Day 18: Vidette Meadow over Forester Pass to Tyndall Creek (≈11 mi.) 

August 14: In the very early hours of the day, Iím awaked by some loud bangs.  Apparently, we are having unwelcome visitors.  James and Andrew have taken to sleeping out at night rather than in a tent.  If their goal is to see a bear, theyíll have ample opportunities during the remainder of our trip.  On this particular night, Debbie is also sleeping outóthe better to be able to hear and scare off the bears.  Tonightís visitor seems particularly forward, returning after being scared off the first time.  Since Iím inside my tent and itís dark outside, I can only hear whatís going onónot see it.  (I never actually saw a bear the entire trip.)

Between the bears waking people up and the knowledge that weíll be climbing the highest pass of the trip today, everyone is up early.  James leaves around 6, before breakfast.  Heís going to power walk Forester Pass in his flip-flops.  (George gave James his sneakers when he left, but I donít think heís worn them.)

I leave camp (10,600) at 7:45.  The sun hasnít yet risen over the mountain tops, so itís chillyómid-40s, but I know that I will soon be sweating.  Itís 4-4.5 miles to the top of Forester Pass (13,120), the highest pass on the JMT.  (Only those who walk to the top of Mt. Whitney will go higher.)

The trail climbs gradually but steadily.  As the forest thins, the views ahead are spectacular.  Iím not sure where Forester Pass is at this point, but itís way up there.  In about an hour, I pass the last scrubby tree and take a last look down into the canyon of Bubbs Creek.

Now the trail turns eastward alongside a gravelly trickle of a stream that will grow into Bubbs Creek as it descends into the canyon below.  After a couple of switchbacks, the trail turns south through the moonscape of rocks and boulders, criss-crossing the infant stream as it climbs up past several lakes.  After Lake 12248, the trail switchbacks up a talus slope in the last push to Forester Pass on the Kings-Kern Divide. 

Itís exactly 11 oíclock when I reach the top.  Itís been a long slog, but itís not been particularly difficultójust a constant ascent on good trail that allowed me to get a rhythm going and keep it.  I even passed someone on the last bitóamazing.  Compared to Glen Pass, itís been easy.  (Remember, Iím speaking relatively!)

Looking North At the Top Looking South

The Kings-Kern Divide is also the border between Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks.  Being by myself, I can take the time to appreciate the panoramic views on both sides of the pass while eating a Power Bar.  The top of the pass is also not as scary as Glen Pass, maybe because the trail doesnít follow the ridgeline.  It simply crosses it quickly in a matter of feet with big piles of rock on either side.

On the other hand, I now have to go down and I can see the horse party below me on its way up.  Since thereís not much room up here and I know I donít want to meet them on the steepest switchbacks, I donít linger long at the top.  The first switchbacks on the south side of the pass have been cut into the rock.  They are very steep.  The trail surface is the to-be-expected loose rocks with rock ďsteps.Ē  And the drop-offs are really scary.  But I take my time and rely on my trekking poles.  When I glance back up, itís hard to believe thereís a trail down from the pass. 

When I meet the horse party, I ask the leader if he had been informed of our stock party, and he replies, ďYes.Ē  (Besides, itís far too early for our mules to be anywhere near the summit.)  Luckily, thereís a nice little alcove that I can duck into in order to let the horses pass.

Very soon the switchbacks become longer and the grade eases.  I can see the horseback ridersí mules down below, just beginning their final climb to the summit.  As we pass, I again make enquiries and am assured that they already know about our mule train.  When I reach the bottom of the switchbacks, I turn around for one last view of Forester Pass.  I can see the mules way up near the top, but think nothing about it and proceed onwards.

As the grade eases, the sandy trail passes above several large lakes amid the rocky moonscape.  I walk several miles before spotting even a single tree.  Even then, they appear in small groves.  In the second or third grove, at about 1:15, I find Dina, Steve and Andrew just finishing their lunch.  Itís the first nice place since the pass to sit and take a rest in the shade.  So, as I settle in to eat my lunch, they pack up and resume hiking.  (I actually like hiking by myself, but out here in the middle of nowhere with not a single sole in sight for miles around, itís reassuring to ďcheck inĒ with someone you know every once in a while.)

Soon after I resume hiking at 1:40, I reach the intersection of the Lake South America Trail.  Now the forest cover becomes more persistent and in about a half mile, I reach the trail to Tyndall Creek ranger station.  In less than a half mile, I pass the ranger station.  Thereís a sunshower sitting on the deck, but no one seems to be home at the moment.  In another 10-15 minutes, I find our group lounging by the creek.  Some are reading, others napping.

Itís a lovely spot, but not very big.  Thereís certainly not enough room for the mules, but this is where James had found the horse party this morning.  He got here between 10 and 10:30, when they were just finishing packing up. 

My first order of business is to take off my boots and soak my feet.  Then, I find a tree for a back rest and try to nap.  I donít have a book today, since I was trying to minimize the weight of my pack for the climb over the pass.  Eric arrives, but Kris and Tony donít.  Soon, some backpackers go by and set up camp by some bear boxes about 30 yards below us on the other side of the trail.  (Itís getting crowded!)  Then the horse party from Whitney arrives and continues down the trail to the lower campsite.  (Itís way out of site, so has no impact on us.)

Andrew and I begin to seriously consider whether or not weíre going to be able to stay here and begin to explore the bench on the other side of the trail.  Here we find a fire pitóa much better sign that this is a legitimate campsite.  Itís a little small, so I use my pack shovel to expand it a little.  As the sun passes below the mountain tops and weíre just getting a fire started, Debbie arrives.  Sheís worried that weíre still not in a legal spot, but she estimates the distance from the bench to the stream, takes note of the fire pit, and decides weíre ok.  Sheís not sure the mules can stay here, but weíre ok.  (The ranger had talked about lining the mules further down the creek, away from the campsite.)

When Kris and Tony arrive, we find out that they had had an enforced 1 Ĺ hour layover on the top of Forester Pass.  One of the mules in the other pack train had balked at the large boulder in the middle of the trail.  No matter what they had tried, the packers couldnít get it to move past the rock.  So, the two packers got off their horses and moved rocks, one by one, until they built a ďbridgeĒ that the mule would cross.  It took them an hour and half.  (This was on the very top steep switchbacks with the big drop-offs.)  These trail improvements had, of course, made things much easier for our pack train, so they had absolutely no problems coming down from the pass.

Vic and the mules donít arrive until itís almost dark, so we have to put our headlamps on to pitch our tents.  Dinner is late.

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