June 25: At the Foot of Forester Pass

We hiked from the foot of one giant to the foot of another, starting at the base of Mt. Whitney and stopping just 600 ft below Forester Pass. We camped out well above treeline at around 12,500 ft, and our highest campsite elevation to date.


Start: Crabtree Ranger Station (on the Whitney Spur Trail, PCT mile 7XX)
Stop: mile 7XX
Miles: 12

After our strenuous day on Mt. Whitney, we slept in until 7 am, having agreed to “take the morning off” the night before. For us, taking the morning off meant washing laundry in our bear canisters using water from Whitney Creek. We lazed around the campsite while our laundry hung out to dry, and tried (in vain) to keep the local chipmunk population from sneaking into our food. (The chipmunks managed to get into the trail mix while we were down by the creek.) Finally, after eating two meals at the site, we started walking by 11:30 am.

We continued to take it easy over the course of the day, keeping a moderate walking pace and stopping frequently for snacks and pictures. Still, we managed to pass a lot of section hikers, some with old-school external frame packs, the contents of which we could only guess at; everything important–sleeping bags, tents, cookware–seemed to be hanging on the outside of the packs.

We can understand why so many section hikers pick this part of the trail to venture out on; Sweeping alpine views surrounded us on many sections of the trail, crisscrossed with creeks fed by snowmelt from the higher altitudes. In the late afternoon, as we prepared to ford one such creek, Erica twisted her right ankle (not her left ankle, which is the usual culprit in these situations). Although it didn’t swell very much, the ankle was sore to walk, so she wrapped it with a compression bandage before soldiering onwards.

Our goal this night was to make it to a campsite just 600 feet below and 1 mile before Forester Pass, the highest point on the Pacific Crest Trail. As we slowly ascended above the treeline to get there, we found ourselves surrounded by a landscape that was very similar to what we saw on the Whitney Spur Trail: exposed rock with scant plant life but ample water. Cold snowmelt ran over the trail in some places, forming perfectly clear lakes and ponds amongst the boulders. We soon learned that this was marmot territory; the fat, furry rodents were everywhere. Marmots are roughly the same size as groundhogs, with same brown fur, and they don’t seem to fear humans at all.

At around 7:30 pm, when we reached our intended campsite amongst the boulders and snowmelt lakes, we were quickly surrounded by curious marmots. They frequently came near enough for us to touch them (although we didn’t), which made for an entertaining evening that went something like this: Unpack something, chase the marmots away. Get food out, chase the marmots away. Change clothes, chase the marmots away. And so there we were, surrounded by the High Sierras at dusk, with the moon rising overhead and the marmots keeping us company.

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