Every moment we spent in Yosemite made me wish we had more time to explore this magnificent wilderness country. As we drove out of Yosemite Valley towards the Tioga Road, mist formed in the valley floor adding an air of mystery to an already glorious setting. I half expected a bear to emerge from the mist, but alas no such luck. Although that just provides a handy excuse to return one day.
The Tioga Road is notorious for only being open for 6 months of the year at best, heavy snows keep it blocked from October/November to April/May. During which time the road, and the 9945ft Tioga Pass, are impassable. Snow stays on the ground up here pretty much all year round. It’s also renowned for offering some spectacular views and excellent day hikes from the roadside.
The Tioga Road rises up and over the Sierra Nevada, winding its way past bright green forests, granite mountains, lush high altitude meadows and crystal clear lakes. It’s probably one of the most beautiful stretches of road anywhere on the planet. Even if you don’t stop to hike one of the many trails, be prepared to be made breathless by the views.
We reached the beautifully located Olmstead Point which offers spectacular views towards Half Dome and over Tenaya Lake and Tenaya Peak. The area around here is strewn with boulders, large and small, almost like some giants had abandoned a game of marbles mid-match. Dropping further down we reached Tenaya Lake and went for a stroll around the shore. The water was crystal clear and icy cold.
Further along the road are the Tuolumne Meadows, a vast open space in the middle of the mountains. It’s from here that the trail to the Cathedral Lakes begins. The Cathedral Lakes are incredibly beautiful, and the 7 mile round-trip is supposed to be one of the most popular in this part of Yosemite National Park.
Not for the first time on our trip, I walked the trail alone and didn’t see another human being until I reached Lower Cathedral Lake. Even then it was only one person and we were headed in opposite directions. We had a quick chat and then went our separate ways, both of us returning to the solitude if our own thoughts amidst the extraordinary beauty. As I stood drinking in the views over the lake I couldn’t believe my luck.
The trail takes you upwards on wooded paths for 3 or four miles, occasionally glimpsing mountains between the trees. Eventually you pass under the shadow of Cathedral Peak, a dramatic craggy mountain that deserves its name, before walking out into another meadow. A couple of miles of walking through boggy terrain and you arrive at the shores of the lake.
I can honestly say words can’t really do it justice. You really have to be there, but that first view over the lake will stay with me for a long time. I wanted to explore further to the upper lake and beyond, but the day was getting on and we still had a drive ahead of us. Our goal was Bodie, a former Gold Rush town abandoned eerily intact when the gold ran out. So it was back on the trail and back to the car.