Then We Were 2

Sorting out the resupply


9/1 14 miles Onion Valley to Dollar Lake

We had dropped off our resupply at Independence Inn, so that was easy. Innkeeper Jim brought us back up to the Onion Valley trailhead at 6:45 am for a proper early start. Amazing he was willing to drive us so early! That never happens.

We hiked over Kearsarge Pass back to the JMT and headed up Glen Pass. It was a lot of climbing. We walked down and along beautiful Rae Lakes, reminiscing about 2016. Puff Puff recollected that she’d struggled up this Pass, I recollected I was called a goddess by some older, slower hikers.

We got to Dollar Lakes and I pitched my tent in the same place I put it in 2013, 2014, and 2018. A couple hours later a ranger came by and asked us to move. I said we would of course but pointed out it wouldn’t make any difference unless actual restoration work happened. I don’t disagree that people shouldn’t camp next to the lake and asked if he’d like me to move some obstructions to the nice flat, hammered tent sites. After he left, that’s what I did the next morning, for all the good it will do–people will just move them out of the way. I should join a volunteer crew next summer, this park doesn’t have any volunteers that I’ve ever seen, although I have thanked professional trail crews out here.

Glen Pass

9/2 16.1 7-5pm

We were both dreading the climb up Pinchot Pass.  We’d had similar experiences in 2015 on the PCT, it’s just a long, awful climb, and we’d both wound up camping on the uphill after not enough miles and way too much fatigue.  Together in 2016 going SOBO, this was a day that went on forever, we had camped at the bottom of Mather Pass and we went up and over Mather, then up and over Pinchot Pass, one of the few times we camped after dark.  We kept pushing because of the wind and cold, Puff Puff’s tent was jury rigged and we needed to find wind protection.  I lagged way behind.  But in 2016, I woke up the next day and absolutely stomped it, going up and over both Glen and Kearsarge Passes.

So we grumbled and just got it done, it was an easy down from Dollar Lake to the suspension bridge, then 5 hours to the top of Pinchot.  The last bit is a short set of switchbacks, like Forester and Glen before them so I waited at the top as it started raining at 1 pm. We started to hustle on the way down as thunderstorms moved closer and closer.  Wind, rain, then skin breaking hail.  I stopped to pull on my rain pants and yelled at Puff Puff as she passed me, “Run!” Each woman for herself in a bid to survive, it was hypothermia cold, the lightening was right on us and we were totally exposed on slab granite.  She was out of sight in seconds and then I too ran downhill to the lake and trees.  Down, down, down past the lakes and down to the river, the tree sheltered hole with a river run I g through it, between Pinchot and Mather.  We found the campsite I’d talked about, protected.  It started to rain shortly after we got our tents up, protection from both the horrendous bugs and the rain.

As I lay in my tent I heard a bear bell, turns out it was on a horse with a rider who was herding a mule train ahead of him. Much later, 11-ish, I heard a bear bell again, but I either fell asleep or I didn’t hear the mules heading back the other way.  I love mules on the trail, they work hard and do their job, and have sweet faces and adorable personality quirks that the packers learn to manage.

9/3 16.9 miles

I woke up to the sight of 3 deer across the way munching some mushrooms.  A good start to a beautiful day.  I felt great and pretty much lead to the top of Mather Pass, passing two couples going our way.  What a difference a day makes in the Sierra.  Mather was clear and I didn’t mind waiting a half hour for Puff Puff and taking time for photos and contemplation.  She blazed out downhill and I didn’t catch her for hours, which I didn’t mind.  So many favorite spots on this trail, so many memories.  We decided to camp at Grouse Meadow where I’ve never camped before.  It feels like there are a lot of people on the trail in this section, I know there’s several side trails leading to the JMT.  I met Just Jeff, finishing up the PCT in the Sierra which he had to skip due to the big snow year, and his trail friend from Germany I think, Christine.  We camped just past them and zipped ourselves into our tents pretty quickly again away from the mosquito hell.  Well after dark, some dork came hiking by with his speakers blasting Jimi Hendrix, probably thinks All Along the Watchtower is going to scare some bears.  Funny, I’ve seen a bear right here before and they already know to hightail it to higher ground, Jimi or no Jimi. At least the dork had good taste in music.

Morning, deer!

