Today was very much out of my comfort zone.
I got an early start with Southern Man toward Forester Pass. Along the way we encountered our first patch of snow with those nasty sun cups. I had always thought sun cups were much smaller. Instead they are big and deep enough to break your leg.
The patches of snow would cover the trail so that we could not find the trail on the other side. We spent a lot of time walking cross-country searching for the trail.
Along the way we met an older man, a very fit, very fast mountaineer named Jeff. Together the 3 of us negotiated Forester Pass, Jeff very patiently baby-sitting the two of us novices.
The climb up Forester involved some switchbacks that were fairly clear of snow once we got high enough. The trail led through what appeared to be an impossibly small and steep notch in the huge 14,000 foot peaks all around us. The pass itself is 13,180 feet.
We summited and took some celebratory photos and began the descent across a huge snowfield. The snow was soft and not too difficult to walk on, but I did slip and fall or nearly fall several times. Treebeard wasn't too far behind us.
After we got past the last of the steep snow, Jeff said good-bye to Southern Man and I and continued on his jaunty pace. Southern Man and I continued on a little slower toward the junction with Kearsarge Pass where Southern Man was going to receive a food drop and wait for his AARP group.
The trail went down a long way and then began an incredibly steep climb up to the junction with Kearsarge Pass. It was so steep I thought I might throw up from the effort.
We finally made it and I said good-bye to Southern Man and continued on. I met the man with the horse who was bringing the food to Southern Man shortly after at the next trail junction and chatted with him a bit, letting him know where the folks he was meeting were. It's such a community up there. People find each other and relay information so easily sometimes.
The guide book for this section of trail is awfully terse. You can hike for several days carrying the same couple of pages of the book. There just isn't much description. The brief description of Glenn Pass made it sound like just a few switchbacks and you're all done, so I continued on to Glenn Pass, wondering how long until Treebeard passed me.
I climbed and climbed forever. This was not an easy pass at all. There was a ton of snow covering the trail for great distances. It was soft and slippery. I climbed all afternoon very much alone, Treebeard nowhere in sight, scared to death in a few places. Sometimes I could not walk on the snow because it was too soft and steep and I tried to climb along the edge or around the sides, but the sand and gravel was almost more slippery. I feared for my life a few times as I slipped close to the abyss with a giant toilet-bowl blue lake far below me.
I finally reached the top glad it was over and began the long climb back down. There was a ton of snow on the other side, too. But being soft and slippery I was able to slide on my butt in one spot, which saved some time. As I slid, I could easily control my speed and direction with my feet and poles and along the way I found a pair of Superfeet insoles that appeared brand new, so I picked them up hoping I might find their owner on the way down. I had fun sliding down the hill.
After hiking down forever in hateful snow hiding the trail and exhausting me with its slippery nature and keeping my feet soaking wet, the day's shadows lengthening into evening, I met a poor soul hiking back up the trail in search of his fuel bottle. I hadn't seen it. He was not the owner of the Superfeet.
As I approached Rae Lakes I could see some people camped. I hoped they were thru-hikers, but they turned out to be a family with 4 kids and 2 dads. I was quite exhausted and in no condition to keep going so I ingratiated myself into their camp on the pretense of asking if the Superfeet belonged to them. They did not. But when they learned I was a thru-hiker I became sort of god-like to them and they pelted me with questions and free food. One of their boys seemed like it was his dream to thru-hike the PCT some day. He had even made his own alcohol stoves at home and was really interested in watching me use mine, which I didn't make myself. I'm sure he'll become a successful thru-hiker some day soon. Seems like a good strategy if you're hungry to camp near families. And hungry I was since I realized the Sierras were much harder than I expected and that I may not have enough food to get to my next resupply.
After this 19 mile day of one 13,000+ foot pass and one almost 12,000 foot pass behind me, and with my legs so exhausted they were buckling beneath me I put up my tent and went right to bed. I hoped I didn't ruin their evening by turning in so early and so close to them. I also hoped I didn't ruin their early morning's sleep the next morning as I packed up and hit the trail again by 6am the next day.