Total Miles: 784.2
There are two kinds of climbers: those who climb because their heart sings when they're in the mountains, and all the rest.
Now this is the Sierra I remember. Gone were the storm clouds and back was the sapphire blue sky that sets the backdrop for some of the world's most dramatic mountain landscapes. Today would mark the trail's first major pass so we decided to sleep in, start a bit later than usual, and keep a leisurely pace through the morning to allow the snow up on the pass to melt and soften as much as possible.
After two icy river fords, the trail climbed up onto Bighorn Plateau, a broad open plain surrounded by a crown of peaks in each direction—a place that a ranger we passed yesterday afternoon referred to as "one of the most beautiful stretches of trail in the universe." On a day like today, it's hard to disagree. Hell, Beardoh even wants his ashes spread here.
But if Bighorn Plateau wasn't enough, the dramatic scenery was about to be turned up to eleven...
The higher we climbed, the bluer the sky seemed to become. Forester Pass, the highest point of the entire PCT at 13,200 feet, loomed overhead (see the broad v-shaped pass with a snow chute beneath it in the center of the photo below).
Revisiting a place can often lack the luster of the original experience, but not here. Walking in reverse the steps that Emily and I took together on this trail last year took me back to a favorite memory, but it also felt like I was experiencing this special place for the first time all over again.
The approach to Forester Pass gives you the impression that the trail will be scaling a nearly vertical face of rock, but as you near the base of the climb, a trail blasted from the stone begins to reveal itself. As the trail climbs the sheer wall, you have the sense that you could close your eyes, point the camera in any direction, click the shutter and capture a breathtaking photograph. Everyone can feel like Ansel Adams here.
At 13,000 feet, the trail crosses a steep snow gully just before reaching the pass. One final heart-racing test...
One of my favorite sayings from the famous American mountaineer Ed Viesturs is:
Getting up is optional; getting down is mandatory.
Arriving at the pass, those words reminded me that we still had half a day's worth of hiking to get back down to the relative safety of the river valley far below. It was like Emily and I had just stood in this very place moments ago.
And so the long snowy descent began and stretched into the early evening hours. With the company of Beardoh, Sweet Pea, Proton, and Dreamcatcher, Forester Pass began to shrink behind and far above us.
It was on that descent that it dawned on me that there's nothing more fulfilling than the realization that you're exactly where you're meant to be. Today, I belonged on that mountainside, with nothing but snow, stone, and sky.