Thursday, July 22, 2021

Yosemite - The Cathedral Range

Upper Lyell Fork Merced River
The Cathedral Range in the heart of Yosemite is a sub-range of the Sierra Nevada. It extends from near Tuolumne Meadows at Cathedral Peak south to the intersection with the Ritter Range at Mt. Rodgers. We've day hiked the edges, and backpacked all around it, but never explored this beautiful range properly. This week we accomplished just such an exploration. 

Map Link to Route

Day 1

We started at Tuolumne Meadows with an easy trail hike to Elizabeth Lake. From there is was all cross-country to Johnson Lakes and over the ridge between Mt Johnson and Rafferty Peak. Once on top, we took a straight line descent over talus and ramps to Tuolumne Pass. There we picked up the trail to Vogelsang High Camp and Vogelsang Pass before leaving the trail again for a traverse to the Gallison Lake basin and our first camp.

Johnson Lake

Looking back at Johnson Lake from the ridge

After summiting the ridge, we walk slabs and blocks

Fletcher Peak near Vogelsang

Looking down canyon from Vogelsang Pass

Our final destination for the day, Gallison Lake basin across the valley

Lovely sunset light from camp

Day 2

Getting to all the lake canyons along the range made for some tricky navigation and hiking during the week. To get to the next basin, Florence Lakes, we had to descend from our camp to Lewis Creek, hike downstream a mile, then find a route up the headwall to our destination. We made it just below lower Florence Lake by noon and set up camp, then spent the afternoon exploring the upper basin.

Bernice Lake

Our camp at a small pond below lower Florence Lake

Lower Florence Lake

Lower Florence Lake and the headwall to the upper basin

The view back down canyon from near upper Florence Lake. Half Dome on the right

Upper Florence Lake panorama

Alpenglow sunset light from camp

Day 3

Our next lake basin destination was a good long distance away. From Florence Lake we descended back down to Lewis Creek, hiked a while down canyon, then took the trail back up and past Cony Crags and farther south. We found a really nice spot for lunch with an amazing view of the valley. This spot would come back into play later in the trip. As we approached the Lyell Fork of the Merced River, we turned cross-country up a steep headwall and climbed to Hutchings Creek. This basin was beautiful and desolate - and difficult to navigate around all the ponds and granite. But it made for a wonderful evening destination.

Florence Lake outlet stream as it approaches Lewis Creek

Lewis Creek

Sierra Tiger Lily

Our lunch view - Half Dome, Clouds Rest, and beyond

The Clark Range, from the Cony Crags trail

Lyell Fork Merced River basin

A fascinating little stream that has cut multiple grooves in the granite

Starting our approach to Hutchings Creek basin

Lyell Fork Merced River below

Hutchings Creek basin with lots of lakes, ponds, and granite

The view from our camp in Hutchings Creek. Mt. Maclure in the middle back

A panorama of the Hutchings Creek basin

Lovely alpenglow sunset light at camp

Day 4

The short route between Hutchings Creek and the upper Lyell Fork took us up and over the class 2 cross-country Sluggo Pass. Even though we only traveled about three miles for the day, it took until lunchtime to get there. The views were amazing all day. And the upper reaches of Lyell Fork Merced River is as beautiful as anywhere in the Sierra. It's not trivial to get here, but worth the effort.

Working our way around the Hutchings Creek basin toward Sluggo Pass

Sluggo Pass

The last several hundred feet to the pass is tricky talus slogging

Looking back to Hutchings Creek

Talus fun!

Hutchings Creek basin

Hutchings Creek basin

Almost there!

One more look back

Finally at the top, now we just have to get down! Lyell Fork basin

It's not any easier on the other side

We ended up camping on the knoll above the two lakes on the left. The views were outstanding!

A small pond loaded with (we assume) endangered Yellow-legged Frogs

Camp in Lyell Fork

Alpenglow sunset light on the range. The two peaks on the right are Foerster and Mt Ansel Adams

Hazy sunset color on the Clark Range

Day 5

On this day we descended the Lyell Fork down to the large meadow and connected back to the Cony Crags trail. This section was tricky cross-country with lots of micro route finding to get down the cliffs and slabs. Once on the trail we started our return, with an eye on the building clouds overhead. As we approached that amazing lunch spot view from a few days before, we agreed that it was time to bail. With the first sprinkles coming down we quickly threw up the tent. Within minutes it was a downpour that lasted the rest of the afternoon. Stopping here was more than just a good idea to get out of the rain, but it set us up for one of the most beautiful sunset vistas we've ever seen.

Starting down the Lyell Fork

Mt Ansel Adams in the center, Foerster Peak on the right

We need to descend 1,500 feet to the meadow below

Lots of micro route finding

She's probably not happy!


We survived the descent to the river and meadow

Back on the trail, looking toward Triple Divide Mountain and Isberg Pass

Sierra Tiger Lily

Leichtlin's Mariposa Lily

Camping in the rain, but the view!

Sunset view. Clouds Rest just left of the sun, the outline
 of Half Dome to the left, and Merced Lake 2,500 feet below.

Day 6

The relatively thick morning clouds didn't bode well for us staying dry today. We had about 17 miles of hiking remaining to the car, and much new territory to see. We had plenty of food, so headed for Babcock and Emeric Lakes on a parallel trail to the Lewis Creek trail we use to come in on. There's a steep climb past a cool little unnamed dome on the way to Babcock Lake. As we ascended, the clouds got thicker and thicker. By the time we reached the outlet of the lake, and before we had time to scout a camp, the sky opened up. We donned our ponchos and scouted around until finding a flat site that wasn't already under water. Putting up a shelter and keeping your down gear dry in a downpour isn't a trivial activity, but we managed. It poured and the thunder roared right over our heads for several hours. But at least we were inside. While the rain didn't completely quit before dark, at least it dwindled to showers that allowed us to get out and see the lake and views for a while.

One more look into the valley before departing our amazing campsite

A closeup of Half Dome, from an angle most don't see

Hiking the beautiful forest along Lewis Creek

This fantastic Sierra Juniper wasn't huge, but I'll bet it was well over 100 years old

Another view into the valley before we turned and ascended to Babcock Lake

The fantastic little unnamed dome near Babcock Lake

Looking back at the Clark Range in building clouds

We reach the top of the climb and circle behind the little dome to Babcock Lake

Susan uses a lodgepole pine as a mediocre umbrella while it pours

In the early evening we got a break to enjoy Babcock Lake and the views

Babcock Lake

Day 7

Today was get out day, with about 12 miles to the car. We pushed on from Babcock Lake to the grassy Emeric Lake, then on through a lovely meadow to Boothe Lake. This area gets hammered with visitors to the Vogelsang High Sierra Camp in a normal year, but because of the pandemic the camp was closed this year. So the traffic was light and we enjoyed this little lake quite a lot. From there it was over Tuolumne Pass and down the truly pedestrian Rafferty Creek trail as fast as our feet would allow. Reaching our car in Tuolumne Meadows we headed straight to Lee Vining and the Whoa Nellie Deli for a much earned delicious dinner!

Morning at Babcock Lake

Fletcher Creek

Fletcher Creek

A small pond along Fletcher Creek

The amazing Yosemite granite ridges just keep coming

Grassy Emeric Lake

Another little pond along the way

Boothe Lake

Sometimes the route doesn't work out quite like planned

Boothe Lake

One last look at Boothe Lake