Hi, my name is Isko Salminen.
I'm an adventure seeker and I love exploring nature with my camera and Australian Shepherd called Fire

Day 56: Forester Pass and why I didn't quit the PCT yesterday

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Date: June 24, 2017
Miles: 19.8 miles (31.9km), from Crabtree Meadow over Forester Pass to mile 786.
Health: Feeling great but tired. Two days of big climbing, river crossings, snow, and elevation.

I love this trail. I love everything about about. It's already day 56 and I don't want it to end. Also, I passed the day 55 and didn't quit the PCT (if you're wondering what that's about, check day 20).

Today was going to be another big day. Not only did I need to catch up to KB, Fyre, Dandelion, and Fire Ant, I also needed to cross three major river crossings and climb first of the high Sierra passes. Forester Pass, at 13,200 feet (4,023m) was not only the highest point of the PCT, it was also notorious for the ice chute you needed to cross to get to the top. With all the snow this year, we had no idea what was waiting for us as we approached the pass.

At the PCT junction.  

At the PCT junction.  

Before reaching pass though, we needed to cross the three first big river crossings – Wallace, Wright, and Tyndall. We had heard that the rivers were overflowing and full, and that crossing them was dangerous. My decision yesterday to not hike out of Crabtree Meadow with the rest of the crew meant that if I didn't catch them before the rivers, I might have to either cross them alone, which is not safe, or wait for someone to cross with. I knew there was no one going out in the morning so I had to the catch others or face the crossings solo.

I tried to guess the time the others would leave in the morning, and as I thought they'd be about 3 miles ahead, it would take me a little over hour to catch them. So I set out to hike around 4:30am thinking this would give me hour and a half to catch them. I hiked back the few miles to the PCT junction. As I looked at the map at the junction I realized I had made an error. If the others had went to the spot where they said, I wasn't an hour behind, I was over two hours behind. I had to speed up.

Trail.  

Trail.  

I tried my best to keep up as fast of a pace as I could but I soon ran into something I had also forgotten to calculate, snow. Instead of a clear trail to hike on, I found myself climbing snow drifts and snowbanks blocking the trail. I was moving way slower than I needed to. It soon became obvious I wasn't catching the others before the river crossings.

As I arrived to the Rock Creek, not the largest but still overflowing creek that I needed to cross. I saw no sight of the others. As I was alone, I wanted to make sure it was safe to cross and spend some time looking for a log, or something else to cross over with. After looking for awhile I just decided to cross at the trail. It was where the stream was widest, and had least flow. The water came only a little over my knees. This wasn't bad. I hiked on with wet shoes, trying to keep an steady pace to keep warm as the sun wasn't properly out yet.

Morning views.  

Morning views.  

Not long after the Rock Creek I reached the Wallace Creek. Now this had a little bit more umph to it. The water was flowing harder and it was much deeper. After looking a little bit upstream I found a safer spot and crossed the creek there. The water reached my shorts but was nothing too bad.

I was hoping that the others would have taken a pause to dry after the creek but there was no sight of anyone. Maybe they had gone straight to the next crossing as it wasn't that far away.

Soon I reached Wright Creek but saw again no sight of the others. The creek seemed really aggressive and deep at the PCT crossing, and there was no way I was getting in that stream alone. As I was reading the stream crossing report three hikers that I've never seen before showed up. Before I could find the info on Wright they informed me that there was a log someway downstream.

We all hiked down the river trying to find the log but saw none. At one point we came to a spot where the river split into two and there was a small island between. While the others kept going, I stayed to investigate as this would probably be our best bet if we couldn't find the log. As I crossed the knee deep stream over to the island I saw a log on the other side crossing the deeper, more aggressive side of the river. I yelled at the others and they came back. I went to the log and crossed it thinking the others would be soon behind me. As I turned around, I saw them changing their gear on the other bank. Wondering what they were doing, I left as it seemed it would take them sometime to even get their packs back in order.

Log crossing.  

Log crossing.  

That was two of the three rivers crossed, plus few extra ones. Next up was Tyndall. From what I've heard it was the worst of the crossings for today.

I soon reached a large snowfield covered in sun cups and after hiking in it for awhile, I got frustrated and looked at the map. I saw that getting a bit higher I could get out of the snow and still follow the trail. I got to the higher ground and saw others footprints. Of course I wasn't the only one think this.

