3rd June 2015
Mileage 17.8 (28.6km)
Whitney Creek (766.3) to Budds Creek (784.1) via Forester Pass
Today is Forester Pass day. The highest section of trail on the Pacific Crest Trail and Jon Muir Trail. A white frost covered the nearby meadow. It didn’t seem to bother grazing Mule Deer. Again it was cold. I set off hiking in the morning wearing every item of clothing that I had with me. Progressively I stripped layers of clothing off as the thermometer started to climb.
By 8.30am I stopped next to a clean clear mountain stream to rest and have my second breakfast for the day. I was about 30 minutes ahead of our group. Slowly they arrived. First Mr & Mrs Smith, then Hummingbird, Bearly and Teflon. We loaded up on calories for the long climb ahead.
First we ascended above the trees to Bighorn Plateau. An expansive flat meadow that teemed with Marmots. These rabbit sized creatures have a curious habit, on occasion of twirling their tails like a propeller when they walk. Or standing on their rear legs and yelling high pitched squealing noises.
The trail temporarily entered a pine forest near Tyndell Creek where we either had lunch or third breakfast. As much energy as possible was needed for the high altitude climb ahead.
Climbing Forester Pass
Forester Pass is at 13098 feet and is the highest and by reputation the most difficult pass of the Pacific Crest Trail and Jon Muir Trail. As I approached Forester Pass I tried and failed to find any sign of a trail from a distance. Because Forester Pass was on the PCT and JMT I expected it to be easy to see in the distance but it was not.
We stopped at a mountain stream and pressed our lips into the water to drink. No need to filter this water we thought. The lakes on either side of the stream were still frozen.
At the bottom of the pass we walked over either a frozen lake or stream. We all heard the sound of water flowing underneath the ice we were walking over. It’s only a matter of time before an unfortunate hiker breaks through the ice.
There were jagged edged mountains on all three sides of me. It appeared impossible to cross any of them. Most had snow clinging to the roughest and sharpest sections of granite.
The climb up the pass was stunning. Despite the high altitude we were buzzing from the thrill of witnessing some of the most majestic alpine scenery I have ever seen. The trail was cut into the side of the granite cliffs. As I neared the top I paused to look around.
Below I could see three or four frozen lakes and a thin brown line that was the hiking trail. Above was a corniced slab of snow that was the pass. We bypassed this dangerous section of Forester Pass which was covered in snow by scrambling over the rock nearby. We were at the top and very pleased with ourselves.
Forester Pass Descent
Clouds were starting to form. First there were the ice cream looking clouds that would disappear soon after formation. Then there were the high sirrus clouds. They didn’t look too angry but I think the good spell of weather we have been having may come to an end!
The descent off Foresters Pass involved a lot of rock hopping and post holing through snow. Post Holing is the term used to describe when walking on snow and the feet sinks through the crust, sometimes up to the thighs or more. It can be slow and cold progress. Despite being cold and wet I loved the descent.
It was significantly colder on the north slope. We all layered up. It took over an hour to finally exit the snow patches and walk on the proper trail again. Despite ravenous hunger we all decided to continue several more miles to a campsite next to Budds Creek. I ate all the food I had left, with the exception of 3 granola bars which is for breakfast tomorrow and the only food I have left.
I learned one important lesson. Carry more food. I think I’ve lost around 2kg (5lb) in the last 7 days. I hope I have the energy to walk over another high pass to make it to town to resupply.