03 July 2012

Yosemite: Lower Cathedral Lake

Yosemite National Park

Locate the trailhead.

DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3 | DAY 4 | DAY 5 | DAY 6

When I found a ride back from Lion Campground to my car at Chorro Grande, I also got an email that could lead to more backpacking trips. One of these was a leisurely stroll starting in Tuolumne Meadows on the 4th of July and getting down to the valley after 5 days on the trail. I didn't know for sure if I could go, really need to leave things open to possible happenings that are more important than hiking. I decided to go a little too last minute and all the slots on the reserved permit were taken, but if I got my own of course I could come along. Figuring that I could just poke around the park a day or 3 then head up for Lassen and do a hoped for trip there if it didn't work out, I decided to give it a try.

Walk-up wilderness permits start going out at 11 AM on the day before now. I'm not sure how this changes the challenge of getting one as I started the long drive up to the park a bit before the rush hour traffic thought about getting going. I got to the park just after lunch and stopped in at the first wilderness office I found at the visitor center in Wawona. The ranger there said that permits out of Cathedral for the 4th were oversubscribed, but offered me up to two from Tenaya Lake. I wasn't sure about that, so went searching for some cell signal to consult which meant getting down the the valley proper. The ranger in the valley said there weren't any for Cathedral for the 4th, but I could get the last one for the 3rd. I jumped at it, added an extra night at Cathedral Lake to my itinerary, got my Half Dome permit, picked up a Trails Illustrated map for the park that seemed to have some fairly minimal detail but would be fine for keeping to the trials, rented the bear barrel, and took off for Tuolumne.

Once I got up to Tuolumne and had on the clothes I'd planned to be hiking in, sorted out what exactly would be in the pack and how, it was already after 6 PM. In most places, there is no camping for 1/4 mile to 2 miles down the trail, but here there is no camping until very near the lake. The ranger had said 4 miles in, but it really only took a little less than 3.5 miles to get to legal camping. I started up the trail. Another group started a little after me. They seemed to be a family plus maybe an uncle who couldn't keep up with the rest who were much thinner.

trailhead mileage sign
The start of the trail to Cathedral Lakes. The sign lists mileages as 3.5 miles to Cathedral Lakes, 7.8 miles to Sunrise High Sierra Camp, and 21.0 miles to Yosemite Valley.


Very soon along the trail, it has a junction with a trail paralleling the road and more extensive information signs. From there, it starts an easy climb with some switchbacks through the forest. It crosses a set of small streams, then a switchback brings the trail along to the source of the second one where the sand seems to bubble in the bottom with the force of the spring water pouring out of it. Continuing, I started to get as high as the domes around the meadow that could be glimpsed between the trees.

granite dome
A dome along the trail.

small stream
A stream barely large enough to bother with on the map in this area, but would be precious water back home.

mountain through the trees
One of the distant mountains spotted through the trees.

sand bubbling up with the water
A spring with a powerful flow makes the sand dance just under the surface. I made a movie of it since I couldn't really capture the motion in the still.

Climbing higher, I came around the local dome and the distant domes looked smaller and smaller. The landscape is drier and it's a little easier to see out of the trees to those distant bumps. For a bit, the trail is fairly level. Then with a little more climb, it comes to anther intersection, this one for the spur to the lower of Cathedral Lakes. The signs were plastered with large post-its saying the other group had continued on the main trail so their last number wouldn't get lost. I turned the other way because I had a lot of time ultimately and wanted to be sure I had a look at what was down the spur even if the group I was joining chose the other route only as well.

another view of the previous local dome
Continuing along the trail gives a different view of the nearby dome.

bits of grey granite trough the trees
The mountainside above me is almost visible through the trees.

decomposed granite trail
As the trail reaches a local maximum, the trees seem a bit sparse and water starved giving the forest a completely different character. Or it could be the elevation.

Cathedral Peak in the last of the light
Coming upon Cathedral Peak, it is well lit by the last of the light of the day.

spur trail sign to Lower Cathedral Lake
Coming to the spur trail to Cathedral Lake, the signs are all plastered with things like the, "Tim, not this way!" on this one to help get the last of a group to go the right direction.

I wiggled my way along the downward trail to the lake. Almost there, I spotted a site I wasn't sure was quite far enough from the trail to be legal and looked like it would have shallow rocks that would make it hard to keep my non-freestanding tent up. The light was getting bad, which didn't help me looking around. I kept on going, reaching the meadow and then a spot where the trail plunged into the stream where it was pooling. I decided to go back to the previous site, which was almost legal if it was not actually. Anything ahead might be hard to find without much water near it.

a sheet of water on a rock
A sheet of water as it flows over a wide, flat rock area seems like a pool in the dying light.

wall of granite around the lake
The lake is surrounded by quite a lot of formidable looking granite. I note there's still snow in spots on this one.

trail crossing water, but not at a good spot
The meadow looks like a hard place to find a legal camping spot as it tends to be wet and fragile. Also, I don't feel like getting my feet wet just yet.

Setting up my tent, I found plenty of dirt and sand below each stake to anchor it well. I settled down for my first dinner and sorted everything stinky except my clothing into the bear barrel. My 6 days of food already fit easily into it. Setting it and washed dishes away from camp, I made sure the warm stuff was in the tent where I would need it in the morning and snuggled down under my sleeping bag. I hadn't seen any other campers as I came down, which was surprising, but seem to have camped alone enough times now that it didn't bother me in the slightest.

Continue reading: day 2




©2012 Valerie Norton
Posted 13 Jul 2012

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