JMT, Day 5: The Magnificent Mile

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Crabtree Meadow to Forester Pass, camping at 12,700 feet, 14.1 miles

We wake up early and break camp pretty efficiently before hitting the trail at 7:30. Today we will tackle Forester Pass, one of the JMT’s most formidable, and we are hoping to camp as close as possible to it tonight. The first several miles are through Foxtail Pine forest and look very similar to many of the miles we have walked so far.  We cross a few streams (Wallace and Wright Creek) without any trouble and then finally begin a big climb up to Bighorn Plateau.

This short section of trail only lasts about a mile, but it blows our minds. It is dry and barren, save for a few twisted, dead foxtails. The sky is so blue behind them that it almost looks fake. There are mountains around us on all sides, and, all of a sudden, a tarn appears out of nowhere. It is totally otherworldly—a really cool place to see first hand.

From there, we descend steadily to Tyndall Creek. It looks like it may be possible to hop across on rocks, but the middle section is a little sketchy, so we decide to ford the crossing—our first on the JMT. We change into our water shoes and prepare for the worst. In Iceland, we forded many rivers along the Laugavegur Trail, and the water was so cold that it made our legs and feet burn.

Yes, the water is chilly here, but it is surprisingly refreshing. It actually feels so good on our hot, tired feet that we linger midstream, then drop our packs on the other side and go back into the water for more fun. Matt brings the camera and takes some shots from the middle of the creek. If all of the JMT river crossings are like this one, bring ’em on!

We finally decide to move on and begin the big climb up toward Forester Pass. Very quickly we are out of the forest and walking through an insanely long high alpine meadow. 

The views around us are huge in every direction, and we feel so tiny in this grand landscape.

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The farther we go, the more barren the landscape becomes, and, pretty soon, there is almost nothing but rocks in all shapes and sizes imaginable and the tiny plants and flowers that manage to grow in the minuscule amount of soil that has collected between the cracks.

We pass a few lakes on our right. They look like good places to camp for the night, but we have our eyes set on a tarn just below the pass and keep hiking along for what feels like forever before we get there. Ahead of us is a giant rock wall that we must get over in the morning, and we wonder how we will make it. Where is the trail? 

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Even though it is already 7:30 pm, we spot a few diehard hikers coming down from the pass, giving us a little preview of what we have in store for us tomorrow.

We hike until we feel we can go no further. Our campsite is at 12,700 feet, and we set up our tent and do our camp chores. There is plenty of water at this camp, and we play Frogger hopping across rocks and soft, mossy ground to find a suitable spot for filtering.

Camping this high will be cold, but we have a sweet view of the mountains to our south as the setting sun turns them pink. We put on layers and enjoy the view. This is why we came on the JMT—for scenery exactly like this!

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As it gets dark, the stars and Milky Way come out, and we have some fun with some nighttime photography. We do the obligatory tent shot but also give light writing a try with our headlamps. We write out “100” in honor of the 100th birthday of the National Park Service. Matt is way better at it than I am—go figure!

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It is well after 11 by the time we go to bed, which is super late for the backpacking crowd. We know the alarm will come early tomorrow, but the lack of sleep will have been well worth it.

2 thoughts on “JMT, Day 5: The Magnificent Mile

  1. I loved this post. You guys have such great photos and it really shows. It sounds like a great hike, though maybe a cold one. There is still snow on the ground there, but it looks like you found a relatively soft place to drop your tent. I’m looking forward to your next post! – Tobias

    1. Thanks so much, Tobias! This was one of our very favorite days on the JMT. It was cool to sleep so high, but it was definitely a cold night. We really appreciate you following our journey. Cheers!

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