DAY 4: The next morning we got a late start, probably from the shenanigans from the previous night. We set off as a foursome, beginning the day of gradual ascent towards Forester Pass - our next beast. We passed a ton of JMT Southbounders on our way; they all offered advice and we offered our congratulations. Eventually we made it up to Bighorn Plateau. This was one of my favorite places on the trail. Wandering through meadows on your climb up, you don't expect to see what you see. The plateau is a huge, flat area with a lake and views of every mountain range around you. We could even see our old friend, Mount Whitney!
The perfect place for lunch, we took a long break filtering water, eating tuna, (popping blisters...just me), and taking a quick snooze in the grass. I could have stayed up there for weeks. But we had a long way to go, and continued on after our big(horn) revival.
Descending towards Tyndall Creek, I anticipated making plans to camp once we all met up there. But Kelly and Jason had continued on, so we decided to follow suit. It was getting late and our bodies were ready to be done. Eventually, we caught up to them 4 miles north up near Forester Pass. There were a few lakes up there and the views were great, but the nervous newbie in me was worried for the exposed area we were in, not to mention our high elevation. Anna assured me with "Red sun at night, sailors' delight. Red sun at morning, sailors take warning." With that, we watched the red sun fade over the mountaintops as we crawled into our tents. I had vivid dreams that night of a Sia concert up in the wilderness. Altitude, man.
Day 5: In the morning, we woke to Forester Pass beckoning us from the north. We began our ascent, which wasn't too difficult after hiking late into the previous evening. This pass is known to be the hardest on the trail, coming to 13,200 feet. The climb was pretty steep, with rocky switchbacks leading us to the top, but somehow it wasn't as hard as I'd anticipated. I think at this point, I was finally getting stronger. At the top, we spoke with more Southbound hikers and descended into this glorious, rocky expanse littered with dark turquoise lakes. I remember walking down towards the lakes thinking there was no other place I'd rather be. I became 100% committed to my journey in that moment.
We continued to Vidette Meadow, passing bunches of wildflowers on our way down. The scents were so clear and potent after being up too high up to smell much of anything in the windy cold. I passed through bunches of Lupine flowers (my favorite flower!) nearing the end of their season; it felt like my late Grandpa was there. Lupine flowers are a family favorite and remind me of his spirit. Vidette Meadow was a great stop for lunch, and sported a beautiful, lush campsite. It would be a convenient place to stay if you plan on hiking Southbound up Forester Pass the next day, but we needed to get a few more miles in. After discussing, we went on.
Once we hit the Bubbs Creek Trail Junction, it was a steep 1400 feet gain to Bullfrog Lake in 1.1 miles. At the end of the day, this was something extremely difficult for me. My body was exhausted and I was a slug, but near the end we found an encouraging note from Jason that he had setup camp .2 miles away. Excited to sit down, we rushed to our final destination. By the time we arrived, I was ready to throw up. I was heavily nauseous unlike any other time on the trail thus far. I fell to the ground and drank gatorade in hopes of not getting sick. Anna shoved a poptart in my mouth and I regained my energy. We think my blood sugar was low, which I have never experienced before. Damn, it's not fun.
With that behind us, we admired the beautiful lake where we were spending the night. It was the small lake before getting to Bullfrog Lake, there was no name on the map for it, but it ended up being in my top 5 favorite lakes. This was our last night as a foursome, since the other two were heading over Kearsarge Pass to resupply the next day. We spent the evening doing massage trains and watching the epic meteor shower we were told about.
Day 6: The next morning we took our time leaving our beautiful oasis. Our friends had moved on, but they left behind a few notes and treats for us! We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before making our way to Glen Pass.
The ascent wasn't too difficult until the final stretch (which is really how all the passes are going north on the JMT). A wilderness ranger stopped us, asking to see our permits before getting over the pass. Trying to (unsuccessfully) out-hike the horses behind us, we reached the top and began drooling over the lakes ahead.
Descending into the Rae Lakes, we were overwhelmed by the bright blue beauty. The lakes were beckoning as campers were splashing in the clear water around us; but I stressed to continue another mile to Arrowhead Lake before stopping for lunch. I'm so glad we did because we had the place to ourselves! We stripped naked and took a plunge, escaping from the encompassing heat.
Eventually, we ate lunch and ran into a hiking duo we had seen a few times in the last few days. A father/son fly fishing crew, these two had been catching trout all along the trail. In a matter of 4 minutes, they caught us 6 rainbow trout, which they promptly cleaned, seasoned, and ziplocked for us to take for dinner. We were in awe and graciously accepted our gift. Trail magic is real.
Dipping lower into the valley, we eagerly raced the sun to Evolution Bridge. We setup camp in the trees and attempted cooking our trout. Deliciously decadent for trail food, we made a beautiful mess of fish bones and were somehow still hungry. We ate a few more dinners, chatted with old men by the river, and made a plan to get an early start the next morning.
At this point, we were really starting to get the hang of it. Our individual tasks to setup and tear down camp, our priorities on the trail, and our dynamic as a team had become reflexive. I reminded myself to savor this feeling of simplicity in survival. We were 1/3 of the way in this adventure and the idea of an end to it was unfathomable.