About the AuthorDeborah Peel is a writer, blogger, marketer, mother, lover of big trees and isolated mountain tops. Her passion is writing to build a better world and sharing her backpacking and hiking adventures, one step at a time.
I forced one arm into the frosty darkness, reaching to flick on the Petzl headlamp tucked into the handy overhead tent pouch; it’s a small thing, but that net pouch is one of my favorite things about the 2-person Nemo Hornet! For the second time in my week on the trail, night temperatures had dipped low enough to wake me shivering in my 10-degree sleeping bag. Wearing my base layer and a wool hat, I’d pulled on the bag’s down hood during the wee hours. Now I dressed like a contortionist inside the snuggly down warmth before stepping out into the gray promise of dawn.
There had been no fellowship in camp that last night and I didn’t mind a bit. I’d been too tired to introduce myself to the large group of boys by the lake or the lively adults just 50 feet from me. To my surprise, the boys settled down at dark and it was the adults that partied into the night. Go figure.

I went tripping lightly up the trail, invigorated with a new plan that would start with getting back to the Horseshoe Meadow campground, the very place I’d left six days ago. As soon as I got there, I’d hitch a ride back to Lone Pine where I’d spring for a motel with an all-important shower. I was sure my hiker funk was alerting everyone that I was coming from 15 paces away!

I walked into the rays of sunshine and quickly took the mile to mile and a half to the top of Cottonwood Pass.  Sometimes I think that the only thing worse than high stepping up a rocky continuum of switchbacks is going down the other side. But not on the sixth day of my journey. Yes, my hip still complained, but felt better and I could finally breathe deeply. I was full of nutrients and no longer plagued by the evil heartburn. I descended each switchback quickly and easily, just like the people I had envied five days before when I was pushing myself ponderously up the same trail.
The group of boys (okay, young men) overtook and passed me with friendly greetings, fishing poles poking high up out of their backpacks. Soon I saw a gal climbing slowly up the trail toward me, her teal bandana waving and a substantial purple Osprey pack just like mine riding on her back. She was huffing and puffing but wore a grand smile. This was another Lady of the JMT, Cecelia Cruz, and we had a happy visit with lots of mutual encouragement exchanged. I didn’t know then that we’d soon become acquainted on Facebook and I’d get to enjoy looking in on her successful trip to the top of Whitney!
I found myself moving twice as fast as before and had to caution myself to slow down, be careful. It wasn’t long before I passed the boys. They laughed and said I was showing them up! I took a quick break under tree cover, hydrating, nibbling on a snack and dipping behind a tree to squat and pee. I was too eager to finish the trail to stop for long, trotting through the sandy plateau like a horse storming the barn. I came upon the boys resting in the shade and stopped to visit. They’d spent two nights at Chicken Spring Lake and had not a fish to show for it; they were dismayed when I told them I’d been watching fish jumping from my tent site up the hill. One of them told me he hadn’t been feeling well and I told my tale of altitude woe. He, too, had experienced the ugly heartburn and was now feeling much better. Altitude sickness cares not about age; it can be an unpleasant surprise for anyone!
I powered through the thick sand on the trail, passing the Cottonwood Pass trailhead and blinking back at the glare bouncing off the car windshields just ahead in the parking lot. It was only 10:00 am and I’d finished my hike for the day! And who do you think reappeared just after I stuck my thumb out for a ride to Lone Pine? A little white car crammed with guys and gear passed slowly but I heard it reverse at the stop sign. Back it came, the passenger door flew open and Chuck jumped out saying, “I told Bob, that’s Debbie and we’re not leaving her!” it was Bob, Chuck and Cyril from day one on the trail! They reorganized and literally shoehorned me into the backseat with my pack on my lap. It was a wonderful conversation-filled jaunt down the mountain, just like reuniting with lifelong friends. As they dropped me off with big hugs, I thought “Gosh, I think I’m going to miss them most of all,” just like the Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman and Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz. With a big wave, I turned and tapped along the pavement with my trusty Leki trekking poles and checked into the nearest motel. Yes, it had a shower!
My final stop for the day was the only pizza parlor in town. Yay for town food! I studied my JMT map and locked in my plan to re-enter. Then I ate an entire pizza before heading back to my room for shower number two. I could still smell myself.

Trail Tip: Let your heart be open to strangers who may become the people you miss most of all.