TR: Nine Lakes Basin, November 13 – 17 | High Sierra Topix  

TR: Nine Lakes Basin, November 13 – 17

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TR: Nine Lakes Basin, November 13 – 17

Postby EpicSteve » Tue Nov 21, 2017 1:32 am

“Day” 1: After a late afternoon drive to Sequoia, I self-registered my wilderness permit and drove through the famous “Tunnel Log” to the Crescent Meadow trailhead. There was only one other car in the parking lot (elevation 6,702’). FYI: The self-registration location for off season permits is now outside Giant Forest Museum – not the Lodgepole Visitor Center, as in years past.

I left my car at 7:00pm and hiked by headlamp through the dark forest of giant sequoias, reaching “Eagle View” in about fifteen minutes, where I saw the lights of several cities in the San Joaquin Valley, far below. I followed the High Sierra Trail as it began its long traverse across the steep north slope of the Middle Fork Kaweah River valley. At 8:30pm, I found a nice campsite on a little dirt shelf above the trail, next to the noisy cascade of an unnamed creek. I’d only hiked about 2.5 miles, but at least I was positioned for a big day in the morning. The air was cold and a bit damp, so I put on three layers of clothing, cooked some dehydrated beef stroganoff and went to bed feeling warm and well-fed.

Day 2: I was on the trail at 7:04am. It was a beautiful sunny day and I hiked the remaining 9 miles to Bearpaw Meadow High Sierra Camp (elevation 7,608’), arriving at 11:51am. The canvas covers had been removed from the wooden cabin frames and the two buildings with wooden roofs were padlocked. One of the roofless cabins had a deck with an amazing view of the Great Western Divide, so I sat on the deck in the sun and had lunch. It was only 4 more miles to Hamilton Lakes, so I continued on at 12:45pm. The trail descended through pine forest and then traversed along the rim of some huge cliffs, with stunning views of the surrounding peaks.

A notable feature of the High Sierra Trail is the frequency of sections that have been blasted from cliff faces, forming artificial ledges. Consequently, there are many places where the edge of the trail drops vertically for several hundred feet or more. Not the place for a misstep!

Another short descent was followed by a bridge over a deep and narrow chasm, with powerful Lone Pine Creek below, along with the disconcerting metal wreckage of the former bridge.

After passing the second junction with the Elizabeth Pass/Tamarack Lake trail (there’s an alternative higher route from Bearpaw Meadow), the path climbed across exposed granite slabs and traversed above more cliffs, and then wound its way along the headwaters of the Middle Fork Kaweah River. I passed the lower and smaller Hamilton Lake, with its beautiful reflections of enormous granite peaks towering above the north shore.

At the end of a nearly 13 mile day, I arrived at the big lake (elevation 8,235’) at 3:40pm. My arrival at the lake startled a great blue heron into taking flight. I was amazed to see one of these magnificent birds at such a high elevation, especially so late in the year. I was also quite impressed by two cascades on the cliffs at the opposite end of the lake. Each was over a thousand feet high and both were completely frozen.

Day 3: Before leaving home, I had noted that the forecast included a 40% chance of snow above 10,000’ and wind gusts up to 25 mph on this date, followed by 60% chance of snow the next day, with similar winds. But I figured I had good winter gear and would be just fine. Besides, I could always retreat to the lower elevation of Hamilton Lakes or Bearpaw Meadow, where conditions should be much milder.

The morning began with fast-moving clouds overhead, as predicted. I was tired from the mileage of the day before and overslept. I scarfed down a breakfast skillet and coffee. Little did I know that this would be my last hot meal of the trip. At 10:44am, I finally hit the trail.

I worked my way up steep switchbacks above the north shore of “Big” Hamilton Lake and traversed fearsomely airy sections of trail, including a short tunnel blasted through a cliff. At the unnamed lake just below Precipice Lake, I was buffeted by strong icy gusts and took shelter behind a boulder to eat part of my lunch. Pellets of wind driven corn snow began stinging my face, so I put on more layers of clothing, including a fleece neck gaiter and a cornucopia of head protection. By the time I was finished, I was wearing four layers on my head, plus my ski goggles.

A sane person probably would’ve turned back at this point, but not me. I doggedly continued to Precipice Lake, which was completely covered with ice. It was getting late, but I was determined to cross Kaweah Gap (10,689’) and drop into Nine Lakes Basin beyond. So I continued through increasing wind and snow, past a series of small ponds connected by tiny streams, reaching Kaweah Gap at 3:56pm, with about an hour of daylight to spare. I took a shortcut off trail and oddly enough, found a grey rectangular rock with the words “Toas Rock” painted in black on it. Weird. I would’ve removed it from this spectacular NATURAL area, but I was carrying a heavy load already, without adding a rock to my pack.

