Sunrise at camp below Cathedral Peak

Sun­rise at camp below Cathe­dral Peak


John Muir and Cathedral Peak

Fol­low­ing the trail mean­der­ing down to Tuolumne Mead­ows I looked into the for­est sur­round­ing me and tried to pic­ture John Muir walk­ing through the same woods 143 years ear­li­er, almost to the day. It was Sep­tem­ber 7th, 1869 that he walked through these trees mak­ing his way toward Cathe­dral Peak. That day he became the first per­son to climb its West­ern face, a class 4 climb (rock climb­ing is bro­ken down into dif­fi­cul­ty rat­ings, class 4 has been described as “climb­ing a lad­der on the side of a sky­scraper.” ie. plen­ty of holds, but if you slip your fall will most like­ly be fatal).

John Muir circa 1875

John Muir cir­ca 1875

He, I thought, prob­a­bly did­n’t have a trail to fol­low like we do now with the myr­i­ad of trails in a vast net­work across the Sier­ra. A pio­neer explor­ing unex­plored peaks, not know­ing what lay ahead.

Tuolumne Meadows

Lying on the East­ern end of Yosemite, Tuolumne Mead­ows is the first re-sup­ply point and civ­i­liza­tion stop on the John Muir Trail. There isn’t much there by way of ser­vices, a small store, post office and grill togeth­er in a white can­vas build­ing is pret­ty much it. For accom­mo­da­tions there is a lodge (expen­sive) as well and a camp­ground which has a sec­tion reserved for backpackers.

I had sent myself a pack­age of food a few weeks ear­li­er but as I came down the trail from upper Cathe­dral Lake all I want­ed was real food from the grill and a show­er if it was pos­si­ble. The trail mix and almonds wait­ing for me in my re-sup­ply box at the post office did­n’t seem to appe­tiz­ing after 4 days of oat­meal and freeze-dried food.

The grill, Post Office and general store in Tuolumne

The grill, Post Office and gen­er­al store in Tuolumne

It was a nice morn­ing although a bit cloudy and I had got­ten up before sun­rise to see the sun come up over Cathe­dral Peak/Lake. The trail was all down hill to Tuolumne Mead­ows, about 6 miles fur­ther, wind­ing through the for­est. The first stop was the vis­i­tors cen­ter, I want­ed to ask them about show­ers, it was the main thing on my mind. I guess I just felt so dirty and was still get­ting used to being on the trail. It was a bit odd walk­ing amongst non-hik­ers, I felt out-of-place. I was on my own, no trans­porta­tion if I want­ed to go some­where, kind of how I felt in Yosemite, there by myself. I would hard­ly call being in Tuolumne back in civ­i­liza­tion but there was a road and peo­ple were clean, not how it was on the trail like I was grow­ing used to. After find­ing out from the ranger there were most like­ly no show­ers avail­able I wan­dered around to try to get ori­ent­ed, a lit­tle bummed I was­n’t going to get clean. While I was get­ting used to being on the trail I had­n’t quite got­ten used to being dirty yet.

Cathedral Peak from Tuolumne Meadows

Cathe­dral Peak from Tuolumne Meadows

Soda Springs

My first stop was to Soda Springs, appar­ent­ly a favorite hang out spot of John Muir when he vis­it­ed here. Car­bon­at­ed water seep­ing out of the ground?! Sound­ed quite inter­est­ing. There were some peo­ple crowd­ed around a young ranger explain­ing things about the area. Set­ting down my pack next to them I rest­ed on the grass, it felt so good to get the load off. In front of me was a small wood­en struc­ture with no roof, water bub­bled up out of the ground inside. Around the struc­ture there were lots of the same fizzing brown seeps. The water was clear but the rocks around were an intense brown col­or. After sam­pling the water with my cup I real­ized why, it had a lot of iron, hence the “rusty” flavor.

Soda Springs, a favorite hang out spot for John Muir

Soda Springs, a favorite hang out spot for John Muir

It tast­ed like rusty Per­ri­er that was going flat. Not exact­ly Sprite and prob­a­bly not some­thing I’d order with vod­ka but I’m sure it was quite a nov­el­ty 150 years ago when sparkling water was­n’t avail­able on every street corner.

How is it?” a girl from the group asked. “Kind of inter­est­ing. Tastes kin­da rusty.” I said. “Can I taste?” “Sure”! I gave her my cup and she took a sip. She did­n’t gri­mace but had a sim­i­lar reac­tion as me. “Yeah, tastes like iron.” From the spring there were expan­sive views of the mead­ows and cathe­dral and uni­corn peaks in the dis­tance. I thought about how it might have looked and felt to John Muir sit­ting on the same patch of grass admir­ing the same view I was enjoy­ing. It would have looked pret­ty sim­i­lar back in 1869, although I’d like to believe there was­n’t a Ger­man tourist telling him they don’t trust the water like there was in front of me!

Getting to know Tuolumne

Tuolumne River, looking toward Lyell canyon

Tuolumne Riv­er, look­ing toward Lyell canyon

After enjoy­ing the scenery for a while I decid­ed to walk back the way I came. That’s when I ran into Mark and Maren, an old­er cou­ple from San­ta Bar­bara. Mark was tall with an air of con­fi­dence, Maren was short­er with a live­ly play­ful atti­tude, laugh­ing at Mark try­ing to fig­ure out exact­ly which way the trail went. Mark was a purist and want­ed to make sure he cov­ered every stretch of trail no mat­ter the cost. Maren was just tag­ging along, her first back­pack­ing trip and they were doing the John Muir Trail! Pret­ty impres­sive! I instant­ly liked them both and walked with them for a while, talk­ing about the trail. I final­ly felt like I was in good com­pa­ny again, peo­ple who under­stood me.

A burger never tasted so good

A burg­er nev­er tast­ed so good

My food resupply

My food resupply

We even­tu­al­ly made it to the Tuolumne grill after trac­ing over many pos­si­ble trail routes, cov­er­ing them all in case the first option was­n’t actu­al­ly the real JMT. After 3 days of trail food that burg­er was gold.

Lat­er that day sit­ting out­side the grill I met 2 twin sis­ters, Patrice and Hil­da whom in their younger years would go back­pack­ing all over the Sier­ra. Now, as they got old­er they were doing a trip to High Sier­ra camp, still pret­ty adven­tur­ous! We talked about all kinds of things includ­ing how you can iden­ti­fy a Lodge­pole Pine (in the video below) as well as John Muir and the Sier­ra Club.

It was a lazy after­noon and I spent the rest of the day and the next explor­ing Tuolumne Mead­ows and get­ting ready for the next leg of my journey.

Backpacker campground in Tuolumne Meadows

Back­pack­er camp­ground in Tuolumne Meadows

I nev­er did get a hot show­er there but I did fig­ure out how to rig my water blad­der so I could use it like a show­er head. It sure was cold but let me tell you it felt so good to be clean again. I was even able to do laun­dry using my bear can­is­ter as a wash­ing machine.

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