Day 43 – Up and Over

June 20
Forester Pass Approach to Bullfrog Lake
Mile 776 – Mile 788.5

“The best time to go to the High Sierra is about the end of September” -John Muir

Morning mountain glow

I was broadsided yesterday evening by a thunderstorm that I could see coming from miles away. The rain was minimal but it sure shook my tent. Unfortunately tents are less maneuverable than ships else I would have pointed mine into the wind.
With darkness falling the skies cleared and the wind abated. I set my alarm for 3:30 to ensure I could get up and over Forester on firm snow.

Approaching Forester Pass

A crescent moon and spray of bright stars greeted me as I emerged from my tent. I had the good fortune to have had time to dry my shoes and socks the day before making the morning much more bearable. After a breakfast of hot oatmeal I started my awkward stride up and across the hardened sun cups. As the sun began to light the tallest peaks, I crested a rise and gained sight of my objective.

Amazing trail construction

Forester Pass at over 13,000 feet marks the highest point in the PCT. It also must be one of the most unlikely trails ever conceived. From a distance, all that can be seen is a low notch between two tall peaks decorated with a snow chute. I walked past a large group of hikers none of whom seemed all to eager to start.

Snow chute aka the quick way down

I would much rather be ahead of a large group than behind one on such a climb. Switch backing up a steep snow slope, there was real exposure though the trail was mostly kicked in and firm. After a long traverse on snow, I suddenly found myself on rocky switch backs. There must be a harrowing tale to tell about the crew that built those but I was delighted by their work. Looking back and down I saw the group had started their way up. In my view they were hiking way too close together but maybe they’ve never heard of bowling.

Success atop Forester Pass

The last famous traverse across the snow chute was exciting to do because I had seen so many pictures and videos. Then I was up and over into the day’s sunlight. I had the place all to myself and captured the moment as best I could.

Forester Pass panorama

The real reason for such an early start was to avoid soft snow on the long descent into Kings Canyon National Park. The views were a breathtaking distraction from the long slog down, heel stepping into the softening snow. What a spectacular place!

The way down
Looking back up
Mountain’s majesty

Eventually I made it back below tree line where the trail followed the overflowing Bubb’s Creek. Knowing I did not have to cross it provided some peace of mind but I did have another grueling five miles of route finding through the snow laden forest.

Kings Canyon
Hardy blooms at 12,500 ft

To add some extra challenge, Nature had previously unleashed a couple massive avalanches that devastated several hundred yards of forest. Downed trees and loose branches mixed with snow made for more slow going.

Avalanche aftermath
Feeder creek crossing

At last I reached the trail junction for Bullfrog Lake that leads off the PCT and crosses over Kearsarge Pass to access the towns of the Eastern Sierra. There was no way I could make another 100 miles given the pace of progress and food supply. I came to find out that my resupply destination, a place called Vermillion Valley Resort was still closed and inaccessible as of June 7.

Snow sleeping platy

Finding a snow free spot to camp at Bullfrog Lake was the last challenge of a tough day. I would say I perched rather than pitched my tent on a mostly flat boulder overlooking the still frozen lake. I think maybe that John Muir knew of what he wrote.

Bubbs Creek drainage


5 Replies to “Day 43 – Up and Over”

  1. John, looking at the GPS track of your progress it looks like you were/are about 6 miles off of the trail at 10:40 AM the 21st. ??????


  2. John, what an incredible journey, and thanks so much for your awesome posts describing the adventure. I truly am amazed particularly about the creek crossings, I have experienced the torrents they are, and to think about trying to cross one with a pack is inconceivable. And the water was snow probably like an hour earlier. 🙂
    Be safe, I imagine it was bittersweet to head east off the trail, but truly a smart call. I hope you get a little rest.


  3. What spectacular beauty on this leg of your journey! The going is slow but the terrain is tough and you are doing an amazing job working with what the trail (or lack of trail) presents. We are cheering you on!


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