The morning of our biggest and final ‘official’ pass, Forester, was upon us. I knew this one was gonna be a doozy, but we’d been hiking for 16 days at this point – how much more prepared could we be, really?! The story was different for Chris though – he’d started his adventure in high elevation, carried in our shit along with his own supplies, and now his second day on the trail was going to be this? Poor guy.
We got started later than usual – around 8:15 today. Jennifer and I had our own routine when it was just the two of us, but it was little slower going with one more person in our group – Chris likes to take his time in the morning, and I think we were all procrastinating because of the ~2k of climbing we had to do. Nonetheless, we finally got going.
Since Chris wasn’t sure how he’d fare on this giant climb up to Forester, we’d made a deal to meet up at the top, assuming we’d be hiking differently. He was worried about ‘dragging us down’ (his words), so he made it clear that he didn’t want us to wait for him if he got too far behind. Turns out, that never really happened. We started out at a nice leisurely pace, and while we did eventually separate out during the last half, we were actually only separated by maybe 10 minutes. We were all able to see each other for most of the ascent, which was sorta fun – I was in the middle, so I could look up to see Jennifer a couple of switchbacks ahead, and I could look back to see Chris making his way too.
The views of the forest behind us reminded us how far down we were when camping the night before (which was still over 11,000 feet!). Even though I’d obviously never hiked this area before, in a way I felt like I was showing Chris my home. We’d been out here for so long and become so used to the expansive views, the towering mountains, the trees that looked so tiny at times, and the sparkling sapphire blue lakes – it was interesting to see a newcomer, and to watch his reaction to seeing this beautiful place for the first time.
J: Every time we passed a north bound hiker on the JMT, we were warned about Forester Pass. I’d been dreading this climb almost more than Mt. Whitney, but was also looking forward to kicking it’s ass.
The beginning of the climb was a gradual uphill and wasn’t too terrible. Once we got up higher, the wind picked up and almost blew me over in some spots. I was a little further ahead of Heather and Chris (don’t know how this happened) and kept hopscotching another hiker from Germany the whole way up. Having some music on, soaking up the sun and the expansive views, trying not to blow off the mountain, and chatting with my new German friend made the never-ending switchbacks go by a little faster. Then, all of a sudden (or 2+ hours later), there was the top of Forester Pass!
The journey up to Forester Pass was long and winding. While the ascent seemed to never let up, I still felt that Glen Pass, the day before, had been more difficult. There were enough people standing around at Forester that a round of applause ensued every time someone made it to the top. It made it feel like even more of an accomplishment! It was fun to cheer Chris on as he rounded the final switchback – Jennifer and I were waiting, feeling pretty proud of him for conquering the pass in the time that he did. Once he caught his breath, he admitted that he felt ok until the last 700 feet or so – around 12,500 feet was when he really seemed to noticed the change in elevation, and the sparse air.
J: I still can’t believe Chris made it up Forester as fast as he did. I understand why all the north bound hikers were warning us about Forester. They hadn’t had any time to acclimate to the elevation. Hiking southbound, we were able to “practice” on all the climbs leading up to this point. The higher elevation definitely takes a toll on your breathing and if you aren’t used to it, then it’s especially tough on day 2 or 3 of your journey.
So unfortunately, while Chris originally reported that he had chapstick with him, when we stopped to look for it in his pack yesterday, we came up empty-handed. As it turns out, he’d left his chapstick in the car, and we were now all 3 without any. Awesome, right? Of course, for all the horrible things that could happen to someone on a 3 week trip in the wilderness, not having chapstick probably wasn’t that big of a deal, even though I remember thinking it was pretty miserable with every gust of wind and every big smile (of which there were many – of both).
Chris was a HUGE fan of our celebratory Snickers Bars. What’s not to love about it, other than having to wait to eat it?! I know there are people who literally live off of these things when backpacking – I was starting to understand why. Snickers definitely satisfies.
It is always pretty chilly at the top of the passes, and by this point we’d learned that the descents aren’t usually that much better until you really get into the swing of it. This was no different, and in my opinion, worse than most. The south side of Forester was really windy, and really steep. So much so that I had written “day of wind” at the top page of my journal entry. I’d also written that this section of the trail was my 2nd least favorite, after the trip down into Red’s Meadow, which felt like so long ago. Once we’d gotten down a little over 1,200 feet, it wasn’t as steep, but it was still quite barren, very desert-like, and still really really windy – an awesome combo for the chapped.
Lunch that day was uneventful – we found an area that allowed a slight break from the wind that doubled as an area to fill up our water.
One of the highlights of the day was our first sign for Mt. Whitney – we were SO CLOSE! It was hard to believe we were only a couple of days away from being finished.
We finished our day shortly after we passed the sign (above), ending the day at Tyndall Frog Ponds, shortly after the Shepherd Pass Junction, and right after the start of the first ascent for the morning.
Brittany, Courtney, and Andrew had by this point decided that they were going to try their damnedest to summit Whitney at sunrise after tomorrow, which the three of us had absolutely no interest in doing. That said, this would be our last night camping with them, as they were going to head up as far as possible for tomorrow night. We celebrated our journey together by dividing up the bottle of wine that Chris had brought in (nothing says class like a nice bottle of Broc Cellars Cab Franc out of a plastic collapsible bottle!) paired with our best dehydrated dinners and some amazing dessert, which was either a chocolate pudding or key lime pie – or both? I can’t remember…
J: We had been debating how to finish up the hike for a few days. There was supposed to be a meteor shower the night before we summited Whitney so I wanted to get up early (around 3 am) and start hiking under the stars. I had zero desire to hike up any earlier in order to catch the sunrise on top of Mt. Whitney since I knew it would be way too cold for me to actually enjoy it. Luckily H+C were both on board with the no-sunrise plan, but I still had some convincing to do on the 3am start.
We still had to figure out our exit plan, but we knew it was our last night with our trail family so like Heather mentioned, we stayed up a little later (around 8pm!), ate some chocolate mousse, drank some wine, and fantasized about all of the “real” food options in Lone Pine. I wasn’t sure if I would eat pizza or burgers first but one thing was certain, there would definitely be beer…
Before closing out for the night, we all walked over to the Frog Ponds, where we met up with our favorite group from Tallahassee. They were happy to take a group photo of our trail family, which was a perfect way to end the night.
Next up – the journey to Guitar Lake, and the discussion about whether we finish in 20 days or the originally planned 21.
Day 18 details (August 11, 2015):
Start-finish: Upper Bubbs Creek to Tyndall Frog Ponds
Daily miles: 11.4
Mileage tally: 211.8
Camp elevation: 11,100 ft
Hiking elevation: 2,632 ft gain; 2,056 ft loss