About 9 miles round trip
Click On Photographs To Enlarge
Eight years ago a couple of friends and I backpacked the final 50 miles of the John Muir Trail from Red’s Meadows to Happy Isles. We passed Upper Cathedral Lake and I took a nice photograph on our way to an overnight at the backpacker’s area of Sunrise High Sierra Camp. The clouds changed to rain as we went over Cathedral Pass. Upper Cathedral Lake (about 9,600’) is where Ansel Adams took his iconic photograph of Cathedral Peak. I want to make that clear since most of the Internet information is hazy about this. If you want a photograph of the classic view of Cathedral Peak, then you want the trail to Upper Cathedral Lake. This is the same trail as the John Muir Trail but the second trail sign (beyond the junction) does not indicate “Upper Cathedral Lake”.
Upper Cathedral Lake From 2008 Hike
I believe there is about an equal amount of energy required for either of the lakes since there is about a 300-foot drop from the main trail to get to Lower Cathedral Lake. Of course this means a 300’ climb inbound just to get back to the trail junction. The total altitude gain for our hike was about 1,700’.
The first trail sign at the trail junction does indicate Lower Cathedral Lake and that was our destination since I had never been to Lower Cathedral Lake. In addition to the swarms of people on the trail, we also saw a ranger on horseback, which is the first time I have ever seen one on a Yosemite trail at all.
There are portable toilets and bear boxes at the trailhead. Much of the trail from the trailhead at Tuolumne Meadows is in the woods with the steepest part of the climb during the first part of the trail.
We met a young climber named Luke from the Bay area and we chatted about ultra running, climbing and Yosemite history as long as I was willing to travel faster and he was willing to travel slower.
As you travel outbound, you will eventually see what appears to be a dome on your left (to the east). That is actually the beginning of an elongated ridge that will become Cathedral Peak. The peak is also a popular destination for rock climbers. There is an interesting but tragic story about a climber who died of exposure in 2007 here: http://www.friendsofyosar.org/rescues/missions/11-11-07_Cathedral_Fatality.html
Inbound we were met by a young man in a YOSAR shirt who was turning JMT folks back because of a lightning strike fire that was being allowed to burn but was growing.
We enjoyed our stay at this beautiful lake with crystal clear water. It is the larger of the two Cathedral Lakes but the view of Cathedral Peak is less iconic. Sharon went for her usual alpine (about 9,300’) lake swim. I asked her to wade into the lake with my camera and take some shots, which turned out to be the best framed of the photographs. In this case I chose much of the lake as the primary focus with Cathedral Peak in the background. Sorry to say there were no clouds this day.
Sign For Lower Cathedral Lake
JMT Trail Sign Beyond Trail Junction That Does Not Include Upper Cathedral Lake
Dry Stream Bed
Meadow Before Lower Cathedral Lake
Beauty All Around Me
Beginning Of Ridge That Becomes Cathedral Peak On East Side Of Trail