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The Death Hike, Cathedral Peak, Yosemite -- Granite Reflections | by david.richter
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The Death Hike, Cathedral Peak, Yosemite -- Granite Reflections

Weather wasn't too shabby looking, so Stephen Oachs and I made our way over to Yosemite National Park for some shooting at Mono Lake and the Eastern Sierra. Coming into Yosemite NP for the first time was quite an exiting experience for me and it shouldn't be the last one over the course of a week. After checking the conditions on Mono at sunset and deciding not to shoot at all, we enjoyed the comfort of the MoHo to set the plan for the next few days. After some research and frantically checking the weather report for clouds, we decided to push our luck to the limits and hike up to Cathedral Peak for sunset. This is where things start to get a little uncertain, not to say stupid.


We read every possible map and trail report, we could find online and after a 15 minute power nap, it was time to start hiking. Gear? Prepped. Bug spray? Packed. Plenty of water, Gatorade and some energy bars? In the backpack they go. Let's get going. It's 3pm when we started on the Tuolumne Meadows trailhead up to the Cathedral Lakes at roughly 8,600ft., which supposedly is a 3.5 mile, easy hike with a moderate elevation gain (1,100+ ft.) according to most hiking websites. After the first .2 miles, we both were sure, this wasn't going to be easy. Steep switchbacks, packed with stairs and logs made us almost regret the decision to get up there but skies kept looking promising, so we kept hiking.


It wasn't another .2 miles into the steep ascent, we realized we forgot the most important gadget you can have in Yosemite... bear mace! Shit! We keep arguing... How likely is it to be attacked by a black bear? Should we turn around and get the bear mace, just in case and miss the opportunity to make it up to Upper Cathedral Lake in time for sunset? Or should we push stupidity to a new level and keep going? ...and most importantly for me, can I outrun Stephen?


Having climbed the first set of serpentine set of stairs, there's no way of going back to get the mace and we continue to sweat our butts off, in the scorching sun at high elevation, slowly but surely wetting our pants in anticipation of a bear ripping our heads off. Two hours later, after even more steep twists and turns in the trail, we finally reach Upper Cathedral Lake.... great! We have no clue how we made it nor why the descriptions say the hike is easy but we're there. Now we just have to get around the lake, get up on the granite boulders, set up and spend another hour waiting for the right light. Score!


We are now facing Cathedral Peak, the lake is dead calm but we are still not where we want to be. We need to get higher! Done deal, up the rocks we go. No way! This is not going to work.... we can't get any higher without serious climbing gear. Down the slippery granite we go, passing a mule deer and fawn on the shore of the lake and getting up on the other set of boulders. Here is where part one of the most fun part of the day starts. The first two or three sets were easy, compared to what we would encounter later. So we keep going, seeing the light getting better and better and feeling more and more weariness growing in us. We kept telling ourselves that we made it that far, we can't quit now. We're no quitters. The boulders do not seem to end and to get to the desired spot, we have to go all the way up and all the down, just to get around deep drops and to hop over 60ft. crevasses; with our lives depending on a 5 inch pine stem growing out of one of the drops.


We made it to the desired spot, about 150ft. above the lake and at an elevation of 9,716ft. (+/- 32ft. according to Stephen's iPhone). Overlooking Upper Cathedral Lake with the reflection of Cathedral Peak was quite a sight by its own but having some nice clouds made all the hassle to get up there even more worth it.


In the next episode of "Men vs. Fear Bear", all about the descent.

It's up! Check it out => HERE!


Edit: Replaced the image because I noticed the white balance was a little off. Processing in the MoHo atop the Mono Lake Vista Point with a bright side light might not be the best location to edit your images. So there.


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Taken on August 26, 2010