DAY 2 and 3: Half Dome and a MOUNTAIN LION!

Saturday 24th of August (Happy Birthday Mom!!!):
I find it really hard to say something nice about day 2, only because of the fact that my point of view is blurred by what happened last night (I’m writing these lines a day later). But I’m gonna give it a try, so here I go:
I slept pretty well at the campground in Littly Yosemite Valley. Last night Jule and Gustav from Berlin joined me and we had a nice evening togehter. How funny it is out here that with the people you meet you instantly feel well, like as if you have known them way longer.

Early in the morning, at the break of dawn, I packed my bag and went off to climb Half Dome. It was a nice and easy climb trhough a pine forest (well at least I think it was a pine forest, don’t know too much about the flora names… so I could be wrong) till I reached the point where a ranger was checkin’ permits. There I took my bear can and ukulele outta my pack and hid them away from view If I had known going up the cables was so hard I would have left my whole pack down there.
Anyway I started climbing the first part of Half Dome and thought: “Well you sure shouldn’t take a wrong step here…” And then… I saw the cables. OW FUCK! I wished I’d had my Via Ferrata-Set with me. With my backpack on (o stupid me!!!) I hit the cables. Damn was I happy when I made it safe to the top. On the wys up I met Yoav from Israel who’s also hiking the JMT.
On top of Half Dome… WOW the view was pretty incredible!!!! We took the obligatory diving board pictures, enjoyed the view and I felt a little anxious to get back dwon actually…whoops! Luckely Yoav offerd me to carry my backpack, so going down wasn’t a problem. Rather fun! Wow I hadn’t expected those calbes to be so steep! I was saying all the time like: “Wow that was CRAAAAZY!!!”

Back down I said goodbye to Yoav (who was way faster than me) and I made my way to the couds rest jucntion and up on sunrise creek. Which was where I thought I took the wrong way and went back won to double check… Only to find out it was the right way after all. Somehow I had the feeling I had to make up that lost time (lost more than 1,5 hours, adding a couple of miles and quite some feet of elevation!) so I kept going and going. I kinda neglected taking breaks and having something to eat… Not such a good idea! (I forgot to write: I saw loads of deer from really really closeby!!! PRETTY AWESOME!!!)
Finally I arrived at the spot, right next to sunrise creek, where wenk’s guidebook cited: “last campspots for the next several miles”, so I decided to stay there and that’s where the horrorstory took it’s start.
I don’t feel like writing so much about it as I think I’m still in shock of what happened. It kinda makes me feel sick and it brings tears to my eyes. I think I’m gonna have to wait a few days till I’m able to write it down….

(Note from me while I retype my journal entry:To all readers: Please…respect my feelings when it comes to this story…. I might have overreacted, I might have not been rational, I might have not been able to judge the situation objectively…. But this is how I felt, so please respect it and don’t post any comment like “stupid you, you should have done this and that. you completely got it wrong…” Maybe it was all in my head, maybe I never was in real danger… But I felt like I was gonna die and that is my truth for this story…:c(
PS: No I don’t have a pic of the mountain lion. I was busy banging my pot :c( 

OK, this is DAY 10, and I’m gonna try and write down my story…

That was my camp spot during the mountain lion night.
O crazy me I even made a little nest around it.

When I came to this camp spot several deer were grazing there. All of a sudden… they took off… like as if something had happened (it was not me, when I came they just stayed) but I didn’t look around why they took off. I inspected the place and picked a spot for my tent. After that I started cooking but I really didn’t feel hungry and I had to like stuff it into me. Somehow I didn’t feel at ease, this being the first night all alone in the wilderness. I hid my bearcan like miles away and I got in my tent way before it got dark. I started writing my journal and I looked outside thru the mesh of my tent. I saw something moving behind a bush like 10 to 15m away. I thought it was a deer so I said: “Hey beauty, come out so I can see you…” And then it came out… but it wasn’t a deer…. it was a CAT… I immediately knew it was a mountain lion, though I’d always thought they are all black. It came from behind the bush, stared at me for half a minuted and then moved sideways so I could fully see it. It was big and beige with a cat face and a strong thick tail with a black dot at the end. It kinda walked around me. I felt totally paralized, like I couldn’t breath. I never had this feeling in my life before. I knew this was serious and I knew this was bad. My thoughts were going in all directions. I was trapped! What shoudl I do? Leave my stuff here and go back down? Or should I keep moving up to sunrise camp? But I realised I’d be an easy prey if I’d get out of the tent right now, so I decided I had to stay and try to get through this on my own. I can’t really describe the feeling cuz it was one of the most horrible feelings I ever felt. I decided to bang my pot. I told myself:”I’m gonna bang my pot all night!” It was the only thing I thought I could do. I decided not to yell cuz I thought the Mountain Lion would hear the fear in my voice. Also I decided not to blow a whistle cuz that sounds like a prey noise. When it turned dark I closed the fly of my tent and I kept banging my pot.
It’s pretty hard to write about this. I felt like trapped in my own coffin. I was in a state of mind I can’t really describe. I didn’t want to die yet… not now… I can’t find word to write this cuz I feared for my life during 13 hours. I feared like hell. I made videos during the night, saying goodbye to the people I love. And I kept banging my pot like a morron. I kept banging and banging and banging. One moment I was sweating, the other I was freezing and shivering and I felt like throwing up but I said to myself “I may not throw up cuz what if that would attract the ML even more?” Several times during the night I felt it was really close. I heard it walking just next to my tent (when it got light, I saw his tracks just next to the fly!!!) Those were the moments where I was like paralyzed, I layed down and tried not to breath. It was terrible! I put my backpack close to my head cuz I decided if it attacked I would pu tmy backpack over my head to protect my head and neck. In the night I had to pee like hell but I just couldn’t go outside and sit down in front of a mountain lion. I had to pee in a ziplock bag. It feels sooo embarrasing to writh this down but what else could I have done? I felt anxious about the smell attracting the ML so I put the ziplockbag next to me in my sleeping bag. That felt sooo horrible.
I tried to strenghten my spirit protection wall and I imagened a wolf patrolling arount my tent, protecting me. In that night I swore to myself that if I survive I’m gonna train my mental skills like as if there is no tomorrow. And I swore to myself that I’m gonna tell the people that I love that I love them.
I asked for “please let it be light”…

DAY 3: Sunday 25th August 2013 (my second birthday!!!):
And then the morning came and I realised nothing had really changed. I was still trapped and the ML was still there. I didn’t dare to open the fly but I heard it stretch itself, making cat noises and scratching the tree just behind me. I decided to stay in my tent no matter what and wait till I hear hikers pass by and then start yelling for help.
Time passed and passed and it took AGES. I asked, I prayed for people to come by, And then I heard voices and I started yelling HELP ME PEOPLE PLEASE HELP ME!!!

MY TRAIL ANGELS!!!! I LOVE YOU GUYS!!!

THANK GOD THEY HEARD ME and Gordon and Dave from Seattle found me! Finally 2 big men approaching drove the mountain lion off!!! I was totally in shock, not able to keep my eyes focussed, like a wild animal myself. They gave me food and Dave told me to look him in the eyes. I calmed down a little and they helped me pack my stuff, looked out for tracks, kept talking to me. Jeeeee I STANK LIKE HELL. I felt terrible, nothing like human, but I was soooo happy to be save, that this horror was over and I was to LIVE! THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU  I AM ALIVE!!!!
Gordon and Dave went back down to the valley which was ok for me, as long as I got out of there every direction was the right direction. Gordon walked in front of me, Dave behind me so I was savely tucked in. We took several breaks so that I was able to eat and drink a little. Dave gave me a whistle as a present. That’ll bring me luck. They brought me to the Clouds Rest Juncion where they would camp and then climb Half Some. I said goodbye to them, hugged them and said THANK YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY HEART! I went back to Little Yosemite Valley. Luckely Jule and Gustav were still there and I set up my tent at the exactly same place where I had camped 2 days before. I decided to go to the river and wash my terribly stinking clothes in the Merced. I met Ted there and we had a nice and long conversation (it felt good to tell my story). Jule and Gustav came back from their dayhike and were quite surprised to find me there. Of course I had to share my story. That’s also where I met Shobhan (later on the trail he would be given the trail name MERMAN) and Ban and Ronna. I also went to a ranger to tell my story and little later the wildlife ranger came to ask more in detail. Some people gathered around to hear the story. The ranger confirmed me hat I had done the right thing (I asked him: Was I like overreacting? But he said: No, I would have been as scared as you have been and you’ve done exactly the right thing: making metal noises and not blowing a whistle…. Well and that was a big man that wildlife ranger!!!). Afterward Shobhan gave me my trail name: CAT WOMAN!!! First I was like: Noooo I don’t want that. I don’t wanna be reminded of that story all the time. But then he explained to me that it would turn it into something good. In retrospection that is exactly what happened (I’m now writing this last part of the story on the airplane back home). I now feel that the name CAT (woman…. the “woman” part was dropped further on the trail, so everyone just called my CAT) suits me perfectly. I am CAT…. strong, wild, crazy, not to be tamed!
That evening I went to bed and took a sleeping pill cuz I just needed a night to forget and get sleep. I was soooo glad Jule, Gustav, Shobhan, Ban and Ronna were there!!!!