Looking back where we came from, Mather Pass

Grouse Meadow

9/4 16.4 miles to Evolution Basin

Glorious!  Since the sketchy weather day coming down Pinchot, we’re a tad aware of the building clouds as we head up Muir Pass.  I’ve probably said it before, but there are some nationalities on the trail that I really like, not that there are nationalities on the trail that I don’t like.  If you’re hiking, backpacking, we share a common language.  We leap frogged with 2 Korean guys, one of whom was having knee problems and going slow according to his partner who we passed as he was waiting.  Puff Puff and I heard a tremendous squawking of birds behind us, crows maybe, and joked with each other that that was the last time we’d see Bum Knee again, the vultures were eating him already.  (For the rest of the JMT, everytime we’d hear a bunch of noisy birds again, we’d make a crack along the lines of “Hiker down.”)

We got to Muir Hut just before the storm hit, but it was not a big deal and petered out pretty quickly on the descent after the obligatory photo session. Today I counted 100 SOBOs and we passed 5 NOBOs going our way.  Our goal, early or late, was to camp at Evolution Lake.  We both remembered this place from 2016.  A few campsites are just places to pitch your tent and rest.  This place though—pellucid, luminous, serene, when we were together here before.  Last year, also perfect, I camped here in the still, cool Sierra air.  We lucked out again, pitching camp before a spectacular storm rolled through, with winds so fierce I was hanging onto my tent from inside as a stake popped out and the poles flexed hard.  The sky darkened over the mountains, not a solid bank of black, but layers and layers of neutral grays and blacks, and the wind pushed that dank smell of wet granite up my nose.  It blew and rained fiercely, flash flood amounts of water that poured under and around our tents, the sandy gravel and granite providing no resistance.  And then, it was like that game the teacher played with us as school kids– rub your hands together for the sound of the storm gathering, snap your fingers for the sound of raindrops on the tent, clap and stomp for thunder, then snap fingers, rub hands together and stop.  The clouds lifted and lightened, the setting sun lit up rock and clouds and lake and it was over.  We came out of our tents, laughing and cheering as I made little sand check dams to direct the runoff away from my tent.  It was spectacular.  Oh this place, these mountains own my soul.

9/5 18.5 miles

We made quick work of the downhill to Muir Trail Ranch (MTR) the next day.  MTR does a brisk business in holding resupply buckets for hikers and every time I’ve been here before (I usually rent a cabin for a rest day and the family style meals) the extra food and supplies have filled buckets to overflowing with anything you might need to hike on for a few more days.  This year though we walked the extra couple miles in to a weird vibe.  I had sent my resupply box to Vermillion Valley Resort (VVR) a couple more days ahead but we hoped to get a few more calories to tide us over.  The pickings were slim, partly due to a couple who were grabbing every freeze dried dinner that hit the table, so much so that they’d filled their packs and were now filling 5 gallon buckets.  They claimed they were going 250 miles to their next resupply.  Weird.  Fortunately, Craig and Scott, from the Whitney/Forester section, had redirected Scott’s girlfriend’s resupply to Puff Puff, since the woman couldn’t hike the trail and she’d already sent the bucket.  So cool.  We also saw Just Jeff and Christine again, and she was giving all her spare resupply to Jeff.  Anyway we kept going, thinking to get part way up the climb to Selden Pass.  Puff Puff talked me into getting up all the switchbacks (“You’ll be glad you did when it’s over.” And I was) and we found a lovely little campsite in the trees near water, a complete contrast from last night’s campsite high in the granite) and camped early again at about 5pm.  This is the second day that she’s dogged my heels, insisting that I take the lead, even when I say I’d rather follow.  I find it annoying and a change from all the days that came before and how it was in 2016.  Oh well.

9/6 24 miles we think, who knows?  To VVR

VVR is well off the JMT/PCT and there are 2 different trails to get there from the southside of the trail.  I’ve hiked down to and up out of there on Bear Ridge Trail I think it’s called but in 2015 Puff Puff, Growler and Cool Breeze took a different cut-off at Bear Creek Trail so we decided to try that.  It cuts out a PUD, in this case a pointless climb up switchbacks, followed by a really long down.  The maps were a little vague about the mileage but we figured we could camp along the way if it was too far.  Up and over Selden Pass and along gorgeous Marie Lake, then down past my favorite secret campsite (shh, only Tarcey knows where it is), just below which Humpty Dumpty took a big fall, tripping over a root or rock going downhill.  It hurt my knees, forearm and finger but since Puff Puff was on my heels I didn’t yell “F**k” as much as I would if I was alone, I didn’t need to overly alarm her, it hurt but after the quick little assessment your brain does, I knew nothing was too bent or broken.  I took a few minutes and got her to go ahead for awhile.

Selden Pass looking north over Marie Lake
Showing off my boo boos
Pretty cool having someone taking my photo, I suck at selfies

Dave’s giving us a ride!
Puff Puff’s one true love, Dave

We got to the junction and she followed me onto trail new to me, and forgotten to her.  It follows Bear Creek, more or less, then turns off uphill (dang, really?, the lake is below!) before eventually coming out at an uninhabited campground accessed by a dirt road, about 14 fairly quick miles from the JMT.  We figured we’d head down to the dam and walk the shorter route along the edge of the water to VVR.  But I’d read that you might be able to get a ride so we semi-had our hopes up all day even though it’s definitely not the height of summer anymore.  Nobody, no traffic, no campers so we started out on the dirt road when a pick up truck appeared behind us.  If we’d been 2 minutes slower, we wouldn’t have got this amazing ride from Dave who was hauling hiker resupply boxes and buckets to VVR!  I figure the trail gods had accepted my blood sacrifice and gave us Dave.  Puff Puff said although a little old for her, Dave is the love of her life.

There’s a backpacker’s campground in front of the store, a laundry and shower room, some motel rooms, tent cabins, RV park, and a cafe–everything a hiker needs.  And it was packed, so many tents pitched.  I asked about a room but hit the jackpot with a wall tent with 4 cots for $70 with the shower/laundry building blocking the raucous party developing at the fire pit and deck outside the cafe.  Dinner, shower, laundry done and we spread out in our comfy canvas kingdom.

9/7 14.8 miles VVR to Virginia Lake

So I had no idea it was her birthday today.  It really would have been useful information and maybe besides paying for the cabin, as usual, I could have bought her breakfast as a gift, or a Twix.  We had a comfy night and a good breakfast, then got on the first shuttle boat ride to the north end of the lake where a mile long access trail connects to the JMT/PCT.  If you have ATT, which I don’t, you can get a connection on the lake.  It felt annoyingly like the real world as I looked around at the 12-15 other people on the boat all staring at their phones. 

9/8 15.2 miles to Red’s Meadow

We camped last night at Virginia Lake, again making it just as the weather hit.  We were up on the same knob where Tarcey camped in 2013, and where Puff Puff, Growler and Cool Breeze camped in 2015. 

An easy day to Red’s Meadow where Noreen and the best dog in the world, Walker, is going to meet us and camp.  We got there at 2pm and I took a shower and did laundry, ate in the cafe, and had some good conversations with some Canadians heading SOBO on the JMT.  One of them, Ken, says he and his 21-year old daughter plan to hike the PCT next year, starting from opposite ends and meeting on the trail. Cool!

Noreen and Walker brought us beer!  Pizza!  Twix for Puff Puff!  We camped together in the nearby campground and it was so good to spend some time with my friend!  Plus, I’m still laughing over her question, a first for me after all these years of hiking in a Purple Rain skirt.  “Do you wear underwear under your skirt?”  Noreen!  Yes!

Might have been cold at Virginia Lake

Noreen, Catwater, Walker

9/9 15.6 miles via JMT not PCT

We all ate hot breakfast at Red’s.  Well, not Walker.  Then we said goodbye and took the JMT, not PCT, route across the river.  There was a lot of up and lots and lots of hikers.  We passed tons of tents pitched already by 3 pm.  It was getting really windy and I hoped to camp in the trees somewhere with a little wind blocking.  So we stopped on the near side of Thousand Island Lake and huddled in our tents out of the cold.

9/10 21.6 to Tuolumne Meadows

Craziness!  The original plan was to camp in Lyell Canyon at least 4 miles before getting to Tuolumne Meadows, then walk in the next morning, get breakfast at the Grill, try for a Half Dome permit and continue out towards Cathedral Lakes.  But we made good time over Island and Donahue Passes and it’s pretty much down or flat all the way to Tuolumne Meadows.  Just Jeff was at the top of Donahue talking with Puff Puff.  Christine stayed in Mammoth for free at a trail friend’s place for a few days so as not to get done too soon before her flight back to Germany.  Jeff needs to get to Tahoe to finish the PCT before his flight, I don’t see how he can make it in the time left.  We met 2 women Katlyn and Hannah, hiking the JMT before starting grad school, obviously trail runners.  We’d met them before and one of them heard my name as Cat Pee, which made Puff Puff laugh.  I think it’s funny too, because of course the thought runs through most people’s minds when they hear my trail name is Catwater.  Duh.

Puff Puff kept on ahead and Jeff and I walked some miles together with the new revise plan, get to the Grill before it closed at 6 pm.  I saw the NPS Restoration crew is just volunteered with before starting this hike on the trail and they recognized me!  That was fun!  I showed Jeff the trail to the campground and we got to the Grill with plenty of time to spare.  Burger!  Puff Puff was there, not having waited for me at all.  We ate and found the backpacker’s campground and settled in for another cold night.

