Crabtree Meadows Ranger Station CG to CS 786.1 (766.3 to 786.1 + .6 miles back to PCT)
Daily miles: 20.4
Anxiety overtakes me at 3 in the morning. I keep thinking about Forester Pass, which I climb up and over today. It’s the highest point officially on the PCT, and the first high mountain pass of the trail. It features a steep snow chute near the summit and I worry about the conditions as I’ll be climbing it in the afternoon, when the snow is soft.
Breaking camp and leaving in the morning darkness, I pass tent after tent of sleeping hikers and move off into the wilderness. All the streams on this stretch are ripe with snowmelt and there are no dry crossings. I take off my shoes and socks and wade barefoot over slippery rock and stable sand. 4 crossings this morning, making my feet sting. I leave my sunglasses behind at one crossing, so I’m sure I’ll go snowblind over these next couple of days.
Mid morning I take a long break and sit on a bald. Iconic peaks, unbroken chains of rugged mountains all along the horizon. I’ve over-rationed my food this section, so I can eat as much as I want today, which is a great feeling. Heaps of sesame sticks and cashews and a Nature Valley bar. For lunch it’s sausage and cheese and great fistfuls of Fritos.
As I approach Forester Pass I lose the trail to the snowfields, but smile at the joy of making my own path in this huge land. No other hikers are around, which makes the going all the greater. It’s like I’m actually a real explorer or something like it.
Then it’s rocketing up higher, eventually to over 13,000 feet, but my legs and lungs are strong. Maybe as strong as they’ve ever been. I take a quick caffeine gel, and before I know it, it’s over. I’m at the top. It felt easy. The first pass is in the bag.
The northern slope is snowier, as it receives less sunlight. I slide down the trail and fall a couple times, never seriously. I drink straight from a frozen alpine lake and feel like John Muir, beard and all. How many times did that great man slip and fall on the same mountains? I imagine him laughing at me somewhere as he watches me stumble and trip my way to the valley.
The southern Sierra are simply remarkable. It’s a place hidden from everything, a place of peace and fulfillment.
Bubbs Creek lines the valley and roars with all the snowmelt. I hike with Hodge-podge (PCTer) and Cedric (weekend hiker), and we camp near the stream’s banks. Mosquitos are out, and when I lie in my tent to calculate my mileage I realize I pulled a 20+ mile day in the Sierra and covered Forster Pass to boot. It’s a great feat and I top it off by polishing off M&Ms, half jar of Nutella, 2 Snickers bars, and a Clif Bar for dessert. The greatest day on the PCT so far, even if my eyes feel red and burned from all the sunshine.