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Cathedral Lake Snowshoe

Bright, clear blue skies contrasted with iced over Upper Cathedral Lake and the snow covered mountains. And when I say those skies were bright blue, I really mean it!

Where: Yosemite National Park
Distance: 8.05 Miles
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
Elevation Range: 8.574′ – 9,609
Date: May 14, 2014
Maps: Falls Ridge Topog

Highlights: The melting snow on the trail gave us a real workout to reach our goal of visiting iced over Upper Cathedral Lake. Our snowshoes made the going a little bit easier than had we been without them but this was still quite the workout. We had the lake to ourselves as we saw melting ice that created gorgeous swirling patterns that my camera just couldn’t do justice to.

We headed east on Tioga Road to Tuolumne Meadows, parking where the trailhead marker was, about a mile west of the Tuolumne Visitors Center. Porta potties and bear boxes are located at the trailhead, which we made good use of.

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There are actually two Cathedral Lakes. The Lower Lake is at about 9,288 feet elevation and the Upper Lake is about 9,585 foot elevation. Our goal for the day was to head to Upper Cathedral Lake, then over to Budd Lake and loop back. This hike is usually an easy to moderate one but with the snow, it was hard to guess at when we began.

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We put our snowshoes in our pack and headed up the trail, which had wet spots from the melting snow, sometimes reflecting very pretty trees in them.

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We came across some snow patches but they were pretty solid in the morning and we could walk on them. . .at least in the beginning.

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We crossed several small creeks but nothing we couldn’t deal with on this day.

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We met a couple of backpackers heading back down the trail with snowshoes on and they told us that we would need to put ours on shortly. We decided to push it a little bit more but we eventually needed to do it and the going was much easier.

We also met up with a hiker who was doing the John Muir Trail (JMT).He was having a tough time with the postholing that he was doing in the snow and said he sure wished he had our snowshoes. He had done the JMT several times but with the snow conditions, he was contemplating quitting his adventure on it this time.

My hiking partner Gail, noted that our continuous snow started at around 9,100′ elevation and she updated the JMT Facebook pages with that information to help them.

When we reached the junction to the Lower Cathedral Lake, we didn’t follow it, staying on the main trail to the left toward the Upper Cathedral Lake.

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As we got closer to the Upper Lake, we followed the creek that flows out of it. Some spots in the creek had areas that had melted and some had ice still skimming the surface. Very pretty!

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Although we could see Cathedral Peak on most of our hike, the view of it as we topped out at Cathedral Lake was pretty darn dramatic. It gets its name by the shape of its peak which resembles a cathedral. It was formed by glacial activity when the glaciers formed and moved below it. The peak remained uneroded.

There are two distinct parts of Cathedral Peak that you can see from the bottom. The west or pointy part of it (left side on picture below) is unofficially known as Eichorn Pinnacle, named for Jules Eichorn who first ascended its summit in 1931 with Glen Dawson.

Cathedral Peak is part of the Cathedral Range, a mountain range in the southern central part of Yosemite National Park.

This mountain range is an offshoot of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. Cathedral Peak, the youngest of the rock formations in a grouping of intrusions called the Tuolumne Intrusive Suite, dates back to Cretaceous Period at 83 million years ago.

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As we approached Upper Cathedral Lake, I could see the possibilities of some reflections in the creek that pours out of it but I would need to line myself up with the side of the creek in order to get that shot. Gail Gilbert took this picture of me doing just that.

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And I cannot find any words to adequately describe this view. Wow and double wow are about as close as I can come up with.

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As we got closer to the lake, we could see that it was still iced over but a beautiful aqua blue color was showing up from the melting of the lake.

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A flat rock right next to the lake made for a great lunch spot with a view of Tresidder Peak, named after Donald Tresidder, a former president of Stanford University who had a longtime association with Yosemite National Park.

Tresidder Peak’s elevation has not been exactly determined but it is estimated between 10,605 feet and 10,645 feet elevation at its highest point.

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At lunch, we talked about whether we should continue on to Budd Lake, but we decided to spend some quality time at Upper Cathedral Lake instead. We took our time walking around the east and south sides of the lake.

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It was time to head back and we headed down the same trail that we had taken up. The afternoon sun had really melted the snow and it was heavy as it accumulated on our snowshoes. We passed a few people heading up to the lakes but they didn’t have snowshoes and they were postholing, sinking 2 or 3 feet into the snow with their footsteps.

We were about half way down when we spotted this surprising group of aspiring adventurers. A barking dog was the first thing that we heard and saw, then we spotted these two guys loaded up with their backpacks, postholing deeply in the snow. They said that they had a permit and were headed to Yosemite Valley. As you probably know, dogs are not allowed in this area which is Yosemite Wilderness Area. We tried to explain this to them but they didn’t seem to care.

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We continued to slip and slide in our snowshoes down the trail. The snow was really melting fast. Gail Gilbert caught this picture of me as I landed on my rear end after slipping down the snowy hill alongside the trail. To be honest there were a few similar situations but lucky for me that she only captured this one. I think I heard her say “payback” for the times that I have caught her in this type of predicament.

This was a tough hike through the wet snow and we were sorry that we didn’t make it to Budd Lake, especially when we had heard it was still iced over. We will put it on our list to possibly try next year as we have many more adventures to explore as the high country becomes more accessible to us.

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Cathedral Lake Snowshoe 31Sources:

Day Hikes in the Tioga Pass Region, John Carroll O’Neill & Elizabeth Stone O’Neill, 2002

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