August 8-9, 2004
Hwy 140 is a beautiful road, it follows the Merced River all the way into the park.
I wish I had gotten up even earlier to take pictures but I promised to meet Duane
around 9:00. I then turned on Hwy 120 and climbed out of the canyon and into the
high country of Yosemite. I stopped for a few seconds at Olmstead Point where you
can see the climbers on the back side of Half Dome and in the other direction see
Tenaya Lake nestled in its granite basin. A little further at Tuolumne Meadows and
the Cathedral Lake trailhead I met hikerduane.
The hike into Cathedral Lake is only 3.5 miles and climbs 1,000 feet or so. It's
along the John Muir Trail and is visited quite often. I didn't have much trouble
getting a reservation for a wilderness permit, though, since we were going in on a
Sunday. There was only one other party camped at the lake that night with us and
they were at the south end. And thanks to Duane for picking the permit up for us on
Saturday we were ready to go on Sunday :)
The first mile or so of the trail is quite steep in spots and you climb 600 feet in no
time at all. Then it flattens out, thank goodness, and there are you get good views
of Fairview Dome. After a small creek once again you start to climb but the
switchbacks don't last too long. Finally you start to catch glimpses of Cathedral
Cathedral Peak can be seen from a distance from Hwy 120 but is so much more
magnificent up close. John Muir wrote about it many times... "Yonder, to the
eastward of our camp grove, stands one of nature's cathedrals . . . about two
thousand feet high . . . thrilling under floods of sunshine as if alive like a grove
temple, and well named "Cathedral Peak" . . . From every point of view it shows
marked individuality. It is a majestic temple of one stone, hewn from living rock,
and adorned with spires and pinnacles in regular cathedral style. The dwarf pines on
the roof look like mosses. I hope some time to climb it to say my prayers and hear
the stone sermons."
Muir got his wish later that summer, when he scaled the west face of the mountain
and took in the expansive views of the Yosemite high country. He would later write
that his climb of Cathedral Peak was "the first time I have been at church in
I decided a few months ago to try to find a weekend this summer to get up to
Yosemite and do an overnight backpack trip. It's really not far of a drive from
where I live, about 2 hours to the park entrance, 3 hours to Yosemite Valley, and 4
hours to Tuolumne Meadows. But Sequoia & Kings Canyon NPs are closer so I usually
skip the crowds and driving and just go there.
Hikerduane, a guy I knew through Backpacker.com, said he'd meet me in Yosemite
for a trip so we decided to do Cathedral Lake. I'd heard many a good thing about
this short but very sweet trip...
So on Saturday evening I drove up to Mariposa which is about 20 miles west of
Yosemite. The foothills of the Sierra were beautiful in the afternoon light and I
stopped a few times to take pictures of the oaks. I stayed the night at a KOA near
there... It was an okay spot, it was nice to have a shower in the morning, but that
kind of commercialized camping does not hold much appeal for me. So I got up early
in the morning before most of the other campers then headed over to the park.
To get to Cathedral Lake you leave the main trail and hike down a short spur trail
through several meadowy areas filled with wildflowers. Here we passed a park
ranger and we chatted a little bit. He told us about having to patrol the Hetch
Hetchy Dam at times because of the threat of terrorists striking it. I hadn't
realized the concern that the NPS has there. I got the feeling that the ranger
enjoys his time out on the trails much better than the patrols at the dam, who
At one time there must have been a couple of lakes in the basin where Cathedral
Lake is but the upper one silted in and is now an expansive meadow. Cathedral Lake
sits just a ridge below this meadow and is rimmed by Tresidder Peak on the south
and Medlicott Dome on the north. We walked to the north end of the lake and
found a good campsite a short distance from the lake and under the canopy of
Shortly after sitting our stuff down and embarking on lunch the park ranger came
by with a couple of other people. Turns out it was the Superintendent of Yosemite
NP, Mike Tollefson, and his wife! I think I had seen Mike a few times, back when
he was Superintendent of Sequoia & Kings, but it was nice to be formally
introduced. I gave them each one of my homemade cookies I had brought, white
chocolate and pecan :)
We took the rest of the afternoon pretty easy. We hiked across the wide granite
expanse on the northwest side of the lake to where we overlooked Tenaya Lake.
There we could see the little bitty cars on the tiny highway far below. We also saw
some mountain lion scat up there...
We both went swimming for just a short time in the lake, it was pretty chilly! Then
we walked around the lake a few times, once in late evening. We saw a few very
fat marmots, found a snow bank and I threw a snowball at Duane, and marveled at
Cathedral Peak and its reflection in the lake as the sun went down.
Back at camp we made burritos for dinner and they turned out pretty well if I do
say so myself. Mission fajita sized tortillas fit perfectly into the bottom of my
bear canister and we filled them with black beans from Fantastic Foods made a
little spicier with taco seasoning, Spanish rice from Uncle Ben's, cheese, and salsa
in packets courtesy of McDonalds. We then played a couple of rounds of gin rummy
and then called it a night.
In the morning I saw 2 deer right down at the shore of the lake. Duane made us
pancakes for breakfast with a topping of his homemade strawberry preserves, it
was very yummy! Another deer walked right through our camp as we were packing
up to go.
We made it back down to the trailhead by 11:20 or so and decided to head over to
the market for a sandwich. Then we parted ways, Duane heading east over Tioga
Pass and then south to Bishop, and me heading west and then south to home.
On the way home I stopped at the Mariposa Grove. I'm kind of sorry I did! It's a
sequoia grove turned Disneyland :p Even Giant Forest and Grant Grove manage to
provide some visitor comforts without being too commercialized. But the Mariposa
Grove with its trams and loads and loads of tourons was too much for me. Good
thing there are 66 other groves that are in a much more natural condition...
Anyway, it was a great weekend, and Duane is a great guy to hike with and has lots
of good stories to tell. He was a little disappointed that there didn't seem to be
any fish in Cathedral Lake, but hopefully he'll be catching some in the next few days
as he's hiking on the east side into Dusy Basin and Evolution Valley :)
|Duane and Tenaya Lake far below
|Small stream flowing into the lake
These don't grow down in the southern Sierra!
|Duane on the south shore of the lake where we
found the snow bank and marmots
|Glacial Polish and an erratic rock
|More erratic rocks and Tresidder Peak
|Patterns of grass in the meadow above Cathedral Lake
|In the morning the lake was as smooth as glass
|Duane and I pose by the lake before hiking out
|An attempt to capture the glacial polish shining on the
surrounding granite cliffs