Forrester Pass – Part II: Getting Down
“The very basic core of man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” – Chris McCandless (in a letter to his 81-year-old friend Ronald Franz)
“To the timid traveler, fresh from the sedimentary levels of the lowlands, these highways, however picturesque and grand, seem terribly forbidding; cold, dead, gloomy gashes in the bones of the mountains, and of all Nature’s ways the ones to be most cautiously avoided. Yet, they are full of the finest and most telling examples of Nature’s love…Fear not, therefore, to try the mountain-passes. They will kill care, save you from deadly apathy, set you free, and call forth every faculty into vigorous, enthusiastic action.” – John Muir (talking of the Sierra Nevada high passes)
“The free mountaineer with a sack of bread on his shoulders and an ax to cut steps in ice and frozen snow can make his way across the range almost everywhere, and at any time of year when the weather is calm.” – John Muir“
Happiness only real when shared.” – Chris McCandless
After some photos and celebrations atop Forrester Pass, we set out to make our way down. Daniel and Leah (our Canadian comrades) had gone ahead already and so I led our team following their tracks through some soft snow. We had some post-holing, but it wasn’t all that bad.
One thing that was a little worrisome was that we’d read a comment in our app telling to take the higher footprint path since the lower one goes along a cornice that has the appearance of being avalanche prone. Kool-Aid looked at it and agreed. No big deal, we just avoided it and went on our way.
Soon we came to a rocky ridge with some absolutely stunning views looking further into the Sierra and down the valley where we hoped to head later today.
We made our way down the ridge and after some serious post-holing, we found we could walk along the snow-free rocks themselves. Here’s dad (and Calzone too on second glance) trying to get over to the rocks giving nice examples of what I mean by post-holing. I may have mentioned this before that near the rocks is always a danger zone since they heat up and have hidey hole spaces for us to fall into.
As we hiked down to the lower part of the ridge where the trail is supposed to switchback down its right side, we saw Daniel and Leah coming back up. Odd thing to do we thought. Essentially, after looking around at things, they couldn’t find a safe way down.
The actual PCT trail switchbacks were covered in snow making it too steep and dangerous to decend that way. The very end was a dead end, a cliff…same as the left side. We were stumped. I even went ahead to investigate the rocky “cliff” area to see if that was a possibility of going down. Nope, not a chance with our packs on. Kool-Aid smartly offered up the idea of taking lunch. It was maybe 11:00am, but this ended up being a really good idea. I was antsy to go and keep looking for options, but it forced me to sit and calm down a bit. The mood was a bit somber and discouraged. After our triumph of making over the pass, we were humbled a bit…this wasn’t supposed to happen right? My celebratory candy bar that I had gotten specifically to celebrate the Forrester Pass accomplishment was melted as well, so that was a bit sad too.
On a bit of a tangent…if you’ve been wondering to yourself, “Stephen, don’t your shoes and socks get wet tromping around the snow all day?” I answer you…why yes, indeed they do. In fact, a hiker at one point on my journey shared this referencing the last time our feet were dry in the Sierra…
Rose from Titanic knows. So, to do my best at keeping my socks dry, I run a constant rotation drying on my pack. Here’s my pack while we ate lunch up on the ridge.
Afterwards, after being rejuvenated with food and water, we considered our options. One idea brought up was to stay the night on this exposed ridge, to try in the morning when the snow would be hard again and not soft and slippery. Nobody was too keen on that idea though. So, we hauled on our packs and walked back up the way we’d come to try and see a way we might’ve missed.
It seemed some folks ahead us were going the high avalanche risk way, which we weren’t at all excited about either, especially with it being late in the sunshine at this point.
After about 2.5 hours of being stalled out, Kool-Aid walked his way out onto the slope pictures above. We didn’t see any evidence of other hikers having taken it yet. Slowly, we realized it seemed doable and a good option. I followed. Then, the others as well. Midway out, Kool-Aid took the opportunity to introduce us to true glissading (basically sledding on our butts)! Us non-experienced snow hikers were pretty scared of this idea, zooming down a mountain at a high rate of speed…or at least I was. But, seeing Kool-Aid make his track and moving slow with the ice axe as a brake, we followed our brave leader!
From then then on, if there was a safe possibility for glissading down, we were doing it! What a blast! We continued down completing a series of 4 or 5 glissades and by the end our mood had gone from sad and downtrodden to ecstatic, bubbling with laughter and joy at the thought of the ride we’d just taken! We regrouped and filled up with water at this creek.Then, after crossing over the snow bridge, we looked for the trail. We found that we were only a couple hundred feet off of it somehow! So basically, we created a new way off Forrester that was super quick and easy and fun. While waiting, we heard the hoots and hollers of our Canadian friends following our path down the mountain.We went just a bit further then had a nice break. Snickers took full advantage…We spent the rest of the day, trudging down the valley following along a beautiful river.
It was a long exhausting day and we didn’t reach our goal of camping in Vidette Meadow. Instead, we camped about 3 miles short of it in a nice snow-free patch adjacent to the river. The canyon was pretty narrow here with steep tall mountains on each side. A cool spot. Dad and I took the river front property…We had a lovely evening, but short since we were all tired. The frogs game was brought out and I believe Cheer was champ once again…girls got skills. For a rookie, Daniel held his own as well. A truly great day and with memories we’ll look back on with and smile 😊