Almost A Record For Distance, But Definitely One For the Books

14 August 2013 in Memories, Tioga Road, Trails/Hiking, Traveling, Yosemite National Park

 
Upper Catherdral LakesWe took a day off yesterday! So what! Give us a break! We’d make up for it today. Today we’d put on the miles. We’d remind these feet that this was no vacation. This was serious business.

And so it was back across the park, headed east. Our initial, ferried journey would lead us to Tuolumne Meadows where we’d abandon the cushy seats of our truck and beat some more trail into our hardened legs. It was yet another re-hike this time to Cathedral Lakes and beyond. Last time we spent hours hiking through the deep snow only to lose the trail a half mile from our destination. This time the snow was almost gone entirely and we’d have little trouble reaching Lower Cathedral Lake.

It was quite easy—this time—finding our way across the initial three mile hike and to the spot we had lost our way before. But now the trail was clear of snow and led us to a picturesque meadow snaked with winding creeks and green grass. There were multiple routes across this maze of grass and water, but we chose the most direct. Into a creek we went, the cold water rising up to our knees was refreshing on another warm day. Behind us loomed the aptly named Cathedral Peak and in front of us awaited Lower Cathedral Lake.

Cathedral LakesAfter crossing the meadow we rose up and over a long bank of rock and right up to the abrupt edge of the lake. It was large and clear with an icy blue hue at a distance. It was surrounded by pine and bordered by a ridge of rock spotted with patches of snow which I can only assume provide much of it’s water. For the most part we had the place to ourselves. There was a gentleman far, far off to our left and one at a good distance to our right. The latter of which proceeded to strip down to his underwear and jump in.

I too was tempted by the beauty of the water on this warm, sunny day and soon found myself shirtless and ready for a dip. It took just one false start—the initial submersion too slow—before I dove in head first. It was cold. Not as cold as Crater Lake had been, but probably the second coldest water I had ever jumped into. I didn’t stay in long, but I was glad I took the opportunity to do so. Why not? When would I be back and have almost the entire lake to myself? It didn’t kill me and it definitely made for a very memorable experience.

My First MarmotNext we back tracked to a split in the trail and this time took the opposite fork towards Upper Cathedral Lake and Sunrise High Sierra Campground. With only four miles of trail behind us along with a full day of rest we had a whole lot more hiking to do. A short distance after the split we rounded the edge of Upper Cathedral Lake to our right and spotted a couple of Marmots up on the mostly exposed granite to our left.

We hit a few short patches of snow and climbed a few short inclines before we stood at the edge of a huge span of meadow. It was perhaps the largest we’d seen. It was probably a couple of miles long, and a half of mile wide. It’s rectangular shape was hedged on all sides by sloping granite, completely exposed and leading up to a few iconic and jagged peaks. We hugged the edge of this as we went, watching ground squirrels scamper about all over the green grasses.

Upper Cathedral Lakes TrailAfter skirting the entire meadow we hiked up a gradual grade that took us through a small canyon. On our right was a steep slanted ridge that stretched skyward to yet another jagged peak. And on our left was a dome of rock rising gradually to a very inviting summit. The trail followed the space between the two, but I was too intrigued by the dome to pass it by. So we headed off trail and up the gradual slope to the top. The view from this small pinnacle was quite possibly one of the best views we’ve had yet. To the south a massive range of snowcapped peaks loomed decorated in bright white snow and icy blue rock. Panning around counterclockwise we were afforded breathtaking views of Unicorn Peak—a cluster of serrated stone, Cockscomb—a long ridge line of rock, and Cathedral Peak. To the left of them, extending north was the great meadow we had shouldered and beyond that, further back was another range of snowy giants. Continuing counterclockwise was yet another ridge line with a few saw-toothed spires.

We had this entire place entirely to ourselves. Not a soul or sign of a soul or any evidence that another soul had ever existed could be seen in any direction. While we weren’t far from humanity and roads and fellow hikers and campers it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere. But not the nowhere you avoid, the nowhere where you long to run to when the pressures and problems of society weigh heavy on your spirit. Here all of that was erased and all that was left was immediate and surrounded us. The gentle breeze, the warm sun, the scenery that kept our eyes busy, our mind blank, our mouths slack, and our hearts thankful.

But reality drew us off of our holy precipice. The emergence of mosquitos snapped us out of our trance and put us back on the move. We were hoping to reach Sunrise High Sierra Camp still and from what we could tell we still had at least a few miles to go. So we continued down off of the dome and back to the trail. Briefly we climbed and then abruptly we descended. Down a series of switchbacks we pounded knowing full well that we’d have to scale back up on the way back.

The trail soon led us to Long Meadow. Another swathe of fairly level ground covered in green grass and sliced by the curving bands of shallow creeks. This one meadow—when compared with the others—contained more stout trees and more vegetation besides grass. Because of this it also contained more mosquitos. Our pace quickened to avoid bites, but we could only go so far. Finally we reached a split in the trail where the mileage to our destination was revealed. A little less than one mile, but in a little less than one minute of halting our movement we had accumulated over a dozen mosquito bites and two dozen more hungry little buggers were swarmed about our legs looking for an open spot.

We decided to turn back. There’d be other days to hike this portion and other routes to take. We’d hit the 14 mile mark before we’d reach the truck again and our feet were tired, our bellies were hungry. We had satiated our trail and wonderment needs for another week. And the next dose awaited us in just a few days.

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