Elizabeth and Budd

July 22, 2020

Today’s hiking plan was something Jim concocted (he’s usually the strategist):  a little old, a little new and a good dose of cross country.

We’ve really hit our stride with regards to the rhythms of camping. After a couple days, our systems are pretty smooth… what needs to be done, by whom, in what order, by when… so rising and shining, getting breakfast going, making lunches, cleaning up, packing our day packs… we are like a little ant colony of three.

Gorgeous, crystal blue sky, warmish… damn… spectacular.

We’re on the road by our usual 10:00, give or take, into the park (the rangers have figured out how to identify the cars with passes and we are relieved of having to wait in the 30 minute line to get into the park). We hit the Tuolumne Meadows ranger station to fill our jugs and water bottles, then up the road to the trailhead. We parked somewhere between the visitors center and the trailhead for Cathedral Lakes.. at the crosswalk that marks the short trail to Soda Springs (this detail is for my future ref). On the south side of the highway, one find a trail, to a trail and eventually to the Elisabeth Lake trail, which we took.

For us, because of where we started, it was about 3 miles to the lake and up the usual grunt out of the meadow, just shy of 1000′ elevation gain. Once up and out of the forest, it’s really, really pretty.


I already knew I was not likely to join Peter and Jim on their adventure.. I was going to decide when we got to the lake, and brought a book just in case.

Here’s Elizabeth Lake. What they are going to do is leave the trail and head toward that nub, Unicorn Peak’s northern notch. They are planning to go through those trees on the right, and once out on that granite, contour around somewhere below the notch and hope to run into Budd Lake on the other side. It’s all open and granite-y. Then, they’re going to explore the Budd Lake area before heading back down on the Budd Lake fisherman’s trail, a trail we’ve taken 4-5 times.. it’s a long, sometimes steep, decent back down to the meadow, following the drainage from Budd Lake (with some great waterfalls and narrow gorges). It’s a great trail, not hugely used.


So they took off, and I hung out at the lake and ambled around the creek area for a while. I love that kind of time alone in an area where I can’t get lost.. I sing a lot and talk to myself. And somehow, it’s always bigger and more vast when you’re alone. I saw a couple we’d all passed on the trail going up, then didn’t see anyone until I was near the bottom again. With the campgrounds and all park services closed, it was pretty void of people.


Once down to the car again, I grabbed a Crazy Creek chair and found a spot off the Soda Springs trail with a view of the meadow, and read Little Fires Everywhere. It was actually chilly and windy, so I bundled up. It was extremely cozy and I was ecstatic to have that time to just read in such a treasured spot. My view:


And me (I somehow managed to break my sunglasses!) It’s not like there were people around, but the mask kept my face warm.


The real story of the day, however, was not my glasses, my view or the novel I was reading. Jim and Peter were having more of an adventure than they bargained for.

Here’s what it looked like as they began their ascent out of the Elizabeth Lake area. And you can also see that what appeared, from the lake, to be great slabs of granite, wasn’t at all.. the terrain was more like giant boulder fields and talus.

They got some great views. This is looking back on Elizabeth Lake:





This is looking north toward where we started in Tuolumne Meadows. That prominent white mass in the middle of those trees is Lembert Dome.



I like this one of Peter, making himself comfortable on a rock:


Unbeknownst to them — and you never really know what you’ll encounter when you’re off trail, unless you’re plotting your course carefully with a detailed topo map — they’d picked a route around Unicorn that was not easily passable. They’d gone high, hoping to gain and hold elevation early, but got cliffed out a number of times and had to backtrack and re-route.


Even though it wasn’t that far as the crow flies, it took them hours and hours to get to Budd Lake, but they finally did.

But not before they had to negotiate a few dicey descents:



Jim would tell this story better than I will here, but I do know that some portions of the adventure were easier for Peter than they were for Jim.. the 45-year age difference being what it is. Peter did some scouting and route-testing and then offered some much appreciated coaching–Peter, from far below, guiding Jim through a series of moves involving optimal hand and footholds. Which, from what I hear, worked out great!


And, once back down on terra firma, well around Unicorn Peak to the other side, they came across a set of no-name lakelettes. (Man.. this looks so pretty, I wish I had been with them.)


And here, finally, is Budd Lake:



I like this shot, too, with Peter in the photo for scale:


And that big hunka burning love in the distance is, of course, the iconic Cathedral Peak, the face of which Peter climbed last year — a 5-6-pitch climb. It’s not the hardest climb in the park, but it’s exposed and easily the most famous climb in the entire Tuolumne Meadows area. Definitely one for the memory books.

Such a great area! I don’t think they saw anybody up there for most of the day. If anybody at all.

Because of the route challenges, they got back down to the car at least two or three hours after I expected to see them. So by 6:00 or 7:00, I was pretty worried. I was working out where I was going to go (the Ranger Station) and when to do it, given the light remaining in the day (I figured they’d need good light for helicopter rescues). But none of that was needed, as they finally showed up. Yay.

But not without injury! Check this out:


It didn’t happen on one of their dicey descents, they weren’t attacked by mountain lions. This happened while walking on a solid trail on their way down. In fact, one of Tuolumne Meadows’ most traveled and well tamped trails.. the Cathedral Lake trail, which they decided to take because, given the hour, they could power down quickly.  Apparently, Jim was looking down and ran into a tree branch. It was a hefty enough branch that it gouged his head, even through his hat! And it bled a lot. The above photo was taken back at our campsite, after a few rounds of water and rags.

(I know, sorry.)

Here’s more of the clean up job:




And the bandaging job (first aid is not my forte):




But I’ll take credit for this: a solution for holding the bandage in place and a fashion statement:



Our last dinner was another round of rice and beans.. which, given how tired they were (at least Jim!), was just fine:


And we got a lovely evening, too.









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