As I was walking along, the mountains ahead of me seemed to get larger and more ominous. We were approaching the High Sierra. I kept looking at the notches at the mountain range and trying to find the V-shape that Forester Pass was known for.

As the trail started heading down towards a valley I saw a person hiking towards me. Strange, we haven't seen that many southbounders yet. As the person got closer I recognized her. It was a European Hiker I had seen at times. As she got closer we started chatting and I wondered why she was going to the wrong direction. She told me that she had gotten to the creek and that it was too much for her to handle and she was heading back. I asked her about Sunshine and others but she didn't know them, and hadn't seen anyone fitting the description I gave her. But she told me there were plenty of people at the camp before the river, waiting to cross. That gave me hope. Maybe the others were there and we could cross and then climb Forester together.

I headed on while wishing her luck. I needed to boogie as the river was still an hour hike away. As I started to go down to the valley I started hearing the sound of rushing water. That sound wasn't coming from a small creek. I really hoped that the others were down there.

Traction.  

Traction.  

The trail was again covered in snowbanks and was slow to hike on. If I wasn't trying to locate the trail, I was climbing head high snowbanks, hopping streams, or trying to find routes around fallen trees.

When I finally reached the camp there was no one there. Only the sound of rushing water. And lots of it. I walked down to the PCT crossing and there was no way anyone would cross the "creek" from here. Water was so deep and moving so fast that the second you'd step in the water you'd be swept downstream.

The water report mentioned that there was a possible crossing few miles upstream. I started climbing the river bank upstream and saw lots of other footprints in the snow and mud. That was reassuring.

After about an mile the creek split up in two and in the distance I saw four people sitting on the opposite side. As I got closer they waved me over and showed me where to cross. The point was wide and I had passed quite a few tributaries on my way up so there was less water here than on the PCT crossing.

Snow field and Forester Pass far in the distance.  

Snow field and Forester Pass far in the distance.  

I took out my second hiking pole for extra support and crossed the river. The water water was cold and I felt the current a little bit, but it was very easy crossing. As I got over I thanked the others and ignored their comments about drying my shoes. I squeezed some of the water out and then continued to the direction they pointed he trail would continue at.

From here the trail started climbing up and I saw only endless snowfields ahead of me. I soon found a faint trail on snow. This made progress a bit easier but still hard. While moving forward was difficult, the views more than made up for the hardship. On every side I was surrounded by snow covered beautiful mountains and far ahead stood a massive range that looked impassable.

Looking at that range, and the map and compass reading, Forester Pass was somewhere on that range. As I slowly hiked closer, I saw the familiar V-shape on the range with what looked like the ice chute of the Forester Pass. That's where I was heading to.

Fyre and Forester Pass on the left.  

Fyre and Forester Pass on the left.  

As I got closer I noticed a lone hiker not far ahead of me in the snow. I soon noticed a familiar backpack, Fyre.  I saw her stopping and I soon caught up to her. She told me she was having trouble with the snow and I agreed. Moving anywhere in the snow, and at this altitude, took so much energy. The clock wasn't even noon and I was already tired. And we hadn't even reached the pass yet.

As we hiked on with Fyre I saw another lonely figure ahead of us. Fyre told me that it was KB. She was way ahead of us and I knew we wouldn't catch up to her.

We kept hiking on in the snow and at one point I turned around to see how far we had come. As I turned around I saw massive storm clouds in the valley where we had just few hours earlier crossed Tyndall. That wasn't good. I kept my eye on the storm front to see where it was going as I hiked on.

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By now Forester Pass was straight ahead of us but we still had ways to go before we were at the approach point. I was running low on energy and the storm behind us looked like it was following us.

We soon got to the plateau before the pass and there at the base we saw KB sitting on one of the rocks. We pushed there with Fyre. KB had seen the clouds as well and us approaching and had stopped to wait for us.

Fyre and the storm behind us.

Fyre and the storm behind us.

We analyzed the situation and all the signs pointed to the fact that we should not attempt to go over the pass today. It was already late afternoon and as a general rule, you shouldn't cross passes in the afternoon. There was the storm that was still close by. And the snow had already started to get very soft, which would make climbing up the solid snow face of the pass harder and more dangerous.

