Today is the day Quiz and myself (Pinecone) had been thinking about for the last month. Forester Pass, the highest point on the PCT at 13,200ft, treacherous in high snow years and we did it!!!
The morning began very sullen, we woke at 3:30am to leave camp at 4am. We had managed to cross Tyndall Creek the day before and had headed across a big snow field to a copse of spruce in search of bear ground on which to camp. We were camped at 11,200ft and everything was frozen, including our boots and our filtered water for day.
In the dark we climbed the spur up to the PCT. I have been having a really hard time walking in high elevations. Princess Layers has been teaching me yoga deep breathing exercises, and I think it’s a combination of shallow breathing and not eating enough food due to stress and loss of appetite. It’s 3 miles to the base of Forester Pass, across undulating snow fields. I feel awful with dizzy spells, weakness and nausea. I nearly ask Quiz to hit the SOS button on our spot device, though I’m unsure if altitude sickness is enough of a reason to press it. To me walking in elevation feels like a strange combination of extreme fatigue and having a panic attack at the same time. Definitely the most difficult aspect of the Sierras for me.
Quiz gives me some anti-nausea tablets and we start the extremely steep climb up Forester, which appears to be a blank wall of ice. With crampons on and ice axes in hand, ready to dig into the snow if a slip should happen, we make our way up the incline. First switchbacking across the ice it gets too steep halfway up and we go straight up, digging the front two spikes of our crampons into the snow. We don’t look down, we just keep looking forward and concentrating. Gusts of wind are terrifying, but to my surprise the feelings of nausea and weakness have abated as adrenaline kicks in.
It feels as though we climb that ice wall in no time at all. It’s about a 200m gain and we aim for the switchbacking path that emerges out of the snow two thirds of the way up the pass. The path is a relative ‘walk in the park’ and we soon reach the ice shoot we have all been so apprehensive about. It’s about 10 meters wide and it’s a continuous drift of snow that would take you all the way to the bottom of the Pass if you were to fall. To our relief there are strong food pads and even ice axe hike left from previous hikers. Some of the foot pads are virtually post-holes and it’s crazy to think that anyone would be attempting the pass in the afternoon. We all cross one by one and hoot and holler words of encouragement.
It’s a short switchback to the top of the Pass where we eat breakfast and make a very scenic pot of coffee at 7:15am. It’s freezing so we all hug a lot. I know Quiz, Princess Layers and I are feeling particularly relieved and accomplished!
At this point we are exposed to a whole new skyline of spectacular moutains. With crampons and ice axe at hand the trail hugs the back of Forester and proceeds to descend gradually down a spur. We are thankful that the decent was totally manageable considering the amount of snow and switchbacks the trail would normally do. We descend into Bubbs Creek Valley, a wooded valley with impressive cliffs on either side shroud in mist.
We walk through the valley with increasingly slushy snow to Vidette Meadow Tentsite, below the Kearsarge Pinnacles, where we are now camped amongst mounds of snow. We get into camp round midday and are all ecstatic and exhausted and go for naps/read in our tents. Overall a breath taking day!