Day 47: mile 775.7 – 788.5 (+1 mile to Kearsarge Lakes)
Elevation gain: 2,614 ft
Elevation loss: 3,602 ft
DUDE…I don’t even know where to begin writing about this day! Forester Pass is the highest point on the PCT at 13,200 ft. You would think this would be a breeze after summiting Whitney just 2 days ago, but you would be wrong! There were highs and lows, super frustrating moments and ecstatic moments, as well as darn right scary times. Let’s back up a bit first…to our supposedly “prime tent spot”, as Link said yesterday. Well, not so much. The wind really picked up last night and even though there was a lot of grass around us, there was also, apparently, a lot of loose dirt as well. I woke in the middle of the night to something spraying on my face. I reached up to feel what it was and found a layer of fine dirt that had blown under the vestibule, through the mesh, and sprayed that layer of grime all over my face as well as everything in the tent. This did not happen just once, of course, but many, many times throughout the night. Thank goodness a shower is in my very near future…only 2 days!
We had set the alarm for 7, but decided to get up and ready at 6:30 since PI, the hiker who set up her tent literally 5 feet from us, had already been up and rustling around for a while. Thank goodness we went early, and if we had known what the day had in store, we would’ve left at 4:15 like we did for Whitney! PI left on her own toward Forester around 6:45, we left about 7:15 and the Finnish couple (Midnight and Nap), Skytree, and Caveman were right behind us. Pretty soon Link looked like the Shepherd leading his flock of sheep up to Forester. Since he had broken a lot of trail and navigated so well up to Whitney, all the hikers wanted to follow him again. This definitely made it easier for them especially since we found out none of them had much backpacking or mountaineering experience at all. This should’ve been our first clue that the day wouldn’t go as planned. All of them said they had never tried self arresting with an ice axe but some had watched a few UTube videos, and Caveman didn’t even have an ice axe. They didn’t know how to hold it or use it, so we showed them how. But what if we hadn’t been there…oh my gosh, I hate to think about it!
It was really darn cold today…high of 45 degrees. Plus the sun wasn’t shining for most of the day which was good for keeping the snow firm, but difficult for keeping us warm.
Just like Whitney, the views were spectacular, but Forester had WAY more snow for some reason. This was fine with our micro spikes on and ice axes in hand for the approach to the top since the ice was so hard. The final approach should’ve taken about 45 mins, but because PI had just informed us that she had never even hiked before starting this PCT journey (she saw the movie Wild and decided to try it), a Link was the ultimate leader and had to stop multiple times to help her. Once, even going back to break more trail for her while the rest of us stood there and shivered.
One of the gnarliest parts of this pass is the final shoot right before you get to the top. This traverse is OHHH so steep and super sketchy but we all made it and got to Forester Pass at 10:15am.
This is when things started going downhill fast. I always think descending is harder than ascending, but add softening snow, no footprints to follow, and inexperienced hikers/mountaineers and it all equals disaster! First, Link showed them all how to glissade which they all thought was super fun until Caveman got out of control, crashed into PI which landed her on her a** and sent her water bottles to the bottom of the hill. The snow was still hard and icy at that elevation, so poor Link got an “icy microderm abrasion on his calf”…ouch!
After that, we couldn’t find any footprints where people had gone before us. There weren’t any on the actual trail route, so Link had to break trail with a lot of postholing and we had to scramble down some rocks hoping to have a better view of the safest route. There was a lot of loose scree and everyone was so close to each other that rocks were flying right and left.
So we decided getting back on the snow was the safest route, but now it was much softer and more slippery. Link and I have both hiked in snow quite a bit and have practiced self arresting, but I still felt like this was much more sketchy than most parts of Whitney. I was trying to dig my heels in first and keep 3 points of contact at all times with my pole and ice axe but everything was so slippery! The incline we were on was super steep and it was a long way down into an icy lake below. Plus, all I could imagine was one of the other 5 people behind me slipping and taking me out in front of them. Then we all go into the icy drink together 😬
Link, Caveman and I made it down safely to a cluster of rocks but the other 4 were struggling behind us. A moment later, Skytree slipped and had to self arrest so she was lying prone on the snow, feet toward the lake, hanging onto the ice axe. Nap and Midnight were there with her so they tried to make a human chain, using their ice axes as well but nothing was being resolved. We kept shouting out ideas of things for them to try but nothing seemed to be working. Meanwhile, simultaneously, PI was about 200 yards behind them sliding, then catching herself, pulling herself up, slipping again and sliding 10 feet further down the mountain each time. Now she was getting farther and farther from our footprints she needed to step in, plus losing gear all over the mountain. Watching all of this from afar was painful, scary and frustrating because PI really should never have tried any of this snow travel with her lack of experience and now she was potentially putting Link’s life in danger because he went BACK to get her AGAIN! (Btw: PI was the first to admit that she didn’t belong out there, but since she was, of course we needed to help her!) So…Link walked back, stopping to make a foot hold for Skytree to help them get back on track, then moved on to PI. He had to talk her through each and every step in that calming way that he’s so good at, until they finally reached us. PHEW!!
Most of the danger was over, but there was still a ton of rock scrambling, more snow travel and navigation to get to a snow free trail. Plus, Link and I still had 8 miles to go before reaching our destination of Kearsarge Lakes and it was 1:00 already! So we said goodbye to everyone and maneuvered as quickly as possible the rest of the way down the mountain. It definitely felt freeing to only be worried about just the 2 of us again (especially for Link)…that was stressful! The views with every step were amazing, that’s for sure.
Once we got to snow free trail, it was a really easy terrain to walk on for 6.7 miles. The final 1.3 miles was a 1,000 ft climb up toward Kearsarge Pass. That was hard on our weary legs since it was basically straight up, but we were super excited to get to camp at a lake again tonight.
We made it to the lake at 5:30 and it’s gorgeous!
We tried to make dinner outside so we could appreciate the views, but the wind was bone chilling and I had all my layers on. So we ate in the tent and chatted about the crazy day. It was fun getting to the pass with a group of people, but Link wasn’t too happy about being thrust into the leadership role where he felt the pressure to be in charge of everyone’s safety as well. It would’ve been different if we had all made a plan together the day before, but instead all these other hikers, who we had just met, latched on and ended up putting their lives in Link’s hands when he wasn’t prepared for that. But we would never want to leave a fellow PCTer behind, of course, so there was really no other option. We both feel like hikers need to know their limitations, and be prepared as much as possible in order to have a safe and enjoyable trip for everyone. 😁
I am definitely living up to my name tonight…double down to sleep in for sure plus we get to listen to awesome frogs again! Sorry for the very long post today, but a lot happened…thanks for your great comments and always following along! Double Down