Echo Peaks Traverse

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October 1, 2016
The Echo Peaks (see map) are a cluster of eleven small towers and pinnacles in Yosemite, south of Tuolumne Meadows. They are one of several distinctive features in the Cathedral Range, a sub-range of the Sierra Nevada which is well known among Yosemite climbers. Compared to its famous neighboring climbs which consist of Cathedral Peak and Matthes Crest, Echo is fairly neglected, but several reports had indicated that traversing them was a worthwhile objective. With seven class 3 peaks, three class 4 peaks, and one 5.7 peak, Echo Peaks provided a nice combination of scrambling and climbing. For Peak #9, the 5.7 peak, we heavied our packs by carrying up a 60m rope and light alpine rack.

PeakElevationTopographic ProminenceSummit Coordinates (lat/lon)
Echo #710,820 ft40 ft37.8337, -119.4015
Echo #510,820 ft120 ft37.8339, -119.4021
Echo #610,780 ft50 ft37.8331, -119.4020
Echo #410,860 ft40 ft37.8316, -119.4038
Echo #310,940 ft130 ft37.8327, -119.4034
Echo #2.510,910 ft8 ft37.8329, -119.4032
Echo #210,890 ft20 ft37.8332, -119.4031
Echo #110,900 ft40 ft37.8337, -119.4029
Echo #010,850 ft40 ft37.8338, -119.4026
Echo #810,820 ft80 ft37.8337, -119.4002
Echo #910,850 ft120 ft37.8333, -119.4004
Echo Ridge11,168 ft1,028 ft37.8350, -119.3960

Getting to the trailhead (directions from Summitpost): From either the east or west, take Highway 120 into Yosemite NP and drive to Tuolumne Meadows. The trailhead is located on the west end of the meadow, about a mile west of the visitor center. There is a large sign indicating "Cathedral Lakes."

Trailhead coordinates (lat/lon): 37.8734, -119.3824

I was surprised at how many cars were parked at Cathedral Lakes Trailhead as Toshi, Mason, and I started hiking at 7:15am, which was shortly after sunrise. According to Toshi, he had seen several groups leaving the trailhead several hours earlier, likely to get early starts on either Matthes Crest or Cathedral Peak. We hiked for about 5 minutes up the main trail, then branched left onto a well defined use-trail that would parallel Bud Creek south. This trail was mostly frequented by Cathedral Peak climbers, but would be just as effective at getting us close to Echo.

Unicorn Peak seen from approach

Coxcomb on right

As we ascended a gradual slope, the forest gradually thinned out, first revealing the impressive crags of Unicorn Peak and Cockscomb, and eventually Cathedral Peak and Echo Peaks. As the trail neared Cathedral's southeast face, it turned away from Bud Creek, making its way closer towards Cathedral. At this point we left the trail and continued following Bud Creek (now dry), making a beeline for a large and obvious sand ramp which led to the saddle between Echo Peaks #8 and #7.

Cathedral's southeast face


looking down the Budd Creek drainage

route up sand ramp

The sand ramp was more pleasant than we thought and much shorter than it looked from afar. A fairly well defined use trail meandered up to the saddle where we were suddenly hit with a consistent 40mph chilly wind. After donning more layers, we spent a few minutes scrambling up the northeast side of Echo #7, finding it all class 3 with a nicely exposed arete at the finish which felt sketchier than it should've been without 50mph gusts.

summit ridge of Echo #7

views from Echo #7

Echo #5 was located a short distance away to the northwest across a slightly brushy saddle. This one was a short class 3 scramble up its east side.

looking back at #7 from the start of #5

ascending #5

summit of #5

Next up was #6 which was located off the main ridge, just south of the saddle between #5 and #7. It looked like the easiest way to get there was to just descend south from that saddle, but a report we had read beforehand had suggested instead that we go around the north side of #5 to the saddle between #5 and #0, then descend southeast to the north side of #6. We ended up taking the option recommended by the report, finding it sandy and brushy. Upon reaching the north side of #6, we looked up at the other option and realized that we should've taken it, being a short and smooth sandy descent directly from the #5-#7 saddle.

going around the north side of #5

Echo #6 would be our first class 4 peak of the day. Its north arete was a quick and fun exposed scramble.

Toshi on the north arete of #6, with my route highlighted in green

looking northeast from the the start of #6's north arete

summit of #6 views

After descending #6, we headed SSW, slogging along sandy terrain to the east side of #4.

#4's east face was enjoyable all around, starting off at class 4 and bordering on low 5th right below the summit. There were numerous ways to climb all over this face where the rock was mostly solid. Roughly 20 ft before reaching the notch between #3 and #4, we turned left (south) and zigzagged up the remaining 60 ft of the east face.

