Experiencing Yosemite's High Cathedral Rock

Mountain Secrets

tonykrizan@hotmail.comSeptember 10, 2013 

It is almost noon and here I sit at the saddle on route to the summit of High Cathedral Rock in Yosemite National Park. Surrounding me and sharing the open space in this narrow passage are ancient Sugar Pine trees and manzanita bushes.

Surprisingly, even at this elevation a few song birds are singing as they maneuver around the snow-covered rocks, looking for their next meal.

Three hours earlier I was driving into the valley from the Wawona Tunnel. At Bridalveil Fall I started looking for the small parking area just before the junction to El Capitan Meadows. This will be the parking location for our trek to the summit of High Cathedral Rock.

Almost three hours have passed since I departed from the trailhead. My hiking partners Clem Bingham and Fred Cochran also welcomed this break after an exhausting boulder-hopping scramble. Somehow we missed the trail that followed through the trees, but found an alternate route following the run-off gully to the south. We should have turned left before crossing the Valley Loop Trail and looked for the ducks marking our path-way.

Instead we turned right and started climbing upward and found an alternate route, then proceeded to boulder hop scrambling toward the saddle.

As we ascended the clear brisk mountain morning offered breathtaking views of the valley below. The most popular sights are Yosemite Falls, Three Brothers Peaks, Eagle Point and El Capitan. At the east end of the valley the tip of Half Dome can be seen. Nearing the top of this first gully it narrowed into a class three climb. At this point we climbed to the left and entered another boulder-filled gully that intersected with the commonly used trail. We discovered this route on our descent from the summit.

Numerous ducks can be found along this route, most of which do little more than mark the passage of another climber. I did take the time to admire the sheer walls of both High Cathedral Rock and the towering formation of the Cathedral Spires that individually jettison upward more than 1,000 feet. James M. Hutchings named Cathedral Spires in September 1836. To American Indians Cathedral Rock and Cathedral Spires are called "Poo-see-na-chuc-ka" meaning "Mouse Proof Rocks," because their shape resembling their acorn baskets that hold acorns from the Oak trees growing in the area.

After scrambling up the gully (slot) more than 1,500 feet and 2,000 feet above the valley floor, our lunch break was well deserved. With our bodies refueled we dropped down 20 feet on the opposite side of this saddle and hiked to the south to intersect the class two slot for our finial push to the summit.

After more than 2,600 feet of elevation gain to 6,647 feet, we found another angle and breathtaking panoramic view of Yosemite Valley. This climb took us three hours to scramble over the boulders to the saddle and another 25 minutes to the summit. Even though this round trip scramble took us almost seven hours to complete, our rewards are the distant views only experienced from this location.

This trek should be on your bucket list of hikes in Yosemite National Park.

You will not be disappointed.

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