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Cathedral Peak - Yosemite | by Stephen Oachs (
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Cathedral Peak - Yosemite

Aperture Academy Photography Workshops


Cathedral Peak is a sweet place. It's high on the John Muir Trail in the heart of Yosemite National Park. It's been on my to-do list for about 4 years now and finally, I had the chance to made the trek.


See, Tioga Pass crosses over the highest elevation of Yosemite National Park and is only open roughly 3-4 months out of the year so access to Cathedral Peak is pretty limited. In past years I always missed the window...but not this year.


This year I found myself on my way to the Eastern Sierra to meet up with Brian Rueb to conduct our 2010 Aperture Academy Bodie/Mono Landscape Workshop. I decided to head over a few days early and get some R&R as well as personal shooting in, if conditions would cooperate. And they did.


With some careful weather/conditional research and a call to the ranger station I decided to make what was suppose to be a fairly "easy" trek. I read "easy" hike, or "short portion of the John Muir Trail"...cake, 3.5 miles each way, NO PROBLEM...


umm, well that's not reality...


The hike started STEEP, with stone staircases...and, I'm not in the best shape, and, it's 8600 feet...and, well it was STEEP! So, not a half mile in I'm gasping for breathe...but the good news is David Richter, who joined me on the hike, and who is 18 years younger than doing the same. I feel somewhat better.


We hike, and hike, and rest, and hike, and stop, and then we realize..."oh shit! I left the bear mace in the MoHo..." We stop for a moment and ponder our potential fate...and with a joking...


"I think I can run faster than you..." we proceed up the trail, sans bear mace.


We arrive at the fork in the trial...3.5 miles complete and soon realize we're another good MILE from the upper lake, our final destination. We make it to the lake and start looking for compositions. A slight third wind overcomes us at the excitement and beauty of the location, and sky. With every last bit of energy we could muster we made the climb up another 150 feet of a granite outcropping. We turn, look "nope, we need to get higher..." and finally we settled in on a cliff...legs weak, breathing heavy...we sit, eat a hard boiled egg, energy bar and setup for the sunset.


Sunset is nice but as the light fades we realize we've got 4.5 miles of hiking to get back to the comfort and style of the MoHo...and ohh is that a nice thought. The climb back down the 150 feet of granite rocks is easy...amazingly fast...but within 20 minutes the return trail it's suddenly very dark, and very scary.


Somewhat reminicant of an episode of CSI, our tiny LED flashlights lit the way, moving left to right in search of eyes in the darkness. Then, it happened. I was hiking, backpack on, tripod strapped to the backpack, hiking poles in my left hand and suddent...SOMETHING IS BEHIND ME!! I spun around like the fastest gun in the pupils like sausers to see....nothing. It turns out my tripod has swung just enough to catch the end of the hiking poles and that intersection pushed the poles forward, making it seem as though something was indeed about to attach and kill me.


Embarrassing, check.


Amazingly, what had taken us just over 3 hours to hike up, we made the return trip in 1 hour 45 minutes. And not a moment too soon. The sound of a car on the road gave us hope that we were almost there and then the sight of the MoHo parked in wait, well that was sure a giant relief.


We survived this difficult hike, came away with a pretty funny story and got a capture I'm fairly happy with. I do plan to return next year for an extended stay in hopes of more images from this truly amazing location.


Here's a video I made on the journey...I recommend 480 or 720p


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Taken on August 31, 2010