The Arctic Expedition – Part Two

23 July 2013 in Memories, Trails/Hiking, Traveling, Yosemite National Park

Cathedral Lakes TrailAfter yesterday’s failed voyage we were more motivated than ever to complete a trail. And today’s first attempt would be to explore Cathedral Lake. At 7 miles roundtrip we were well within our capabilities as far as distance. And the elevation gain was within our limits as well. But once again the snow would be a major factor.

It didn’t take long before we were knee deep in it—literally. The hard packed snow carpeted spots of trail from the very start and only got worse as we proceeded. We were in no mood for another tough slog through it, but we were also unwilling to turn back once again with our tails between our legs. So onward we went. And worse it got. Less than half way up we approached a hillside that was completely covered in snow outside of the few trees and boulders that poked up through it. First we had to partial ascend this steep incline then we had to cut across it hiking along a 45 degree slant and attempting to follow in the footsteps of those who were foolish enough to go before us.

Unlike the previous day we did encountered other misfortunate and stubborn souls upon the trail. This was comforting, the first two had been coming back and seemed to have been able to reach the lake. With proof that it was possible we continued although the worsening weather and unrelenting snow below our feet was directing us in the opposite direction. The air was colder today the gray sky offered few glimpses of sun, but as long as we remained in motion we maintained a hearty warmth and we were not deterred by the temperature.

As if it were deja vu we were soon in the same predicament as the previous day. After passing the only trail sign we’d see that day indicating that Cathedral Lake was awaiting us just 0.5 miles away we lost the trail. The tracks that had led us over 3 miles of snow covered wilderness betrayed us and left us wandering and wondering. Where could they have gone? How far could it be? Should we continue on? Or turn around?

Once again we showed our cowardice and our desire to survive to hike another day and we turned back. There was little reward in this hike. No stunning views and no check mark for completion. Like Young Lakes the day before a lot of effort was exerted on a trail that would have to be hiked again later on in the year when we can properly complete it.

Thankfully no much time had been wasted. We had gotten an earlier start and so a lot of daylight remained above us. Well not very much “light” because it was overcast and had began to rain, but it wasn’t dark. And so we picked another trail to try. May Lake awaited us just three miles from the trailhead and appeared to be low enough and close enough to make a go at it.

Raincoats in the snowThe rain continued at a drizzle and so we suited up in our brand new, bright yellow rain coats. They almost seemed to glow in the cold, gray air and the smell of plastic that emitted from them was almost nauseating, but they kept us dry. Once more we were forced to tramp through the snow. Just a few more miles. Just keep walking. Ignore the ache in your hip and the tearing sensation in your knee. You can do this. It was surprisingly difficult for such a short endeavor, but given that we already had hiked 6 miles and 12 more the day before we were probably pushing our limits a little.

The trail initially follows an old road that will probably open next month once the snow melts, making this hike absurdly easy, but right now the 2 miles of cement that carries you to the trailhead was taking it’s toll on me. Not only my body, but my mind was questioning my judgment. Doubt was creeping in. Questions of purpose, given the gloomy skies were popping up. But I’m a stubborn SOB and I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. In time, through perseverance we made it to the trailhead. Just a little over a mile and we’d make it to the lake.

May LakeFirst we wove our way through a thawing meadow, then along a long slab of granite, and finally up a winding set of stone stair switchbacks. There were places where I’m sure the view was breathtaking, but the sky was thick with cloud and robbed us of such views. Even the icy lake we found at the end of the trail was obscured by the weather and though it was a victory in a streak of losses it was bittersweet. We had completed the trail, but there was no gold at the end of the rainbow, just the dull gray blanket of clouds and rain.

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