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Months ago, when we first planned this trip, we asked for a permit for the Budd Lake trailhead. This is a trailhead that doesn’t appear on the list of trailheads in Yosemite, and it doesn’t get a lot of use. The quota is only five people per day…and there were going to be four of us. Since only three of the spots were reservable, we had to add one last person when we picked up the permit. Which wasn’t a problem, although the ranger at the Wilderness Office made it seem quite a bit more serious than we thought it should be. Sigh. Still, we got our permit and we were off!
With the fires in the southern part of the park, and a forecast that called for 20-40% chance of thunderstorms, we had our doubts about the whole thing. The smoke was so bad at Olmsted Point that we couldn’t see Half Dome, but when we got to Tuolumne Meadows, there was no smoke at all, and the sky was clear. All systems go.
There is no maintained trail to Budd Lake, and camping is not allowed in the Budd Lake basin. So we followed the Cathedral Lakes trail for a bit, then broke off along a use trail to follow Budd Creek up the canyon. It was lovely hiking, but quite steep, and starting off with this hike a day after spending time at sea level is a cardio-vascular challenge.
(A quick note for those interested in following in our footsteps: there are three use trails that branch off the Cathedral Lakes trail to the left in the first half-mile. The first two really only take you to Budd Creek itself. The third one is now quite established, and has been recently (like this weekend!) maintained by trail crews as the “climber’s” use trail to Cathedral Peak. It is in beautiful condition (far better than the trail to Cathedral Lakes) and leads you right up to the South Face of Cathedral Peak. A branch of this trail leads left over to Budd Lake. In each case, when there is a “junction” on these use trails, the lesser trail always has some kind of minimal barrier across it. From the Cathedral Lakes trail, the use trail to Cathedral Peak is blocked with a few pieces of wood. From the use trail to Cathedral Peak, the use trail to Budd Lake also has pieces of wood in it, to indicate that it is not the primary route.)
But if you are really interested in following in our footsteps exactly, you’ll take the FIRST use trail over to Budd Creek, cross the creek, then just follow the creek up the canyon. Eventually, where a tributary comes in from the left, we crossed over to the right (West) side of Budd Creek, and then landed on the climber’s use trail to Cathedral Peak. We followed this past the first trail crew taking a break, then continued up almost to the base of Cathedral Peak, where we could see the lovely ridge heading over to the pass below Echo Peaks. A second trail crew was eating lunch here. We set off to the left along the ridge above Cathedral Pass, and ate lunch on top of this ridge. We then crossed over to the use trail route that contours along the base of Echo Peaks. To find this trail, just keep as close to the base Echo Peaks as you can on the West side…. The route then leads you down a narrow chute for about 200 yards, until a small canyon breaks off to the left. That’s your opening to the gentler slopes between Echo Peaks and Matthes Crest. (The South face of Echo Peaks is too steep for us to tackle, although the climbing ranger who was supervising the upper trail crew suggested that he chose that option.) Follow the little creek canyon for about 75 yards, and you come out into the forested slopes above Echo Lake. If the going ever gets too steep, just head left until you feel better about things.
Once down at Echo Lake we spent some time finding a campsite. Since there were four of us, we needed something a bit larger than usual. And it was windy, so we wanted something that was sheltered. We finally settled on some rocks up above the lake to the West, well hidden in the trees. After a nap, Estelle and Nico decided their tent site was not flat enough, so we moved them fifty yards to a better site.
The forecast called for 20% chance of rain, but the clouds only looked a bit gray, not threatening, and once the wind died down we had a lovely dinner and settled in for the night. We expected it to get cold, and the temp was just about freezing when we got up the next morning. Bundled in hats, fleeces and puffies, we cooked breakfast and eagerly awaited the arrival of the sun down in the canyon.
Once it arrived, we decided to hike over to Matthes Lake in the morning. This is an easy hike, and the route finding is also simple. You just have to go around Matthes Crest to the south. There is some talus in the way, but we have yet to find a route that is too hard. Staying closer to the granite slabs of Matthes Crest usually gives you some better views, and avoids too much up and down.Mathes Lake itself is stunning, and we spent some time enjoying the view. Estelle went wading in the lake a bit, and we saw a few fish jumping in the morning light. After a snack and a drink, we went back to our camp at Echo Lake, and came to the decision that we would hike out that day. We ate lunch, strapped on our packs, and headed up the valley towards Cathedral Pass. Near the top, the large meadow was boggy in places. Estelle and I went through the meadow and got our feet wet. M and Nico stayed to the left and found a longer route and drier ground. At any rate, this part of the hike was wonderfully easy and a real delight.
Once on the John Muir Trail at Cathedral Pass, it was a whole different story. The trail is quite abused. Lots of rocks, clouds of dust, and hordes of hikers made this our least favorite part of the whole operation.
We did meet a wilderness ranger on the trail who carefully checked out permit and chatted with us. And then we hiked the last three miles down to the car through the rocks, dust, crowds, and even a service dog. A few sprinkles of rain were all we felt, and that only at the very end of the trail.
We drove up to Tioga Pass to show the kids a view more views, and got a few more showers on the way. And off behind Unicorn Peak to the South, the clouds looked considerably blacker and more menacing. On the way out of the park we stopped at Olmsted point for a couple of photos shrouded in smoke from the fires, and then drove back to our cabin, getting just enough rain to turn on the wipers to “intermittent” a few times. Hot showers, warm food, and a soft bed were the perfect ending to the trip. Here's a link to the rest of the photos: https://photos.app.goo.gl/SjJYthqYxaPlgPXk2