Forester Pass Kicked My Ass – Day 10 on the JMT
Did you hear? Forester Pass kicked my ass. This wasn’t just a little tap to my ass either. I’m pretty sure I have bruises so deep that they will take days to heal. Why do I put myself in these situations? Why do I love the torture of backpacking? Only a masochist could love this type of “fun”. Only a crazy person could call this a vacation. Oh wait, I am a little crazy… or maybe a lot. That explains it all. Well, let’s continue on with the day then.
Ground Sleeping Sucks / Hammocks Rule!
Last night was horrible! It’s official. I am not a ground sleeper. Hammocks are definitely the way to go. I tossed and turned all night, trying to get comfortable in my bivy, but nothing seemed to work. It wasn’t really the bivy (Outdoor Research Helium Bivy) that was the problem. I actually like sleeping in small spaces. I think it was the pad that was the problem. The Therm-A-Rest Xlite pad is too narrow. Not that I’m a big person. I’m actually very small, but I like to toss and turn like a tornado at night, so it seems like a balancing act on a slip and slide. Regardless, I know I slept a little, but a little was not enough. At least I was warm, and I got no condensation in my bivy. That’s a win for sure.
Peeking my nose outside my bivy, I can tell it’s freezing outside. Through the opening, cool air creeps in and swirls around me, causing me to grip my quilt a little tighter and sink in just a little deeper. I don’t want to get up. I hate being cold. Maybe I’ll just lay here a bit longer until the sun is shining and the frost has melted from the leaves. Deep down I know that’s a bad idea though. Hiking in the heat of the sun is way worse than hiking in the chill of the dawn. A moving body is a hot body, so that’s just what I need to do. I need to get moving.
Out Into The Cold
I can hear others around me rustling and creeping out of their tents, so I finally manage to get my butt into gear. Before emerging from my tiny little cave, I change into my shorts and then slip my fluffy pants back on over them. I have to say, these Torrid pants from Enlightened Equipment are the best things in my life right now. I wear them until the very last minute before I hike out… or in the case of today, I can’t bear to take them off, so I hike out in them until my body warms up. With my puffy layers wrapping me like the little kid from A Christmas Story, I crawl out of the mouth of my bivy. Just as I suspected… it’s freezing. I can barely move, but I know I have to.
Packing Up and Frozen Fingers
First to go in my pack is my quilt, then my pad and my tarp. Lastly, I pack in my clothes as I slowly finish getting dressed. Before packing away the last of my things, I realize that I need to filter water. I wish I didn’t wait until today to do this. I should have done it last night right before bed, but I was so tired. With my water bottles and filter in hand, I head down to the river. With the first dip of my hand into the icy cold water, my fingers go numb and by the time I am finished, I can’t feel a thing. My fingers hurt so bad. Scampering up the hill, I quickly tuck my water bottles back in the side pocket of my pack, the filter in the front pouch, and then frantically try to find my mittens. They don’t warm my hands instantly, but at least it is something.
Stretching… not me
As I change my socks and tie my shoes, I watch the PCT hikers next to me getting ready. She’s a physical therapist, so she starts off the day with yoga and makes sure her hiking partner does warmups before heading out. I’m just too lazy for that, although I know I should be doing the same. Instead, I throw a few protein bars and cheese into my strap pocket, brush my teeth, and toss my bear can into my backpack. Good to go!
Up, Up, and Away!
I tell the PCT hikers goodbye and then head out on the trail. The hike out is tough; the whole morning is tough. Looking at my maps, I can see that it’s going to be an uphill climb all the way from camp to Forester Pass. I’m sure you know by now how I feel about inclines. I huff and I puff and I take breaks every five minutes or less. Quickly the others from camp pass me by. I’m kind of like the turtle that is in a race with the hare; slow and steady. I’ll eventually get there. It’s not my fitness that gets me to the top though. It’s my extreme persistence to never give up.
Taking Time To Breathe
Many things along the trail give me time to breathe. I change out of my puffy pants and put on sunscreen. “A snack right about now would be good.” “Look at that view! I should take a picture or perhaps a video too.” “Time for a water break.” “Hey, let’s chat with that person.” Yes, there are lots of ways to work in a a little rest time. Of course, my favorite is when I see a rock or log that looks like it needs company. I’ll sit with you for a while. It would be rude not to, don’t you think? So yes, I said it. I’m not a fit hiker, I’m a stubborn and persistent hiker. I will get to the top, and nobody can tell me otherwise.
The hike weaves through forest trees, meadow grasses, and finally mountainous rocks. This is where the going gets tough. Breaks every five minutes turns into every three minutes and finally every minute. It is a soul-crushing climb to the top that never seems to end. Switchback after switchback I climb. Many rocks become my friends as I sit to keep them company. Hiker after hiker passes me by and I start to feel down on myself at how slow I am going. Don’t think like that Chana! You’ve got this! You are going to do this! I repeatedly kickstart my engine and move on. I can see the top and imagine the hikers celebrating their victory. As I grow closer I can actually hear them celebrate as each person reaches the top. So close! I’m so close! I start feeling self-conscious as if the others are all watching me, wondering why I am taking so long, but I shake it off. I’m sure they don’t care. You’re doing this. That’s all that matters.