To the north, #3's south face looked nothing short of impressive. We first descended to the notch between #3-#4, at first descending directly on #4's north arete and then dropping less than 10 ft east of the arete and paralleling it downward to the notch. The terrain here was mainly class 3 with a few snippets of 4th. Although #3's south face had looked sheer vertical from #4, this was an optical illusion which became more apparent as we got closer to to it. The face started off 3rd class and got slightly harder near the top, but not quite hard enough to merit a class 4 rating.

Mason climbing #3's south face

view from notch

looking back at #4

summit of #3

Echo #2.5 was a tiny arete branching east from #3. Getting to it involved less than a minute of scrambling from the main ridge.

looking back at #3 from #2.5

From here, we continued north along the main ridge, tagging #2 and #1 in the process. These were easy bumps which required nothing harder than 3rd class scrambling.

Mason climbing #2.5, seen from #2

looking towards #1 from #2

looking south from #1


We walked around all sides of the tiny Echo #0 looking for an optimal way up. Toshi and I climbed its north arete which started off with a couple class 4 moves and was easy scrambling after that. Mason climbed the south arete which was slightly easier class 4 which lasted slightly longer. All three of us descended the south arete.

north arete

saddle between #0 and #1

All we had left to climb now were #8 and #9. #8 was very straightforward, with easy scrambling up its north and northwestern sides.

views from #8

Our last remaining peak was #9, which would end up taking over 3 hours to climb and descend. The standard route was the 5.7 west face, which was totally doable in 2 pitches with a 60m rope. Because we had been sloppy in organizing gear, this ended up taking 3 pitches since we only packed two runners and the pitches had to be shortened due to strong rope drag. According to Bob Burd in an earlier report, the crux of #9's west face was an overhang located roughly two thirds of the way up. At least from my perspective, the actual crux was just above the overhang where all the holds were tiny nubs and the amount of available protection dwindled.

#9's west face route seen from the northwest (photo by Bob Burd, with the overhang labeled as "crux")

For pitch 1, I led up 4th and low 5th terrain to a belay station ~20 below the overhang where further progress was overcome with severe rope drag. I decided to belay Toshi to this location before heading up pitch 2.

view from the start of pitch 1

From the first belay station, Toshi belayed me up the next pitch. Getting over the overhang went pretty straightforwardly with plenty of protection. ~10 ft above the overhang, route options narrowed as the amount of cracks diminished and the holds were nubs and finger crimps. Succumbing to rope drag for a second time, I located a second belay station ~30 ft above the overhang. This station was very precarious, with barely enough room for one person. I clipped my safety tether to the anchor and put roughly half my weight on it. I waited for 20 minutes while Toshi belayed Mason to the first station, then I belayed Toshi up to the second. After arriving, Toshi belayed me for the remaining distance to the summit, which started off with a couple crimpy 5.7 moves and then quickly becoming nothing more than a scramble. I located an anchor a few feet north of the highpoint and belayed both Toshi and Mason up on it. We rested on the summit for about 20 minutes, with Mason ripping his shoes off immediately upon finishing his climb. They had been giving him much painful trouble on the way up.

views from #9

The descent consisted of two rappels, with rap 1 from the summit anchor to belay station #2, and rap 2 from belay station #2. Rap 2 put us on the face roughly 30 ft from the base, and a few moves of class 3-4 downclimbing got us back down to the sand.

rappelling from the summit

looking up from the end of rap 2

We packed up and trudged back up to the saddle between #8 and #7, reaching it roughly 15 minutes before sunset. From here, Mason began making his way back down the large sandy ramp that we had taken earlier that morning to get to Echo Peaks. Toshi and I continued east along the main ridge towards Echo Ridge located a quarter mile away, hoping to catch a summit sunset. Ascending Echo Ridge was straightforward class 1-2 walking which felt absolutely surreal with vividly glowing red rocks lit by the setting sun. We reached the highpoint just as the sun was touching the horizon.

Matthes Crest

Cathedral Peak

ascending Echo Ridge

summit views from Echo Ridge

As the sun dropped below the horizon, we quickly retraced our steps to the sandy ramp and descended the same way we approached it earlier that morning. Up on Cathedral Peak, we could hear shouts and see twinkling lights from climbers on the southeast face, still two pitches below Cathedral's summit. They were definitely in for a long night and we were happy to not be them right now. Less than two hours later we made it back to the trailhead, happy to have enjoyed every bit of this amazing traverse.

Final Stats
11.2 miles
4,300 ft gain/loss

Weather Forecasts
Echo Peaks

Peakbagger Pages
Echo #0
Echo #1
Echo #2
Echo #2.5
Echo #3
Echo #4
Echo #5
Echo #6
Echo #7
Echo #8
Echo #9
Echo Ridge

Summitpost Pages
Echo Peaks (note: SW and W face of Echo #9 refer to the same face)

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