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John Muir Trail Section Hike – Day 5 – Tuolumne to Lower Cathedral Lake

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Lower Lake Cathedral outlet is one of many that feed Tenaya Lake 1,300 ft. below.

“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.

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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.  

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Enjoying the sunset on Lower Cathedral Lake.

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.

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Sunset on Cathedral Peak

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.

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Now this is a 4th of July show.

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As the world turned during our peaceful night, the sun would greet us by silhouetting Cathedral. What a glorious place.

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:

Part I: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfTmobpnlmg

Part II http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7zHwNLPY6A

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.


John Muir Trail Section Hike – Day 4 – Donahue Pass to Tuolumne Meadows

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Lyell Canyon

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”
― John Muir

This day should have been called “The Race to Tuolumne”.  It was July 3rd and we were trying to make it to the Tuolumne post office to retrieve our resupply package before it closed at 4. While a stop in Tuolumne Meadows would be nice, we didn’t want to spend the holiday on the 4th waiting around for a package.

Tuolumne Meadows is a great place to hang out, but a zero day around the Cathedral Lakes would be ideal.  Getting our usual late start, we were on the trail and looking forward to the flat paths of Lyell Canyon.  We had to drop around 500 ft. and enjoyed the relative shade of the pines as we followed the river.

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A pregnant doe grazing in the forest

We noticed a large deer grazing in the distance.  It was a pregnant doe who kept one eye on us, but wasn’t very concerned.  These creatures have few predators in Yosemite.

As the terrain flattened out, we picked up the pace and the sun was beaming down.  It was hot as the path meandered in and out of the forest.  To our left, Amelia Earhart Peak loomed over us.  We would see this ridge from another angle as the trail would do a horseshoe after Tuolumne.  Distant rumblings of early afternoon thunderstorms were behind  and to the west of us.  We passed an area where day hikers from Tuolumne had gathered around a nice area on the river.  The number of people increased as we closed in on Tioga Road.

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As we neared Tuolumne, the thunder was more frequent and louder.  A fairly close crack of thunder prompted us to spread out a bit as we picked up the pace.  Occasional large splatters of rain filtered down through the pines.  We crossed a couple of foot-bridges where the Lyell Fork neared the main branch of the Tuolumne River.  We emerged in the parking lot near the lodge and started walking down the road.  It was strange to be in civilization after days on the trail.

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A local worker from the Tuolumne Meadows store graciously gave us a ride to the post office.  As we pulled into the parking area, the scene was chaotic.  Tourists and hikers were like ants swarming around the store.  It took a few minutes to absorb the busy surroundings.  Near the road was a collection of picnic tables where thru-hikers lounged around.  A family sat at one of the tables listening to a PCT hiker expound on his trail life.   It was like storytime at the preschool.  Other hikers were going through their resupply packages.

We would get some refreshments and pick up our packages at the window.  The post office here was a small room with a window on the outside of the store.  The clerk was friendly and politely asked if we could open our packages over where the thru-hikers were.  We obliged, and noticed the grill.  The thought of  cheeseburgers and fries was too much.  We gave in to our cravings and enjoyed the greasy goodness.  Mmmmm.

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Tuolumne Store, Post Office, Grill. (photo credit-tahoewhitney.com)

We made our way to the backpackers camp.  It’s first come first serve and $5 per camper.  We found out how many hikers are moochers and “stealth camp”.  You know the ones who are too cheap to pay the fee.  Bathrooms are at a premium here – only one within walking distance of the camp and it was uber-busy.  Bring a flashlight, no electricity in these rustic restrooms.

At 8:00 p.m. a ranger hosts a campfire in the amphitheater near the backpacker’s camp. Ranger Sally provided an excellent presentation of Yosemite history and we learned a lot about owls.  We really enjoyed hanging out and laughing at other campers who participated in the campfire.

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One of 7 sunrises.

Even though Tuolumne Meadows was much lower in altitude than our previous campsites, it was the coolest night yet.  Temps dipped into the 40’s as we snuggled deep in our sleeping bags.  Tomorrow, we would head up to Cathedral and enjoy some downtime.

For a slideshow of the part 1 of the hike, you can go here:

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfTmobpnlmg