I know, I know.
A traverse isn’t the sexiest word when it comes to climbing. But trust me on this one, the journey across the Matthes Crest is a life-changing experience.
Situated in the High Sierras of Yosemite, just southwest of Tuolumne Meadows, this striking mile-long, knife-edged fin sits at almost 11,000 feet in the midst of spectacular wilderness. Undoubtedly, the Matthes Crest is one of the most inspiring rock features I’ve ever laid eyes on. Its assemblage of gargantuan granite spires, perfectly formed by the incomprehensible impact of glacial movement—makes you feel tiny in the best possible way.
But, like most incredible things in life, you have to work a little to find it.
In the guidebook it says that “no tourist has ever laid eyes on the Matthes Crest,” and I believe it. Hidden beyond the better known Cathedral Peak, most visitors fail to reach the magnificence of Matthes. Fortunate for every ounce of me, the Matthes Crest Traverse served as my very first alpine climbing experience.
Following a 4am wake-up and drive from Tahoe, Yosemite’s magical deliverance of beauty welcomed us from our first step into the 2-3 hour (jaw-dropping) approach. Mind blown, breath taken, we meandered through the High Sierra environment alone and abound with wildlife in motion, boundless bright wildflowers, and streaming alpine water to quench both our excitement and thirst.
Feeling like kids in a giant paradise land all to ourselves, we finally made it to the base and began our ascent from the southern part of the ridge-line. The climbing itself is easy; plenty of class 4 movement and nothing harder than a 5.7 pitch, including the vertical ascent to the North Summit. That being said, the exposure as you climb across a thin fin with a steep and slabby drop below delivers a distinct dose of spicy thrill to the route.
For all but 3 pitches of the mile-long climb, we elected to free solo. Many climbers choose to simul-climb the Crest; however, our high level of psych from the utter beauty surrounding us lent plenty of confidence and comfort in our decision. Depending on how you elect to climb Matthes, it can take anywhere from 3-6 hours: some of the most amazing hours you’ll ever spend.
As a beginner to the realm of alpine climbing, I definitely gained a taste of the allure after my day on the Matthes Crest. Sure, there’s some type-2 fun involved; like the more-hours-than-you-ever-want of hiking back to the car (in the dark) while totally exhausted. BUT there’s so much that makes it absolutely worth it. You truly feel every moment that manifests in the entire span of the day. AND at the end of it—you hobble on a less-traveled trail of unspeakable beauty under a moonlit sky with a smirk on your face—knowing you just created a completely unforgettable day. I’d call that pure magic.