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.
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.
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!