Upper Cathedral Lake to Lyell Canyon Headwaters

Upper Cathedral Lake to Lyell Canyon Headwaters

8/25/09; Distance Traveled = 19.1 miles

I toss and turn all night between short naps.  At long last the faint dawn light arrives and I grab my watch to check the time.  The face is blank, the battery dead.  I sit up and scrape a shower of frost from the underside of the tarp.  It is chilly so I pull on long pants, my vest, and windbreaker.   My shorts and trail shirt are frozen solid.


A cup of coffee barely dents the cold.  I move around constantly while packing to stay warm. 


The trail climbs gently to a pass then descends, steeply at times, to the Cathedral Lakes Trail junction.  About half way down the sun appears; its nascent warmth welcome.  From here the mostly shaded trail parallels the highway, with sounds of passing cars, rambling for a mile over ups and downs before veering north across the highway and into Tuolumne Meadows.  Trail guides note myriad junctions in and about Tuolumne Meadows and had me worried that I’d make wrong turns and spend half the day backtracking.  No problems though, each junction is clearly signed. 


Out in Tuolumne Meadows expansive views open east to Lembert Dome and west to Pothole Dome.  A person sits east of the trail in quiet meditation.  Parsons Lodge and McCauley Cabin are locked, I walk around them, but from outside there is little to see.  The Soda Spring is a bubbling pool of orange algae from which there is no temptation to drink. 


11 Tuolumne Meadow Lembert Dome - Yosemite JMT through Tuolumne Meadows toward Lembert Dome


The trail then follows the route of an old road toward Lembert Dome.  Along this section are signs describing the plant and animal species inhabiting Tuolumne Meadows.  They beckon occasional stops to read and observe.  The views are pleasant enough though not spectacular this late in the season.  I encounter several people out for a morning walk.


The second Hwy 120 crossing completes the loop through the meadow.  I detour to the grill, enjoy a 2nd breakfast, and returning, stop at my car to drop off the watch (no point carrying it now) and the fanny pack (except I forget to leave the fanny pack).  A few more trail junctions, a few bridge crossings over energetic cascades, and now, beyond the maze, the trail leads southeast into Lyell Canyon.


At the Rafferty Creek Trail junction I meet a woman in her 70’s hiking with her daughter.  I comment on their classic Kelty external frame backpacks.  The one she is carrying is 50 years old this summer, purchased when she led the Boy Scouts on a weeklong hike through Yosemite.  The pack was original everything, even the hip belt; an unpadded canvas belt.  “Still fits” she brags.  Hiking the High Sierra Camps Loop, they are going to Vogelsang for the night.


12 Lyell Canyon - Yosemite  Lyell Canyon


Lyell Canyon is a long wide open meadow, maybe a half mile across, replete with meandering creek.  The trail skirts the west side of the meadow in and out of forest cover, quite warm in the late morning sun.  I pass an old timer also sporting a decades old Kelty external.  He is hiking an out and back to Reds Meadow and plans to camp tonight “at the lake about a mile past the bridge;” the Lyell Canyon Headwaters is also my destination.  I make good time; easy walking.  A ranger asks to see my permit and advises that camping is allowed about a mile up the canyon across from a landslide.


Then I meet Art.  We hike together all afternoon.  He is from Pittsburgh, and prefers the Sierra to his almost backyard AT; hiking at least a week here each summer.  This year he is on an out and back to VVR.  He has hiked the JMT between Yosemite and VVR, does not particularly care for the section between Shadow Lake and Duck Creek, and is considering hiking the PCT between Thousand Island Lake and Agnew Meadow instead of the JMT.  He really likes VVR as a mid hike retreat and encourages me to, if time allows, stop and spend one night there.  We are about the same age, have kids about the same age, enjoy hiking the Sierra, etc. and spend the day in easy conversation.  We reach the headwaters around 4:00pm.


Art sets up his stove, the first Esbit burner I’ve seen in the field, and prepares dinner.  His style is a longish, late afternoon break for dinner, and then catching a second wind, hike for another hour or two before setting up camp.  We are sitting there talking when a couple arrives.  Art asks “Are you Eric the Red?”  The guy replies “Sean the Red” someone Art knows from the Yahoo Groups JMT board.  Sean is with Helene, aka Boulder Bitch, though she much prefers BB if one must use the trail name.  They are hiking Yosemite Valley to Reds Meadow.  Sean is wearing a Sport Kilt.  Read his testimonial here.  They wander about for a few minutes taking pictures and then head out intending to cross Donahue Pass before nightfall.


A few minutes later Art packs up and leaves for the tarns just below Donahue Pass. 


I find a nice spot overlooking the lake, set camp, the tarp as a lean-to to stop the wind.  As I start dinner Art reappears.  It’s been maybe an hour for his roundabout jaunt.  He had left his windscreen behind and mentions that “Windscreen” does not make for an interesting trail name.  He says goodbye again.  I’ll look for him tomorrow.


I take an after dinner stroll around and among the granite benches above the lake.  There are several spots that have made, and others that would make nice campsites.  From this area views north down Lyell Canyon are limited, but to south the meadow rests under evening shadow and the lake surface ripples in the breeze while high above, the sun’s last light shines brightly on Mt Lyell’s glacier. 


13 Lyell Canyon Headwaters - Yosemite Lyell Canyon Headwaters


At dusk Steve and Nonnie arrive.  Steve is wearing a Kelty external; four of these classic packs in one day.  They plan to hike another hour in the fading light; Tuolumne to Reds Meadow overall.  I watch for the old timer.  He never arrives. 


At first chill I slip into my sleeping bag, give thanks for a 2nd great day, and watch the stars.


The wind changes directions rendering my lean-to worthless and then blows steadily until after the moon set.  I wake to the calm, make a potty run, and sleep soundly thereafter. 


next:  Lyell Canyon Headwaters to Reds Meadow

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