August 6, 2014
John Muir Trail (JMT)
Day 3 – Sunrise Lakes junction (9,310) to Tuolumne Meadows (8,600) via Cathedral Pass (9,700).
Camped at the Tuolumne Meadows backpacker’s campground.
And finally we wake to clear blue skies. A beautiful but cold morning in the High Sierras.
The sun rises over the hill, hits our campsite and takes the chill off the air. A ranger tells us later that the morning low was near freezing.
The hike to Tuolumne begins with an easy walk across two meadows, still frosty in places, with Cathedral Peak lit in the distance.
Past the meadows the trail climbs up through open forest over Cathedral Pass and back down to Cathedral Lake. The climb up and over the pass is on a well graded track with steep sections terraced with stones.
While there are a few viewpoints between the trees, the mountain views remain hazy despite the blue skies. The same is true at Cathedral Lake, a pretty little lake surrounded by granite out-croppings.
From here the trail descends, seemingly more steeply, towards Tuolumne Meadows through forest with a few interesting granite slabs and outcroppings. A pleasant hiking temperature, well graded trail, dry air, but otherwise it’s a rather dull walk in the woods.
Nearing Tuolumne Valley I’m tired and hungry. Not the best time for vague trail junctions. The turnoff for Soda Springs also goes to the visitor’s center. Tuolumne Meadows, including the campground and other services is another mile down the road.
We pick up our first resupply package at the post office conveniently located between the take away grill and the camp store. They inform us that they only distribute packages to through hikers on the hour between 10AM and 4PM. We unfortunately arrived at 1:08PM. The postal clerk kindly makes an exception for us and says we can come back at 1:30.
I feel like I’m starving and down a cheeseburger and all of my fries while we wait.
We also found out that we could camp at the backpacker’s campground behind the Tuolumne Meadows campground. When we picked up our permits at Yosemite Village they told us that only hikers starting or ending their itinerary at Tuolumne Valley, not pass through hikers, could camp at this location. According to the rangers at Tuolumne Meadows, however, this is not true and through hikers may also use the backpacker’s campground. Otherwise it’s about 10 miles stretch with no camping. Other than Tuolumne, no camping is allowed between Cathedral Lake and four miles past Tuolumne Meadows.
At 8PM the campground is less than half full. It may be more crowded in July during peak Pacific Crest Trail season, but for the moment it’s quite pleasant. The spacious sites include a fire ring, bear locker, and picnic table. Bathrooms and water are located in the main campground below.
After setting up camp we take a walk back past Lembert Dome towards Soda Springs. Despite mounting thunderheads darkening the sky east of the dome, there are climbers ascending its face.
Sodas Springs which bubbles up naturally fizzy water is an historical sight and one of the John Muir’s favorite spots.
With fatigue setting in and too intent on food, we had passed the valley by on the way to Tuolumne Meadows, but even with the approaching thunderstorms it’s a stunning setting. Parson’s lodge just above the springs has an array of park information as well as being a thunderstorm refuge.
At the Tuolumne River an immigrant family originally from China skips rocks and takes photos with dark thunderheads looming in the background.
On our return we stop at the camp store to pick up items for dinner and breakfast including a bottle of wine.
Just as we get back to camp the dark skies that have been threatening all afternoon open up with rain and hail. We quickly run into the tent. About an hour later we emerge to find the campsite sopping wet. Don manages to build a fire from the wood left in the bear locker by the previous campers.
Cool temperature, warm fire, yummy dehydrated dinner and a bottle of wine. Camping at its best.