The Sierra Nevada…

…is still buried under a big snowpack in many places. To hike here at this time of the year, we need to change some gear. Warm merino layers, for example, and waterproof socks, as our shoes will be wet most of the time from the snow and the river-crossings. Also, we again have our mikrospikes to help us walk in the snow without slipping. To make crossing steep slopes safer, we decide to get ice axes. And then, there is of course the mandatory bear barrel! In there, we have to store our food so the bears can’t get them!

Four peoples’s equipment. It looks like a lot of gear – it is and it isn’t, depending on how you look at it. Here everything is drying in the sun during a lunchbreak…

All this new equipment makes our packs heavier (especially the bear canister is a heavy brick, it weighs more than a kilo) and packing them quite challenging – it takes a few tries (combined with some frustration and cursing) until it works!

To have a little extra safety and because we’re not sure how fast we’ll be able to advance on the snow, we plan with eight days of food for a distance we’d usually do in no more than five days. More food we can’t carry: It would be too heavy and it wouldn’t fit into the bear canister (we have big difficulties with that as it is, it’s a bit like tetris…).

Everybody told us not to go alone into the Sierra Nevada but to form groups, as this is safer. We follow this advice: We will go together with Chrigi and Vincent. We get on very well, have similar ideas about how we like to hike and walk at more or less the same speed.

Steve and Vera kindly bring us back to Kennedy Meadows, where we say goodbye and start hiking in the later afternoon. We don’t go far that day: Around 5 pm, it starts to snow heavily. As we are in a nice, sheltered spot next to the South Fork of the Kern river, we decide to call it a day and pitch our tents.

We wake up to blue sky and sunshine. The fresh snow from the day before is glittering as it slowly melts and the landscape we walk through is super beautiful!

The last cactus – suffering a little under the snow!

It doesn’t stay sunny and warm, though, around lunchtime we get some clouds and some snowflakes – a pattern that is going to repeat over the next few days… It’s not so much a problem while walking as that keeps us warm, but a bit annoying as our wet gear (mainly shoes and socks) frequently can’t be dried before it gets dark and cold. And when there are more than just a few snowflakes, the footprints get covered up which makes is difficult to find the path…

Higher and higher we climb that second day, until we reach the snowpack. Luckily, there are some free patches under the trees here and there where we can camp. It’s a great campspot, in fact, shelterd and flat, and there is a lot of dead wood: We have a fire that night, which is awesome!

Before reaching the snowpack…

…where it starts…

…and now we’re definitely on it!

The next two days are partly snowfree and partly covered. This allowes us to move quite fast – or at least faster than expected. On our fourth day, we get a lot of snow after lunch. It’s a challenge to find the path as the footprints of previous hikers are quickly burried under the white flakes. Then suddenly, the sun appears and reveals a place of wonder! We have a lot of fun playing in the snow like little kids!

Hiking through the new snow is very tough and we only cover 3.5 miles after lunch (compared to the nine miles in the morning, that is super slow)! Going further doesn’t seem wise, as we’re quite worn out. So we decide to camp next to Chicken Spring lake – a very beautiful spot. It’s quite high up, though, and everything is covered in snow. So that night, we camp on snow for the first time. It’s very, very cold! Now I’m even more grateful for Steve’s goodbye-present, awesome down-socks – my feet that are usually cold at night (which makes sleeping difficult), are nice and warm!

Our camp – the picture isn’t sharp because I was shivering so much when I took it!

Thank you so much, Steve!

The snowpack is now continuos and there are no more patches of earth. Nevertheless, we cover more miles than expected – partly because we get up earlier than usual and start walking when the snow is still frozen. By late afternoon, we drop in elevation and find a nice place for pitching our tents on dry ground. I’m very glad we won’t have another super cold night!

Our campspot the next morning…

We’re now close to Mount Whitney and have to decide if we should try to summit it. As we’ve advanced faster than expected, we have got enough food for an extra day. After a long discussion, we decide not to try: We’d have to get up around 1am and walk most of the (to us) unknown, snowcovered and partly very steep path in the dark. Otherwise, we’d still be up there when the snow starts to get slushy and dangerous. Neither seems wise…

As a compromise, we agree to do a day hike into the valley leading up to the mountain which is supposed to be very beautiful. And we’re not disappointed! Chrigi, Vincent and I enjoy the great and impressive views all around the valley. Andy, on the other hand, doesn’t feel in the mood for day-hiking, so he stays at camp, relaxes, reads, goes for a walk down the river and makes friends with our neighbour, a marmot…

For once our packs are very light!

Andy’s friend😊

Then, we have a short – only 8.5 miles – but very tiring and frustrating day: The snow we got the last night covered most of the footprints of the hikers ahead. We search for the trail while it continues to snow and it’s quite unconfortable! Then suddenly, just as we are on Bighorn plateau, the sun appers, and it gets super hot in minutes! The weather is really crazy!

Ok, there were beautiful parts, too…

Hiking to the grey sky – just before the sun appears…

The purpous of our short day is to bring us in an ideal position to cross Forester pass the next day. We’re still sheltered (although on snow), but close enough to reach the pass in the early morning when the snow is still hard. Forester pass is the highest point of the pct (over 4000 meters above sea level) and feared for it’s steep ascent and particularly the snow chute almost at the top. We’re a bit nervous because of everything we heard about it and don’t sleep very well that night (the snow and the high altitude probably don’t help, either)…

Dinnertime!

At 3.30 am, we get up and pack our things in the dark. As we start hiking, the sky slowly gets lighter and super beautiful!

It is very, very, very cold! Our toes are numb and we walk fast to warm them. It doesn’t work, but it brings us to the last and steep part of the ascent earlier than expected. Here, we put on our mikrospikes (so far they haven’t been necessary as the snow is hard and we haven’t had to climb very steep slopes) and get our ice axes ready. And then, we start to climb the wall.

You can see Forester pass in the background – it’s the lowest point slightly to the left of where Vincent stands.

It’s steep, but not as sketchy as I thought it would be: In the hard snow, our feet have good hold and we can see where other hikers climbed (although their prints are now covered by the snow that fell the previous day and night), so we don’t have to search a route. It’s demanding, though, especially on the short section where we posthole a bit! Vincent goes ahead and makes the steps, followed by Chrigi, Andy and me.

We cross the infamous snow chute, that is actually not so scary, and then, we reach the top! We stand there on the small space and feel at the top of the world and super proud to have done it!

Andy and I crossing the snowchute…

It’s sunny and quite warm up here, a chance to thaw our frozen toes! Sitting barefoot in the snow, we have a celebration-coffee and chat with Daniel from Portland who came up after us.

Soon, we have to continue, though. We want to get down as long the snow isn’t slushy and the risk for avalanches lower. It turns out that descending is sketchier than climbing up. Because we want to take a safe route, we do an – in hindsight- unnecessary circle which includes a long and very tough ascent. I’m very slow there and feel sick – wether from the exertion or from the altitude, I don’t know (maybe both combined; on the higher elevation on Forester pass, I felt perfectely fine). After descending a little and resting, I luckily feel fine again.

Andy’s trekking pole doesn’t feel good, though – descending in soft snow was too much for it…

Down in the valley, we fight our way through the wet and slushy snow. It really doesn’t help that it starts raining! But on the bright sight, it stops a little just when we have to pitch our tents, so we can do that without getting everything wet… All in all, it was a super demanding but very cool day!

We exit the Sierra Nevada the next day over Kearsarge pass to resupply, plan our next section and most of all, relax! Because the last eight days were equally beautiful and tough…

On Kearsarge, Andy encounters another spanish hiker for the first time!

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