Forester Pass Trail ... next chapter

Below Forester Pass looking south west to the Kern Valley

August 3, 2000
Forester Pass to Bubbs Creek Trail Crossing
We bag our first pass ... it's all down hill from here ... NOT!

0345-0430 — thunder & lightning storm

          I wake in the middle of the night to light flashes. I start a count ... One one thousand, two one thousand ... twenty four one thousand, twenty five one thousand rumble, rumble, rumble. The storm is some five miles away and southwest. With each new flash of light I count again. The distance is closing fast. And then the light fills the sky as if it is day, I am afraid to keep my eyes open as if I am looking at the sun and there is no counting just a deafening KABOOM that ricochets all around the basin with a sustained echo. The storm is directly overhead.

          The storm races past to the northeast as quickly as it had approached. The thirteen thousand foot mountain divide does not stall it at all. I calculate the storm covered about ten miles in forty-five minutes. And then it is gone and the night is calm.

0630-0730 — south of Forester Pass  (56°F; scattered clouds)

          We awake to some blue sky and residual cumulus clouds. The sun begins to shine on the trail up to the pass. Now we are concerned it will be hot climbing the remaining 1000 feet to the top. Irene's bivy and bag are soaked. A slight breeze early in the morning helped to dry my bag some but we will need to take time out during the day to dry our gear in the sun ... if there is any sun. While packing up we ditch a couple more handfuls of gorp to lighten the load knowing we are ahead of schedule and soon will have more food than we will want to carry. We probably make some ground squirrels and marmots very happy.

          Chris and Will wave as they pass by out on the trail headed for Forester. The approach to the pass is a gentle rise, an opportunity to stretch out and warm up for the climb. We see what must be the pass straight ahead. But which notch in the divide is the pass? Is it the dark craggy crevice on the left or the wide smooth saddle on the right? Picking a route up and over mountains based on the visible terrain can be fun. In this case, it doesn't really matter because we know the pass is on the trail and there are people just ahead of us blazing the trail; but, when you are off trail you have to decide for yourself where the easiest way is over an obstacle. Invariably, no matter where you are off trail, you run into some kind of trail or at least foot prints of those who have preceded you (of course, you may be following "lemmings").

0845-0900 — below Cal Tech Peak 36°41.349 / 118°22.547 - 12.5K' (62°F)

          We stop for last chance water at an outlet creek at the base of the climb. Chris lags behind Will as he is charges up the pass. George of Three Rivers is now not too far behind us getting an early start as well. A thunderstorm threatens from the west about a mile away.

          We begin the climb hoping not to get rained on or having to deal with lightning at elevation. We pass two British coming down on the JMT south who assure us, yes indeed, the pass is the dark craggy crevice on the left. The mountain wall is practically vertical but many well constructed switchbacks and ledges make the climb a piece of cake (oops, I violate Irene's prohibition of mentioning food while starving on the trail). George tells us of his experience with Forester Pass in the snow, which is not a piece of cake, especially if you have to break through a snow cornice at the top as he had to do. The climb to the top takes us about forty-five minutes with periodic rests. Views of the basin lakes and the storm out over the Kern Valley are spectacular (see above painting Forester Pass Trail). Will, the good son, chivalrously returns down from the top to carry his mother's pack for her. They have been planning this JMT trek for over a year. Will's girlfriend was supposed to join them but I guess they broke up. So now just mom and son are making the trip. Unfortunately, Chris is struggling and the weather is discouraging her.

Gregory's Monument

View of the rugged divide north of Forester Pass

0945-1000 — Forester Pass 36°41.671 / 118°22.412 - 13,162' (64°F)

          Our break at the Pass is brief. Just enough time to change film and snap a couple photos while the sun is out. Irene poses with the other folks at the marker for an official "we did it" photo. George hastens on down the trail anxious to wind down his ten day long pass hopping loop out of Kings Canyon. I collect lat/long data which shows my map estimates in error by 0.02' latitude, 0.09' longitude and 18' altitude. My calculated coordinates would certainly have been close enough to find this pass had we not had the well worn path to bring us directly to it. We soon follow the other three down the north face after a moment of solitude at the pass. Eminent storms threaten just south of us.

