Crossing High Sierra Passes on the Pacific Crest Trail

The climb was bad. The PUDs were worse.
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The climb was bad. The PUDs were worse.
high sierra passes

Mountain views in the High Sierra. Photo by: Amanda Jameson

There are five main passes in the high sierra that everyone worries about: Forester, Glen, Pinchot, Mather, and Muir, in that order when you're headed northbound. In other year, all of them have been pretty rough, with snow covering them until late in the season. As Forester was pretty much clear of snow on the south side when I went through, I've been cautiously optimistic about what I would find on the others.

So after making my way down from Forester, I had to make a side trip up and over Kearsarge Pass to hitch the 50 miles to Bishop to resupply. To get back on track, particularly after a thunderstorm forced us to take a zero, I ended up doing two passes yesterday: Kearsarge just to get back to the trail, and then Glen shortly after. Doing two climbs and two descents in a day was rough, but it put me on track to cross Pinchot today.

The morning saw me crossing mile 800 on a rolling uphill hike. And by "rolling", I mean there were steps. Steps up, steps down, steps everywhere. And not your run-of-the-mill, calibrated-for-humans steps, but 2-3 foot tall steps, which I'm told are perfectly calibrated for horses and mules. It made the 7-mile ascent feel brutal.

While we were technically climbing a pass, it felt like we were headed down nearly as often as we were headed up. Known as PUDs—"pointless ups and downs"—this type of trail is frustrating to say the least. Every foot of down you travel, you know you'll have to make up again. In concert with the steps, it made for a rough morning.

On the other hand, the snow I was worried about was pretty much nonexistent. Between the climb,the descent, and the long day we'd had before, as well as the looming storm clouds,we decided to camp early, just 11.9 miles in. Next up: two more passes before we're definitely in the clear for the snow.