Part Nine – On Top of the Pacific Crest Trail
Thursday, June 1st. I woke up in the middle of the night to a light shining through the wall of my tent. “Who is up at this time?” I wondered. I got up, and as I stuck my head out through the door of my tent, I realized that this mysterious “who” was in reality the bright moon illuminating the entire Sierra. Assisting her in this task were also billions of stars expanding across the dark blue sky. There, for a few minutes, I stood alone in the cold of the night, my feet down in the snow but my head up in space. I took in the moment, as best I could.
I went back to sleep and woke up shortly after at 1:30 a.m. to get ready before everybody else. With my camera out and ready to roll, I didn’t want to miss a single bit of our ascent of Forester Pass. I had been waiting for this section for a long time, and I had a clear vision of how I wanted to capture it. It was going to be epic.
We left our tree-covered campsite and soon found ourselves hiking into wide-open land. At above 12,000 ft in an alpine zone, trees couldn’t grow here due to the harsh climatic conditions, and everything else was covered by a thick blanket of snow. The moon was now gone and complete darkness surrounded us, swallowing us like a black hole. Anywhere I looked, my eyes would try to catch a glimpse of something, anything, only for them to observe the thin beam of light produced by our headlamps getting lost in the dark void. I felt like I was standing on a different planet, away from everything I knew. We were all alone, walking in a sort of infinite nothingness — a no man’s land. Yet, I have never felt so alive. This was the adventure I had been looking for.
On Top of the Pacific Crest Trail
As we moved closer to our objective, the sun started rising behind the mountains and provided us with enough light to finally discern what was ahead of us: an immense wall of snow and rocks leading up to a small opening between two rocky peaks. This was Forester Pass looming over us. To the right of the wall, footsteps were carved in the snow from previous groups of hikers who had zigzagged all the way up to the top. We took them and started ascending. Although they made our ascent easier, we took our time and moved as one, leaving nobody behind. At this altitude, breathing was harder and no one was safe from potentially getting altitude sickness. We knew it. I could hear Shortcut coughing more often than usual. She was hanging at the back of the group, moving with difficulty. Yet, she wasn’t saying a word about it. No complaint, ever. “She is a tough one,” I thought. Beer Slide and I, being worried about her health, kept an eye on her during the whole climb.
The footsteps led us back to a short portion of the trail that was dry, offering us a little break from the nerve-wracking snow wall. We followed the trail around a corner and finally came face-to-face with the infamous ice chute: a steep and frozen slope of snow, dropping hundreds of feet to the base below, and spreading across 100 feet or so to the other side, where the snow ended. This was our last traverse before reaching the summit. Luckily for us, spanning across the chute were deep boot tracks. We took advantage of those, crossing safely while admiring the view from up there of the whole valley awakening.
At the top, we all let out screams of joy, proud of our accomplishments. Forester Pass was in some way the door that led to the High Sierra. The first real challenge of our journey through snow. We had entered the realm of the Gods. A marvel of this world, protected from the outsider by the harshness of its environment and the physical and psychological toll it would take on someone to wander here. A marvel that only a few of us would get to witness in such a unique way.
No Turning Back
Monday, June 5th. It had now been two months since I had started the trail. I now felt completely immersed in it. The trail had become my new routine, my new life. There was no stopping now, no turning back.
We left the town of Bishop after a “zero” filled with rest, resupply, and catching up with old friends. We had heard that most of the hikers we knew from the desert had now entered the Sierra too. We were happy for them. A feeling of excitement was floating in the air. A feeling that would soon fade away as we made our way back to the trail through Kearsarge Pass. That night, at 2:00 a.m., I woke up to the sound of snow falling on my tent. When I looked outside, flashes of light from lightning strikes could be seen down in the valley followed by their rumbling sound. Snow was falling hard on us. In about an hour, we were supposed to start hiking and climb over Glen Pass, at 11,949 ft.
“Ah, fuck..” I let out.
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