9/11 18.3 to Cloud’s Rest/JMT Junction

We ate a hot breakfast at the Grill when they opened at 8 am, then walked over to the Wilderness Permit office on the off chance that there might be Half Dome permits for the next day or maybe the day after that.  Most of the permits are by lottery months in advance but they hold a few back for walk ins.  Holy moly, we got the last 2 for tomorrow!  I’ve been up the cables a few times, but Puff Puff never has.  The PCT and JMT separate at Tuolumne Meadows so if you’re on the PCT it’s a side trip to Yosemite Valley, just like it’s a side trip off the PCT to the top of Whitney.  We hefted our packs and headed out over one last Pass–Cathedral.  We got a great tip from a woman heading the opposite direction and camped near the junction of the JMT and Clouds Rest Trail, which lines us up for a quick hike to the Half Dome trail in the morning and hopefully up the cables before the crowds get there and it looks like the 1898 Gold Rush over Chilkoot Pass in Alaska.

9/12 up Half Dome, down to the JMT by 9:30, Happy Isles by 2:30 pm

Well that was the perfect day to be on Half Dome!  We got down to Happy Isles, got on the shuttle bus, got off at Camp Curry and a while later Jim, Joan, and Annie met us.  Jim drove us up to Noreen’s beautiful rental, Cloud’s Rest Cabin, in Foresta, which she is gifting us for 2 nights until Saturday when we’ll catch a ride to Fresno with Jim to put Annie on the plane home to Alaska and to put me in a rental car for a few days.  I’ve got some business to do in Calaveras County, a visit to my stepmom Merry in Davis, and a Mumford and Sons concert in San Francisco with Tarcey.  Then I fly home to Alaska. Puff Puff will tag along until San Francisco and experience a bit more of California and people I love.  Her flight home is a few days after mine and she has a trail friend who will host her for a few days.

Finish photo a few days after we finished

John Muir Trail #7 Part 1

Puff Puff, Lonesome Duck, Catwater, Sunset


48 miles or so

Horseshoe Meadows to Onion Valley

I hiked the JMT for the first time in 2013 with Tarcey. In 2014 I yoyo’d it south from Tuolumne Meadows to Mt Whitney, then north out of Horseshoe Meadows, with a stop at Crabtree Meadows to day hike to Mt Whitney, and back to TM where I stashed my overnight gear and slackpacked to the Valley. In 2015 and 2016 I hiked through on the PCT. Last year I hiked from Red’s Meadow to Whitney and out. So not complete JMT hikes but this year I’m calling it JMT #7 anyway. And going all the way to the Valley!

After a wonderful week of camping and volunteering with 6 friends in Tuolumne Meadows at Yosemite NP, I spent the night in Mammoth at Joan’s and organized my pack and food, then threw work and travel clothes, and real books into a giant duffel bag that Joan will haul around until I walk into Yosemite Valley where she’ll be doing another work week with the Yosemite Conservancy a couple weeks from now.

Joan had to work Sunday morning as a Mammoth Mountain Host, then we took off south on “the 395” in LA-speak, to Bishop. Puff Puff had flown from England to LAX and made her way to the hostel in Bishop. Reunion! We said good bye in November 2016 after 1600 miles together on the PCT SOBO. Joan dropped us in Lone Pine where we met Sunset (Jim), Lonesome Duck (Tom) and Tim’s wife Ellen who will chauffeur us to our start at Horseshoe Meadows.

I’ve been plotting this hike with friends since last spring when I got the permits. Jim and I have been friends for years, meeting as Yosemite volunteers. Tom is Jim’s friend and we’ve hiked together too, most notably on a trip to Rae Lakes in 2014 when he earned the name Lonesome Duck. His cheerfulness and good nature helps off set Jim and my tendency towards sarcasm and grumpiness. I promised Jim that I would be nice about the low 10-mile days for the short stretch they could hike with me–just out over Kearsarge Pass to Onion Valley. I promised! Some hiking challenges are mental.

8/26 We all acknowledged that I was trail fit and they were not. Still it doesn’t make it any easier for them to hike with me when I’m obviously not struggling and they are. We dry camped after 9 miles, a new experience for Jim and Tom I think having to pick up water a short while before camp. It was pin drop quiet at night, blissful.

Searching Guthook for campsites ahead

8/27 The next day Puff Puff and I searched the maps for our destination and picked the closest place to camp by water, 11.1 miles away which was more than the agreed 10 miles. We met 2 really cool guys doing the JMT together 20 years after their first trip. Craig Fowler is the only double Triple Crowner, having separately hiked and biked the PCT, CDT and AT. Scott told us that because Craig wasn’t going to. He has the mileages of all 6 tattooed on his inner forearms.

