Budd Lake

I keep expecting every weekend to be my last when hiking in Tuolumne, but the weather has been splendid for fall excursions. Tioga Road remains open, perhaps trying to make amends for the delay in opening this spring. According to NPS statistics, the latest closing date in the last twenty years was December 11 in 1995. Perhaps we’ll break that record this year!

Budd%20Lake.jpgI journeyed to Budd Lake yesterday, taking the old Fisherman’s Trail along Budd Creek, and then I wandered through the beautiful basin that is surrounded by magnificent peaks: Cathedral, Unicorn, Cockscomb, and Echo Peaks.

Snow appeared at about 9,400 feet, but only on north facing slopes or in the shade. I traipsed though the snow, following animal tracks (one of my favorite pastimes—I did my thesis as an undergrad in Biological Anthropology on the science of animal tracking). After following a great set of coyote tracks, my wet feet began to register and I finally remembered I had on my summer hiking boots. Oh well. It was only a short hike back to the car.

Fall Hike at Budd Lake

Perhaps in return for a very wet spring, and a summer filled with atypical storms, Mother Nature has rewarded us Sierra dwellers with stunning fall weather. This past weekend I journeyed up to Tuolumne Meadows to check out the fall color and take advantage of the perfect hiking weather.

I decided to explore the Cathedral Lakes area, a region that attracts many visitors in the regular summer season—and with good reason. Over lakes that reflect the rich blueness of the sky stands the grand summit of Cathedral Peak, reaching for the heavens. The granite peak does resemble the spires of an ancient European cathedral, sans the stained glass windows.

For my excursion, I decided to begin the hike with the cross-country route to Budd Lake. Coincidently, given our recent recall election, the lake was named for James H. Budd, the governor of California from 1895-1899. Does that mean we might one day have a Schwarzenegger Lake in Yosemite?

Nestled under the arm of Unicorn Peak, Budd Lake provides a fairy-tale like setting for those wishing to relax in the high country. Sitting on the shore, with a view of the clan of Echo Peaks, I felt transported into a Tolkien or other mythological story and almost expect to see a unicorn emerge from the surrounding forest. Is that why the peak is named Unicorn? Because try as I might, I couldn’t really make out the figure of the unicorn from the shape of the granite rocks. I have the same problem with many of the constellations, so perhaps it’s just my lack of imagination.

From Budd Lake, I continued southwest and climbed to the top of the saddle of Echo Peaks. To the north, I had front a row seat to watch the climbers as they scaled Cathedral, and to the south I had a view of Matthes Crest. Not wanting to tempt fate with my back, I decided to forgo the scramble to the top of one of the Echo Peaks, but I did try my hand at creating an “echo.” It worked!

I descended into the basin that contained Cathedral Lakes and connected with the John Muir Trail for my walk back to Tuolumne. Although I have enjoyed the warm, dry fall, I realize that it’s time for some precipitation—many of the creek beds and pools I passed were dry, patiently waiting for the winter to arrive to resurrect them.

As for the fall color, the aspens have begun transforming the Tioga Road into a pastel canvas of yellow and green. I think next weekend will be prime viewing.