I headed for the closest (unnamed) lake in the basin, crossed the outflow stream on big flat rocks, found a flat spot next to a boulder and pitched my tent very tautly. Not an easy task in the midst of increasingly heavy corn snow driven diagonally by gusty wind.

The weather was too brutal for cooking, so I just ate leftover lunch items. The wind direction kept shifting, so I just moved to the sheltered side of the boulder accordingly. My food was too messy for gloves, so I had to breathe on my hands and put my fingers in my mouth periodically to keep them from going numb. With my meal finished and two winter sleeping pads in place (a closed cell Z-Rest pad with an inflatable NeoAir All-Season on top), I left two layers of clothing on and climbed into my down sleeping bag. I was tired and slept soundly.

Day 4: I awoke at dawn to my tent flapping loudly and constantly, at the mercy of continuous violent gusts. I could hear sleet and corn snow pelting the tent with great force. It would’ve been lovely to hunker down in my nice warm sleeping bag and wait out the storm for a while, but I wondered how much abuse my ultralight tent could handle. At the very least, I’d need to go outside and retighten the guy lines. (Oh that’s right – I didn’t have “good winter gear” – I’d decided to push the seasonal envelope by leaving my heavy dome tent with rain fly at home and carrying my single-walled solo ultralight tent to save weight. Maybe that wasn’t such a good decision.)

Reluctantly, I put on four layers of clothing and was just tying my boot laces when my tent collapsed on me! My tent saves weight by using my trekking poles as the main A-frame structure of the tent, but the vinyl tube that the pole tips fit into had blown off the tips. Fortunately, the tent wasn’t damaged at all, but it was obviously time to retreat. Two to three inches of snow had fallen during the night. The boulder had an overhanging side, creating a small sheltered space, so I used it as a gear staging area while repacking.

I left my campsite at about 9:00am in near whiteout conditions. Visibility ranged from about 50 – 100 feet. Consequently, it was difficult to locate the same stream crossing I had used the day before. But I quickly found another crossing and had one or two rocks to go before reaching the other stream bank, when I made another bad decision. I could’ve finished the crossing by two hops onto fairly flat rocks, or one hop onto a slightly sloping rock and then onto the bank. I’ve balanced on similarly sloping rocks many times, but I failed to account for possible ice that may not be visible.

My right foot immediately slipped off the left side of the rock and my momentum sent me crashing into the stream bank, which was mercifully covered with soft vegetation, but I bent my left thumb back a bit more than it was designed for. For a brief moment I was horrified, imagining that I’d be dealing with an excruciating injury and a useless thumb. I was relieved to discover that I could still move it and grasp my trekking pole handle with it. It hurt, but it wasn’t that bad. Whew! Talk about a wake-up call. That was a lapse of judgment that you just can’t allow yourself to have while traveling solo in the storm-bound high Sierra. I vowed to maintain vigilant focus for the rest of the hike.

I headed in the direction that I was sure would allow me to intersect the trail, but after about five minutes of walking I encountered another set of tracks. What? Another human crazy enough to be all the way out here in these conditions? Or were they my own tracks? I’d never been disoriented enough in my entire life to unintentionally walk in a circle, but I noticed the tread perfectly matched my own. I followed my tracks back to the outflow stream, so I could orient myself from a known point of reference. I got out my map, determined that I needed to head due southwest, and used my compass to stay on that bearing. I found the trail within five minutes.

I was nervous about snow covering the airy sections of trail, but traction turned out to be pretty good, especially with the aid of my trekking poles. I made it back to Big Hamilton Lake without incident and pitched my tent in the same site that I’d used two nights before. I fortified my tent by wrapping cord around the tips of my trekking poles and securing the ends to trees at opposite ends of my campsite. When I first arrived at the lake, there was no snow on the ground, but that quickly began to change. This was a bit worrisome, because snow hadn’t been predicted at such a low elevation.

A large slab of rock protected me from any wind coming off the lake, but unfortunately most of the wind was coming from the opposite direction. I noticed tiny drainage waterfalls were forming on the side of the rock slab and were starting to flow toward my tent, so I dug a series of trenches and lined them on the downhill side with rocks, directing the drainage away from my tent. I’ve rarely undertaken such drastic campsite modification, but I felt the conditions justified it, especially since I had every intention of restoring it the next morning, to the point that no one would ever know. During my initial observations, my drainage system worked like a charm.

The weather still wasn’t conducive to a pleasant cooking experience, so again I ate lunch for dinner and went to bed. I’d been so busy earlier trying to extract myself from the high country that it was the only meal I’d had time to eat all day. I tried very carefully not to let my rain gear shed water onto my dry gear when I entered the tent, but failed miserably. What I really needed was a bigger tent with a vestibule, to serve as a mud room. I toweled off various items as best I could and got into my sleeping bag.

