Forester Pass

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After summiting Whitney we’d hoped to hike the 7-8 miles to the Base of Forester Pass that afternoon so that we could cross the pass early morning whole the snow pack was still firm. In practice I was exhausted and managed little more than to make dinner and return to the tent to sleep. When we did set off the following day I was glad of the extra rest. Although beautiful, the hike up to Forester Pass was inevitably harder than we’d envisaged and climbed relentlessly uphill, crossing three rivers.

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The high basin prior to the final climb was beautiful, if still mostly frozen. We reached the pass at 3pm and the hot sun had softened the hard snow pack considerably. The switchbacks leading up to the pass were still snow covered and it was a slow climb to the crest of the pass.

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We’d prepared ourselves for a windy summit but in the event it was beautifully still and sunny. The snow on the north side was significantly greater but still just firm enough to make our passage safe. We plunged through knee deep in places but although slow the climb down was not unpleasant.

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Although we didn’t get far beyond the pass the lake at the foot of the pass was a beautiful campsite with a near full moon and gurgling streams either side of us. The moon reflecting on the steep craggy walls around us gave a sense that our camp was cradled in the mountains.

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Having taken longer to do the section than expected we needed to go out to town to resupply. We also had to make a decision regarding Lisa’s foot. It had been getting steadily worse despite the previous time out. The hike out from the PCT took us over Kearsage Pass, another big climb but snow-free this time. After a short wait at the trailhead we got a hitch down to the highway and eventually a second hitch into the town of Bishop where we would need to consider our next steps.

From desert to mountain

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The transformation from the desert to the high Sierra’s could not have been more dramatic. As we crossed lush meadows, the pine trees grew taller, the boulders bigger and on the horizon the peaks soared skywards, only now increasingly their summits were decorated with a glistening, frosty icing.

We had been off-trail for a few days to give Lisa’s foot a chance to recover, the down-side to that being that we had lost much of the altitude adjustment that had been hard won over the previous weeks. We paid for it with slow, laboured breaths covering only 10-12 miles a day for the initial days back on trail. As we climbed higher we experienced our first significant mountain storm. We’d made it into the tent just as the first heavy raindrops pelted the fragile skin that kept us from the elements, later turning to hail. Lightening crashed down around us for several hours. The air was hot with electriciy and this seemed to intensify the sweet smell of pine resin. At around 10,500ft we were higher than we’d want to be in such a storm but lower than high points around us so sat out a restless night until it blew over. In the morning it was clear and sunny and we attempted to make some miles only to be caught in a snow storm at 11,000ft that afternoon. We pushed on to Chicken Spring Lake and retired to our tent at about 2pm to sit out the snow. We were hiking with a small group at this time and were grateful for the moral-boosting company through this tough section.

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By the morning it was clear and sunny again. Although the world around us had turned white. It left some anxiety too about the conditions on Forester Pass ahead, the high point of the PCT at 13,200ft.

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Before Forester however was Whitney, the highest mountain in the lower 48 states. To make an attempt on Whitney we came off the PCT and camped at Crabtree Meadow. This was the a gorgeous part of the high Sierra.

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Lisa chose to sit out the climb as her foot was still hurting significantly. I agreed a 2:30am alpine start with a couple of others and set off in the dark by headtorch. Ever conscious that we were sharing the mountains with those bears emerging from hibernation, it was disconcerting when we lost the trail for a few moments in the dark. We climbed around 4000ft to summit at 07:10. The last mile or two had required boot spikes for traction on hard snow and ice, and the wind added a significant challenge bringing the wind-chill temperature down to around -16C. The sun had beaten us by some way but the views were still spectacular.

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The Mojave (part 2)

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With the start of central California and the High Sierra mountains in our minds, we set a plan to cross the remaining Mojave and reach Kennedy Meadows, gateway to the Sierra, in week. Tehachapi had been a great resupply town and we’d sent a box ahead to Kennedy Meadows too with food for a further week to get us up into the mountains and hopefully up as far as Kearsage Pass where we plan to drop down to Highway 395 and then hitch out to Lone Pine for our next rest and resupply. It’s hard to plan for the mountains however as there is still considerable snow on the peaks and passes which could take many more days to cross than in a low snow year.

Getting to Kennedy Meadows in a week meant planning to walk at least 20 miles a day for 7 consecutive days without resupply.  It therefore also meant carrying 7 days worth of food which would be heavy, even based on trying to consume 2000 calories a day. In practice we are probably now burning over 4000 a day so we need to eat well when we are in town.

The initial walk out of Tehachapi was a mile of dirt bank alongside a highway, where the PCT had been washed out by a mudslide last year. We then climbed over 2000ft back into the high desert mountains. It had been hard to leave Tehachapi as we’d had the good fortune to stay with a fantastic host through air b&b. Not only was Richard a great guy, former scuba company owner and motorcycle collector, even better than that he had a heated indoor pool, 60″ TV in our ensuite room and lent us his truck to get errands done. It was a very different couple of days from our usual hiking routine. However, it was great to be on the trail and camp at altitude again. The night sky’s were exceptionally clear and not only were we getting an incredible view of the stars at night but great sunsets and sunrises too!
West at about 7:30pm:

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East at about 05:45am:

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Despite planning 2000 calories we were hungry all the time. This section was still desert, but we were gradually seeing more and more vegetation. On the 25th we awoke in low mountain cloud and it stayed with us all day. Only as we camped that evening did it finally clear. We’d even had to put waterproof jackets on briefly at lunch, for the first time on this trip. The lower temperature helped our hiking however and we made 20 miles before 4pm for a relaxed camp. The following 3 days were exceptionally dry however and included a 42 mile section with no water access at all. When we did finally get to water you’d not believe how excited we were about what was essentially a mosquito-infested damp valley floor revealing a muddy puddle no more than 8 inches across. Despite that we managed to magic 3 litres of lemonade from it. It felt akin to a biblical event and we were two very happy hikers!

After a brief rest we then climbed to over 7000ft to camp on a ridgetop. We almost retreated after seeing a big storm head building in the sky (lightning is major risk for hikers here), but it blew over and we had a peaceful night.

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The following day saw us descend to almost 5000ft before climbing again to over 8000, only to then drop down to Walker Pass at 5000ft once more the next morning. The limited food and water and heavy packs across the week had sapped our energy and we really needed to replenish our reserves. Fortunately we were able get a ride out from Walker Pass to Weldon and we decided to have a short hiking day, spending the rest of the day doing laundry, showering and eating (a lot)!

We camped that night at Walker Pass to be on trail for an early start. Lisa had to evict a hitchhiker from her pack in the morning and we set out feeling refreshed for the last couple of days into Kennedy Meadows.

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There was a lot of anticipation and excitement about getting into Kennedy Meadows. It’s an iconic outpost for PCT hikers and marks the transition from the desert of southern California into the Sierra Nevada mountains of central California. We were hearing lots of rumours about significant snow still lying on the mountain passes ahead and difficult river crossings that were swollen from snowmelt. More worryingly Lisa had been suppressing foot pain for several days with Ibuprofen. We’d always feared that a injury or illness could stop us hiking and we went into Kennedy Meadows with both excitement and concern about the trail ahead.

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