Miles today: 17
Total miles: 784
Since we've had such big days lately (22 and 21 mile days in the Sierras, which is unheard of - most people hike around 15-17 miles per day here) we decided to sleep in and shoot for 15 miles today, a very small day in comparison to our usual hikes.
I was awake at 7:30, though, so I got up and ready for the day, which later prompted Sansei to chide me, "I don't think you understand the concept of sleeping in!" But we had a lazy morning, enjoying the company of our friends and our breakfasts, and didn't leave camp until 9:30.
We forded our first "real" rivers today, which were nothing more than rock-hops across low-flowing streams. But, ever the jokers, we couldn't resist crossing while yelling at each other,
"UNBUCKLE YOUR HIPBELT!! HIPBELT!!" as though the water were waist-deep.
Our big goal today was to cross over Forrester Pass, the official highest point on the PCT at 13,200 feet. We reached the start of the ascent just after lunch. It was a five mile climb to the top, but we discovered that the first three miles were so gently graded that we barely noticed we were going up in elevation. All around us was an open, granite bowl filled with small alpine lakes, and before us, a wall of mountains. This wall was intimidating and impenetrable, and we wondered why the trail was moving so swiftly toward it when there was clearly no way around it. With only two miles left until the Pass, we found ourselves at the base of this wall of mountains, staring straight up. And there, in a tiny notch in one of the peaks, we saw a white field of snow, and a tiny figure standing at the top. He was so small that at first we didn't believe it could possibly be a person, but then the silhouette moved, and then, waved.
And it was then that we realized where we were going.
The trail all but disappeared among the loose rock and granite of the mountainsides, and we walked among it, clinging to the rock faces and skirting our way to the top. We climbed in elevation so quickly that the world seemed to drop out beneath our feet, and Rotisserie, frightened of heights, hugged the inside of the trail and refused to look over the edge.
"It's beautiful! It's beautiful!" Sansei tried to coax her, but she said, "I believe you; I'll look at your photos later!"
I was prone to vertigo, myself, but often my desire to see amazing landscapes overcame my fear of heights. And so I moved along this rocky catwalk, drinking in the views and climbing ever upward. It went by much more quickly than Whitney, so before I knew it, we were very near the top. A final quick succession of switchbacks went up and over the summit, but before that was a swath of snow that one had to move across.
This was the most frightening part for me, for the trail was narrow and slippery here, and one wrong step could send you careening down a very steep and rocky ravine. I found my breath catching, and Sansei, who had gone before me, noticed my hesitation and stepped back across, his hand outstretched.
"You can do it," he promised. "Take my hand."
And so I planted my foot in the slippery snow and gripped his fingers tightly as he pulled me across the divide. And then we were at the top, the highest point on the trail, looking down at a beautiful valley dotted with lakes.
Bramble, Sansei, Honey Bunny, Rotisserie
Our friends Games, Reason and Pimp Limp were already standing at the summit, taking photos. We joined them, whooping and hollering in delight that we had accomplished so much in two days. By then it was late afternoon and we needed to get down the backside of the mountain in order to find a place to camp for the night.
The north side of Forrester Pass had a good deal more snow than the south side, and we enjoyed a few short glissades as we went, giggling and soaking our shoes and butts. We were all in good spirits. As we walked the ridgeline of one mountain and traversed to the next, we turned a corner and gasped in shock at our view, for it was stunning. We were standing at the highest point above King's Canyon Park, the whole valley laid out beneath our feet. And we circled above it like falcons, slowly descending into its beauty. With the sun setting over the mountaintops and coloring everything pink, it was the most beautiful sight we had ever seen.
Mountains rolled around us like a giant bowl, enclosing us in a great circle of peaks, dotted with snow and blue lakes and beautiful green, pine tree-filled valleys. We couldn't stop exclaiming and taking photos and pausing to soak in the views. It was truly a magical place. It was our first true glimpse of the majesty of the Sierras, and even weeks later we would look back at this moment and call it our favorite of the trip thus far. There was simply no sight that could match it, and we were in awe.
The valley rose up to meet us as we touched down hours later, the mountains reaching overhead in a protective circle. We had smiles that wouldn't leave our faces. We walked until dusk and found a beautiful campsite among the pine trees. We camped with Games, Reason and Pimp Limp that night, talking over the events of the day and sharing our favorite moments.
These have been wonderful days.