August 27, 2014
John Muir Trail (JMT)
Day 24 – Center Basin Creek (10,530ft) to Tyndall Frog Ponds (11,030ft) via Forester Pass (13,110ft),
Camped near Tyndall Frog Ponds.
The coldest temperatures yet – we spent the night huddled together trying to keep warm. The night sky was particularly clear and star filled, beautiful, but probably one of the reasons it was so cold. To make matters worse Don’s air mattress sprung a slow leak requiring him to re-inflate it several times during the night.
The clear sky continued into day break and throughout the day. Only the occasional small cloud dared to make an appearance. That said, the horizon was rather hazy and not the sparkling blue we’ve seen on other days.
Today we conquered Forester Pass, our last high pass, and the highest at 13,180ft, before summiting Mt Whitney. I was a little worried about this one as it’s over 1,000ft higher than previous passes and I didn’t feel as though I was acclimating as well as I should be. Each pass felt as hard as or harder than the one before. The rest in Independence with an abundance of good food, however, did wonders. I was stronger today, climbing slowly but steadily without any real altitude symptoms.
From the camp at Center Basin Creek the trail climbs steadily but not too steeply through the forest and above the tree line into a wide meadow with peak views in all directions. Rock laden water ways meander through the thick meadow grass.
The trail winds around a couple of knobs before climbing the first set of switchbacks through talus that levels off at Lake at 12, 250ft. A second set of switchbacks then climbs the adjacent ridge. Both sets are generally well graded.
After the top of the ridge the great views of the peaks and valley behind us disappear as the trail continues along the mountainside, leading to a final short set of switchbacks up to the pass.
The 4.6 miles from camp to the top of the pass took me about 4 hours with breaks and photo ops.
The views from the top may lack color and contrast but are impressive for the sheer vastness of the terrain.
The trail down the other side first descends along steep switchbacks, some blasted into the rock.
Once down it’s a long traverse along a gentle track through a barren landscape. The surrounding peaks are brilliant white. A few tarns add interest to the overwhelming expanse.
We stop at an inlet at one of the tarns for lunch. Don holds the leaky air mattress under the water to find the leak and then repairs it. We’ll find out tonight if he was successful.
The trail continues to roll gently down the valley and finally arrives at the trees which were visible in the distance from the top of the pass. Down through the open forest we hit Tyndall Creek, a pretty spot with ample camping.
We decide, however, to head up the hill to the Tyndall Frog Ponds, a lovely setting with a sunny warm pond at the base of a cliff face. Sunlit nearly the entire day the pond is warmer than most bodies of water in the Sierras. A few groups of hikers are camped nearby but plenty of sites remain. Even at 11,000ft the evening is much warmer than on the previous day.