Sometimes there are not enough words to describe Yosemite. It is a land of enchantment, meaning one will fall in love with it. Today, we had another opportunity to venture out near the Tioga Road and explore. We actually stayed in a hotel in Bishop and drove in to the park through the east gate. I am jealous of fellow blogger http://califraven.wordpress.com/ who lives nearby. Her blog is refreshing and provides a neat perspective on this beautiful area.
It was a chilly 19 degrees F when we pulled into Tuolumne Meadows. Our plan was to hike up to Lower Cathedral Lake and poke around. No one else was silly enough to hike this early but we were prepared. Bundled up with a couple of layers, we hit the trail crunching through the old snow. The snow was from a storm last November. Unfortunately, it has been a light snow year in the Sierras. It was New Years Day 2012 and a great way to start the year.
After 20 minutes of hiking through snow, we had to peel off a layer of clothing. Funny, because the temps were still in the low 20’s. As long as we were walking, it was warm. Stop for too long and the cold sets in. We hit the main junction going up to Cathedral and the elevation change was around 600-700 ft. per mile. In the spring/summer, this is a very popular trail.
As we ascended, the silence of the forest enveloped us. Sometimes the only sounds were my labored breathing and crunch of the snow under my feet. As the sun broke through the clouds, it began to warm up some. A Steller’s Jay followed us, watching us from a distance. They are curious birds and like to observe humans.
The trail comes to a junction where the JMT keeps straight and the path to Lower Cathedral Lake breaks right. There were multiple frozen streams to cross and it was difficult to follow the trail. While it was a low snow year up here, the temperatures are still below freezing each night. The creeks appeared to be frozen instantly in time. It was an amazing sight to see.
I so wanted to slide down the frozen creek, but wisdom prevailed. We picked our way around the icy streams and managed to follow the trail where it emerged in a meadow. By following the frozen streams, we made it to the lake. A strange sound emanated from the shore. It sounded like humpback whales clicking and groaning. It was an awesome experience. By now, the temps were around 40 and the sun was out. The granite slabs that surrounded the shore were flat and warm.
We observed a few brave (if not foolish) souls venturing out on the lake about a half mile away. We had lunch and took plenty of pics and listened to the sounds of the ice as it shifted and bumped against the granite shore. I imagined how the glaciers of long ago formed this area. This wonderful landscape has a way of capturing your soul. For me, it reminded me that places like this were created for our enjoyment. I wanted to linger, but knew that the days were short and the trip down could be slippery. Some spots were steep with ice that melted and refroze.
The wooded area near the lake looked the same from the shoreline. Fortunately, I set a waypoint on the GPS and used it to follow our course in reverse. We came across a few more people and pointed them in the direction of the lake. The descent was a little challenging as we tried to keep our balance. After this trip, I would get us some microspikes that slip over the boots. Found some good ones here: Kahtoola MICROspikes Traction System
This hike was quite the adventure. If you have the opportunity to make it to Yosemite in the winter, see if the Tioga Road is open. The trek to Lower Cathedral Lake is one that you shouldn’t pass up. It’s not far from the Tuolumne Visitor Center which is closed during the winter. You can park along the road. Bonus: If you enter through the east gate on (Tioga Road) in the winter, you don’t pay the $20 park fee because no one staffs the entrance gate. Round trip on Lower Cathedral Lake trail is approximately 7-8 miles from the trailhead.
“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.”
– John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938)
The day at Lower Cathedral was most enjoyable. While my brother determined that there were no brook or rainbow trout in this part of the lake, we enjoyed watching the sky as clouds would form and morph into a variety of shapes. One could spend hours lying on their back watching the afternoon cumulus formations come and go.
Alas, we had a goal in mind. Another 20 or so miles to go between today and tomorrow. At 9,400 feet and heading into Yosemite Valley it is mostly downhill for us. A climb out of Cathedral and up to Long Meadow and then our toes would be in for a beating.
As we neared Upper Cathedral, a sign detoured us away from the meadow near the lake. Years of overuse and erosion had taken its’ toll on this area. Am pretty sure you can camp here, but the JMT was rerouted a quarter-half mile to the east.
A neat thing about hiking is that depending on the direction you are going, the views can be drastically different. Occasionally, we would look over our shoulders to catch a glimpse of where we have been. Cathedral Peak and the upper lake were prominent as we climbed Cathedral Pass. Farther to the north, we caught glimpses of Pettit Peak and the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River.
