A Morning on Forester
Miles 702.2 to 788.5, Kennedy Meadows to Bullfrog Lake.
All you have to do is take one more step. My world shrinks to the size of that thought and nothing more. If I look down all I will see is snow sloping off into oblivion. If I slip, will the ice axe be enough? Will my courage, or maybe denial about my situation, push me to the top?
And so the approach to Forester Pass went. Pavlov and I camped about four miles from the start of the approach, at a small creek. We broke camp at around 5 in the morning, Microspikes on our feet and anxiety on our faces. We don’t talk much, because we know there’s nothing to say.
Not half a mile in we encounter something we didn’t foresee: a creek crossing. We had done about three before this one, so I knew somewhere along its shores I’d find a safe place to cross. We hiked up about a mile before we found anything we both agreed would be safe, and crossed to the other side.
Once there, we found a seemingly endless snow field. On the other side, somewhere, we would find Forester. And so we hiked on, exhausted and cold already from the crossing.
This portion was the most beautiful place I have ever been. Snow in all directions, and in the distance peaks and mountains and ridges that touch the sky at over 10,000 feet. That made the slow journey through the icy snow more enjoyable.
Finally, after about an hour or so of walking, we saw the wall of snow and rock. Somehow, there was a trail that would get us to the other side. With dread, I saw what is commonly referred to as the chute. A steep, icy slope that you must traverse to continue forward about 30 feet from the top.
We took a sanity break at the bottom of the approach, mentally preparing for the tough climb. To the right, boot prints were carved out traversing the steep snow. The “trail” then cut back to the left to a boulder field that we hoped would be the actual trail.
Two other hikers showed up right before we started up the slope, following closely behind. The start of the ascent went easily enough. The consequences of falling here were minimal. But as we made our way up, things became dicey. “How you doing?” Pavlov called from behind. “Good,” I reply. We both knew this to be a version of the truth that may not stand trial.
Luckily, the boot track stayed solid the whole way to the top, as the sun stayed baking the north side of the ridge. But the higher you are, the farther you can fall. And yet, one step at a time we made it to solid ground. The final few switchbacks before the chute were snow-free, and gave me a chance to recover from the dizzying journey up.
Alas, we then came to the chute. Not 20 feet away was more solid ground, but between me and it was a seemingly vertical wall of snow with a narrow path cut through it. Slowing to the pace of a snail in slushy snow, I made my way across. One step forward, plant the ice axe deep in the ice above, one step forward.
And step by step I made it to the summit. 13,200 feet above sea level, breathing in deeply the thin air, I sighed relief. Photos were taken, food was eaten. I ignored the fact that we now had to descend through the soft, north facing snow. All was well on the peak.
Eventually, we had to leave the summit. The sloppy snow was slick in the sun, and we did our best to avoid postholing (falling into holes in the snow) and sliding down the steep slope.
And this all happened before I’d normally be awake for a workday. I’d like to say I kept a journal every day for this first part of the Sierra, but when you slide into camp (literally) after a day full of stories like the above, it’s hard to do anything but eat and sleep.
To sum up the Sierra so far: the new 30-mile day is now 18, with heavier packs and walking through snow. You’re feet are always wet, and the danger of rattlesnakes has been replaced by deep, snowy slopes and dangerous creek crossings.
Things are hard out there, but the beauty of the mountains makes it worth it.
After a brief rest in Bishop (we took a nine-mile side trail over another almost 12,000-foot pass to get here) we plan on hitting the trail again. The next pass is Glen, which is much shorter than Forester but no more forgiving. From there we’ll have to tackle three more before hitting our next resupply.
With about eight days of food, a bear canister, ice axe, Microspikes, and newly acquired crampons, we will be as heavy as we’ve been on trail. We hope to make it to Mammoth, with a brief stop in Vermillion Valley Ranch to grab some more supplies. From there, the passes get more tolerable, but the creek crossings will become even more dangerous.
But after a beautiful stay in Eastside Guesthouse in Bishop, we’re ready to hit the trail.
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