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Posts Tagged ‘Tuolumne Meadows’

A Sky Island Kuna Crest in Yosemite

Friday, September 25th, 2015

Time lapse of the recent Walker Fire outside Yosemite.

Who: Rachel McCullough
What: Hiking and climbing
Tuolumne/Yosemite National Park
August 2015

It was a surprisingly warm morning last month in Yosemite National Park, which was nice because our destination for the day was more than 12,000 feet in elevation.

A week before the trip my hiking partner, Tom, and I studied the Yosemite map and bemoaned that we’d done nearly all the established trails close to the road.

So, we set our sights on a high-elevation hike with no established trail. This hike would take us to the top of Mammoth Peak at 12,117 feet and then south along the Kuna Crest, which rose and fell above and below 12,000 feet.

Mammoth Peak, our first destination.

Mammoth Peak, our first destination.

If you’ve read any of my other posts that involved Tom and Theresa (Hiking Yosemite’s Bermuda Triangle: Tenaya Canyon or Gorgeous Day Hike from Lukens Lake to Tenaya Lake in Tuolomne), you know that while we always intend to get an early start, it doesn’t actually ever happen.

We left the trailhead at 8:45 a.m. and immediately stepped off the trail and into the conifer forest, our objective coming in and out of view to the southwest.

Abandoning our usual fast clip we settled into a one-mile per hour kind of pace that involved frequently looking for the easiest route to the summit and agreeing upon our path. We went from a pond to forest to meadow to forest and then to the craggy upper reaches of Mammoth Peak.

Throughout our journey we spotted sheep poop and hoped to spot a bighorn sheep, which were rumored to be in the Mono Pass area just to our east.

We gained the ridge to the west and followed it to the summit, but not before I called a “food emergency.” Some in our group are known to realize they are absolutely starving just before the “hangry” phase sets in. Instead of the usual summit food and water break, we stopped just below the top of Mammoth Peak, with expansive views to the west, north and south.

Summit bound.

Summit bound.

This is where you can really see the difference between areas in Tuolumne that were glaciated and those that rose above the glacier. The Tuolumne domes that many are familiar with, such as DAFF, Fairview, Medlicott, and Lembert, were smoothed over into their dome shapes as the glaciers ran over them. The taller jagged peaks, such as Cathedral and Unicorn, stood above the glaciers.

We summited Mammoth Peak about four hours in, after a little more than 3.5 miles of off-trail hiking and scrambling. And that’s when we saw that the small wisps of smoke we’d spotted earlier that morning were now billowing. In those few hours, what we would later learn was the Walker Fire expanded quickly, and even closed Highway 120, which is the nearest park exit.

We signed the summit register and saw that the last party to sign had been up three days prior. We had the top to ourselves, but didn’t linger long. We headed south along the Kuna Crest.


Walking along the Kuna Crest.

Walking along the Kuna Crest.

Kuna Crest is a sky island, which is one of the reasons Tom and I (the planners for this hike) were interested to check it out. We were drawn to it after watching the Yosemite Nature Notes Sky Island video, which explains that sky islands are isolated high elevation places with unique plant species that don’t grow anywhere else. There are a few of these sky islands in the Park and Kuna Crest happened to be relatively easy to access.

Although we didn’t see the famed blue sky pilots (you can see them in the Nature Notes video), we saw many of the other plants known to grow in the sky islands, such as alpine gold, Sierra columbine, lupine and buckwheat. From afar, you’d never guess that, such as rocky place, was full of so many plants.

We followed the Kuna Crest up and down, stopping along the way to take a time-lapse of the growing Walker Fire, which started billowing white smoke at the top of the plume partway through the day.

The nice thing about our plan was that we could find a place to come down off the crest whenever we felt like it and pick up the Mono Pass trail to walk back to the car. There was a short section of talus to get off the Crest to reach the lakes below, but after that, it was easy walking back to the trail.

We timed it well and were back to the car well before dark, and were eating our pasta dinner in no time. The only thing we didn’t time well was the line at the Tuolumne store, where we stopped to get typical camping essentials, like chips and our ice cream appetizer.

This post comes from Rachel McCullough, an avid hiker, mountain biker, rock climber, yogi, skier and photographer living in Truckee, CA. Follow @rachelmcphotos on Instagram for stunning images of beautiful Sierra scenery. When Rachel isn’t enjoying her free time in the outdoors, she’s teaching skiing at Northstar California or building and marketing websites for her clients at McCullough Web Services.

Cathedral Peak Takeover

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

For this Adventure of the Week, TMS blog editor Julie Brown writes about climbing Cathedral Peak in Tuolumne Meadows. She wasn’t alone on the rock like John Muir, but the climb is still a classic.