Sunrise showing my destination: THE TOP OF HALF DOME!!!
The cables coming up… FUUUUCK!
the diving board

 

Yoav on the diving board
Looking back on Half Dome
  
 

 

 
Tears still sticking to my face…

14 thoughts on “DAY 2 and 3: Half Dome and a MOUNTAIN LION!

  1. Cat,

    Wonderful story. It needed to be told for others who may find themselves in your situation. Its an honor to have read of your experience. You are one strong woman. Im planning on a solo trip of JMT next year for 63 miles from VVR to TM.

    Good Luck on your future hikes

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  2. Hi James! Thanks so much for your heartwarming comment! It feels really good to hear that others appreciate it that I share my story here, even though I sometimes doubt whether I did the right thing or not. And it feels good to hear that others think I'm strong… Enjoy your hike next year… The scenery is just amazing and I wish I could be there right now!!!! It's gonna be PCT 2015 for me :c) Happy Trails to you!!!!!!!!

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  3. Hi, that had to be scary. When we saw you we were worried about you. We camped so close we should have worried about the big cat coming to our camp. The previous Sunday I was scared to be camping at 10,500 feet and a lightning storm for three hours and seven hours of rain. The day after we saw you we climbed Half-Dome. That night a bear or lion must have come into a camp close by. The man and lady were yelling and “get out” and the lady screamed twice very long and loud. Before that we were laying in the dark and a big tree fell down and I was sure it would hit us. The next morning we could not even see which one it was. So, the wilderness is scary and most of us get scared with good reason. I loved coming down the cables off of Half Dome. For some reason, I had so much fun doing that. I had not had so much fun for years. I guess it was like being in a plane and seeing all around and being able to lower myself as slow as I wanted to. Great luck on the PCT next year. We did Washington State and liked the last 39 miles to Canada the best; they were rugged but very pretty. We had a light snow in August there so don't go too late. Your “rescuer” Gordon from Seattle

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  4. Cat – There is nothing to be embarrassed about. You are obviously a brave woman and you finished the trail. That is really strange ML behavior. I'm wondering if he had Bambi stashed nearby and was guarding his dinner. I have been hiking the Sierra for decades and have seen ML sign everywhere but have never actually seen one except for a glimpse of one bounding away at night that I would have never have seen had it not been for my dog freaking out. I live where they live and even once had to remove a kill from a park as part of my job because it was too close to a populated area. I'm kind of jealous that you got to see one although I would not have wanted to be in your shoes that night. I think you did a great job that night. All the more reason to trust in yourself. On my first solo 30 years ago in Yosemite I woke up and couldn't figure out why I couldn't see any stars. Turned out the bear straddling my head with his head in my pack was blocking out the sky. My screams scared him away but yea I almost crapped my pants! Now many years later I feel more a part of the wilderness and sleep great out there and the noises don't bother me. I often backpack with my 20 year old daughter and she hasn't developed the trust in her skills and is a little aprehensive sometimes but she's getting there. She no longer worries about bears but does worry about mountain lions as she should. We are finally doing the whole JMT together this summer which is what brought me to your blog which I am enjoying.

    “I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” I think this Muir quote applies to you Cat. You have caught the disease and you must treat it. The PCT will be good medicine and will be so awesome! Trust in yourself and enjoy your journey! But be safe too!

