September 8th, 2017

Fauna seen: 21 Marmots!!!  Mountain Chickadees, Ground Squirrels, Grey Squirrels, Chipmunks, 1 Doe

All too soon it’s 5:15am and our alarms sound, beep beep beep goes my little watch. I feel like I had just fallen asleep, the wind being our companion for most of the night, knocking the tent walls around and shaking the little trees above me.  But it’s Forester Pass day and I am super excited to hike! Hike, hike, hike!

I gather all my little odds and ends, spread around me in the tent, placing them in their little bag homes. I pack everything I can away while still in my tent and then I shimmy out to finish up. The view that greets me is just STUNNING!  Grey Gardens tent is lit up from the inside by her little solar lantern, the stars are glowing overhead, the moon is lighting up the mountains with an unreal glow. I’m speechless and this little moment feels so special, like its just for me.  I wish I had a real camera, and knew how to take pictures on said camera, but I don’t, and then I decide that maybe it’s okay to just have this special scene just be in my mind instead. I open and close my eyes a few times, shuttering my eyelids, to hopefully keep this picture in my brain forever.

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The morning moon

Gray climbs out shortly after, just as the light has changed, whomp whomp.  I drink my coffee while she eats her oatmeal and then we are ready to go at 6:30am.  The trail starts by winding is up and away towards the rocky hillsides and on to the big mountains above.  Every time I take a moment to look back my breath catches, dang it is gorgeous here! I mean WTF. Magic.

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We wind our way up through a gully, seeing patches of snow, lakes, and strings of mountains, as the sun peaks a little at the edges.  About half way up we see our first person, a single older gentleman coming down. I catch up to him first in a little leeway of rock to hide from the wind and we exchange the usual hiking chat, where you headed, where you been, Gray shortly arrives and then he chuckles out, “I’m surprised, I thought you two would be much older, since you are up this early!”  We laugh with him and I reply that we often joke about being grandparents, since we love to go to bed at sunset and get up at sunrise. I just feel there are much better views early in the day, more animals out, and way less other people.  He nods and says we have the right idea.  Then it’s time to keep hiking, so he heads off into the valley and we continue pushing to the pass.

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Beautiful Tarn below us at our chat spot

The trail keeps winding upward and we come to a large lake, where we see two folks headed down and two more headed up over a small snowy section.  The sun has finally reached us and it feels great after the cold wind and shade of the morning.

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Lake at 12,250 ft elevation

We cross the small snow patch over a switchback without incident, turn a corner, and then see a much longer ridge of a sketchier looking snow patch. As Tina Belcher would say, “Uhhhnnnnnnnn” I start up first with Grey Gardens behind me. I am molasses man, as I slowly slog/climb straight up trying to stay in other peoples kicked in steps.  There is just tiny ridge line of rocks on our right and a longggggg way down on our left.  Luckily we make it to the top again without an issue.  We stop for a break behind a little pile of boulders and look up to realize we still have a lot more climbing to go, Sierra false summits are tricksy dicks. Uhhhnnnnnn.

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This picture does not do this sketchy shit justice
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Looking up from the false summit to more climbing to the pass which is out of the picture on the right

It’s still to cold to linger much so our break is short and I push on first, wanting to keep my motivation. The switchbacks are long, sometimes on dirt, but mostly on hard packed snow. So far it’s not slippery though and I don’t regret not brining micro spikes.  I reach the top and feel elated, no one is here and I take a selfie with the Forester sign, it’s an awful photo.  Gray comes up shortly after and we high five. I look at my watch and it’s only 9am, pretty awesome for 3 miles of climbing!

Its amazing to be up here, especially after I have been longing for this exact spot for years!  The day is clear and we can see for miles, we eat snacks, take better photos, and try to hide from the wind.  I had a lot of random thoughts as we climbed up here, mainly that I wished Sarah was here, but also that she would have had a hard time since she is scared of heights.  My main reflection is that I am so thankful for an able body that brought me to this place, that I hope I can remember this achievement, and continue to be thankful for all the things my body can do.

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View South from Forester Pass
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Me looking super stoked on Forester Pass at 13,200ft YEAH!

The cold is an excellent motivator to keep hiking so we soon gather up our poles to round the tight corner and head down the passes South flank.  The famous snow chute is melted and we walk quickly past the drop off on solid dirt trail, whew!

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South side of the pass after the snow chute

The views continue to amaze us and we jam down the wonderfully constructed trail into the beauty awaiting below.  The wind is our constant companion and any breaks we take are short and cold.  I wish we could have lingered longer, since this broad open plain is so stunning and it is FULL of Marmots!  There is tons of green grass and water all around, huge chunks of granite and big boulders set into the surrounding tundra, aka Marmot Paradise.  They lounge on the warm granite everywhere we look or scurry around in the lush grass. I am in heaven and since there are so many of them, and it is a fun way to pass the time, we start to count how many we see. We end the count at 21, which is a lot of Marmots!

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Marmot party!
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Marmot Paradise with Forester Pass behind it in that little notch in the middle
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View South from one of our break spots

We pass multiple sparkly lakes as we exit Marmot Paradise, and then start to descend into some trees. Finally dropping down to the Tyndall Creek crossing around 12:30pm and decide to call it a day.  It’s early but we have been hiking since 6:30am. And sure we could go farther today, but our plan before starting this trip was not to rush it. Most days would be around 10 miles or less, and we really want to take our time to stop and enjoy ourselves in this special place.

I am super happy with this plan, especially since I am working on not being so focused on making miles. There is such a pressure in the hiking community to push yourself, make big miles, “beat” other people, and it’s so dumb and not healthy or fun for anyone really.  I sometimes get anxious about finding a campsite or how far we have gone, but really the more I slow down the more I’m enjoying myself, I just need a little help to remember that sometimes.  And I am definitely feeling super thankful today for the privilege of taking our time and seeing the Sierra’s in their full glory, not flying through them.

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Tyndall Creek is a lovely camping spot and after we set up our tents we spend some time soaking our tired feet in the VERY cold water (aka sticking them in for about 5 seconds and then back out onto the warm rocks)  Our camp routine has become steady, we wash a few things, then wander around the area a bit, then lay in our tents. There is a little thunder and a tiny spurt of rain in the afternoon, but it’s over quickly and the sun peeks back out to warm the world up again.

After the thunder I fall asleep for a bit and then wake up to some weird, loud huffing sounds.  My brain immediately goes to bear, is it in our camp getting ready to fuck us up or try to steal our bear cans? I finally get the courage to look out my tent door and see that it is just a Doe!  My blood pressure subsides and I watch her wander right through our campsite, not caring that she scared the crap out of me, such a beautiful and graceful asshole!  I had no idea deers made those sounds but now it’s nice to know.

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Our wonderful campsite on a little rise near Tyndall Creek

We are lucky in a lot of ways that the Sierra’s are full of water this high snow year and it’s been so nice to camp by a rushing creek each night.  I love having the sound of water so close by. The soothing sounds of splashing also help cover up night time scary sounds, like those of mean deer!  The day soon passes us by and after a little dinner, we are back in our tents with the coming dusk.  Only two more trail days are left! It’s making me sad how quickly this trip will be over, it’s one of my favorites so far. I read Jane Austen for a little while until my eyes hurt and then I try to imagine standing on top of Mt Whitney as I drift off to sleep.

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