Started: 05:45 @ MM 774.5 Tyndall Creek (Elevation 10,875ft)
Finished: 18:00 @ MM 788.5 Bullfrog Lake Trail Junction (Elevation 10,525ft)
Elevation Gain/Loss: +3,278/-3,637ft
Food: 3 Kind Bars, 2 Nakd Bars, Trail Mix, Oatmeal (for lunch), Mexican Chilli Chicken w/rice, Raspberry Crumble
Health & Hygiene: 0 Blisters, Days since last shower 4, Days since laundry 5
It was a very bad sleep! It was like airport paranoia sleep, the kind of disturbed sleep you experience when you have to catch a really early flight. The alarm is set but you wake up routinely throughout the night in a mild panic that you have overslept … That was my sleep. Butterfly’s headtorch shone in on me at 4:30am. I was already awake but not moving … the combination of freezing temperatures and fear had me pretty well paralysed. There was no time for breakfast, we needed to get up and over before the sun turned the mountain to slush and before the cognitive part of my brain got to grips with the madness of what I was about to undertake.
In the frigid grey morning light we started the slow trudge towards Forrester Pass. It was 5 miles and 2,271ft of climbing to the top of the pass. I had already figured out that the best ploy was simply to not think about what I was doing. I just followed the others … I just put one foot in front of the other and I just kept moving forward. I would deal with each challenge as it arose and try not to worry about what hadn’t yet happened and might never happen!Pretty soon we were above the tree line. It was wet and boggy like the English moors. My feet were soon cold and wet. The boggy stuff became icy stuff and then we were walking across the vast snow fields on the approach to Forrester. Traction was surprisingly good on the icy solid snow and my confidence was starting to grow … I might just be able to pull this off, I thought to myself. At 7:30am we reached the final approach, a near vertical wall of snow followed by rocky switchbacks and then finally the dreaded snow chute … My confidence quickly evaporated! I had no idea how I was going to get up there, it looked impossible. I put on my new microspikes and just started climbing, there was no room to think about what I was doing, no space for hesitation now. The microspikes seemingly gave me a new superpower. I felt like SpiderMan and was practically able to walk up walls. When I reached the switchbacks my heart was pounding, I could barely breath in the thin air, my mouth was dry and I was terrified. I didn’t dare look up and I certainly wasn’t about to look down. The fuzzy effects of the altitude kept the shocking reality of this craziness just beyond my congnitive grasp!
The steep switchbacks finally flattened off and then I was at the snow chute … perhaps the most feared and talked about 15 yards of the whole trail. I didn’t pause to think about any of that, I just kept on walking. Very slowly and very carefully I edged past the precipitous drop and before I knew it I was across!! The final challenge was a 10ft snow crest. With some help from Butterfly and his ice-axe I scrambled up over and on to the top of Forrester Pass … I’d done it, I was on top of the world!
There were many whoops and cheers as each of our small group made the pass. We spent about 15 minutes taking photos and admiring the views. However, there was no time to dally, the northern face of Forrester was a blanket of snow and ice and we needed to get down before it started to soften and become impassable. We were able to glissade a few big sections and then slipped and slid our way down into King’s Canyon. The scenery was stunning and we were now really in the thick of the High Sierras.
The trail was hard to follow, becoming invisible below the snow and the final few miles were full of postholing chaos. When we were at last clear of the snow we stopped for a 3 hour lunch and a much deserved nap. The afternoon brought another sketchy creek crossing and a final 1,000ft climb. Amazingly I powered up the climb, the buzz of adrenalin providing me with energy I didn’t know I had.
We reached camp at 6pm and I was exhausted but totally elated. I was so relieved that Forrester was now behind me. I was amazed by the courage, strength and tenacity that I had somehow managed to find. My body had been shaped by the 700 desert miles and now it seemed that I was capable of walking up mountains. I had felt the fear, I had faced the fear and I’d bloody well gone and done it anyway. I was as proud as punch!