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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.