Forrester Pass – Part I: The Climb
Beginning Elevation = 11,300
Peak Elevation = 13,200
Weather: Sunny, high of 70°F
Today will stand out as a monumentous day in my PCT experience. Maybe I’ve explained this already, if so, here it is again. From even before the start of my journey, this section of trail, and more specifically Forrester Pass, have been my main fears that would prevent me from completing this thru-hike. Like a giant, snow covered hurdle that I had to get over. I’ve already talked about how this is a large snow year and so you can understand my fears of going into the higher elevation mountains and the possibility of things being out of my skill and safety comfort level. In my mind, Forrester Pass, the highest point on the PCT at 13,200 feet is the symbol of all of that. It’s not just the height, but the tricky, somewhat technical traverse and steepness of the “trail.” You’ll see what I mean…
“Let us step out into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure”
– Albus Dumbledore
Team Mega SketchyChina.com woke up early, around 3:15am or so. In order to hike up and over the pass safely, we wanted the snow pack to remain cold, hard, and crunchy, so we agreed to make an early morning assault. Most folks do. It’d really be foolish to try if the snow is soft and slushy. So, we packed up in the dark with a nice array of stars above. We all had headlamps with the exception of Kool-Aid. The triple crown hiker named Numbers, who we’d met the night before also was getting ready.
The 7 of us set out from our base camp at 4:15am. I led the way to the water source where I’d filled up the night before. After a quick fill-up, we were hiking again at 4:30am.
After this point, things got a little disorganized. It was a bit of a fiasco actually. Basically, our group split into two and at two different speeds. We had camped off-trail and one group was using topographic maps to head to the pass, while the other was using our phone app, Guthook’s PCT Guide and following the speedy hiker, Numbers.
Ultimately, we got things straightened out after a regroup session and discussed staying together and following the PCT trail on our phones where the footprints were also leading. Super hiker Numbers was off ahead likely not to be seen by us again.
It wasn’t all that long before the sunrise brightened things up. It was an incredible experience hiking in this vast snow covered mountain landscape and having gorgeous pink and orangish colors paint the sky. I felt so small in this big world.
The trek from camp to Forrester Pass was about 4 miles. After an initial steep climb through a wintery forest to get back on the PCT, the first three of these miles were actually quite gradual. Because the snow was hard, we could walk right on top with our micro-spikes (Dad and I and Snickers had spikes, the others had crampons, which are more heavy duty). The terrain was mainly an expansive snow field with occasional boulders sticking up. We walked into a wide bowl of a valley with steep jagged mountains surrounding us on both sides. We saw some evidence of past small avalanches along these slopes. And we passed a few frozen lakes as well.
The elevation had us moving pretty slow, but we were quite steady. We all had planned to eat bars or whatever’s quick and easy so as not to slow our approach.
Looking back was a mountain skyline…
Here at this rock, we had a short break for a snack, bathroom break, gear/clothing adjustment prior to starting the climb up the wall in front of us. If you look closely, up that narrow shoot of snow, you can see a spot in the middle way up high. That’s a hiker ahead of us (possibly Numbers?).
And so it began…this was our first time having to actually use our ice axes for safety purposes and not just for practice. As I traversed up the hill, I placed my uphill hand on the ice axe head and would push the pointed end deep into the snow/ice for a hold. My downhill hand still had a trekking pole to assist as well.
We were all feeling pretty good at this point, just moving slow, paying attention to what we were doing. This is a really steep incline. The photos don’t show it much, but it would be a long fast slide down.
After the steep snow came a series of steep switchbacks. We enjoyed a little break to catch our breaths and take some photos/videos while stable.
Then, we arrived at the infamous chute!
For me, this was the scariest part. We took it in turns and encouraged/coached each other through! I was so thankful to have my trail family to go through this with and in particular to have Kool-Aid’s guidance.
We were pretty high up at this point…
Daniel led the way followed by Leah. Then it was Snickers, Kool-Aid, Calzone, Cheer, Dave H, and myself. Dad cruised through with nerves of steel! I was surprised at how composed I was too. Those who have been with me around heights before know that I have a love/hate relationship with them. I certainly like to climb things and be up high, but am also quite terrified of it too. I remember looking down the chute once while in the middle and realizing that was a poor choice, so instead put my focus to my steps and ice axe holds. I don’t have a video of either of us since my phone decided it was a good time to have it’s storage capacity become full, but here’s some pics…
We all made it through in good spirits!
But soon after this, realized we had yet one more hurdle to the top of the pass…up and over this steep snowy drift. Calzone showed us how it’s done like a boss!
And we made it!
Such an incredible experience to overcome this feat together!
The story doesn’t end here…the descent from Forrester Pass surprised us all. The northern side had a few tricks up its sleeve. Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait to hear about it. I ran out of time in town, so won’t be posting for likely another two weeks or so. If all goes according to plan, I’ll be in the next town around Saturday, June 29! Until then, peace be the journey y’all…