Cathedral Peak ... next chapter

Cathedral Peak and Echo mountains above Cathedral Lakes

Cathedral Peak

A most inspiring Peak, Cathedral rim;
John Muir's favor'd shrine in this pilgrim land.
Where Echoes like bells chime an evening hymn,
The pines congregate to witness God's Hand.
How to consolidate such glory in paint?
Purple and gold, beneath heavenly blue,
Will color another wilderness saint,
If simple expressions in time ring true.
We are mere imitators of Divine;
Here is the original spirit spire,
Temple dome, and baptismal pool sublime;
We bless this day, the life we pray admire.
So yes, keep God near to your heart, that's sweet;
But here, be sure, is His summer retreat.

August 19, 2000
Lyell Canyon through Tuolumne Meadow to Cathedral Lake
A commercial break in the heart of God's country

0600-0740 — Lyell Canyon (35°F; clear, calm & frosty)

          We both had a rather cold, miserable night. I woke up repeatedly, shifting and rolling trying to escape the chill. I attribute my problem to insufficient fluff. In my haste to set up my bivy the night before I had failed to fluff up the down in the sleeping bag so it was less affective insulating against the cold. When we went to bed the air temperature was a benign 57° and when we wake this morning it is 35°. I think a new weather system arrived in the night; there is frost in the meadow and puddles are frozen.

          The solution to the cold is to get up and get going. We put on all our clothes and charge down the path sustained with thoughts of a big, warm breakfast at Tuolumne Lodge. The hiking sticks "cramp our style" and slow us up on even ground, so I stow them in my pack. My hands are frozen even though I wear fleece gloves and they are tucked into my arm pits. It is hard to believe that no more than four days ago we were suffering 115° heat and now we cope with near freezing temps. A graphic example of the extremes you must be prepared for anytime you enter the mountains.

          On this morning we are not at risk, and in fact, once we are moving down the trail, our blood circulating, we are quite comfortable. As the sun also rises and drapes across the meadow, all is well. We make good time (after all we are practically running here on the flats) to the water crossing and hurry up to the Lodge.

0930-0945 — Tuolumne Lodge

          We arrive at the Lodge at 0930. Breakfast is served 0700-0900. Irene catches a glimpse of the sumptuous feast just out of reach and pleads with the maitre de to make us an exception; after all, there is plenty of food. "Sorry," he says "but, breakfast is served until 1130 at the Tuolumne Grill about a mile up the road." Good enough.

          We could take a shuttle bus to the Grill, but we have time to walk. And it is not like another mile is going to kill us after hiking two hundred miles. Though we are anxious for a breakfast. It is a Saturday in the middle of August so this place is swarming with people. We hurry back to the trail. We could follow the road west to the Grill but the path will get us there as well and we can pretend we are still in the wilderness.

1000-1315 — Tuolumne Grill 37°52.449 / 119°21.422 - 8,724K'

          We find the Tuolumne Meadows Grill & Store about 1000. This place is also packed with people; backpackers, hikers, cyclists, tourists, you name it, they are all here. We order a big breakfast of scrambled eggs with cheese, bacon, hash browns and biscuits with a side order of buckwheat pancakes and, of course coffee and then wait for our number to be called. I think it took about forty-five minutes. We eat it all (I think it took ten minutes) except the biscuits we save for dinner later.

          At the store I pick up a couple apples, Wheat Thins, cookies and film to tide us over the rest of the way into Yosemite Valley. Irene cleans up and changes into her summer hiking clothes now that the temperatures are more normal at 84°. I grab an ice cream cone while Irene calls Sheilina, and our foray into civilization ends. We pick up the JMT south of the campground and proceed to walk off breakfast.

1515-1545 — Budd Creek 37°51.562 / 119°24.328 - 8,634K' (71°F)

          We have started the steep climb south of the road and break to rest our feet. We certainly don't need to eat on this break. Day hikers, I estimate forty or fifty and a few trekkers pass us all day. Folks from the camps in Tuolumne can easily hike as far as Cathedral Pass. We won't have any feelings of isolation here. There will probably be plenty of company for the rest of our trek.

          We pass by the north end of the Cathedral Peak formation and get a close up look at the glacier polished solid rock. Actually, it is not so solid. Very large chunks of it lay strewn at the bottom in amongst the trees and all around the path. We keep moving briskly through this area.