At the Crabtree junction, Puff Puff continued towards Mt Whitney with Craig and Scott. She’ll summit Whitney and catch up to us in a couple days. Perfect, clear weather, it’s going to be spectacular.

I camp with Sunset and Lonesome Duck, I scouted us a lovely little area behind some big slab granite above the creek, we have it all to ourselves. I pitched my tent a bit above them and relished the solitude. Tomorrow we’ll have a short day to Tyndall Creek camp and rest up for the climb up and over glorious Forrester Pass. They’ve never done it and are intimidated even though I’ve tried to reassure them.

8/28 Knowing it was a short day but kinda worried that Tyndall would be camped up with all the SOBO JMTers I hiked my own pace, enjoying the views and clear skies and all the memories from my other hikes on this stretch. I chatted with several hikers coming at me, including one woman who waxed poetic about joining the “Ladies of the JMT,” a FB group Tarcey and I were invited into in 2013. I love that this is a support and celebrate group for women. But the online newbie questions wear me out, even though I get it, the anxiety of a first long hike. This trail is well loved and is the first long trail for so many. With the thousands of miles I’ve now hiked, I have to guard against offering unsolicited advice and I hope nobody can read my mind. “Are you freaking kidding me? You’re carrying a camp chair?”

I stopped on Bighorn Plateau in the shade and ate lunch with Sunset and Lonesome Duck. I have a hard time taking long breaks, even when I know I don’t have far to go and hours to get there. So I got to Tyndall Creek ahead of the guys, after an 80″ break. I wanted time to scout campsites away from water and the trail, proper LNT (Leave No Trace). SO MANY HIKERS, so many camping crazy early, even earlier than us!

There are good rocks to cross the creek but when I got there a man walking on the rocks was helping a little old lady who chose to wade barefooted through the water. I didn’t understand what I was looking at, but backed off quietly as the man gave me a nod and a shrug. Once they were across, I followed. A bit later the man told me he’d just come across her and she’d told him the rangers knew she was there (a ranger cabin is a short way off the trail here) and had given her food and she said she was going to hike over Forrester. Weird. I moved on wondering if she needed help but pretending to myself she was OK because the rangers knew about her.

I found some campsites, and put a note and bandana next to the trail for Puff Puff. I doubt if she gets this far tonight after doing Whitney but that was our arrangement. I’ll pick them up on our way out tomorrow.

8/29 The big day! Forrester Pass!

Whelp she walked right past the eye level note and blazing red bandana early this morning. A hiker coming at me, then another, said she was waiting ahead, well below the Pass. I found her and sat and in not too long the guys joined us. From here, you can finally tell where the Pass is and it does look daunting. I tell them, “it’s only switchbacks the last bit and it’s much easier going over it from this direction.” True!

I think I told them all that I did the NOBO switchbacks in half an hour in 2014 and that it was a good 2 hours going down the other side. So I decided to try for the half hour again. I did it, boom. A beautiful day again, warm and clear, glorious on top.

Needlessly worried about finding 4 tent sites at treeline the other side of the Pass, I scouted uphill a bit and found awesome wind blocked sites for all. A ways below these sites are what I call the cliff dwellings, numerous tent sites on beaten earth crowded with a dozen tents, they’re highly visible right next to the trail and are the first campsites coming SOBO after a really long uphill so that’s why they’re always full. Puff Puff looks exhausted, Whitney yesterday, then up at 5:15 to catch up to us and we didn’t start till 8:20, now 3 pm after 7.8 miles. Jim seems happy and relaxed, he made it! Tom may claim he struggles but he is so even tempered, why can’t I be like that? Tomorrow should be quick, we’re going to camp this side of Kearsarge Pass for a short 4 miles out on the guys last day on trail.

I watched this guy crawl into the shade and wished I had some

8/30 Easy 8 and we got a big, open campsite near the lake. The rest of them dove in, while I got cold just looking at their goose bumps.

At dinner time, sitting on rocks around our freeze dried dinners and camp stoves, Tom thanked me for taking them hiking and then sang me Beautiful Dreamer, with Jim taking a stanza too. On a chocolate bar wrapper that I’ll keep forever, he wrote:

“Catwater aka Beautiful Dreamer

Thanks for the great trip! Lonesome Duck”

Awww…and he’ll drive us from Onion Valley to Lone Pine for lunch then back to our motel in Independence. Sweet!


We made it over Kearsarge Pass and to the parking lot!