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  5. Hi Apeman, thanks so much for your really nice and encouraging comment! Wow I'd totally freak out if a bear would block my view like that… jeeeeeeee, that's crazy!!! O yeah me too I'm sure the PCT will be the perfect medicine… I'm sure I'll become more and more part of the wilderness with every day and night I spend out there. My heart feels so close to nature but still I have to learn to really trust. It'll be a long way till I get there….luckely the PCT has 2663 miles… Happy trails to you and your daughter too!!!! She is so lucky you're taking her out on the JMT!!!! Take care. Cat

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  6. My friend Fitz lived, at the time this happened, in the Cuyamaca Mountains in California near San Diego. It's all piney woods up there with lots of grassy meadows. Perfect territory for flying hang gliders, which is what he liked most, but that's another story. Fitz practiced meditation every day. He'd go out into the woods, find a good spot and sit for an hour or so and just be present. He practiced his breathing and sometimes chanted while he sat, just trying to be here, right now with his thoughts and be part of the world around him.

    One day, as he was meditating, he saw a lion in the vicinity. He watched it and took it in as part of the environment. For 10 minutes or so, it wandered 20 or 30 meters away, watching Fitz all the time. Finally, it approached. It came to within 3 meters and lay down in front of him, still watching.

    Fitz just remained still and talked to her calmly, in his chanting voice. She remained still, watching and listening. They stayed together for about 20 minutes, both with their own brand of being still and being one with the environment which, at this point, included the other. Finally, she got up and walked away.

    Fitz told me about this the day after it happened. What a privilege that was! I'd give a lot to have had that experience myself. I'm sorry you were afraid. Life teaches us all lessons along the trails we take. Most animals out in the wilderness are just trying to make a living. They stick to what they know and take the easy meal. I live in Florida, now. The top of the (non-human) food chain here is the alligator. It's amazing how timid they are when faced with a big animal like a human. If you're a small dog, it's another story.

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  7. Thanks so much for sharing that story! It's beautiful! It's been 6 months now since I met “my” mountain lion and she (for some reason I think it was a she but I'm not sure at all) continues teaching me lessons. I now have a different feeling about the encounter. I do sometimes remember and feel the fear I felt that night but I can see the beauty of it now, the privilege. I said to her “hey beauty, come out so that I can see you” in the way I talk to my own cat, and she reacted the same way, being curious, maybe attracted by a friendly voice. I will never know for sure, but I'm sure this was one of the greatest teachings nature gave to me. I talked to a native american living in ML country himself and he told me if an animal sticks with you for such a long time, it's not because it wants to hurt you but because it wants to teach you. I can say now that I'm am deeply grateful for this encounter! And I hope that if I'd meet another mountain lion I will react like Fitz did and see the beauty of it right in that very moment!

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  8. I had a similar experience on Isle Royale, but the deer were moose and the mountain lion was a wolf. Unbelievable that that cat hung out for the whole night. WOW! I honestly can't think of anything you did wrong, particularly as you were alone. Good choice of not blowing that whistle. The cat definitely had the advantage of position on you, and I bet it didn't even know you were a person. Had you popped your head out the vestibule, you still wouldn't look like a person, and certainly not big and ferocious.

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  9. Helen / Cat – a superb write-up. I also saw your post on Muk Muk's blog — I'm sure that meant a lot to her.

    It's almost as if the wildlife in Yosemite got together and said, “Hey, this woman has traveled a really long way to visit our home, so let's make sure she gets the full wildlife experience.” I mean, by Day 3, you've seen a bear and 2 cubs, countless deer, a beautiful raptor — and had an amazingly rare encounter with a mountain lion.

    After reading a LOT about mountain lion encounters, I believe you did exactly the right things, and your fear was well-founded. I'm glad that you've come to see your experience through a wider lens, embracing the beauty as well as the danger, but I believe both the danger and the beauty were genuine.

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  10. Hi Jamie, thanks for your nice comment!!! I must say, by the end of day 2 I was thinking: Eh, do I attract animals or what? Haha. I guess beauty and danger sometimes lay close to eachother, it's all about balancing on the edge and as you wrote, embracing both ;c)

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