Backpacking Trip to Cathedral Lakes and Sunrise Lakes (6/27/2015 -6/29/2015)

During my last year (2014) John Muir Trail (JMT) journey, I made a list of beautiful places that I need to revisit to photograph. Top of the list (as I passed this area on 3rd day) was Cathedral Peak and Upper Cathedral lake. As me and Kiran climbed up Cathedral pass last summer, we were greeted by an afternoon thunderstorm on the pass. Slight rain continued till we reached Tuolumne Meadows that afternoon. So I did not get chance to photograph Cathedral peaks last year.

Being 7 weeks away from my JMT endeavor this year, I thought it’s high time to unpack the gear and field test in order to prepare for the hike. Cathedral lakes trail was unambiguous choice. Saket was interested in going along. After our first trip to Thousand Island lake, we haven’t done backpacking together again. I also invited my colleague Umkant who was eager to experience the wilderness through hiking and backpacking. He joined us with his 14 year old son Vinayak.

We all set out on  Saturday, June 27th (2015) early morning 5:30AM. Our plan was to reach Tuolumne Meadows wilderness permit office by 10AM and seek permit for next day. Camp at Cathedral lakes on Sunday night and get back to trail head by Monday afternoon and drive back home. Only 10 walk-in permits are available to Cathedral lakes per day. Fortunately we got permits for Saturday itself. Once you get permit for one day, you can choose to stay in the wilderness how ever long you want. Daily permit quota does not apply beyond first day. You must however specify date of exit on the permit application. I recognized the ranger who helped us. She was the same person who helped me on JMT permit last year in Yosemite Valley. We had little chat on JMT. We four had nice lunch at Tuolumne Meadows Grill. Vegetarian chilly was fantastic.

We started at 1:45PM from Cathedral Lakes Trail head at Tuolumne Meadows.
At the trailhead… when they didn’t start hating me for bring them on this trip 😉


Trail started to climb almost immediately. Upper Cathedral Lake is 3.5 miles from the trail head and climbs from 8500 ft. to 9600 ft. elevation. I had lighter pack of 35lbs comparative to my JMT trip, which was 45lbs. So it was much easier to hike up.

On the way we met this familiar trail buddy … Marmot

Once we reached the lake, it took a while to figure out away around the lake to camp at appropriate location. I never used deet before as much as  I used in this trip. Mosquitoes were pettry bad at Upper Cathedral lake. Thankfully, hooded jacket that covers hands neck and deet on face made it easy to tolerate them. As sun went down, mosquitoes were gone as well. We reached around 6PM at camp site. Pitched our tents and finished our  errands like fetching water from lake to cock dinner, setup sleeping pad and bag etc….  But I had run for shooting sunset before I could cook my dinner.

Here is the sunset image.

I expected colors to change deeper shades of red as sunset progressed, but unfortunetely did not happen. I climbed down a bit close to lake shore and composed this image with super wideangle 14mm lense to shoot this scene with stars trails. It would have been spectacular.


I expected some wind to blow away the clouds to make skies clear such that star trails will be visible without interruptions.  After waiting for 30 min. I dropped the idea and went back to the tent. Well, good excuse to come back to this place again.

I got up at 4:30AM to shoot sunrise. I expected alpine glow on Cathedral peak, at least partially. But didn’t happen. Seems I need to get to Budd lake to able to see Cathedral peak in alpine glow (thanks to Hakan for the suggestion). Budd lake is other side of Cathedral peak. Here are image from that morning.


It was pleasant morning with quiet lake and blue skies.



We had nice coffee and breakfast. Broke the camp at 9AM and headed towards to sunrise lakes. Our first stop was at Cathedral pass. As we started to move away from Cathedral peak, we came across a nice patch of lupine on edge of a large meadow.


Cathedral pass is at just about 10000 ft. elevation with spectacular views. Cathedral peak itself is not visible from the pass, but Echo peaks, Cocks comb, Voglesanag, Mt. Lyell and Mt. Mcclure can be seen from there.

Saket relaxing on the pass

We reached Sunrise High Sierra Camp around 2PM through long meadows. Sierra Penstemons are in bloom.

We saw plenty of lupins, Sierra Penstemons and Mountain Pride in bloom. Sunrise High Sierra camp (SHSC) is not opened for the season yet.  We took an hour break as it rained. We met two 60+ year old PCT hikers. Their supplies did not reach Tuolumne Meadows yet. Instead of taking couple of days break off from hiking, they are hiking to Yosemite valley from TM. Very inspiring. Taking up 2700 mile hike at 60+ years deserves an big applaud. Me and Kiran camped at SHSC on 2nd day of our trip last year.

We left John Muir Trail at SHSC and took sunrise lakes trail at the junction. Trail climbed up about 200 ft. and leveled off. We hiked about 2.3 miles to Sunrise lakes for the night. We crossed larger lake and camped at smaller lakes. It was great place. Rain forced us to setup tents quickly and take an hour break as it continued drizzling.

Camp site was pretty neat, large site with fire pit.


We were treated with great sunset. But area was surrounded by trees. It wasn’t easy to compose a frame without distractions.


Woke up in morning. Did not bother to photograph sunrise. Just sat before the lake and enjoyed solitude.

Those are the kind of moments, I hike up to these places.

(Click on the image to view larger picture)

We broke the camp at 9AM and within few minutes we hit trail junction where sunrise lake trail joins other trail that goes from Tenaya lake to Yosemite Valley through Clouds Rest. We took Tenaya lakes trail. That climbs down 1100 ft. to Tenaya lake in 2.5 miles. As we climbed down, we had great view of west side mountains.


We reached Tenaya lake by 12PM.

Tenaya lake is right next to Highway 120. We took shuttle bus that runs between Olmsted point and Tuolumne Meadows lodge. Had lunch at Tuolumne Meadows Grill (another Vegetarian Chilly) and drove back home.

It was great trip with very relaxed pace. Great trail for beginers to gain backpacking experience. We hiked about 14 miles in 2.5 days with about 3000ft. elevation gain. I highly recommend this trail, particularly for those who want to get into backpacking world.

Here is our tracks and elevation profile of our trail.



Happy Hiking


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