I’m not going to lie, Kyle had been stressing out over Forester Pass. There are two dangerous and technical challenges to hiking in the Sierras: snow and swollen rivers. Every time you go over a pass you contend with snow, and often a lot of it on the North sides of the passes. You ford multiple rivers every day. With both, timing in everything. You need to get over snow choked passes before the snow softens up and you begin post holing. But for us, traveling without crampons or micro spikes we also don’t want to hit the snow so early in the morning that it is icy and slick. For the fords you want to hit them early in the day as well, before the sun has caused snow melt to swell their waters. But passes and rivers are not all perfectly spaced to allow you to cross them at the perfect times. So you make compromises. We have mostly been compromising river fords. Luckily for us that heat wave we had a while back, when we were night hiking in the desert, melted a lot of the snow in the Sierra Nevadas. That means that the passes are pretty clear and even when it does heat up in late afternoon the creeks and rivers stay fairly low. We are currently having another heat wave and any snow that had stuck around is rapidly melting. Soon there will be nothing left.
Forester Pass is the highest point on the PCT (remember Mount Whitney is not actually part of the trail) and can often be very dangerous with snowy slopes on both sides. The south side especially can be tricky in high snow years. And we had no snow gear. So you can understand why Kyle would be a little stressed. We forded four creeks the day before (all of them nice and mellow) in order to put ourselves at the bottom of Forester Pass for a morning crossing. We wanted to hit the top right at 8:30am, so that the snow on the South side would be solid but not icy and the snow on the North side would have gotten some sun to soften it up for glissading. We left our camp at 6:00am and hiked up through gorgeous granite mountains, bickering about which pass was Forester Pass. Kyle, having studied everything there is to know about Forester Pass found it and I refused to believe it. It looks like a tiny chute, a small notch in the high granite cliffs. Why would someone see that spot and decide to put a trail there? Doesn’t matter why, they did. At the very top of the chute was a tiny patch of snow with footsteps cutting a line across the white face. We got started.
The climb up was actually very easy. The trail must have taken a ton of blasting to create but it is beautiful and mellow and we were at the snow patch in no time. We crossed carefully and cautiously, taking our time and placing our trekking poles firmly. If you slipped the rocks below you would probably stop your fall… Probably. It took about ten seconds and we were on the other side. A couple more switch backs later we stood on top of the pass, staring down into Kings Canyon National Park. A glissade chute went part way down the slope below us and met up with the steps people had been taking to get up the South side. We ate a small snack but then quickly decided we should get through the snow before it softened up too much. We had already talked two people into glissading down ahead of us, so we were excited to try the chute ourself. It was excellent.
The steps cut across the snow to a ridge which was snow free and we followed it down to the trail. The trail continued to wind down the valley, crossing raging creeks and passing by aquamarine lakes ringed in snow. Eventually we entered trees again and walked next to the beautiful Bubbs Creek, which looks like a large river to me. Forester Pass was not our only climb of the day. We also had to climb back out of the Bubbs Creek valley and up to the junction to Kersarge Pass. Then once we took the junction we had a climb to Kersarge Pass. We had no information on Kersarge Pass so we didn’t exactly know how high we would be climbing. Turns out we had to go back up to 11,800ft. So that was fun. It was a very hard second half of the day. We only had a peanut butter pouch and an emergen-c packet left by the end of it.
Once over the top of the pass though the trail was gorgeous and way out past the mountains we could see the flat Owen Valley. We switch backed down past rivers and a threesome of pack llamas, which we were very excited to see. Their owner informed us they were llamas and not alpacas because any animal with “pack” in their name doesn’t make a very good packer. We cannot, for the life of us, figure out what other animals that rule would apply to. When we finally reached the parking lot a wonderful trail angel, Mike, took us into town. We have spent the last day blasting the AC, eating at the co-op, and watching “Say Yes To The Dress”. Zero days are the best. Today we head back to the mountains.