I Made It!!!!
As I finally reach the top, the other hikers that are there cheer at my accomplishment. “I made it!” I say, raising my arms in a victory stance. “It only took a million breaks.” “That doesn’t matter,” they say. “You did it. Not everyone can say that.” I smile. Yes, I did! We all celebrate our accomplishments with photos at the peak, snacks, and lots of rest. Two of the hikers are from New Zealand, but only met each other on the trail. Another man hiking with them is from the US. There is also a solo hiker who is completing his triple crown. Funny enough, he has not taken one photo of himself on this entire PCT trek… so I snap a photo for him at the top of the pass. Once we all have our fill of the glory and are adequately refueled, we one by one head down the other side.
Downhill is my Jam
Hiking downhill is my jam! I’m on cloud nine as I glide down the rocky mountain switchbacks. The views are glorious with tall mountain peaks and glistening alpine lakes all around. The group of three takes a break at the first lake to filter water and I follow suit at the first stream crossing. The triple crown hiker passes me, the two Kiwis and the American pass me, and I’m alone again. I do see the group of three one more time as they stop to talk with a ranger. There’s a storm coming, yet the ranger feels that it shouldn’t be too bad, yet recommends that hikers shelter in place until it is over. The trio decides they are going to skip Whitney and hike out to Lone Pine because they are low on food supplies. I decide I’m pushing forward. I’ve only just gotten back on the trail and I can ride this out.
Should I Stay or Should I go?
Although I’ve decided to push on, I begin to think that maybe I should revise my itinerary. Looking at my map, I decide to hike as far as I can today. If there is a storm, I want to be as close to the exit routes as possible. With that, I hike, and hike, and hike some more. It’s exhausting. Each time I would select a tent site on my map and head in that direction as my goal. Once I arrived, I would press on. I can go farther. This continued on for many miles until I reached Wallace Creek. I can go no farther. I have no more drive. After this point, it’s all uphill again and my body can’t take uphill. Wallace Creek it is.
The campsite is perfect! There is a bear box, several campsites to choose from, a creek, and lots of trees. Yes, this will do! Not a single other hiker is at the site, and just when I think the two hikers I had recently passed might stop to camp as well, they end up continuing on up the trail. Everyone is trying to get out of the forest before the storm. I can’t though. My body is done. I can take no more. Plus I’m stubborn as I said. I can finish this out. What’s a little rain or snow, but another layer to the adventure?
Looking around I find what looks to be the perfect tentsite. It’s slightly covered by trees, plus has two trees that could hold up my tarp should the weather turn bad… or so I thought. After I get everything set up, have dinner, check the weather, and get in my PJs, I decide to put the tarp up. Crap! The tarp is too long to fit between the trees. That sucks. Well, I’m not going to move everything, and the weather says there is a zero percent chance of rain tonight. The storm is due to start tomorrow afternoon. With that, I curl up in my bed for a good night’s rest. This time I take three Advil PM tablets. Hopefully, that does the trick. I need to recharge my battery.
Nope! Restless legs… again. This is a terrible case of them too. Not wanting to get out of my bed, I toss and turn and massage my legs hoping it stops. It doesn’t. Eventually, I shimmy out of my bed to get a pill from my bear can. With frustration, I drop the pill three or four times into the pitch-black dirt before making it back to my bivy sack. Darn, you fluffy mitton fingers! Once snuggled back in bed, I wait for the pill to work its magic, and after a long while it does. My eyelids grow heavy, the world goes black, and my magical sheep line up for the counting.
Rain and Snow!
Oh! Did you think that was it? Nope! In the middle of the night, I was awoken by the terrifying sound of pitter-patter. It’s raining! No! Just as I’m about to jump out of my bivy to put the tarp up I remember that I can’t. It doesn’t fit. So instead I say a little prayer, zip the bivy closed, hope the bivy can hold up to the rain, and go back to sleep. A little later, I wake again and can tell the bivy is wetting out. I can’t tell if it’s from the rain or the condensation since I had to close the door, but either way, this is a big problem. Getting wet means hypothermia and I’m not about to die out here. Not today!
With that, I flip on my flashlight, peek outside, and notice it’s snowing. Well, at least that’s better than rain. Let’s do this! I shimmy out of bed once again and proceed to move my camp. Close by I find another spot with trees further apart and set up the tarp. Perfect! I run back to my first campsite (getting a little lost in the process), grab my snow-covered bivy, and drag it over to the new site. Before staking everything back down, I shake everything off at least ten times to make sure it’s not wet and then reset my bed. The new campsite is so much better! It’s like I have a house. Exhausted, I crawl back inside my tiny home and peek outside through the door. The snow is piling up outside and I’m glad I’m cozy and warm. It takes no time before I conk out instantly and have the best night’s sleep knowing I’m safe in my little home.
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