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 alike. John Muir, The Yosemite (1912)
Thank you Abraham Lincoln for signing the Yosemite Grant Act in 1864. This laid the foundation for others to preserve the beauty and sanctity of Yosemite National Park, which was established in 1872.
I think Yosemite is the crown jewel of the Sierras. It is a land of majesty, iconic mountains, with ancient forests, waterfalls and endless vistas. In Yosemite Valley one can experience the four seasons. In spring, the melting snow makes the water burst from the mountains with a roaring thunder that resonates in your bones. In summer, the ground floor of the valley is bustling with flowers and tourists seeking views of Half Dome, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls and the Mist Trail. Fall in the valley provides a glorious display of the deciduous flora in its fullness. Winter is a quieter time where you can take leisurely strolls while catching glimpses of snow-capped peaks in the distance.
John Muir captured the essence of this land through his writings. After visiting the park a couple of times, I read My First Summer in the Sierra and The Yosemite. Walking through Tuolumne Meadows, dipping my feet in the Merced River and experiencing the enveloping mist of Nevada Falls – this is where he walked. Awakening to the sun cresting behind Cathedral, drifting through the moraine fields near Lembert Dome and listening to the gurgling Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River are but a few memories that I will take with me. It is a respite that you will cherish long after you go home. While at work, my mind drifts to thepanorama of the Hetch-Hetchy Reservoir and how it must have looked 100 years ago before they built the O’Shaughnessy Dam.
I see the Almighty’s handiwork in the granite sentinels surrounding the valley. They beckon me to venture higher and explore further the miles of trails. Yosemite Park is a place of rest, a refuge from the roar and dust and weary, nervous, wasting work of the lowlands, in which one gains the advantages of both solitude and society. Nowhere will you find more company of a soothing peace-be-still kind. – John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938)
I am blessed to live within a day’s drive of Yosemite. If you ever make it to California, this should be the first stop on your list of destinations. Venture into the valley, wade in the Merced River and drive the Tioga Road where the views at Olmsted Point will make you want to linger. Stroll down to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias and notice the Steller’s Jays as they follow you along the path, flitting from tree to tree. Savor the waving blue lupines hanging on the edge of a precipice near Yosemite Falls. Is it strange to fall in love with a place? Spend some time here and you may come away with a desire to write poetry. 🙂
Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life. – John Muir, Our National Parks, (1901)
I’m thankful for John Muir and the love he held for The Yosemite. He was a true visionary who inspired others to cherish and become good stewards of this national treasure. Come see for yourself and experience this gem.
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.
After much preparation, our section hike of the JMT commenced. Our plan was to do a 60+ mile section from south-north. We would start around Devils Postpile and finish in Yosemite Valley. There are a lot of logistics that go into an extended backcountry trip. From clothing, food, transportation – the options are numerous.
How much will it cost? It will vary widely depending on your choices for transportation, gear and food. Don’t go cheap on essential hiking gear. You get what you pay for. The $25 tent is not a good idea for a High Sierra backcountry trip.
It started with choosing a time of year to do it. In the Sierras, the previous winter has a lot of impact on trail conditions. This year was a low snow year, so the streams were not very high. Since there was less snow, that usually means less standing water so mosquitos should not be as bad. Well, that’s debatable. To some, any mosquitos are bad. Ensure that you don’t have problems fording streams or walking across logs over rushing water. Late June/early July worked for us. I hear late August/early September is a good time.
Next choice was the distance to hike. This is where you need to know what your limits are. Can you hike 8-10 miles per day with a full pack at high altitude in 80 degree temps? I can tell you as an avid day hiker, there is a lot of difference between hiking 10 miles with a daypack and with a 40 lb. pack. It’s not pleasant to do a forced march just to make your mileage.
Clothing was another choice. What to wear? Best advice I can give is to check blogs and user groups to see what others are doing. Yahoo has a great JMT user group with relevant info. Due to a forecast of high temps, we would take synthetic short and long sleeve shirts, convertible pants and rain/wind jackets. Still, conditions in the Sierras vary widely, so an extra layer or two is a good idea. Those light weight hiking shoes may not provide enough support on a multi-day hike with a full pack. Test it out first.
Food was next. Dehydrated meals are the easiest and they’ve come a long way. Test some out ahead of time and read the reviews for each. There is some amazing innovation in the area of crystallized eggs and pre-cooked bacon. Ensure they you have plenty of snacks like energy bars, trail mix, beef sticks and fruits like apples. My wife found healthy alternatives in the form of grass fed beef sticks and even some gluten free snacks. It’s amazing how many calories you can burn in 6-8 hours of hiking, so do the math. Bear canisters are mandatory in most areas on the JMT, so plan to rent or bring your own.
Transportation. Since we were doing a section hike, we chose to leave our car in Mammoth Lakes, catch a shuttle to the trail and for the return leg, catch public transportation (YARTS) back to Mammoth. It ended up working out great. Have a backup plan in case you miss your ride.
Research and planning was everything on this trip which helped make it successful. I learned so much reading others’ blogs and experiences.
NEXT: John Muir Trail Section Hike – Day 0
I use a Nikon 3000 series camera and have really been pleased with it. It is easy to use and takes awesome pictures. It’s durable and has survived many hiking and camping trips. Nikon D3200 24.2 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera with 18-55mm and 55-200mm Non-VR DX Zoom Lenses Bundle
As we prepare for our section hike of the JMT, I am enjoying watching my wife pack, unpack the bear canister. Her frustration mounting, I assure her that it will all fit or we will hang the non-essentials from a tree. Hopefully, by the time we hit Yosemite where bears come to feast, we will have mostly empty bear cans. Whoever created the saying it’s like packing 10 pounds of “stuff” in a 5 pound bag must have invented the bear canister.
