Day 95 Wallace Meadow to Onion Valley Trailhead

the mountains, they are coming

We had a long way to go today, I thought about going further last night but at 25 miles Mercedes, carrying a heavy pack, was getting tired and the campsite was so good.  It’s a good thing we did stop as the next water and campsite was another 4 miles and up on an exposed plateau, it was so cold anyway I’m glad we didn’t camp there.  The highlight of today’s ride was the crossing of Forester Pass, the highest spot, 13130 feet, on the PCT.  The climb was mild but steady until the last mile.  Coming up the valley I had ample time to examine the ridge ahead to determine where the pass might be.  Normally one can see a faint line of the trail on the hillside, but not Forester Pass.  I searched in vain as we slowly gained the last four miles to attack the last and steepest mile.

The campsite after the one I stayed at, it was still in the 20s and the wind was blowing when I went by around 9:00
I just don’t see the trail
It is noon, the water under the ice is moving pretty fast, it is cold out.
the views are good
I thought the trail might go over the shale saddle in the middle of the picture, but it went straight up the rocks to the left.
My back trail for the morning.

The trail switch backed up a rock face that I had eliminated as being too sheer.  By the time I got to where the route became obvious it was too late to do it photographic justice.  At first the trail was pretty good, there was the typical rock climbing and pit run footing but the trail was surprisingly wide.  The last quarter mile got a little dicier; the trail got narrower, steeper and the footing less sure.  The last little bit, couldn’t have been more than a couple hundred feet, though in the moment I thought it would go on forever, got crazy, teensy narrow trail, switchbacks so short and tight I wasn’t sure a horse could turn that sharp and there was only room for one horse before you were faced with the next turn which resulted in the BG and I on one switchback and Mercedes on the next one down, going the opposite direction.

I like trails like this, it is almost like having guard rails.
but soon enough the guardrails disappeared and so did everything but the pit run rock.
This is the last little bit over Forester Pass. There are six switchbacks on the rock face directly ahead.
The top of Forester where I waited for the hiker who would hand on to the sign

Just as I gained the top, which was a one horse length long knife’s edge, I saw a hiker almost to me coming from the opposite direction, so we stopped to wait until he saw us and we could formulate a passing strategy as the trail was too narrow for such a maneuver to be easy.  Fortunately he was a grizzled old veteran who willingly held on to the sign post, (yes there was a sign, this is a National Park after all, informing us that we were at the top as if a thousand foot drop in all directions wasn’t obvious enough) leaning over the abyss so that the girls and I could get by.  We chatted a few minutes about the trail, he warned of some snow I would have to cross, at least 20 feet wide.  I could see the patch he was talking about and was thinking it shouldn’t be a problem.

The snow was left from last year and due to the low temperature was a solid bloc of ice.  It was only five or six feet of steep climb to get on top but the horses struggled to get traction and did some slipping before we got across.  Later there were some more short ice crossings, the last of which required the horse to hop up a three foot tall rock to regain the trail.  BG did ok, but Mercedes lost her footing and nearly fell over the side before she managed to scramble to her feet and back on the trail.  After that the rest of the day was anticlimactic.  We did enter the area where the views were fantastic; I finally felt I was in the Sierras.  Kersarge Pass is as beautiful as promised, making a good end to the day.

The snow the hiker was warning me about is in the center of the picture, the crossing is almost all the way to the right side.  Not too challenging.
It does look a little worse up close, especially once I found it to be solid ice.
At least we didn’t have to go over every icy spot.
It is hard to tell where the pass is from this side too, it is just to the right of the center peak
This is the last ice we went over, nearly 2000 feet below Forester, and the one Mercedes slipped on as she hopped from the beat in foot holds to the rock trail in the center of the picture.
Easy traveling.
Kersarge Pass in the distance.
Views from the Kersarge Pass trail. Forester Pass is the sharp peak in the center of the picture.

Janis managed to set up at the packer station and make friends with the operators, Jim and
Barb Nivens, gaining some very valuable information from them.  They were pretty sure we were the first horses across Forester this year.  Due to the heavy snowfall last winter there is still a lot left in places.  The next pass for me to cross, Glenn Pass, is considered by the Forest Service impassible to stock this year, Jim concurred saying it would be foolish to try, something he and his surefooted mules wouldn’t attempt.  To make matters worse the next three passes that would take me around Glenn Pass, Sawmill, Taboose and Bishop Passes are also still snowed (read iced) in, or this spring’s floods washed the trail or road or some combination of the three.  The only trail Jim thought he would try would be Piute some 65 PCT miles north.  After Mercedes incident I saw firsthand how dangerous these ice crossings are, Janis and I have decided to take an experts advice and skip ahead.

Trip data: mileposts; 0770-0789, miles ridden; 28.1, trail time; 9:14, average speed; 3.0, minimum elevation; 9205, maximum elevation; 13130, total ascent; 6345, total descent; 7474

Total Miles: PCT; 2263, Ridden; 2385

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