September 18, 2014 / Comments (1)

Day 13: The Trail Isn’t For the Tame

forester pass
*This post is from my 2014 JMT thru hike. I began 7/25/14 and finished 8/8/14. Missed the beginning? Read it here!*  


Getting up to Arrowhead Lake last night was a nice start for our push up Glen Pass today. Being under 12,0000 feet (just barely at 11,926 ft) we think today’s climb will be a breeze. As we pack up the discussion revolves around how far we will go today. Forester Pass is “only” twelve miles after Glen Pass. We can either have a tough day today or tomorrow based on what’s ahead.

We decide to simply hike and decide how we feel as the day goes on. Unfortunately I get my period and while typically I’m not affected by it at all, going up very steep switchbacks to the summit of Glen Pass is torture.

Every few hundred feet I stop. I eventually unclip my hip belt and let my shoulders bear the weight of my pack. Thankfully I pack light! I glance up the trail to try and locate the boys. They seem to be miles away. I thought this pass would be easy.

I’m the last one to the summit. In fact, others have been passing me on the way up. I feel defeated. The shortest pass we’ve climbed in the last few days has beaten me. I’m not sure my ego can take any more and then Andy announces, “I think I could definitely hike Forester today!”

Shoot me now.

Kayla and I agree to keep going and see how we feel as we’re apprehensive about this grand plan. We know there are a few campsites very close to the pass we can stay at if needed. We were worried about the lack of protection from the wind that close to Forester, though. At 13,153 feet, Forester Pass is the highest point along the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s the pass I’ve been hearing the most horror stories about and the guys want to make that our second pass of the day.

Photo credit: Eric Estrin
Photo credit: Eric Estrin
Photo credit: Eric Estrin

The descent of Glen Pass is just as steep as the ascent. It may not look so big on paper, but it is one of the steeper climbs on the trail. As the day goes on, I begin to feel more confident about getting a big day in.

We run into the DC Ultralight group and they had to get over Forester Pass today. They have a shuttle service set up and a flight to catch the day they finish. One of the members asks us if we’re going over Forester. We all look at each other and agree that we’re still going to play it by ear.

As we hike I run the miles through my head and calculate elevation gain. Once we make it to Vidette Meadow we will be at only 9576′ and must climb up to 13098′. We also must hike far enough to get down from the pass and protected from the wind to camp.

We come to an intersection and I stop adding. Kearsarge Pass Trail is an exit point off the John Muir Trail and where Eric will head. He will be completing the trail, but with his brother and friends from home to celebrate his birthday. Before he parts, he hands Andy a package of the most delicious pork jerky for us to have. While Eric was only with us for a few days, he was just as much a part of our crazy crew.

We continue down the trail making good time, but still not deciding on a specific camping spot. We pass part of the DC crew and as I make my way around the corner I spot someone somewhat familiar. It turns out to be Roleigh from the JMT Yahoo and Facebook groups. He’s on his 7th JMT thru hike! We chat for a bit and get his advice on some camping. He pulls up an app and describes a few different options and tells us to keep an eye out for a plaque on the way down Forester. In all his hikes, he hasn’t spotted it yet. I am determined to find it!

Before we continue, Roleigh informs us that the weather we’ve encountered on the trail is more intense than it has been in at least fifteen years. We leave feeling more determined and strong. Roleigh is a pretty cool dude.

The camping spots are mostly occupied approaching Forester. At 12,000 feet, it’s windy and cold; not quite the best location to rest your head.

We finally decide to push on and give Forester all we’ve got. We’re getting up and down this pass tonight!

The trail is steep and breathing doesn’t come too easy, but I’m surprised to find that I feel great overall. I actually feel much better going up Forester than I did this morning on Glen Pass! We look back at where we came from and look down at the alpine lakes. They shimmer and dazzle us with deep shades of blue, trapping the final rays of light as the sun sinks behind the surrounding peaks. The peaks that surround us are jagged and impossible to scale on foot, but they call to me. As I hike I see them from another angle and they’re even more beautiful than before; beautiful in a sort of masculine yet graceful manner. These mountains have seen it all.

Forester Pass is littered with glaciers and unfortunately actual litter. We pack out two full bottles of sunscreen, Aqua Mira, and a water bottle. How anyone can purposefully leave behind trash is puzzling to me.

By 6:30 the day starts to come to a close. The wind picks up and I unpack my puffy. We shout with joy at the sight of snow. Our first actual sign of snow in the Sierras. Without a second thought, we make a snowman.

The final push of Forester Pass is filled with joy. We laugh and joke as we hike. We holler at the top of our lungs. We are wild.

It’s 7:00 pm and I’m on top of Forester Pass. At 7:00 am I never thought I’d be up here.

Andy approaching the summit of Forester Pass
John taking it all in
We celebrate with Eric’s pork jerky and send good vibes to him for his birthday. After our mini celebration I look down and don’t see a single tree. It’s going to be a cold one tonight.

The switchbacks are as steep as I expect them to be. After many miles and hours today, I’m ready for a nice meal and to rest up for tomorrow. I’m unsure if the weather will allow for that.

I descend quickly determined to get out of the wind tonight. I stop and look back to see Andy and Kayla’s progress. I begin to think we may not get as far tonight. As I look back, though, I see the memorial plaque Roleigh had mentioned. Donald Downs was only 19 when he died.

I wait for Kayla and Andy to catch up so we can discuss camping options. The protected sites are miles away and we’ve covered a lot of ground already. We agree to camp at the first semi protected area with another room for our tents.

We stop four or five times before settling on a location. The sun has gone down and it’s not an ideal place to make camp, but we can make do. We decide to place our tents together and form a shield to block our “kitchen” from the wind. We place our bear canisters around the stove as the water boils for added protection.

As we eat, we see a series of headlamps descend Forester. It’s the DC crew. We quickly eat, add even more layers, and quickly fall asleep. Today was a big one.

Our exposed campsite the following morning

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Last modified: December 6, 2014

One Response to :
Day 13: The Trail Isn’t For the Tame

  1. marti124 says:

    Allison, how are your pics so fantastically colorful. It’s like they’re art in the manner of Joseph Holmes who is most famous for his color photography of nature. What camera did you use? How did you do it.

    Go here to see what I mean about Joseph Holmes — considered the Ansel Adams of color photography.


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