Touchstone Blog Archive
Monday, September 28, 2009
  Cathedral Peak Trail Restoration
Cathedral Peak's Southwest Face (5.6) is one of the most popular rock climbers in the Sierras. An ascent requires a long, but beautfiul drive to Tuoulumne Meadows, followed by an hour and a half hike to the base. First climbed by John Muir in 1869, the peak now sees hundreds of ascents every from early spring to late fall. In an attempt to keep the area pristine, the Yosemite Climbing Rangers are enacting a restoration program. Check out the details of the program that Jake Whittaker, one of the new climbing rangers, wrote up.

This fall, NPS has started restoration of the base and approach/descent of Cathedral Peak. Over the last decade, the number of ascents of the peak has increased substantially. This has resulted in nearly infinite trail braiding, loss of vegetation, erosion problems, and a general look of stampeded devastation at the base of the peak.

The project has begun to establish ONE trail for approach and descent of Cathedral Peak from the Budd Creek drainage. We are all going to have to make a point of using this trail for restoration of the area to be possible. It’s possible that the chosen route isn’t the way any one person usually goes, or what any one person thinks is best, or the way any one person thinks is fastest. However, after study by numerous climbers, restoration ecologists, and trail workers, it has been chosen for its minimum impact on vegetation, its durability, and its efficiency.

For all you speed demons chucking fitness laps on Cathedral, we even timed different ways, and the chosen route is as fast as any…and will presumably be even more efficient after a bit of work. Regardless, wilderness is not a venue for competition, and we should all be willing to use the healthiest route for the place.

So…I’ll attempt to describe the route to you all, so everyone has a general idea of the plan until the trail becomes more delineated. Towards the end of the approach, after finally leaving Budd Creek for good, there has been one major fork. Although the right variation seemed to point straight at the peak, left is the better way to go. It avoids several loose talus fields and never gets as steep and difficult…it also brings you directly to the usual start of the Southeast Buttress, whereas the right fork can easily lead you too far right, if not halfway up the descent. We’ve attempted to block off the right fork and begin rehab of that end of the trail…so hopefully the left fork is already more obvious.

When descending from the peak, after scrambling down the slabs, traversing around and along the East Ridge, and popping over the saddle, please stay as close to the base of the peak as possible. Follow the fringe of the peak back to the start of the route, and hike back down the trail you approached on. Please don’t veer left at any point in an attempt to shortcut straight back to your car…this is what has caused most of the damage over the years, since someone has now headed out left at every imaginable point, creating the extremely noticeable stampede devastation effect.

A trail crew has already started working on the project, and will continue working up there for a portion of the next two summers (probably late August through October). They’re going to do the minimum amount of work, by hand, to delineate and stabilize the trail, and restore the damaged areas. They’re not going to cut any branches or damage any vegetation. The trail will not become an officially maintained trail. This is a restoration project, and a restoration and re-vegetation crew will also be working on the project to reestablish vegetation and natural conditions over the next couple summers.

A few carabiner posts will be necessary, at least at first, to keep people headed in the right direction. "Restoration Area" signs will also be necessary to block off the damaged zones. Hopefully most of these can be removed in a few years as the route becomes known and accepted, and the area starts to recover.

Thanks for reading and for helping the amazing Cathedral Peak area!

-Jake Whittaker, Yosemite Climbing Ranger

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