Mileage 19.5 (18.5 plus 1 towards kearsarge)
Mile 770.5 to mile 789
Another cold morning and then a stream crossing right away- the streams are deep right now, as we’re in the Sierras early, and the water rushes over the would-be stepping stones, ice cold. Everyone else takes off their shoes to walk across barefoot but there’s little I dislike more than the sensation of crossing cold creeks in my bare feet so I keep my shoes on, slosh across. My feet can rot, I don’t care. Soon there’s another crossing and everyone stops to take off their shoes and in this way I get ahead, for once in my life.
We’re going over Forester pass today! I love Forester pass. Last year I was through here two weeks later and there wasn’t snow to speak of- now, we discover, this last week of May, there is plenty of snow. Snow blanketing the slopes of the pass, covering the trail, crusty in the cold morning, and we must huff and puff up it in the thin air, kicking steps with our trail runners. It’s a blast, and I go straight up. I am fast, I am alive, I can do anything! I am a mountain goat!
The actual pass is covered in a cornice of snow up top which we must pick our way around. A short snack break on top, trembling from hunger and fatigue and then, replenished, we begin to work our way down the north side of Forester, which is completely socked in snow, much more so than the south side. Massive tumbled slopes of granite, completely buried in snow! Steep, slippery slopes that one must pick one’s way across without looking down! Blinding whiteness, heaven and earth rising up and falling away! Ledges, precipices, infinity! Everything growing slushy in the noonday sun!
How wild that we can just walk across all of it. All of it! What sort of animal are we?
I’m by myself for much of the descent, and I feel high. My adrenaline is racing. I feel tougher and more confident with each snowy topographical challenge I overcome. Woody catches up with me just as I reach a slope too steep and melted to navigate down without slipping and I whip out my sleeping pad and slide down on my butt. This method of cross-country navigation ups my experience by about ten notches. I don’t know where the trail is, I haven’t known where the trail is all day! I’m following footsteps that fade away, go off into nowhere, I’m navigating overland from an up-high place to a low place, walking all over everything like a little ant!
Twinkle catches up with me, and then the others. I guess I’m starting to crash. We make our way down, down, down, fully postholing now, wrenching ourselves across snowfields, hearing the eerie murmer of water underneath. We are sore, our feet are wet and sopping cold, some of our legs are cut up and bleeding. Plunging through hidden streams has us walking on feet that ache with pain and feel like numb stumps. I’m hungry and dehydrated and we’ve just got to get down, down, down to where there’s no snow.
At last we do. There are smooth logs in a sun-warmed clearing and we sit there, drop our packs and wordlessly spoon nutella into our mouths. We are weary beyond reason. I take off my shoes and my feet look awful, as though they’re rotting away. What is wrong with my feet this year? Some sort of fungus? There’s always something. You know what though? I don’t mind. Bring it on, universe. Give me whatever you’ve got. I’ll run head on into it. I’ll try to not even flinch.
After our break we hike in slow motion up towards the kearsarge pass trail. I think I’m learning something about myself up high like this- I only get altitude sickness in the afternoons. I feel it now, the fatigue and nausea wrenching up through my gut. I walk slow, letting it break over me. I won’t fight you, universe. I won’t fight you any more.
We camp next to a painfully beautiful lake just before Kearsarge pass. We’ve only gone 20 miles today, but we don’t care. Our sails are deflated- the snow and the beauty took our air away. Tomorrow we’ll hike up over the pass, down to the onion valley trailhead, and into town. Resupply!
Photos on instagram.