Forester Pass (June 5-6)
June 6: After hiking up and down Mount Whitney, a friend and I rested, then made a plan for the rest of the day. We decided to hike a few miles further, with the intention of getting as close as we could to Forester Pass, the next big climb ahead.
My friend was strategizing about getting over the pass, as if we were hiking in a high snow year. He laughed ruefully about that then, and said, it doesn’t really matter when we cross over, I guess. In a higher snow year, hikers try to hike up and over snowy passes before the sun is too high in the sky, so that you can put your feet in the hardened snow footprints of those who went ahead of you, without sloshing through, or “post-holing”.
I am from the east, and new to the term “pass” and the strategies for getting over them. I’ve learned a lot. Passes are not gaps or valleys, as I’d imagined. You climb up to a pass, sometimes hiking for miles and miles, before finally getting to the point where you can scan the open ridgeline above and see a spot up there that is slightly lower than the peaks beside it. And sure enough, that’s often the pass! After hiking over miles of more gradual incline, sometimes forested, you get up to more exposed talus and scree and steeper switchbacks for the final part of the climb.
Then finally, with much effort, you approach the summit of the pass. Little by little, as you approach, you can start to glimpse the valley on the other side, the landscape you will be descending into. Often sweeping views of pines, glittering blue alpine lakes, audible creeks and streams, snow patches, like an “El Dorado” moment.
My friend and I camped by a creek that night, and I slept well, lulled to sleep by the sound of rushing water nearby, and the knowledge that I had a friend tenting nearby.
June 7: This has been a dry year, with relatively little snowfall in the Sierra, compared to other years. In a higher snow year, there are a whole host of challenges hikers face in this section. Wet feet all the time from snowy hiking, difficulty fording high waters in creeks and rivers, navigating snow covered paths, and hiking over steep snowy slopes, to name a few. I’ve heard the stories, and seen hikers look around at the landscape and marvel at how different the trail is to them this time, compared to a recent year when they last hiked here. A hiker recently described to me how he had to hike a mile upstream, a few years ago, just to find a place to cross what was for us, a pleasant brook.
I ask different hikers, are you disappointed? Disappointed not to need an ice axe here, spikes on your shoes, and the chance to practice some mountaineering skills? A few are, but most are breathing a sigh of relief, myself included. Not many would wish for that added challenge and hardship where there is none. The Sierra offers plenty of challenge as it is, what with higher elevation hiking.
On this day, as we hiked up from Tyndale Creek toward Forester Pass, my friend told stories about what is was like for him hiking here last time, with a nearby wild fire raining ash down on the area as he and other hikers were evacuating! Needless to say, this experience was much different.
We hiked the gradual incline toward Forester Pass, beautiful expansive views the entire way, and then on up the final steeper stretch of switchbacks. I kept looking down below and thinking how terrifying it could be, hiking over this in snow.
At the summit, we took a break to look around and do what we could to absorb the views around us. There was a lot to take in, as always. I thought about how mom, dad and I had watched a girl walk up this pass in a documentary, months ago, and it just seemed so wild, even on screen. The camera panned the view, and you just saw this tiny human figure out here amid expansive granite and space. And now here I was, in person, doing the same thing. Pretty wild to me, I continue to feel pretty fortunate.
We started the descent, down over some brief snowy sections. My friend looked at one snowy slope and said, “Maybe we can glissade this!” And sure enough, the snow was firm enough that we both were able to slide down a stretch on our butts. A nice alternative to hiking, ha.
We continued to descend into the valley for miles, then eventually ascended again in mountains much further ahead, and could look back and try to pick out Forester Pass miles behind. I always love that, seeing something familiar in the landscape behind.
This was my first pass experience. Many more followed, in this section of challenging and truly grand trail.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.