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Thru-Hiking the JMT: Over Forester Pass to Wright Creek

Forester Pass Looking North

Day 20 on the John Muir Trail…

At 13,200 feet above sea level, Forester Pass may not be the highest point on the John Muir Trail (that would be Mt. Whitney) but it is the high point of the Pacific Crest Trail.

John Muir Trail Day 20
Distance: 12 miles
Cumulative Distance: 199 miles
Total Ascent: 3,869 ft
Cumulative Ascent: 54,249 ft
Harrison Map Sheets 2 and 1
As we’ve hiked further and further south on the JMT, our average altitude has risen. Much of today’s trail is above the tree line, in a rugged, rocky landscape that’s as beautiful as it is desolate.

Our goal this morning was to reach Forester Pass before noon, and we got there just before 11:30am. The route up looks like piles of gravel with the occasional patch of snow and lake a the bottom of the slope, but there is a surprising amount of life flourishing in the high altitude.


The trail cuts across a steep slope of scree that is often covered in snow, making it even more treacherous. Keep your eyes on the trail. When you want to look around, stop and steady yourself first.

In our case, we had a few patches of snow, but their were plenty of boot prints leading the way and it wasn’t too bad.

Snow patches on Forester Pass

When we reached Forester Pass, we celebrated! We took the requisite photos, ate a snack,  and communed with the marmots.

SoCal Hiker on Forester Pass

On the south side of Forester Pass, the John Muir Trail drops down a series of expertly engineered switchbacks in a narrow chasm, then winds around the steep sloping scree to the basin below.

Looking South from Forester Pass

Once in the basin, the trail continues downward on an easy grade to Tyndall Creek. There were patches of trees, and we were able to find a shady spot for lunch.

As we headed on, we passed a couple trail junctions, and our first sign announcing the distance remaining to the top of Mt. Whitney! It was thrilling to realize that we were actually going to complete the JMT! We could practically smell it. Oh wait, that was just us…

Trail Junction on the JMT

Although we had already hiked over Forester Pass, we weren’t finished climbing for the day. We had about another 600 feet of elevation gain up to Bighorn Plateau.

Are We There Yet?
JMT-JeffThere was no car to pull over, but this last stretch up and beyond the Bighorn Plateau seemed to never end. It was one of those points on the trail when you think to yourself, “How much further?!” To which the reply is typically, “Oh, about a mile… mile and a half.”

Prepare yourself. It’s always more than a mile and a half. Or at least, it feels that way.


Finally the trail dipped down into a valley and we reached Wright Creek. Tonight we would sleep in the shadow of Mt. Whitney.

Trail Map: Forester Pass, Bighorn Plateau and Wright Creek

Download file: JMT-Day-20.gpx

JMT Day 20 Photo Gallery

Click on any photo to view a larger version. You can also leave comments on any photo.

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Tomorrow, we head to Guitar Lake, just below Mt. Whitney.

Originally hiked on August 15, 2010.

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