Day 19: Bubbs Creek Plateau to Wallace Creek
Forester Pass is the highest pass along the JMT as well as the highest point along the entire PCT. Forester had been on my mind for a few days as we had slowly worked our way south. It was a pretty daunting prospect to climb up to a 13,180 foot pass.
Thankfully we had done a good bit of our ascent on Day 18, camping right at the tree line at an elevation of 11,240 feet. However, that still meant we had nearly 2000 feet to climb in about 3 miles.
As had become our routine along the trail, we were awake by about 6 a.m. and on trail before 7. From the plateau, we switchbacked alongside the upper section of Bubbs Creek and emerged into a large basin with Junction Peak at it’s head.
The trail climbed at a pretty easy grade without too many large boulders or small ankle-twisting rocks in our way. We took a short break at the head of the basin at “Lake 12,250.”
The trail continued to climb, switchbacking up to the top of a narrow ridge. I couldn’t help but keep looking back as we hiked along the top of the ridge. We were treated to great views north down the length of the Bubbs Creek valley.
The last section of trail took us over a couple late-season snow patches and then through a series of easily-graded switchbacks. Before we knew it, we had reached the pass! Considering it was our highest pass, I’d say it was one of the easier and best passes we had done along the trail, thanks to some excellent trail engineering and maintenance.
There were a couple other hiking parties at the top of the pass and we enjoyed exchanging a few stories. It even turned out that one of the groups had met Dave at Charlotte Lake! They had been on the trail for nearly a month and had a wonderfully bright attitude. They shared with us some of their trail mantras, including “There is always up in the downs and down in the ups,” and “If you think you’re there, you’re not there yet, and even when you’re there, you may not be there yet!”
We moved on after a snack and a chance to catch our breath (as much as is possible when sitting above 13,000 feet!) The south side of Forester Pass was much steeper than the north side. We descended a large number of exposed switchbacks, many of which were carved right into the rock.
The rest of our morning was spent trudging along through the vast sandy plateau that is the headwaters of the Kern River. We passed alongside a number of lakes and eventually dropped into some sparse stands of trees before stopping for lunch at Tyndall Creek. We were very glad to enjoy some shade as a significant part of our day was spent above the tree line.
About a mile south of Tyndall Creek we climbed onto the section known as Bighorn Plateau. This high and exposed plateau offered us amazing near-360 views of the surrounding mountains.
Most exciting of all was our first view of Mount Whitney. It was difficult to believe that we would be standing on that summit in a little over 24 hours, and even more difficult to understand that our trip would come to a close not long after that.
The rest of our afternoon was spent working our way downhill, first to Wright Creek and then the last mile or so to Wallace Creek at the junction of the High Sierra Trail. We pulled into camp by about 3 pm, having completed 12.5 miles of trail. We (very) briefly considered whether to push on another mile or so, but decided that it ultimately wasn’t worth it. Instead, we enjoyed a soak in the creek and some time chilling in our hammock.
Tomorrow, we would be standing on top of the world.