Forrester’s Pass

Up at 5:40am and it’s 10 degrees outside. I survived the night by draping my rain jacket over my bag and wearing everything to sleep. We hit the trail by 6am. Today’s goal, forrester’s pass. I managed to pack faster than Burning Daylight and headed up from mile 771, Wallace Creek. The sun cast a gold color on the mountains before me as I held my hands in a clenched fist inside my jacket.

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I eventually needed to poop so stepped off trail when Burning Daylight passed by. Right after my trail poop I came upon a Creek, the rocks for crossing were under water. I traveled up stream then down steam and couldn’t find a suitable crossing point. Eventually I gave a log with icecicles a try, the moment my foot touched it I almost slipped in. I gave up at this point and pulled up my leggings then started to cross. The water was numbingly cold.

I would cross 6 streams like that today.

Eventually I caught up with Burning Daylight while we were crossing a massive snowfield. This was good because soon as I did we kinda got just together. The trail buried under a foot of snow is hard to follow. 30 minutes later we managed to re-unite with the trail and cross more freezing cold creeks before getting a glimpse at the pass I wanted to cross.

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I pulled ahead of Burning Daylight like I normally do, I hike a bit faster, and about 2 miles from the pass I look back to check Burning Daylight’s progress across the snow fields and I see him walking on a ridge in the wrong direction. He has a Garmin GPS and has hiked this portion of the trail around 9 times so I assume he’s just going a weird route. I continue on for another 30 minutes and stop to check his progress again but I don’t see him. I wait on a rock and keep my eye on the hill in front of me expecting to see his head pop over but after 20 minutes I don’t see him. He’s been having stomach problems so I thought maybe he found a private spot and is still working his way up the hill. He’s quick but the last few days the hills have been giving him a hard time. I look back and the pass is less than a mile away so I figure I might as well check it out while I wait.

Eventually I hit the snow wall that is the pass and follow the footprints kicked into it. It’s steep but not dangerously in the beginning but as I get about 200 ft from the saddle it starts to get dangerous. I don’t have mountaineering equipment, no snow axe, no crampons. I sit and reevaluate the situation while watching for Burning Daylight, 20 minutes pass and I realize this pass could end my life if I slip and there’s no one here. I also start to wonder if Burning Daylight is okay. It’s at this point I start to slowly move down.

Once I get to a safe gradient I start to run because I’m beginning to think Burning Daylight is in trouble. About a mile in I see a figure walking towards me. It’s Butters. As I reach him I ask if he has seen Burning Daylight and he says no. I tell him I last saw him walking in the wrong direction and that the pass is too dangerous with equipment. He trusts my instincts and we start looking for Burning Daylight. We go to where I last saw him and find his footsteps. As we follow his foot impressions in the snow they go in the direction of a different valley and eventually cross over an area dry of snow where we eventually lose them.

I shouted his name as loud as I can several times as we search for his footprints. I only have enough food for dinner and knowing Burning Daylight has years of experience on this trail we decide to head back. It’s possible we think that he got turned around and went back as well. He has food for a few days, a GPS and has hiked this trail many times before, he should be fine we hope.

So we walk the 9 miles back crossing paths with other hikers who are prepared for the pass. We let them know to keep an eye out and eventually call it a day at Crabtree Meadows. We would need to make a 15 mile hike out of Cottonwood pass the following day. We both discuss Burning Daylight and decide when we get reception we would notify the police.

The next morning we wake at 7am and slip on our frozen shoes. We hike as fast as we can to cottonwood pass and by 2pm we are on the road. My cell got reception and among my messages is one from Burning Daylight. He is okay but shakin up. We meet in Lone Pine and he shares his story. He went to the wrong pass and after climbing it all day he admitted to himself he was lost. Lucky for him he had cell reception and dialed 911. The dispatcher knew where he was and directed him towards a forestry road. He would need to boulder several miles and plow through bushes to reach it but around the same time Butters and I were reaching Cottonwood pass he was being picked up.

His legs were cut and bruised. He needed time to decompress, but he was okay. Crazy.

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