All of my stuff laid out ready to pack

All of my stuff laid out ready to pack

Lay­ing out all of my gear on the ground is some­thing I do every morn­ing before I pack. I want to make sure com­mon­ly used items are acces­si­ble dur­ing the day with­out unload­ing my entire back­pack. What if it starts rain­ing and my jack­et is at the bot­tom under­neath my tent and bear canister!

The trail was on a gen­tle incline through the for­est and I was feel­ing pret­ty good. I caught sight of a few deer just off the trail and greet­ed them. Some­thing I usu­al­ly do, gen­er­al­ly only when I’m alone so peo­ple don’t think that I’m too weird. “Hey, how are you doing this morn­ing?” Deer glances up at me inquis­i­tive­ly, ears twitch­ing. “Beau­ti­ful morn­ing huh? Yeah I’m just here hik­ing the John Muir Trail.” I took a few pic­tures and then “Okay, have a nice day guys, I’m going to get back to the trail” although by this time I was talk­ing to their rear ends as they mean­dered off to the next graz­ing spot.

The four guys I camped with

The four guys I camped with

Hiking through the forest

Hik­ing through the forest






The ter­rain got steep­er and it was start­ing to get hot. Water was scarce due to the low snow­pack the pre­vi­ous win­ter and not much rain through­out the year. Most of the creeks were dry or slowed to a trick­le, in fact some­one had told me there would­n’t be water until Cathe­dral Lake, anoth­er 10–12 miles, which I was­n’t going to arrive at until the end of the day. Before I start­ed the JMT I had looked up a bunch of fish­ing loca­tions and marked them on my maps with a fish sym­bol. I had been look­ing for­ward to catch­ing some din­ners along the way but things did­n’t look too promis­ing so far.


Vogelsang Peak

Vogel­sang Peak


The for­est cleared at one point and in the dis­tance I saw a beau­ti­ful jagged peak. Vogel­sang, I learned after find­ing it on my map. I want­ed to climb it! I made a note to check it out lat­er and see what the routes up it were.  It just looked so impos­ing and distinctive.


The bear: a final word

There were two hik­ers ahead of me that I kept catch­ing glimpses of. They would be stopped for a break and then just as I came around a cor­ner, almost caught up to them they would con­tin­ue. It went on like this for an hour or two until I final­ly caught up to them tak­ing a break along a creek, appar­ent­ly tru­ly the last water until Cathe­dral Lakes based on a note left on the trail.

It was a young cou­ple maybe in their mid to late 20s that I had met yes­ter­day after com­ing back from Half Dome. I had warned them about the bear in camp and so inquired as to how their night was and if they saw the bear. “Yeah about 6am when it was just start­ing to get light out.” The girl replied. “We saw him lift the can­is­ter up over his head, stand­ing on his hind legs and throw it at the ground.” They chased him away before he could do any real dam­aged but it dawned on me

That’s the noise I was hear­ing the oth­er night, the per­sis­tent crash­ing that sound­ed like some­one throw­ing a rock at some­thing. It was the bear lift­ing up the bear can­is­ter and smash­ing it on the ground!”

And as I learned from the ranger it had final­ly bro­ken open, the bear mak­ing off with the food! So it seems bear can­is­ters aren’t “bear proof” rather “bear resistant”.

Meadow near the High Sierra Camp

Mead­ow near the High Sier­ra Camp

I was sweat­ing and hot by the time I reached Sun­rise High Sier­ra Camp (Some no-frills cab­ins where one can get food and a basic place to sleep, every­thing being packed in by mule and the only access is hik­ing or on horse­back.)  a few more miles down the trail and up some switch­backs. The main thing on my mind is if I would have enough time for anoth­er side trip that day. I had a guide to the trail with a bunch of side trips list­ed and I want­ed to do as many of them as pos­si­ble and maybe some oth­ers that weren’t list­ed. I felt that as long as I’m walk­ing through the area why not explore less trav­eled peaks along the way. The trip I was cur­rent­ly con­sid­er­ing was a rock for­ma­tion called Colum­bia Fin­ger a strik­ing pin­na­cle jut­ting up out of the forest.

