JMT, Day 6: Up and Over Forester Pass!

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Day 6: Forester Pass to Bush Camp, 11.1 miles

Despite camping so high, it is surprisingly warm during the night, and we sleep well. We wake up at 6 am and break camp. Just as we are about ready to leave, the morning sun lights up the mountains behind the tarn, and we spend a good hour photographing the peaks and their reflections in the water below. We don’t want to leave, but we have a big day ahead of us, and we need to get going.

Reluctantly, we pack up our cameras and start making our way up to the pass, switchbacking on narrow, rocky ledges up to above 13,000 feet. On the way up, we pass a small memorial to Donald Downs, an 18-year old killed during the construction of this section of the trail in 1930. It is a sobering reminder of the hard and dangerous work put in by so many to construct these trails that are used and loved by so many for pleasure.

Of all the passes on the JMT, Forester Pass is the most intimidating. Right near the top of the southern side is the “snow chute”—a 12-inch wide path that traverses a snowy slope with a severe vertical angle, practically perpendicular to the ground. It is right below the pass, and we thank our lucky stars that the trail is clear of snow for our passage.

At the top, the views are stupendous into Upper Vidette Meadow, but it’s the flowers at the pass that steal the show. All around the rocky ledges of the pass are clusters of purple Sky pilot, which we learn later are quite a rarity to see, especially in such quantities. There are so many blossoms that the air smells distinctly of lilacs. It’s absolutely intoxicating, and we try to capture as many different views of the beautiful flowers as possible.

The descent is down the north side, and there are several small snowfields that we have to cross that slow us down quite a bit since I hike like a grandma whenever the trail seems even the slightest bit treacherous to me. We have MicroSpikes, so we decide to put them on since we have been carrying them for the past 50 miles. Together with our poles, the spikes make the snowfields pretty easy. Thank goodness for that! 

Just when we think we are out of the weeds, we realize that the footsteps we are following have led us off trail. We have to scramble over rocks to get back on track, and this turns out to be a lot tougher and slower than the snow. Go figure!

The trail takes us down a ridge where we have a commanding view of the valley below, and it is staggeringly beautiful. There are views in all directions and more Sky pilot everywhere. We have a hard time making any progress since we keep stopping every five feet to take photos.

Suddenly, we notice a really cool rainbow right over Junction Peak. We are never going to get anywhere at this rate!

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Matt spots a waterfall in a meadow next to the trail. We stop there for lunch, and it’s yet another photo fest.

We are resupplying in Onion Valley tomorrow, so we are hoping to get as close to Kearsarge Pass as possible, and we finally hit the trail with a mission after lunch. It’s a long way down the valley and alongside Bubb’s Creek. It feels like we are going down forever, and the miles ahead seem endless.

We finally come to the trail junction to Charlotte Lake, and we are faced with a very steep section of trail just when we are feeling dog-tired. We both want to be done for the day, but we need to press on to make our pick up time tomorrow.

After a short break, it’s pedal to the metal, and we climb the steep trail looking for a campsite for the night. The higher we go, the more impressive the views of East Vidette Mountain get, and this provides us with enough motivation to keep going.

We finally find a nice, secluded spot near a creek, do our camp chores and spend the rest of the evening watching an entertaining parade of clouds whiz past East Vidette while we eat. The wind must be blowing strongly, but we are sheltered from it and don’t feel anything at our campsite. The sunset tonight is spectacular. 

Tomorrow is a resupply day in Independence, and we are staying at the Mt. Williamson Motel. We will be able to shower and drink cold beer. We are so excited that we are in our sleeping bags by 9:30, our earliest night on the trail by far. Sleep tight!

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