We decided that this is where we needed to stop. None of us were happy about the situation but there was very little we could do. I started scouting for water and a place to camp. I wasn't happy about the prospect of camping on snow at such high elevation. And stopping our day this early meant we couldn't make the miles we had counted to do, and possibly affect our food situation.

As we were all watching the storm, we noticed it hasn't moved at all for the past few hours. And as we looked over the pass we saw nothing but blue skies. Slowly we started talking ourselves over from staying and went "ah, let's just get over this thing".

Starting the climb.  

Starting the climb.  

I think we all knew this was a bad decision, but we still went for it. We scouted the mountain side for the route up and started following the footsteps of others. As all the switchbacks were covered in snow, our only option was to climb straight up. About halfway up we saw the path carved in to the granite and that's where we headed.

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The climb turned almost immediately straight up and we had to climb on all fours. I kept punching my ice axe as deep in the snow as I could as the slushy snow would not hold well if I fell. My microspikes held just and I kept thinking this would be a good spot for crampons.

KB before crossing the ice chute.  

KB before crossing the ice chute.  

Fyre crossing the ice chute.  

Fyre crossing the ice chute.  

KB reached the granite path first, then I, and then Fyre. We took off our microspikes and hiked up the path that had been carved on the wall of the mountain. After few switchbacks we reached the famous ice chute. From up here it didn't look as intimidating as it did from below.

There was a nice, wide footpath on the ice chute and KB went over first. Fyre and I soon followed. That was easy. Few more steps and we made it to the top.

We made it! 

We made it! 

While the climb and the approach were definitely hard, they weren't as bad as I had imagined. The actual climb over the pass took only half the time we anticipated.

KB.  

KB.  

Fyre.  

Fyre.  

We took few celebratory photos at the top but then the storm clouds moved. The storm clouds that had stayed back started moving towards us again and we heard thunder. That was my cue and I started climbing down on the other side. KB and Fyre stayed at the top to cook ramen.

Author.  

Author.  

As I got a little ways down I saw the lightning flash and soon the rumbling sounds echoed on the mountain walls around me. Not good. We had made it over the pass but we still needed to get down from the mountain. There was a valley down below about seven miles away where we would be safe. Another lightning. And then it started hailing. 

North side of Forester Pass.  

North side of Forester Pass.  

I looked behind and could see Fyre and KB traversing down. As the thunder got closer and as I was standing on an exposed ridge line, I started running. I glissaded down when I could and ran the sections that were too flat to glissade. As the lightning continued I kept telling myself "I don't want to be here, I don't want to be here" while running in the hail storm.

Fyre and KB descending from Forester Pass.  

Fyre and KB descending from Forester Pass.  

When the hail and lightning stopped I didn't.  I ran all the seven miles down from the mountain and didn't even stop when I got to the forest. I passed few other hikers whom I've never seen.

In hail storm.  

In hail storm.  

Once in the forest the snow got harder to move on again. I reached a creek that had a log crossing. I tried getting on the log but it was so narrow and slippery that I felt it was too sketchy and backed away. As I backed away I noticed a lonely hiking pole sticking in the ground. I looked around and yelled but no one was around. Strange. Someone must have forgotten it here.

I took the pole and started to climb upstream to find a better crossing place. Not far the stream split in two and I could cross both with barely enough water to reach my shins. Much better than the sketchy log.

Ridgeline with the forest down on left.  

Ridgeline with the forest down on left.  

I know that Dandelion, Fire Ant, Otter and others were ahead of me so I tried to catch up to them. But no matter how many camp spots I passed they were never there. They must have really boogied down today. I was getting really tired and having my feet wet all day was starting to feel tiresome. I wasn't sure how far I could go on.

At one point I met three other hikers. I asked them if anyone had lost their trekking pole and sure enough, one of them was the owner. He thanked me and I continued on.

After passing two more camping spots were I was sure Dandelion, Fire Ant, and Otter would have stopped, I was feeling really tired. I looked at the map and saw there was one pretty good looking spot about a mile down. That must be where they stopped.

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I hiked the last mile and as I got closer to the spot I saw smoke. Fire. That meant there were people camping there. But it wasn't them. As I knew the hikers, and as I was already pretty worn out, I decided to abandon the decision to catch the others and stay here.

I set up my shelter, got to the fire to dry my socks and shoes, and made my dinner. After a while Fyre and KB also appeared. What a day.