PCT 2019: Day 138, Bubbs Creek to Whitney Creek

I want to take you higher

Our campsite last night was located at 10,481 feet above sea level. The night turned chilly, so when I awoke this morning, I wasn't surprised to find frost on the inside of my tent.

DateSaturday, September 21, 2019
WeatherClear sky with a high temperature around 60
Trail ConditionsSteep ascent and descent of Forester Pass, then becoming increasingly sandy
Today's Miles18.0
Trip Miles2057.6

I left camp at 7 a.m. Bluejay, Pathfinder, and the JMT hiker named Tina all left a few minutes before me.

We had about 4.8 miles to go to reach Forester Pass. This was a continuous climb of more than 2,600 feet in elevation.

I soon passed Tina. She had stopped to do some yoga stretching on a large slab of rocks.

I never saw her on the trail again, but that's not unusual for JMT hikers. Most of them don't hike as far each day as PCT hikers.

The trail didn't start climbing steeply at first but became steeper with each mile.

It was hard for me to see where Forester Pass was located on the ridge ahead. There were many places a pass could have been. I just couldn't figure out how the trail would get there. It didn't seem possible for a footpath to go up any of the steep slopes.

And that's probably what the first surveyors thought when they passed through here. When they mapped the area, and later when the John Muir Trail was constructed, Forester Pass was unknown. The trail didn't follow the path I was walking now.

Until 1931, the JMT turned near where we camped last night. It then went around the other side of Center Peak. After following a long ridge extending from the mountain, the old JMT climbed to near the summit of Junction Peak. It then turned and descended at a gap called Shepherd Pass.

Had I looked at the map, I would have seen all of this. I would have known the trail now made a left turn at the trees ahead. After that, it would take a hard right and begin climbing a different ridge to reach the pass.

Forester Pass was discovered by a crew of foresters in 1929. The supervisor of Sequoia National Forest, Frank Cunningham, named the pass to collectively honor them.

Some older maps and publications use the name "Foresters Pass."

After a couple of miles up the climb, I stopped to look back. Behind me was Vidette Valley, with University Peak and Center Peak standing tall over it.

The trail continued to follow Bubbs Creek. It was named for a prospector, John Bubbs.

For much of the way to the pass, the trail remained in shade. That kept the temperature chilly.

The trail was well-maintained. I was glad to be walking on gravel and dirt as it made the relentless climb. If I had gone this way a month ago, I would have been walking on snow and ice.

After making the turn I had not seen from a distance, the trail crossed a basin. Reaching the wall of the ridge from Center Peak, it then turned to climb again.

Bubbs Creek was a small trickle at this point.

I was beginning to feel the effects of thinner air. It made a slight difference in my breathing, but I didn't slow down yet.

The trail passed some tarns. Towering above them was the pyramid-shaped Junction Peak. This 13,888-foot mountain was named by Joseph LeConte in 1896. Its name identified its location at the junction of two ridges, Kings-Kern Divide and Sierra Crest

Kings-Kern Divide is the ridge Forester Pass crosses. The JMT and PCT footpath is the only maintained trail to cross the divide.

Sierra Crest is a north-to-south ridgeline running the length of the Sierra Nevada range. It is 300 to 500 miles long, depending on how it's defined.

In the final approach to the pass, the trail went up a series of switchbacks. This was the steepest part of the climb.

The altitude was now affecting me more. Though I never gasped for air, I had to stop a few times to slow down my breathing.

When I reached the top, four or five hikers were there relaxing and enjoying the view.

Bluejay and Pathfinder had already left. I didn't stay at the pass long because I didn't want to fall too far behind them.

Looking north, I could see University Peak and Center Peak. I also saw a 13er that was not viewable from the trail until now. It was Mt. Bradley.

While I was at the pass, I met a PCT hiker named Yayy. She was hiking with her boyfriend, Jaws. His trail name came from an unfortunate fall. He broke his jaw, which forced them to take some time off the trail while his jaw was wired shut to heal.

Yayy told me she didn't think they would finish all of the miles they missed this year. They just wanted to hike as much as they could.

