By John P. DeGrazio
Mountaineers aren’t made; they’re born.
Waking up at 5 am is never fun, but sometimes it is more tolerable than others. As my alarm sounded, I sprung out of bed, eager to meet the day’s challenge. I couldn’t shovel the oatmeal in my mouth fast enough, and I sprinted out the door with a full pack of food, water, and plenty of sunscreen.
We arrived at Pywiack Lake, some like to call it Tenaya Lake, at about 8 am and immediately began our journey. After some early morning shots of Pywiack Dome, we followed the climbers trail up the Cascades to Lower Cathedral Lake where we were greeted by stunning views of Cathedral Peak, my first multi pitch climb in Yosemite. I was with Red Bro in charge, Gabe Mange, and he was feeling strong.
We treated ourselves to some sunflower seeds and other snacks before we continued our journey. We stopped briefly to chat with 3 firemen who declined our invitation to join us on the Echo Peaks and a lone camper who all thought we were a bit out of sorts. When I tried to explain what our goal was, Gabe nudged me to end the conversation and reminded me “We’re like on a big mission, man.” From the Upper Cathedral Lake, we ascended through a decent amount of snow to the bench above beautiful Budd Lake.
From there, I declared “Dude, we’re camping here in a few weeks”. Gabe concurred.
The views were sublime. I was overwhelmed by emotion as I felt my spirit lifted from my body in way that I have experienced many times before, but only in the mountains. Cathedral Peak was simply stunning, and I had never seen Mt. Dana look so beautiful, all 13,061 feet of her.
Our approach to the Echo Peaks was pretty straightforward, and we didn’t encounter any problems besides a few postholing incidents. We chugged a couple of shots of Red Ace, and Gabe received a jolt of energy he had never felt before. Not to be confused with the other poisonous energy drinks on the market, Red Ace is an all natural beet shot. Each bottle contains three organic beets, and I have been assured by my new friend Miles, the company’s owner, that scientists have proved this supplement can provide energy as well as help mountaineers adjust to higher altitudes. Gabe and I were convinced as we saluted our new found tonic.
We climbed three of the Echoes in all, and made one last push to the Cockscomb, an 11,005 foot peak in the center of the Cathedral Range.
We grabbed the summit and decided to call it a day. Our plan was to get down for some fish tacos, but as it always seems, we were in no hurry to leave this magical place. We stopped to photograph the majesty of the peaks who welcomed us. We were not the only ones there that day, as we heard a couple of climbing teams on Cathedral. Although we were not alone, we felt so isolated from the rest of the world and were happy to share this most remarkable terrain with fellow adventurists.
We took our time on the descent and soaked in every last ray of sun as we approached the lake during sunset. We stopped to photograph at every turn where each lighting situation improved. We made it back to Pywaick, and the last bit of sunlight escaped as we ended our 12 hour excursion. We returned happy, tired, and hungry. Although we were feeling the pangs of hunger (missed our chance for tacos), our beings were completely satisfied with another bountiful mountainous feast. Next time we return, this area will be filled with many more adventurous souls on similar missions. This particular thought made our experience that much more memorable.