This morning began slowly, but soon enough we were at our trail head to begin our 25-ish mile assault of Half Dome at Yosemite National Park. We would get just shy (.5 miles) of Sunrise High Sierra camp (HSC) of the John Muir Trail. We’re taking a “longer” route to Half Dome, as opposed to the “traditional” route. The thought of climbing straight up nearly 8 miles only to go back down, for a 16 mile one day mega knee and quad workout sounded boring and unnecessarily laborious. Our friends Sandy (my college swim and water polo teammate) and her husband Steve ( aka “Scout”, a member of the Mt Whitney Magnificent Seven crew) joined us. This would be Sandy’s first backpacking trip in a LONG time. ACL surgery, a recent car accident that left her with hardware in her ankle and assorted other boo-boos have the potential to add an extra degree of difficulty. Doing this section will also complete the John Muir Trail for me. In order to make it more “fun” we are breaking this adventure up into 3 days, with an average of 7-8 miles/day. We want this to be a good experience for Sandy and for both her and Scout to join us again. Both Paul and I have known her for several decades, Paul through lifeguarding, and me from college. Needless to say, she is a hoot. After storing our “smellable” car stuff in a bear locker by the Cathedral Lakes Trailhead, and parking our cars by the roadside, we headed up the trail. Unfortunately for Sandy, this would be a 3 mile Stairmaster climb to the turn off to Cathedral Lake, with another half mile to the lake. Our plan was to lunch at Cathedral Lake, of which Sandy was on board with…originally. Her knee was somewhat sore, and the thought of going down a narrow rock/boulder strewn trail (for lunch) only to climb back up again didn’t seem that appealing when we reached the trail junction to the lake. But being the trooper she is, Sandy soldiered on even in spite of a slow-mo fall halfway down the trail. I promised that I would not post the photo I took, before Scout helped “re-right” her, so I won’t. I will say however, that her fall was thankfully in slow-motion. One of her trekking poles “shrunk” unexpectantly as she was working her way down between two large boulders. The end result found her stuck on her back, like a turtle, unable to upright herself gracefully. Being her friend, I couldn’t help but laugh…and take a photo (after of course, she assured us she was “fine”…just stuck).
Soon the trail leveled out and opened up in to a vast meadow flanked by the grey face of a steep and scoured bowl shaped granite wall.
It wasn’t until we traversed the soggy meadow and shuffled over a massive hump of granite that Cathedral Lake came into view. It felt like we had unwrapped an unexpected present. You know that moment when you have dutifully removed all the ribbon and tightly wrapped paper from the present’s box, and you ease the lid open and revealing the most amazing gift that you never expected. It was like that, but with heavy smoke in the air. Ironically, this is one of the most picturesque lakes and not one of us managed to snap a picture of the lake. This means we will have to come back…next year! No sooner did we unpack our lunches (and my new Big Agnes Helinox Chair Zero camp chair ) and get comfortable, our 30% chance of showers became 100%. Rain jackets and pack covers were broken out in a hurry. We thought it would pass, but when it didn’t we retreated to the cover of the tree line to eat. No sooner did we AGAIN break out our lunch, but the water logged skies cleared and became bright blue for the next half hour.
The good thing about the rain, was that it washed away the smoke…for a short time. The boys took a nap, while Sandy and I walked back down to the meadow with our chairs, and basked in the surrounding beauty and the sun. By 2pm we mounted back up to climb the half mile back to the JMT, which of course now felt shorter than the descent.
Cathedral Peak was in its jagged glory. We had planned to end the day somewhere ahead of or just after Sunrise HSC. We ended up a half mile before Sunrise, but not without some excitement in-between.
…to be continued.
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