Day 48: Forester and Glen Passes

Memories from June 7

Forester Pass is the highest point on the PCT (Mount Whitney was a side trip) and Glen Pass, I was told, is described by a respected guide book as having the scariest descent. That means that today, I crossed the biggest baddest of the Sierra’s passes.

The day started just as the sky was lightening. I hadn’t slept well knowing a big day was coming and so it was easy to get up when I heard Nana, Indy, Al, and Trips beginning to rustle in their sleeping bags.

Right after leaving camp in the lightening dark, I encountered what would be a theme for the day: water flooding down the trail like a stream. In some places it looks like there is a second trail which has been beaten down by hikers avoiding a flooded trail. This morning, those were running with water as well. I wound up spending a lot of time walking next to the trail as opposed to on it and judiciously picking footsteps where water would stay below the sole of my shoes.

We had left a few minutes apart but as the trail began to disappear under snow patches we converged into a single group.

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The trail lead very gradually up and down a valley until just below the pass which made route finding easy enough though Indy pulled out his GPS from time to time. I’m beginning to get more comfortable ignoring the exact trail when it isn’t to be found and crossing by whatever route seems best towards an point I know it must ultimately pass.

The sun crested the valley wall.

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Forester Pass is the little notch just above the hiker’s head.

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Even as you approach Forester, it’s hard to believe there’s a pass anywhere in the wall. I suppose I’m just not familiar with passes but even just before the wall it doesn’t seem particularly given to passage.

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It wasn’t obvious where the switchbacks up to the pass started so we went straight up a snowfield until we hit one.

Here’s a view looking West from part way up.

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Forester Pass is infamous for the patch if snow you have to cross to get across a chute just before the top of the pass.

Al, Indy, and Nana switching to ice axes from hiking poles just to walk 20ish feet across the chute.

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The steps to actually crest the pass were blocked by a small cornice so you have to scramble up some snow a few feet around it. It was nice to have an ice axe for this. Here’s Bushwhack cresting that short scramble.

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And then I was at the top.

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I took a bunch of pictures but most don’t really capture the effect because the peaks and ridges are all around you and so don’t fit in the frame together.

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What goes up must come down. Another group (Bushwack, Jet Fighter, Rawhide) had come up behind up us. Trips and I started down after them since Nana, Al, and Indy didn’t want to the snow to get any softer and so only had a brief stay at the pass.

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Some pictures from the descent.

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When I got down to Bubb’s Creek, it was still well before lunch and I’d finished the mileage I planned to for the day. It’s crazy starting early so do something big while the snow is still hard and then being “done” with so much time left. This, however, was a fork in the road for everyone I’d been hiking with was headed out Kearsarge Pass to resupply. I took a break at Bubb’s Creek and caught up with them having lunch just before taking the Onion Trail. Nana and Al offered to take my trash bag which was really nice and we said farewell. The odds are good I’ll see them soon as I’m taking a few zero days on trail with a friend in the area of Muir Trail Ranch.

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At this point it was 12:30pm. The Rae lakes, who have been recommended to my by multiple sources lay just over 4 miles away. Unfortunately, Glen Pass was just over 2 miles away and despite being hungry, I’d front-loaded most of my food consumption for the day, not expecting to do much after Forester. I decided to go for it because the Rae Lakes would be beautiful by sunset and I could go as slow as a half mile per hour and still make it. Half a mile per hour is really slow. I dug immoderately into my discretionary supply of bannana chips (one bag of bannana chips and one bag of dried less are my only non-rationed food at this point since I didn’t have room to carry much extra leaving Kennedy Meadows and had given away what extra I did have) and slowly put on my gaiters since the afternoon snow would be soft and deep post-holing likely. Then, putting one foot in front of the other at a pace which I think of as a pleasant plod, I set off.

Going ridiculously slowly and being free of all concern as I was ahead of schedule for the day and under no time pressure was a wonderful way to get up Glen Pass. Here are some pictures. It had a much more ensconced feel than other climbs.

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The switchbacks just before the top were half covered in snow in such a way as to make an interesting climbing challenge. There was a great deal of erosion between them as many had had to make the same climb which made the task somewhat more interesting. I climbed up snow when I could hoping to minimize my contribution to the problem.

Pictures from the crest of the pass.

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On the switchbacks, I ran across Cashmere who I’d met at lunch. She was climbing even more slowly than I but the timing was serendipitous as it was it was comforting to have some else around for the hike down.

Leaving the crest of the pass was a snow trench deep enough to eat a hiker.

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After following that a short ways you glissade (slide on you butt) since the face is steep (you can’t see the lower part from the upper) and the trail is completely buried.

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Since there was no trail, Cashmere and I had planned generally to, “traverse far enough that we don’t slide into that lake then start a glissade before the edge to the other lake but still wind up on the east side of those rocks”.

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It took a little adjustment but the advantage of open snow is that you can go were you want. Fortunately the snow is still thick enough that when the tracks we followed crossed over the sound of water running under the snow, it wasn’t a huge concern.

The last leg to the actual edge of Upper Rae lake was largely done by trial and error with the help of some recent tracks, though they’d been made when the snow was harder and so we frequently post holed near rocks. The greater hazard by far was the little streams that ran everywhere. My feet were merely damp and I wanted to keep them that way.

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When we finally found dry trail, it was cause for minor celebration. The switchbacks didn’t even have snow them.

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The final twist for the day was that the trail cutters apparently had a dive unit. Alternatively the Rae Lakes are swollen with run off. Here’s a marmot crossing the log bridge, my second of the day.

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All that said, it was beautiful.

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To top it off, I ran into Miles and Dan (I last saw Miles the day I left Mike’s Place) who had a fire and had caught some small fish and were willing to share with a bedraggled fellow hiker. Amazing end to the most adventurous day on the trail.

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