouncing over a few exposed rocks on the way, before I finally managed to stop my glissade in some snow-buried conifers. I can remember yelling up into the clouds, “Charlie, I fell.” “Are you hurt?” came down out of those clouds. “I guess not.” “Okay, we’ll be down soon.” They reached the summit, came back down to where I had ended up, and we all walked back to camp, little the worse for wear.

     Later that summer, we returned to Budd Lake, and climbed around the Echo Peaks for a couple days. By then, I had concluded that rock climbing was really not my thing, and I wandered around the plateau, enjoying the views and the wildflowers, while the other three climbed a couple of the Echo Peak spires.

    In between the Tuolumne trips, we made a late June trip to the Palisades area on the east side of the Sierra. We drove up the access road from Big Pine, and hiked up to Sam Mack Lake, where we camped. There was still a lot of snow, and most of the lakes were frozen. It was my first (and, it turned out, only) trip into the Palisades, and was quite a revelation after the firm granites of Tuolumne and Lake Tahoe. There is quite a bit of volcanic rock in the Palisades, and still some active glaciation going on. On our climb up Mt. Winchell, we were regularly dislodging rocks, and had to be on constant alert to keep from knocking slabs onto the people below, and to keep from being hit by rocks loosened by those above. We saw and heard many rock falls on the Palisade Glacier, as weathered slabs broke loose and plunged to the glacier below. It was not a difficult climb, and the view was amazing, but it wasn’t a very pleasant type of rock climbing. The next day, two of us opted to stay and enjoy Sam Mack Lake, while the two others took on the more difficult North Palisade.

 [Update 2021: As it turned out, 1957 was my last year for active backpacking and climbing in the High Sierra. That fall, college took us all in various directions, and we never got together, again. In later years, I made short trips into the Yosemite backcountry, and into the Kern River area of the southern Sierra, but no more completing of the many trips our high school group had planned.]





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