The last pass on the John Muir Trail is Forester Pass. At 13,153 feet above sea level, it is the highest pass on the John Muir Trail* (and the highest point on the JMT’s much longer sibling, the Pacific Crest Trail). For many who hike southbound, it will also be the fourth pass in four days.
The trail up and over the pass was one of the last portions of the trail completed. Much of it is carved into granite, with–if not hair-raising–at least significant exposure to falls.
The only way to hike the last few miles of the approach in the shade is to hike it at night (or carry an umbrella). There isn’t a tree to be found. As John Muir Trail passes go, this is the top dog!
Actually, it’s not that tough.
Physically, by the time to start your way up to Forester Pass, you will have developed legs of steel. With more than 180 trail miles behind you, as well as seven other passes, walking uphill just isn’t going to wear you out like it once did.
Psychologically, there will be very little left on the trail to intimidate you. The butterflies, which were doing loop-de-loops in your stomach as you stood in front of the trailhead sign in Happy Isles, have been exterminated long ago. Besides, as I’ve mentioned previously, once you’ve cleared Glen Pass (probably the day before), your frame-of-mind has subtly changed: you are no longer hiking the trail, you are finishing the trail.
The other factor in your favor is the way the trail is built. It’s miraculous, really. The grade is relentless, but it is also moderate and consistent. There are no possible navigation problems to contend with (unless the area is covered with snow). Keep moving and keep admiring the gorgeous scenery and you’ll be at the top of the pass before you know it.
When you arrive you’ll quickly realize that you will have reached somewhere special. If you were to straddle this pass in a rainstorm, drops that fell to your north would ultimately find themselves in the Kings River. The precipitation to the south will run downhill to the Kern River. One foot will be in King’s Canyon National Park, and one in Sequoia National Park.
The perfect geometry of Junction Peak, with a summit less than a mile away and just a little more than 700 feet above the pass, looks impossibly symmetrical–almost sculpted.
To the south you’ll see Diamond Mesa (looking, unsurprisingly, narrow at the close and far end, and wide in the middle), and Tyndall Creek, your constant companion for the trip down.
Forester (on many old maps it’s called Foresters) Pass was named in August of 1929 by the then supervisor of the Sequoia National Forest, Frank Cunningham. He named the pass in honor of the foresters who discovered the pass. (Frank was one of them, so, in a way, he named it after himself!)
It’s not all downhill from Forester Pass to the end of the JMT; you will climb even higher before you finish at the summit of Mount Whitney. But, as you depart Forester Pass, one of the last great challenges of the trail will be behind you and in two days it will likely all be over.
Good hiking, Ray
* Once you leave the John Muir Trail for the trip down to Whitney Portal, you’ll cross another, slightly higher, pass: Trail Crest. However, the less-than-a-mile stretch from the point at which you leave the JMT, to Trail Crest pass, involves very little climbing.