Columbia Finger

A first view of Columbia Finger from the John Muir Trail

A first view of Colum­bia Fin­ger from the John Muir Trail

I had all but giv­en up and decid­ed to just go straight to Cathe­dral Lake when I final­ly got a view of the pin­na­cle. There it was so promi­nent and com­mand­ing. I start­ed cal­cu­lat­ing how much time it would take to climb up. “It’s 3pm. If I leave now I  can hike through Long Mead­ow and up around the North side, then come back to grab my pack.…hmmmm” It just did­n’t seem there was enough time in the day for this one and to make it to camp before dark. I resolved, as I had the day before with Clouds Rest (anoth­er side trip) to come back and climb up Colum­bia Fin­ger when I had more time.

As I got clos­er, pass­ing quite a few peo­ple going to the High Sier­ra Camp, I kept think­ing more about it, look­ing at my watch, then doing men­tal cal­cu­la­tions to see if I in fact might have time after all. Study­ing my map again I saw the trail actu­al­ly went right next to it, maybe I could skip the Long Mead­ow route and go up just off the trail. I decid­ed to re-eval­u­ate once I got to that point.

Columbia Finger from the John Muir Trail

Colum­bia Fin­ger from the John Muir Trail

The trail wound around its base and it was just too close not to climb. I had to nav­i­gate across a boul­der field fol­lowed by a scree slope first but I was get­ting pret­ty excit­ed as the views got bet­ter and bet­ter. It was pret­ty windy on the sum­mit ridge and I could see all the way past half dome and pret­ty much all of Yosemite. Quite an awe-inspir­ing view. The actu­al sum­mit block while I could see it did­n’t seem like as straight for­ward of a climb as I had imag­ined. It was only about 30 feet high­er but there were a few large flakes of gran­ite I would have to climb that just did­n’t seem to be very safe. I would­n’t real­ly con­sid­er myself a rock climber and there­fore don’t have the best judge­ment of what rock is sol­id and what would send me in an avalanche to my death. The rocks were piled like a stack of Jan­ga blocks near the end of a game. One falls and they all do. To get to the sum­mit I would have to put all of my weight on a bal­anced slab of rock with a few hun­dred feet of expo­sure. Not my idea of fun.

Boulder field below Columbia Finger

Boul­der field below Colum­bia Finger

Half Dome and Clouds Rest from Columbia Finger

Half Dome and Clouds Rest from top

I had all but giv­en up and decid­ed to go back when I had a change of heart and con­clud­ed to give it a shot. I felt a rush of adren­a­line and my pulse quick­ened as I hoist­ed myself up the crack. I tried to push out the thoughts of “What if I’m the last straw the rock needs to break away”. Words from a climber in a doc­u­men­tary on Yosemite I had seen the week before went through my head. He was talk­ing about a large slab of gran­ite called “Texas Flake” on El Cap­i­tan, slow­ly detach­ing itself from the wall. At some inevitable point it would fall, but hope­ful­ly not this time while he was jam­ming his body through it. That’s what I thought “Please not this time”. Luck was on my side this time and I felt quite relieved when I got above it and was stand­ing on sol­id rock again. There was a small shel­tered area, a lit­tle rock room that at one end opened up to a spec­tac­u­lar view of Yosemite but also dropped straight down a few hun­dred feet. Look­ing up, the sum­mit block was still anoth­er 10–12 feet. I felt good hav­ing got this much fur­ther but I did­n’t see an easy way up the last stretch and time was fly­ing. I still had to hike anoth­er few miles to Cathe­dral Lake. So I decid­ed to head down for good.

Summit ridge, Columbia Finger

Sum­mit ridge, Colum­bia Finger

On top of Columbia Finger

Enjoy­ing the views from the top of Colum­bia Finger









There was a beau­ti­ful flat open mead­ow and I got a good view of Cathe­dral peak as I closed in on the lake. By the time I reached it the sun was get­ting low in the sky. I raced over to its edge, pulled out my cam­era and start­ed shoot­ing. There weren’t spec­tac­u­lar col­ors but with the con­stant­ly mov­ing clouds made for some inter­est­ing pic­tures. I got so caught up in tak­ing pic­tures I end­ed up cook­ing din­ner in the dark but went to bed full and satisfied.

Upper Cathedral Lake. Cathedral Peak is on the left.

Upper Cathe­dral Lake. Cathe­dral Peak is on the left.

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