We entered Long Meadow and were rewarded with a nice respite of flatness and views of the surrounding peaks. Man, the vistas just never stop here. If you only have 2-3 days, I would recommend the area between Cathedral and Sunrise Camp. If you have 4-5 days, a loop including Merced and Vogelsang High Sierra Camp looks awesome.
A last climb and we would see the rest of the Cathedral Range including Vogelsang and Amelia Earhart Peaks. We saw our first of what would be many mule trains around the Columbia Finger. As they passed, we quietly watched and snapped some pics. Most of the mules today were en route to one of the three local High Sierra camps including Sunrise, Merced and Vogelsang. These beasts of burden carried between 150-200 lbs of cargo. Sure footed, they followed their leader at a steady pace. It’s cool that this is still the primary means of resupply for the remote camps.
As we made our way south, the view of the Cathedral Range opened up.
We stopped for lunch near Sunrise Camp and filtered some water. During this backcountry trip, we typically carried two liters since there was plenty of water. As we passed through the meadow near Sunrise, we began a gradual descent through a burned area and saw Half Dome for the first time. Entering a thickly wooded area, the downhill was steeper and the views diminished. Several southbound hikers asked about available water. It’s important to have maps that show the various creeks and streams. While water was generally abundant, there were many areas where the vernal streams were dry.
Using an excerpt from the JMT guide that showed potential campsites, I started scanning for a suitable location. I saw movement to my right and initially thought that it was another deer. It was big and moving slowly. Hey, a bear! It was about 75-100 ft. away and rooting around a log. Glancing over its’ shoulder at us, the bruin ignored us and continued to dig. It appeared to be an old brown bear around 300 lbs. We snapped a few photos and moved on.
Within 10 minutes, we located a site to camp with a view of Half Dome. This was a busy area, mainly used by campers as a staging area for climbing the rock. Most of the other campers were out of sight, but you could hear them as well as see the smoke from various campfires.
This had been a long day and we had one last dinner on the trail. We started a small fire and enjoyed the peacefulness.
Sadly, tomorrow would be the end of our seven-day trek. I was getting used to this camping stuff, but looked forward to a real shower. Well, that and maybe a cheeseburger.
Links to a slide show of the hike:
“Going to the mountains is going home.”
― John Muir
On July 4th, we decided to take a pseudo-zero day and hike up to Lower Cathedral Lake where we would relax. We passed by the Tuolumne Grill in the a.m. and got a wonderful bacon, egg and cheese biscuit. A quick shuttle to the Cathedral trailhead and we began the relatively short 3.5 mile hike to Lower Cathedral Lake. Short yes, easy no. (I left out the part where I almost took out a tourist’ eye on the shuttle with my hiking pole.) Lesson learned: When getting on the shuttles/buses, wear your pack, don’t try to carry it.
This is probably the most popular trail with day hikers in the Tuolumne area. As you near the lake you enter into a meadow and are in the shadow of Cathedral Peak. There are several creeks feeding the lake. Most day hikers stop on the eastern shore; we would continue on the north side of the lake and head west to the far end. We were rewarded with a lakefront campsite and plenty of solitude. Tip – get there early in the day for your choice of sites.
After setting up our camp and eating lunch, we did chores. My brother took one of his waterproof clothing bags and filtered some lake water. Oila, a washing machine! Dump the dirty water at least 100 ft. away from the lake and fill the bag with clean filtered water for rinsing. It was labor intensive, but the clothes came out smelling clean. We used Dr. Bronner’s biodegradable Magic Soap and it was great. I’ve used the peppermint soap in the past which can be used for bathing too. A clothesline between two dead trees and we were set. One biohazard Mary discovered was that the bees liked the aroma of the lavender soap on the clothes while they dried. I had some insect bite/sting paste in my 1st aid kit that does wonders for those stings.
At the far end of Lower Cathedral Lake, the water is warmer in the shallows of the shore. No fish in this lake that we could see. We ventured to the western edge where the lake’s outlet is and viewed Tenaya Lake 1,300 ft. below. The flows from Cathedral are one of many that make their way to the glacier made Tenaya. The Yosemite Indians actually called it Pywiack, meaning shining rock. The white man renamed it Tenaya after the Indian chief who fled here from soldiers one spring.
We would enjoy the remainder of our day at Lower Cathedral. Our Independence Day celebration concluded with fireworks presented by God. The sky to the west of the lake was most spectacular. I highly recommend spending the night here. Bring mosquito head nets and some bug repellant, as it can get a bit buggy.
Tomorrow, we are determined to put in some mileage. Tonight, we would sleep soundly in the quiet surroundings of another lake.
Links to a slide show of the hike:
John says it best: ….Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on seas and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.
– John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), page 438.