8/24/09; Distance Traveled = 23.3 miles
After a restful night I wake at 4:00 to the gentle chirp of my watch alarm. I rise quickly, eat and pack, drop off the tent keys, and in 30 minutes am ready to begin my John Muir Trail thru-hike. I move slowly without a light attempting to let my eyes adjust to the darkness. I fumble along for a few minutes then meet Peter near the road that loops around the Upper Pines Campground. Peter has a flashlight and moves quickly. I fall in behind him.
Peter is from Massachusetts. He and his 13 year old daughter just completed a transcontinental bicycle ride; finishing, and meeting his wife and other daughter a few days ago, in San Francisco. They were in Yosemite for a couple days of family time, and so he could day hike Half Dome. We have a similar pace and hike it together.
We pause briefly to let me take a picture of the trailhead sign, “MT WHITNEY VIA JOHN MUIR TRAIL 211.0”, and then start the climb toward Vernal Falls. There are several parties on the bridge looking up at Vernal Falls, a faint silvery ribbon in the fledgling dawn. Though I intend to hike the JMT route to Nevada Falls we fall in behind a group of 5 guys and end up climbing the steps of the Mist Trail. I never see the junction. We pass them when they take a break at the base of Nevada Falls and blast up, in the growing daylight, to the top where we stop for a few minutes and meet a group, with a 7 year old, also hiking Half Dome. Lots of people, all with the same plan: reach the cables before the crowds.
Soon the grade lessens and we pass through Little Yosemite Valley. It lay in early morning slumber under a veil of fog. At the junction to Half Dome we meet a woman, a bit shaken, having come from the Clouds Rest junction to wait on her husband and son who were off hiking Half Dome. She left their camp near the Clouds Rest junction when a bear wandered through.
After stashing my pack Peter and I continue on toward Half Dome. The trail climbs steeply through forest, and then emerges onto granite slabs climbing painstakingly cut stairs. From the stairs the trail descends to cross a short ridge leading to the base of the cables. Peter and I grab gloves, wet from the previous day’s rain, and start up. There is no one ahead; it takes maybe 15 minutes to summit. We are the 4th and 5th people on top; 8:30am. The view across to the Snow Creek Trail, switchbacks cut into the vertical canyon wall, and of Yosemite Valley far below is magnificent.
As we walk Peter speaks nonstop about the bicycle adventure, good days and bad days, and is rightfully proud of his daughter’s achievement. I am an interested listener. In high school I, with a group of friends, did regular bicycle camping trips up and down the California coast. After riding San Francisco to Los Angeles, we talked about riding cross country. What is Bob Goya up to these days?
A woman walks out onto the Diving Board, an overhanging cliff, and then lowers herself to a bench where she lets her feet dangle some 4500 feet above the valley floor. She convinces her boyfriend to join her and Peter takes some pictures. I too walk out onto Diving Board, but no way am I letting my feet dangle.
After a snack and drink, and 30 minutes on top, I am ready to continue my JMT hike. Peter wants to stay longer and explore the summit some more. I thank him for the hike and wander down to the cables. I glide down pylon by pylon, then slow a bit inching along one cable while passing three people on their way up. It takes all of 5 minutes to reach bottom. Then down the steps I go, greeting at least 20 people on the 30 minute walk back to the trail junction. My pack is undisturbed.
In a couple hours I reach the crossing of Sunrise Creek where when planning I thought of staying the night. It is noon so time for a lunch break, but too early to stop for the day. Two JMT groups pass as I rest; both, due to permitting issues, starting their hikes at Glacier Point. They are heading to Cathedral Lakes for the night. I tape over hot spots on the ball of each foot and pull out the map. Cathedral Lakes looks a bit far; being the first day out I don’t want to push too hard and decide to stop at Sunrise.
The climb up Sunrise Mountain is a steep, challenging hour. The climb eventually abates and I meet up with Matthias and Will; two of the people that passed me earlier. They are taking 3 weeks for their hike if Will’s blisters don’t cut their trip short. We talk about gear and their first night’s camp in the rain; I don’t think I’d have sat it out. Nice guys, I wish them well.
The trail drops slightly into Long Meadow and offers easy hiking all the way to Sunrise. The nearby camping area is not that nice; I keep moving. Just below the High Sierra Camp rests a couple hiking the JMT to Florence Lake, camping tonight, like everyone else it seems, at Cathedral Lakes. Looks like Cathedral Lakes for me too.
Beyond Sunrise, there is a nice view north, up Long Meadow. The meadow is shaded from the mid afternoon sun, whereas beyond, Cathedral Peak and Matthes Crest stand in full illumination. Reaching Cathedral Pass (I think Cathedral Pass) I stop to take in the huge view; Matthes Crest at my left hand extending east to Vogelsang and south to the Clark Range. As I rest, several groups pass, all heading to the Sunrise High Sierra Camp for the night.
Around 4:00pm, cooked, I reach Upper Cathedral Lake. I find a campsite on a granite bench south of the lake with a stunning view of Cathedral Peak. The lake is warmish and I enjoy a long half hour swim. It washes away the weariness and trail grime. I warm and dry sunning on a granite peninsula.
After dinner I take pictures until the sun sets, note the day’s events in my journal, and am early to bed. I offer a prayer of thanks for an incredible first day, watch the first stars appear, and settle into a fitful sleep.