Yayy took my photo while I stood in the middle of the pass. Compared to most mountain passes, this one was narrow. It wasn't much wider than one hiker.

Before heading down the other side, I stood a couple of minutes longer to take in the whole glorious view south. It's not every day that I get to stand at 13,153 feet.

To my left was an imposing cliff formed by Diamond Mesa. Beyond was a range of mountains, many with peaks above 12,000 feet.

The 12,283-foot peak of Mt. Guyot could be seen just above the mesa. This was a familiar name to me because the Appalachian Trail crossed two mountains with the same name. One was in the Smokies and the other was in New Hampshire.

All three mountains were named for Swiss-American geographer Arnold Henry Guyot. The PCT won't go over this Mt. Guyot, as it did on the AT, but it will pass nearby. From where I stood, it was 12.8 miles away, and I will walk past it tomorrow.

I could also see smoke from a forest fire rising in the distance. Without checking a map, I couldn't tell if the trail was heading in that direction, but I hoped not. Fires have been a big problem for PCT thru-hikers in the last few years. Many have had to change their routes or skip sections.

Leaving from the narrow gap, it seemed remarkable that a trail was even there. When I looked behind me and up at the pass, I had a hard time seeing the trail I had just followed. From a chute out of the gap, the side of the mountain made a near-vertical drop.

There was no snow for me to worry about. For much of the year, hikers have to cross a treacherous bridge of snow when they approach or exit the pass, depending on their hiking direction.

A marmot stopped munching on grass long enough to warily watch me as I continued down the trail.

Most of the first mile of the descent was rugged. The trail dropped 620 feet in that distance, then began to smooth out. The next four miles of the descent were easier, with the trail dropping another 1,500 feet.

I stopped for lunch when I arrived at one of the streams feeding Tyndall Creek. A hiker who was just leaving told me I had missed Bluejay by 30 minutes.

Because there was frost on my tent this morning, I spread it out on a rock to dry in the sun.

Then just before the trail reached the bottom of the descent, it finally entered an area of trees. The base of their trunks were burnt.

As the trail finished the descent to Tyndall Creek, it dropped below 11,000 feet for the first time since early this morning. That didn't last long, however.

After the creek, the next 1.8 miles climbed to above 11,400 feet. The top of this climb was an area called Bighorn Plateau. It was broad and grassy.

The terrain was becoming more desert-like. It reminded me of the area around Kennedy Meadows, so I knew I was closing in on the end of the Sierra.

From the plateau, the trail dropped again below 11,000 feet, only to immediately climb one more time.

The trail then made another up-and-down, and this one was steep with sand and rocks.

On the final descent to our campsite on Whitney Creek, I passed a trail junction. This was where the JMT split from the PCT. The JMT would continue on to finish at the summit of Mt. Whitney.

I reached the campsite shortly after 6 p.m. Bluejay and I were the only campers there. Pathfinder had turned off to follow the JMT because he wanted to climb Mt. Whitney.

Bluejay and I had thought a lot over the last couple of days about whether we wanted to go with him. She told me she was open to climbing Mt. Whitney if I wanted to and was equally agreeable if we didn't.

After a few days of indecision, I decided to skip Mt. Whitney. It was hard to pass on the chance to climb the highest mountain in the lower 48 states. It is 14,494 feet high, but I have climbed a 14,092-foot mountain and a few 13ers. I wasn't looking for another trophy and didn't feel this experience would be especially unique.

Mainly, though, I was starting to get anxious about finishing this hike. We still have 64 miles to go before completing the Sierra. Bluejay and I will then bounce back up to finish Northern California. About a month of hiking remains ahead of us.

If I ever decide to come back, I think Mt. Whitney will probably still be here.

Hey, hey, hey, hey

Beat is gettin' stronger
Music gettin' longer, too
Music is a-flashin' me
I want to, I want to, I want to take you higher
I want to take you higher
Baby, baby, baby, light my fire
I want to take you higher

Boom laka-laka-laka
Boom laka-lak-goon-ka boom

From "I Want to Take You Higher" by Sly Stone (Sly and the Family Stone)

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