Hiking in the high Sierra requires climbing mountain passes - also they are part of the PCT. Passes offer new challenges - timing our climbs around snow conditions, river crossings and distance to the next pass or campsite from the summit.
Forester Pass, officially the highest point on the Pacific Crest Trail at 13,153 ft, was the first hurdle (although it's way bigger than a hurdle). The day before our band of thru-hikers had climbed and slept at the summit of Mt. Whitney so we approached Forester tired, but primed and ready to gain altitude again.
We camped four miles before Forester so we could gain the pass and descend in the morning, before the accumulated snow could be softened by the early summer sun. If we descended too late we risked postholing - when stepping on soft snow, you sink, a disaster as one leg becomes trapped up to the thigh in melting ice and snow and your body and pack crash off balance. It may go without saying, we have become well aquatinted with postholing.
We wake and pack quickly, each knowing the day brought new challenges. The approach to the pass was incredible, ice and snow fields like nothing the PCT had shown us yet. I passed waterfalls, frozen rivers, even caves, and I gazed upon the roughly hewn mountains wondering which our little foot path of a trail would force me to climb.
In the distance I saw Pedi at the base of a snow covered mountainside. I could make out Half and Half part of the way up the snow and talis. Quinoa was no where to be seen. I had finished the short approach, walking dazed and awestruck by the beauty of the Sierra. Now my focus was directed in front of me and upwards. Time to climb.
the ascent wasn't difficult, the snow crunched as I kicked steps for myself. Seconds later I had found steps kicked by other hikers and well compacted. The snow was plenty firm, progress was quick. Pedi and I were moving fast, we knew the Europeans were just ahead and we were excited to catch up. The snow turned to rocky switch backs, shear drop on one side and ice wall on the other, I couldn't imagine a better start to my morning. We gained the last switch back. The final hump to the top was covered in ice and snow, deep foot steps were kicked to make the last steps less risky.
From the top, our view of where we had come from was breathtaking. All the distance we had walked in the past week we could see from Forester - an odd feeling when those miles earned with sweat, some pain and many hours would soon be out of sight, left there for the next adventurer. With a turn I looked to where we would descend and drank in our future. Snow fields, icy lakes, deep valleys, and mountains that cut into the skyline like wild claws - the Sierras are a beast and Forester was like a gateway into the belly.
We snapped some pics and laughed, as a group we were excited and proud and happy to be facing new landscapes. Then we got ready to descend.
Going was quick on the hard snow fields. After cutting a few switchbacks we made it to our first glisade. Was it necessary? No. But it was a blast. As an FYI, glisading just means sledding without a sled using something as a break - we improvised with our trek poles.
The descent took longer than we thought it would and the snow started to get soft. After a short section of post holing we made it to a clear area. We were beat, soaked and ready for lunch.
After the snowy section we hiked into what seemed like the Forbidden Forest from Harry Potter. Giant trees, rushing river, shear granite canyon walls and waterfalls all over the place. We were hiking for Kearsarge Pass so we could resupply in Bishop, CA (not a huge snow covered pass, but still a climb). Getting to town for a meal after the snow was a perfect end to our first pass in the Sierra.