Water: icy-clear snowmelt streams above 12,000 feet. No filter.
Forester Pass looms impressive, impossible in the distance; a rock fortress with no visible way over or around. The trail passes through the teeny notch in the middle at the top of a rock-slide chute, but how?
Even up close the switchbacks are barely visible. Almost on top of each other, in many places you cannot see the trail you’ve just done it is so directly below. But step by step, the trail continues to unfold upwards to the pass. It seems as unbelievable as the purple flowers that bloom in cracks at the top, way up over 13,000 feet.
I look back on the valley of the morning’s progress. Even though I was just through here nine months ago, the trail today is still overwhelmingly stunning. The snow-streaks emphasizing the folds of mountains near and far. Further back, Bighorn Plateau where I contemplated morning reflections on the pond as as deer grazed peacefully beside the trail. And further still, Whitney, where friends should be right now at the summit.
Though it is an incredibly low snow year, June is still early in the season. The lakes up near the pass still white with ice mid-melt, and patches of snow still cover some of the switchbacks on the North side of the pass. I descend in the soft snow of the afternoon, slipping and sinking. My trekking pole play tricks, sometimes offering support, other times threatening to disappear completely into drifts and hidden crevices. At one point I have my left foot secure on a rock, take a step with other which promptly sinks waist deep in snow. Half in the splits, I experience a short moment of actual fear until I realize I can get out without assistance, even with my pack weighing me down. That I have no photo evidence of the event is evidence enough of real worry. No one else was in sight.
I pause at a stream below the pass, a place where I stopped for a break last year. I don’t have regrets about repeating this section, in all its rugged glory, but I have been feeling lonely today. Having skipped Mount Whitney, I am ahead of the gang, many of whom I have not seen since Kennedy meadows, five days ago.
Just a few minutes later, I look back and see the familiar silhouette of Bad Camper, whose leisurely long stride and green shorts cannot be mistaken. Double Step is here too, and Shenanigans not far behind. Friends! Camped together again, sharing stories, photos and food. And dreaming of town tomorrow. Up and over Kearsage Pass we will go, down to Independence, for Subway, resupply boxes, and new shoes.