Whenever I go on a trip to Yosemite National Park, I always cringe at the thought of entering the valley and competing for parking with the masses of tourists that come every summer. Every year, it gets worse and worse. One day, I decided I was not going to go into the valley and explore the other side of Tioga Pass (Highway 120).
Lower Cathedral Lake and Peak
I ended up at this place called Tuolumne Meadows, and the first thing I did was check out the visitor center. It was busy and full of tourists but not nearly as bad as Yosemite Valley. This part of the park is where the real hikers come to vacation. The first I did was talk to a ranger and ask what a good day hike or overnighter in the area is.
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That is how I found out about the Cathedral Peak trail. It is a popular trail/hike, and the famed Naturalist John Muir even wrote about it. If I have done the research beforehand, I might have found out and learned about it. However, blazing the trail and finding it out firsthand is always my preferred method of discovery.
So here, I was discovering an outstanding location to photograph, and I am pumped and ready to tackle it! I have all my gear and freeze-dried food prepared to cook under a full moon out in the dark of the wilderness. I strapped my backpack on ready to hit the road when the ranger asked if I had a permit.
It turns out that you need a permit if you wanted to go traipsing around the wilderness for more than a day! I do not have one. Ouch! I asked the ranger if I could get one of the spots, and unfortunately, they are over quota. However, I could obtain a permit that has reserved for walk-ins for a hike the next day.
Well, what other options do I have? Therefore, I got a permit for the next day, and I will have to rough it out on my jeep for the night. I parked the jeep adjacent to the street where the trail started and went on to sleep. Around midnight, I heard a rustling just outside the vehicle, and for a minute, I thought it was a wild bear looking for food.
Suddenly I saw a very bright flash of light emanating from my window, and then I heard knocking on the door.
I looked up, and through the bright lights; I could discern a ranger’s hat, and then I heard a stern voice.
“Sir, you cannot car camp in the park!”
Dazed and confused. I hastily fumbled around to find my keys and started the Jeep.
“I am sorry, officer, I did not know.”
The ranger lets me go with just a warning, but now I had to drive all the way outside the park and find someplace to sleep.
I drove to the edge of the park and found a place to park on the side of the road and tried to salvage the rest of the night with some sleep. The next day, I woke up at 5 am and rushed to back to the trail, so I did not have to deal with the possible onslaught of other hikers I have to contend with. I got a quick breakfast at the cafeteria near the ranger station and prepared for my hike.
The trail starts at Tuolumne Meadows (8000 ft.), and take the John Muir Trail, on the south side of Tioga Road. I hiked for a bit, and after about 1 mile, an unmarked trail appeared on my left; it appears to be a less-traveled route and probably used for mountain climbers. I stayed on the main path and continued the slow ascent towards the first lake.
Tip: If you’re new to high altitude trekking, check out “5 Tips to Help You Adjust to Higher Altitudes” from Everyday Wanderer.
There is roughly around a 1,000 ft. of elevation gain if you were to go all the way to Upper Cathedral Lake. For this trip, I just wanted to camp at Lower Cathedral Lake and do Upper Cathedral Lake another day.
About 2 hours into the trail, I took a break near a fork off the path where the famed JMT (John Muir Trail) merges. I saw another couple emerging from the JMT, and they too wanted to take a break. We started to have a conversation, and I learned that they have been on the trail for 16 days.
I asked how it was, and they raved about how great the hike was regardless of how tiring and exhausting it was. The only thing they complained about is that they have had to eat freeze-dried food for weeks and miss a warm home-cooked meal.
I saw the sadness in their eyes and wish I could offer them some comfort, but all I had were some freeze-dried food and crackers.
We bantered on while eating energy bars when we saw this rather elderly man carrying an external frame backpack. This guy could easily be like 70 years old (or older), but he’s walking on with this massive metallic backpack. I mean, the thing could have easily been twice the size of my backpack.
Here I was tired as hell, and this old person is strolling along with this brick of an object on his back, as it was goose feather.
He decided to take a break as well and joined us for a conversation. The couple started telling him about their plight and how they have not had a decent meal for weeks. I can see that this fired something up from the old man because his eyes suddenly glowed and said.
“I got you covered.”
He then proceeded to crack open his massive backpack and reached in to pull out (and I still could not believe it to this day) **a whole cooked rotisserie chicken.
A whole rotisserie chicken?
What in the hell?
Who goes backpacking through the mountains with a whole rotisserie chicken in their backpack? Has the world gone mad?
Speaking of backpacking, here’s a nice little Backpacking Yosemite guide to help usher you on the way. Perhaps to Cathederal Peak?
I just sat there slack-jawed at what I was seeing, but the couple could not understand how weird this whole thing is because they have not eaten regular food in days.
They were ecstatic that this old man would be offering them a real cooked meal.
I sarcastically asked the old man if he had a whole kitchen in this backpack.
That sent everyone into raucous laughter. After the break, we all went our separate ways, and I was already just minutes away from Lower Cathedral Lake.
I was lucky too because I can see from the horizon that a freak thunderstorm was underway – very common in the Eastern Sierras.
The rain and some hail started falling when I just barely finished pitching my tent. I sat inside the tent for no more than 10 minutes, and the storm stopped. I got lucky yet again because I would see one of the most beautiful sunsets of my life.
The following photos were from that event.
Before the sunset
A few minutes more
The final take
I believe I’ve witnessed the best sunset I’ve ever seen in Yosemite from all the other times I’ve been there. Happy with the photos, I relegated myself back to my tent before it got completely dark.
My freeze-dried food was waiting for me for dinner. I turned on the stove, and I can hear the water boiling, and the crickets are chirping. A light cool breeze started blowing through, and the scent of the pines freshened up the air. I wanted to enjoy the serenity and calm at that moment. I tried to drift into a peaceful dream, but all I can think about was rotisserie fuckin’ chicken.
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