I updated this post with pictures
We wake to see a number of our fellow hikers have already left, looking to cross Forester Pass early. I don’t blame them. Forester Pass is the highest point of the trail at 13,200 ft, and our first major crossing with snow. On top of all that, there’s rumor of some cold weather moving in today, and snow forecasted for tomorrow. So, many hikers are planning to cross Forester then Kearsarge Pass as well to escape off trail into Independence, CA. The stretch from here makes for a 21 mile day with plenty of elevation.
We’re not certain of our plan yet. We were hoping to reunite with our friends, saving them tent spots next to us last night. But, there’s still no sign of them. It would be super human for them to be ahead of us after climbing Whitney yesterday, so we assume they are a few miles behind us. We will likely see them today.
Today is beautiful. We’re at 12,497 ft and the air is crisp and cold. The sun begins to shine on the tree tops, and illuminating random patches of rock and soil around or campsite. Tyndall Creek continues to sing it’s chorus of the Alpine.
Lupine and I start our day how we usually do, coffee and breakfast. Out of muesli, we eat rehydrated beans with cheese. It’s makeshift and delicious. We take our time to eat, knowing we’ll need our energy.
From Tyndall Creek to Forester, the climb is not too bad. We have done most of our altitude in the past two days and this morning will only need to climb about 2,000 more feet in 5 miles. Familiar with the landscape and views from our Big SEKI hike in 2018, I’m eager for today.
We set up the trail in the cold air. The air has a bite as it pushes into my face. My legs are tight and I first move slowly. As my legs warm up my stride stretches out, and I increase my pace. My breathing fits into a pattern, and I cruise upward. I become focused on the movement, cruising over the trail, then startle at a marmot in the corner of my view. He’s bushy and rough, perched upon a rock.
As I climb from Tyndall Creek the views become immense. This is certainly high country and I am walking through the palace of gods. The mountains rise up like castle walls, massive and embracing.
The air gets colder as we rise. Water bubbles crawl under frozen sheets of ice that cross the trail. Frostcicles point upward from the dirt pulling the moisture and soil into funky lattices of freeze.
Pushing upward my back feels wonderful. It doesn’t hurt at all. I’m moving swiftly, my chest moving in a rhythm, air coming in, out, cooling my throat, supplying vital oxygen to my blood and then my muscles. This feels like life. I marvel as I hike, snapping pictures of everything.
I check with Lupine on how she’s doing. She doesn’t like high altitude. The thinner air makes her anxious, despite the apparent ease at which her legs move. I reassure her she’s doing great, and she thanks me, her breath visible in the cold air.
Before we know it, Forester is before us. It’s like a wall. Looking closely you see switchbacks cut into the rock. We’re about to scale the castle wall.
The wind smacks me in the face as I walk across the snow pack, and then onto the frozen rock. All of a sudden I’m frozen. My hands are numb. We jump behind a boulder to hide. I dig my hands into my bag, pulling out my gloves and warm jacket. I pull them over my skin,and immediately feel relief.
Now we climb. Upward. It’s not far, but steep and rocky. The air gets thinner with every step. Steady steps do the trick. Before we know it we’re at the snow shoot. It’s short, but trecherous if you’re not careful. It’s only 15 ft across. I’m able to walk just below the snow where the melt has exposed the trail. We are across and near the top.
The switchbacks get shorter. We quickly dispatch the last three, passing a hiker and her dog, a yellow lab. The trail is narrow, with a massive drop to our right.
At the top we encounter a mini snow wall. In weeks past this would be intimidating. But the melt has made it fine, just slightly tricky. I reach upward, sticking my poles into the snow, securing my grip. Then I lift up and over, walking to safety, then looking back to watch Lupine as she summits.
We sit at the top, snapping pictures, soaking up the scenery. We made it! I love this pass. I want to live here. I am living here, at least just for the moment. Then we pass it on to those who come after. They will sit and catch their breath, gasping at the views. Then they too will continue on. Just like us.
We strap microspikes on our feet and then begin our long descent. We cruise across the snow, downward toward the valley. Beauty, beauty, beauty. It’s marvelous.
Cold and in the mood to move, we hike quickly. At the base of the pass we stop to refill our water and ponder where our friends Sriracha and Chef are. We contemplate where we will go today. Our original plan was to go to the Junction for Kearsarge pass and wait for our friends. But then we check the weather using our Garmin inReach. The temperature’s tonight are supposed to be down to 18 degrees. Hmmm… That doesn’t sound fun. Its early, and we could still hike out Kearsarge pass tonight, adding 7 miles to our day, giving us a total of 21 miles.
We continue hiking to the Junction, begining another upward climb of 1,000 ft. It’s steep and as we climb the valleys open below us. The view of Sequoia Kings Canyon park opens like a painting being unrolled. Still the views keep coming, each better than the last.
We reach the junction for Kearsarge at 4:30 pm and the temps are already freezing. Feeling good we decide to push on. It’s go time. If we get out early enough, maybe we can still catch a ride into town.
For the next couple hours we hike our butts off, climbing our second pass. The scenery is incredible, but I never pause for pictures, too cold to stop, and knowing we will be back in a few days.
After the pass we zoom down endless switchbacks as onion valley slowly comes into view. We see few cars but remain hopeful. The wind whips at our backs, on our faces, pulling at our limbs. Burrr…
Finally we’re at the bottom. No day hikers are here to give us a ride. We spot some hikers driving in,and Lupine sticks out her thumb, but they have only just arrived to camp. Why would someone camp in these conditions I cannot imagine. Too cold to continue searching for a ride we setup our tent and cook dinner shivering. Lupine drinks from our water bottle and comments on how cold it is. I glance at it and notice ice forming.
We crawl into our tent and wait out the night. It’s cold, and we huddle together, wearing all our layers. When the clock hits 3 am, I know we will be okay. Then it hits 5 am, the morning sun will be coming soon.
At 7 am we rise and see a camper near his car in the parking lot. We ask him if he’s leaving, and he says yes. He can give us a ride in about an hour, he needs to pack up his gear first. He was so cold last night he slept in his car. I would have done the same if I had a car.
We go back to his campsite and help him load his car. He offers us some orange juice, which freezes as we drink it, sticking to the sides of our cup. Then we ride out from Onion Valley in a warm car as it begins to snow. We learn our new friend is a professor of Spanish at SCU in L.A. He also works with the medical school and I mention that I’m a dietitian. We discuss the importance of Spanish for health professionals and I’m inspired again to learn Spanish.
Our friend drops us off in Independence where we eventually are rejoined by Sriracha and Chef. They slept at the junction last night and it reached nine degrees. I’m relieved we left last night. We all hop on a shuttle to Bishop, for rest and good food.