The logistics of a section hike in the backcountry are significant. Permits, transportation, food, clothing, checklists, on and on…. Watching her pack, it’s obvious that organized people can get more in their canisters than the rest of us. If you’ve ever crammed a bear canister into an ultralight backpack, you realize that you may be wearing the same clothing all week because it’s either food or clothing.
Keep in mind the pack-it-in, pack-it-out rule. While I agree that we should be good stewards and not leave our trash in the wilderness, it literally stinks to carry your garbage around for a week. I would advise that you rinse out those foil tuna packs after you empty them or your apples will smell like Chicken-of-the-Sea by day three.
Should you pack your bear can with each day’s meals? Like day 5 on the bottom, day 4 above that and so on. I guess if you are OCD then yes. Otherwise, it’s fun finding your food, kind of like the treat in the bottom of a Crackerjack box.
When I got our bear cans, by the way I picked two different types, a Garcia and a Bearvault, I got some reflective tape and made smiley face designs on them. That way, if we need to find a bear can in the dark after Yogi rolls it away, it will be smiling back at us. Along with my phone number, I added a little graffiti like “eat me” and “sorry Yogi” on the reflective tape with a Sharpie. If I have to use those darn things, I will make the best of it.
The old standby canister used by the Park Service: Backpackers’ Cache – Bear Proof Container
BearVault BV500 Bear Proof Container Bear Vault – This one is my favorite, roomy and you can see your stuff.
Always stow your bear canisters between 50-100 ft. away from your tent and wedge them between rocks or trees. Never place them around a cliff or near water unless you plan on fasting for a few days. Enjoy packing them, practice or watch others pack a bear can for cheap entertainment. It’s better than watching Duck Dynasty.
When my friend asked me to go camping in Yosemite this spring, it took about two seconds to say yes. Each season in this place promises to provide a different perspective on the ever-changing landscape. This was an opportunity to hang out with him and his family and do a few day hikes in the valley. With the upcoming Memorial Day holiday, the campsites were full. These things fill up quickly with all variety of campers. From ultralight tents like mine, to tent-condos and vintage RVs, you will see them all. Not one to enjoy being around throngs of people, I found the car camping experience in the Upper Pines Campground to be very decent. Most people are good neighbors and obey the multitude of rules. Other than the 0730 trash trucks, it was fairly peaceful.
Pollen is abundant in the valley and the conifers were producing it in vast amounts. Hay fever sufferers, beware – get your shots and/or bring your antihistamines with you. Diligence with your food and toiletries is required while camping here as the vermin are quite adept at the snatch and grab, especially the ravens and squirrels. My friends watched as a squirrel disappeared under a neighbors truck with the doors open; the rascal emerged with food in a matter of seconds. He went right for the boxed graham crackers, found the bag, eaten through the box and extracted his morsels before they knew what hit them. I love animals, but thought back to what I would have done as a kid in this campground. A sling shot would have been awesome.
At night, the muted roar of the Merced River beckoned me as I drifted off to sleep that first night. Soon, I would venture out with my friends on a trek to Nevada Falls via the Mist Trail. Having done this cardio extravaganza in the fall of 2010, I was excited to see the volume of water during the spring snow melt. I read in the Backpackers magazine that 90% of hikers hike only 10% of the trails in Yosemite. Well, I think that 99% of the visitors to Yosemite hang out in the valley and then go to Vernal Falls. Crowds aside, the steady climb up to Vernal is rewarded with the drenching mist probably similar to Niagara. The granite steps would give a stair-master competition. The one thing that kept me going was the humility of having an old person pass me up on the steps. At the top, the volume of water is near flood stage compared to the previous fall flow that I witnessed.
The trail continued up to Nevada where you cross the Merced and I was in awe of the speed of the water as it rushed through a shallow granite track into a 90 degree curve. The sheer power of the current is amazing. You get a respite from the incline and then start a steep ascent over the manmade steps. This section of the trail is a testament to the trail builders over the years. The huge slabs are cut and fit together like a puzzle.
Nevada Falls was busy, but there was plenty of room to spread out. This cascade seems even more powerful than Vernal because the water is funneled through a crevice that is maybe 6-8 ft. across. The roar and subsequent plunge is impressive. Glacier Point fills the western vista and hawks lazily glided around the nearby Liberty Cap. Even with all the people, it was peaceful to lay back and take it all in.
The walk down the John Muir Trail is always a treat. As you progress down, you get quick showers from above and obtain postcard views of Half Dome, Liberty Cap and Nevada Falls. This is a shared trail and we encountered a couple of riders on a mule and quarter horse. It can get slippery as the sand covered rocks keep you alert as you try to prevent rolling your ankles. We returned via the JMT to the Mist Trail down to the valley floor.
At just under 7 miles, this loop is a good workout, full of killer views. Due to the crowds in the spring, I would recommend a late start – like after 1 or 2 in the afternoon. The risk with an afternoon hike is the occasional thunderstorm. Most people start up around 0900. Half Dome bound hikers pass by this way and it’s worth the stop.
God certainly knew what he was doing when he created this place. It’s best enjoyed with family and friends.