          "Nature chose for a tool, not the earthquake or lightning to rend and split asunder, not the stormy torrent or eroding rain, but the tender snow-flowers noiselessly falling through unnumbered centuries ... " — JM

          Slowly Cathedral Peak reveals itself as we hike around it on the west side. John Muir is quoted as saying "The first time I attended church in California was at the top of Cathedral Peak." It is soon apparent how this mountain can inspire such a sentiment. At it's peak the mountain has several rock spires that seem to shine as they tower into the heavenly Sierra sky. They are asymmetrical so the mountain changes from view to view. Cathedral Peak dominates the landscape. Much of the mountain looks very accessible with gentle inclines until you reach the top. We discuss how we would ascend it. We won't climb the mountain (this trip); we reverently admire it from below. It is definitely worth the three mile climb from Tuolumne Meadows (see above painting Cathedral Peak and sonnet).

1700-1930 — Cathedral Lake 37°50.425 / 119°24.969 - 9,669K' (68°F; breezy & chilly)

          Once the lake is in sight through the trees we go off trail to find a perfect camp site. A couple other campers appear to have secured the "perfect" camp site so we traverse the north side of the lake looking for other accommodations (evidently, camping is prohibited at this upper Cathedral Lake but I do not recall seeing any posting of the prohibition). We find a fine place in a depression between two giant rock formations and up a little. We have a view of Cathedral Peak, Echo Peaks, Cathedral Pass, Tressider Peak and Cathedral Lake. It is a beautiful panorama.

          We air out the sleeping bags and bivies, still a bit damp from the morning frost and then go in search of a bath. It is surprisingly difficult to find a place with access to the water, privacy, sun and protection from the wind. Once we are finally situated and ready to wade in (the water is not very deep by the beach we have chosen), a group of day hikers come round the south end of the lake and head directly toward us. They eventually wander by, but the sun is not getting any warmer.

          No sooner have these hikers left us in peace, than another couple guys are on the same route. I can't wait any longer. I drop my shorts and basically take my bath mooning these guys as much as possible until I'm finished. Irene is more shy and waits. The two finally mosey by in no great hurry and ask "What ya doin?" (I guess, my "moons" made no impression) "Trying to take a bath before it gets cold and dark." (Do you mind!). Peace finally returns to the kingdom and Irene can take her bath with no more interruptions.

          We have a hearty dinner even though not so many hours earlier we had stuffed ourselves to the gills. While we were at Tuolumne Grill stuffing ourselves we were warned of the bears here at Cathedral Lake. I'm a little anxious about our extra food but we can get it all in the canister now and so Irene won't sleep with any. I am sure to wash the dinner pots and spoons real well. We must even avoid cookie crumbs in bed. Irene thinks I'm ridiculous but bears have remarkable noses and any scent at all, even gum, deodorant or toothpaste not to mention Snicker Bars can attract them to your camp. We are in a popular camp area, we just ate where we will sleep and this is definitely bear country.

          I shoot a few sunset photos of our panoramic view although it is getting breezy and cool. I am sure to fluff my sleeping bag really well this evening before settling in for the night.

          I wake to Irene complaining. Something about her backpack which we always place at the bottom of the tarp at our feet. She's half asleep. She thinks her backpack caught the end of her bivy and rolled off the tarp pulling her down the hill. Fighting an incline all night when you can't find a flat spot for your camp is a torment so I can understand her complaints ... except. We are on a 1° or 2° incline at most, backpacks can't grab you except in horror movies and they certainly don't roll. We don't think anymore about it and go back to sleep.

          It is about 2345 and I'm having a really good night sleep. Tonight I wear my fleece for pajamas and I made a point to fluff the sleeping bag really well before bedding down. I wake again to a sharp sound. The dinner pots/stove bag that we keep next to the food canister near our heads has flopped over. Startled I rise on one elbow and peer up at the dark silhouette of a very, very big bear, his nose about three feet away. I utter, "whoa!" He rocks back. That's enough for him. He quickly and oh so silently scurries up the adjacent rock ledge his full profile now cast against the luminous night sky, a magnificent creature gone in a moment. I fumble for my camera which I had positioned for just such an encounter but the big guy doesn't hang around for snapshots.

          I lay awake for a while wondering if the bear will come back. I reconsider the earlier incident at our feet. We didn't offer the bear any "goodies" so he is on to easier pickings. We have no more interruptions.

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