          The trail down has marvelous views of Bubbs Creek headwaters. The sun begins to linger longer between clouds. We pass twenty-two people and a Ranger (who does not bother us to show him our Wilderness Permit) headed south up the trail to the stormy pass. You can almost tell who are the JMTers and who is not. The JMT trekkers are the ones with dark tans, dirty clothes, big smiles and bright, wide open eyes. The other huffing and puffing folks prove that Forester is one pass that is most easily mounted from the south (as per my earlier proffer and one reason for our south to north route). Most JMT trekkers traverse north to south from Yosemite Valley to Mt. Whitney. There are ten passes to climb. Most are long, unrelenting, seemingly endless, half day climbs from the north side. The south side is usually a moderate rise to a switchbacked vertical climb of about thirty minutes. We are happy to be headed north.

1100-1145 — Bubbs Creek headwaters 36°42.483 / 118°21.986 - 11.9K' (67°F)

          We descend about a thousand feet and break at a creek where George is already resting. The sun is out from behind the clouds so we unpack our bivies and sleeping bags and lay them out to dry in the radiant heat. The direct sun can be hot up here in the thin air even though it is still cool and a little breezy. We converse with George some more and I give him a card encouraging him to write us email when he gets home (which will be hard since he doesn't own a computer). I distribute my HiSierraHi business cards to several folks on the trail in hopes they will visit my web site, enjoy my paintings and then write us about their own Sierra adventures. Some probably think me strange to be carrying business cards in the wilderness and may be put-off with a suspicion I'm selling them something, but I only give my card to real Sierra fans and folks who seem interested in our trek.

University Peak

Ominous clouds shroud University Peak on the John Muir Trail

          "John the Baptist was not more eager to get all his fellow sinners into the Jordan than I to baptize all of mine in the beauty of God's mountains." — JM

1400-1430 — north of Center Basin Trail 36°44.163 / 118°22.698 - 10.4K' (73°F)

          Rain continues to spit and spritz as we head down the valley and into the trees near Center Basin Trail junction. We are now at about 10.4K' and the day is warming slightly; time for a bath, foot soak, lunch and rest. We pass Chris and Will for the last time after having leapfrogged with them all day. They call it quits and make camp at a bend in the Creek. They will get resupplied by friends just below Kearsarge Pass tomorrow. We never see them again on the trail and we aren't sure whether they keep going at all (they do make it and have produced a marvelous website sharing their adventure). Just now, our spirits are a little dampened, as well.

1545-1900 — Bubbs Creek 36°45.175 / 118°23.667 - 9.9K'

          Not long back on the trail in the cover of trees where the on/off drizzle is not as wet but still a major nuisance, we decide to stop for dinner. We find a horse camp in a grove of towering pines. There is dry ground here. Under the cover of these trees we fashion a much better tarp shelter by attaching cord at two corners of the tarp to adjacent trees about three feet up the trunk and stretching the opposite corners out at the ground with large rocks. We are completely protected from the rain whether it continues as a light drizzle or heavy downpour.

          Irene makes a fine dinner. We now finally have some appetite so we feast on Ramen, garlic toast, coffee and cookies. This place is a good enough camp; we decide it is well suited to wait out the storm, at least, for the rest of today. We have only come about eight miles. We quit hiking early but I nod off before it gets dark. I have a pretty restful sleep punctuated with weird adventure dreams. Sometime in the night I hear a tree fall in the forest nearby. Trees do make noise when they fall. I trust the big ones we are camped under will remain standing.

"... this has been a big feast day. Plants, animals, birds, rocks, gardens, magnificent clouds, thunderstorms, rain, hail — all, all have blessed me!" — JM

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