From mile 775 to Kearsarge Pass Trail
June 23, 2014
Another leisurely morning for all three of us. Bluesman said he didn’t sleep at all at Guitar Lake, but I think he got a solid twelve last night. We’re in no rush. We’re about five miles out from Forester Pass, and we’d like to hit it around 10 or eleven, when the morning ice has softened, but the snow hasn’t turned all the way to mush yet. None of us brought micro-spikes or ice axes with us. It was a low snow year and we’re not hitting the passes early – from what we hear, our trail runners and trekking poles should work fine for the current conditions, but we’ll find out soon.
We climb up onto a plateau above the timberline pretty quickly. There’s a jagged ridge in front of us, and we spend some time trying to figure out which notch in it is forester pass. “I think it’s that one over there,” J shows, pointing to a talus covered slope.
“Nah, I think it’s this notch directly in front of us, with the tongue of snow. I think I see the trail leading up to it – that line in the rock face doesn’t match the rest of the jointing pattern.”
“I don’t know… guess we’ll find out.”
We have to do our first route-finding across a few patches of snow – hardly counts, but it’s exciting to be walking in snow. It makes me feel tougher. As we approach the wall of rock, we can see that the line going up the cliff was indeed the trail. “Nice to have Whitney for perspective,” observes Bluesman. “Doesn’t seem like such a big deal now.”
It’s really not bad. I’m feeling surprisingly good this morning, tough and resilient. A little skinny, maybe. I wish I had a belt. But my skinny butt takes on Forester with hardly a sweat. There’s no snow on the south side of the pass, and we pop up for a fabulous view. It’s a granite wonderland, and rocky wasteland, rock and snow and ice and bright blue lakes with ice, all around us. “That mountain looks fake, like a kindergartner drew it,” says Bluesman, pointing to a perfectly triangular mountain on the ridge above the pass. In the midday sun it looks totally flat, like a paper cut-out. This entire area looks more like ideas of mountains than real mountains – a fantastic idealization out of stone. “Man, look at that blue lake!” I chime in, pointing to an especially blue one.
“It tastes like Blue Raspberry,” deadpans J. “That’s where Gatorade gets their flavors from.
“Ha! I’d always wondered what the heck Glacial Frost was!”
The north side of Forester pass has some small snow fields – nothing substantial, but still something we have to deal with. There are rocks poking out of it, but J sits down to try a glissade. He lives a long butt-chute in the snow, and skirts down at least 30 feet of elevation in a minute. I’m skeptical, but I look at Bluesman trying to pick his way down on boulders and give it a shot.
“WOOHOO! Yeah! Wow!” I laugh and laugh going down. The snow is just mushy enough to keep from going to fast, and no rocks pop up to break my buttocks. “I think that was the most fun I’ve had the entire hike,” I say, satisfied, butt soaked.
“That’s a glacial bidet,” informs Bluesman, who saw the success of the glissades and did his own buttslide down to the bottom.
We finish picking our way through snowpatches and eat lunch beside a big blue lake. The trail continues on, next to a fabulous snowmelt cascade called Bubb’s Creek. “What’s the deal with these names,” declares Bluesman. “This has to be the prettiest creek I ever saw. Bubbs better have been one helluva guy.” The valley opens up to a textbook glacial valley, sharp peaks curving down into a gentle, curved valley, full of trees. “I think we’ve made it to the promised land,” I wonder. Can you overdose on beauty? It’s so overwhelming it’s heady. All three of us have packed our camera drives full of photo after photo of steep granite slopes, snow fields, pine valleys, rushing creeks. It’s like living in a magazine, or some other place too good to be true.
A traverse of the magical valley takes us to the trail to Kearsarge Pass. This is our exit. Time to resupply. Some JMT hikers have told us that there are trail angels at the Onion Valley trailhead, but that’s another 8 miles from the exit from the PCT, and it doesn’t look like we’ll make it. We catch up with Bluesman sitting by a little blue lake, surrounded by perfect peaks. The mosquitoes which suddenly appeared in the valley, and have been plaguing us every time we stop, are mostly absent from a light breeze. “I vote we stop here,” Bluesman says, “who’s with me?” and he shoves his hand in the air. It’s only 5pm, an early stop for us, but we didn’t come out here to just rocket past all the pretty places. Sometimes we have to stop and just wonder at them.
We set up camp, talk, relax. J takes his rod and catches us five brook trout for dinner, his fly rod waving like a magic wand, conjuring up trout. The sunset is perfect. Life is perfect. I’m glad I decided to do this. I love this trail, this life. I feel like my life was dipped in gold, sprinkled with diamonds, spritzed with holy water, then given back to me.
I’m one of the lucky ones.