Who: Julie Brown, Ashli Lewis, Matt Gibely, Tyler Chapek, Elan Pardee, Brett Spadi, Patrick and Adam

What: Climbing the Southeast Buttress of Cathedral Peak

Where: Tuolumne Meadows

Gear: Rock climbing gear, softshell jackethydration backpack

“No feature, however, of all the noble landscape as seen from here seems more wonderful than the Cathedral itself, a temple displaying Nature’s best masonry and sermons in stones. How often I have gazed at it from the tops of hills and ridges, and through openings in the forests on my many short excursions, devoutly wondering, admiring, longing! This I may say is the first time I have been at church in California, led here at last, every door graciously opened for the poor lonely worshiper.” ~ John Muir, “My First Summer in the Sierra”

Standing on the summit of Cathedral Peak in Tuolumne Meadows, a granite world expanding beyond the horizon, you understand John Muir’s praise of this aesthetic mountain.  Muir made the first ascent of Cathedral Peak in 1869; 143 years later, I summited Cathedral. While I envied the solitude Muir experienced on this classic climb, I still lost myself in the moment when I reached the 10,911-foot summit.

I went after the summit of Cathedral Peak with seven other friends from Tahoe. It took a little initiative and everyone was on board. Since a few of us are weekend warriors, we decided to climb Cathedral on a Saturday — for better or worse. No one is exaggerating when they say this is one of the most crowded climbs in Tuolumne. Like everyone else on the rock that Saturday, we were attracted to Cathedral by both its reputation as a classic Tuolumne trad climb and its moderate rating. And even though we set the alarm for 5:30 a.m. (and finally crawled out of our sleeping bags at 10 to 6), we were far away from the first group to reach the base of the Southeast Buttress. Still, warmed up from the approach hike, we weren’t discouraged and set out on the first pitch of the day.

The climbing on the Southeast Buttress starts out pretty mellow and then steepens towards the top — although it’s all very accessible at a 5.6 rating. It’s easy to pass parties in the first couple of pitches, but everything bottlenecks about halfway up at the Chimney, a really fun feature where you squeeze between two faces and stem up to the opening above.

I squeezed in between two other parties waiting to climb the Chimney and set up my anchor, where we proceeded to chill for the next hour waiting for everyone to climb up. I suggested avoiding the Chimney and climbing around, but my climbing partner Ashli said this was the best move of the entire Southeast Buttress, so we stayed, ate lunch and literally hung out. Not a bad view to look at for an hour, though.

Finally, it was our turn, and the climbing resumed. Up a few hand cracks, finagling 5.7 knobby jugs, teetering around an exposed block, and then up the final ten feet to the summit — a block big enough for a handful of people featuring one of the most serene views of my life.

The Sierras unfold in every direction — lakes and granite forever. And for the first time that day, the Eichorn Pinnacle came into view behind the summit, beckoning me to its summit next.

I now know what a “5.4 wild” rating means. The Eichorn Pinnacle is perhaps the most exposed and thrilling easy climb ever. We had to climb it. We traversed out on a ledge and rounded the corner where the ground literally drops out from underneath your feet. The only way to go is up. And luckily the moves are solid enough to keep your head (sorta) cool. The top of the Eichorn Pinnacle is even more exposed and breathtaking than Cathedral. And unlike the summit of Cathedral, Eichorn has a summit register, which was placed in memory of Christina Chan and holds the signatures of countless climbers.

“How delightful it is to be alone here! How wild everything is — wild as the sky and as pure! Never shall I forget this big, divine day — the Cathedral and its thousands of cassiope bells, and the landscapes around them, and this camp in the gray crags above the woods, with its stars and streams and snow.” ~ John Muir, “My First Summer in the Sierra”

I wasn’t alone up there. But climbing Cathedral Peak is still magnificent and wild. And it’s definitely a classic in my book.

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Escape to the Eastern Sierra and Solitude in Yosemite

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

WHO: Greyson

WHAT: Road tripping, rock climbing, grubbing

WHERE: Eastern Sierra, Yosemite

WHEN: Labor Day 2011

GEAR: Mountain Hardwear Sleeping Bag, Nemo Fillo Pillow, Suncloud shades

It’s been pointed out to me that driving three hours to mountains is a little peculiar when I live and work in the Tahoe-Truckee area. But as with many folks around here, the Eastern Sierra has a special draw — one I can only resist for so long. Without a south-bound trip under my belt since June, I found myself hurriedly throwing a sleeping bag and a few other essentials in the back of my car after work, with no clear plan in mind.

The way winds along the turquoise waters of Lake Tahoe’s east shore, down into Nevada’s rural Carson Valley, into the rocky canyon of the Walker River, past the dramatic (and still snow-laden) Sawtooth Range above Bridgeport, and down to Mono Lake, a crossroads of Eastern Sierra destinations.

Looking down on Mono Lake.

The Tioga Mobile Gas Mart in Lee Vining — or more specifically, the Whoa Nellie Deli inside it — is known among backpackers, climbers and skiers, as a dirtbag destination, or congregation, at the doorstep of Yosemite National Park, just off the shore of Mono Lake. Thursday nights bring live music, and draw a crowd accordingly. I’ve never been there without running into a fellow Tahoe resident, and this last trip was no exception. Justin, our Mountain Hardwear sales rep, was there, refueling after a few days of climbing in Yosemite.

A fire near El Portal on the western side of the national park had unfortunately blocked the band from arriving, but if the Mobile Mart is anything, it is a scene. Mango margaritas flowed, and fish tacos were doled out in stacks. A perfect summer evening in a unique slice of California. Only a hint of smoke had made its way east from the fire, and the air was warm.

Above Saddlebag Lake Road, Conness on the right.


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