I had noticed when I was still outside that the snow was accumulating very quickly on the tent walls. (My dome tent doesn’t have this problem, but I’d never used my ultralight tent in heavy snow before.) Once I was inside the tent, I noticed that the weight of the snow would push the tent walls in and get condensation on my sleeping bag. I also worried that if enough weight accumulated, the tent might fail completely.

I set my iPhone alarm for one hour later, so I could push the tent walls and shed the snow. When the alarm went off, I pushed off the snow, causing a spray of condensation to rain down from the tent walls onto all my gear, but it was better than the alternative. It was still snowing hard, so I reset the alarm for another hour later and repeated the process. After several hours, I noticed that all the ejected snow was piling up against the base of the tent, pushing the walls in and making them contact my sleeping bag, making it even wetter with condensation. I pushed the snow back, but after a while it became so heavy that I had to punch the tent walls in order to get the deepening piles to budge. This continued every hour until after midnight.

Day 5: The nightmare began. Just before another alarm was due at 1:00am, I awake to the feeling of something cold and wet beneath my sleeping bag. Had condensation been dripping so heavily that it had fallen onto the foot of my sleeping pad and flowed under me? I turned on my headlamp (still strapped to my head, for emergencies such as this) and was horrified to discover my inflatable sleeping pad was literally floating in a two inch deep pond inside the tent! Fortunately, I’d stuffed a few critical pieces of clothing into roll-top dry bags and my iPhone was sealed in a heavy duty plastic pouch. But the rest of my gear was utterly soaked! My immediate thought was: “Okay, this just went from being a challenging adventure to a survival situation.”

The rapid fire drumming on the tent walls told me it was raining outside. I dressed quickly and stepped outside the tent into a huge snowmelt pond, ranging from two to four inches deep and covering my entire campsite. There was a sloping spot nearby with about three inches of snow, but no drainage issues and no “snow bombs” from overhead branches. I quickly removed the stabilizing cord from the top of the tent, moved a pile of waterlogged gear from the tent to some rocks near my pack, and re-pitched the tent at the new site. I drained most of the water from my tent, but my down sleeping bag and insulation pads were very wet.

It occurred to me that my best option might be to pack up and retreat by headlamp, thinking that hiking through the night would generate enough heat to allow me to survive. But then I turned my face into the battering wind and felt the sting of freezing rain and realized that hiking in these conditions might be suicidal. So I moved my Z-Rest pad on top of my NeoAir pad and tried curling up while completely clothed – rain gear, boots and all – without using my sleeping bag. I would simply try to wait out the night and hope for better weather in the morning, which was predicted by the last forecast I’d seen.

This worked for a little while, but I started to shiver and knew that if I allowed that to continue, I might progress to uncontrollable shivering – an obvious sign of impending hypothermia. I’d read somewhere that even wet down has SOME insulation value (though I was a bit dubious), so I unzipped my sleeping bag and covered myself with it like a quilt. This did make me warmer, especially when I covered my head with it, but it was hard to breathe. I had been reluctant to remove my boots, because my feet were reasonably warm and I wanted to allow for a quick exit. But eventually I took my boots off and zipped myself inside the bag, with the hood cinched down properly, allowing a small breathing hole. Fortunately I was wearing two layers of thick fleece socks and they insulate fairly well, even when wet. It wasn’t a pleasant way to spend the rest of the night, to put it mildly, but I did survive and even managed to get a little sleep.

I don’t mean to overdramatize here – I actually still had an unused fleece jacket and pants in a dry bag and a Mylar blanket still sealed in its original package. But I was trying to save those items as a last resort, in case I had to spend another night in the wilderness unexpectedly. I also had a personal locator beacon that I could activate to request a rescue if things became really dire, but I would never use it unless I was REALLY desperate. Nonetheless, when conditions are awful and you’ve just discovered that the vast majority of your gear is soaked with ice water, you have to start thinking in terms of survival, not just comfort.

At first light, precipitation alternated between snow and rain and the wind was relentless. I decided to wait in my wet bag for a couple more hours and hope that the wind would decrease and the temperature would rise. Fortunately, both of those changes did occur, although it was still miserably cold and wet outside. But less miserable than before.

Stuffing all the sopping ice cold gear into my pack was difficult. My hands became very cold in the process and the wet gear added a lot of weight to my pack. Again I had to resort to stuffing my fingers and thumbs into my mouth and breathing on the palms and backs of my hands to keep them from freezing. (My glove liners were soaked and my thicker gloves don’t provide enough dexterity to perform various tasks quickly.) Occasional clapping also helped stimulate blood flow. Finally packed and ready to go, I didn’t need as much dexterity, so I donned my thick gloves with water resistant shells and fleece lining. I put on my goggles, adjusted the length of my trekking poles and set off.

Despite the covering of wet snow, traction wasn’t too bad, but I constantly splashed through three inch deep puddles of slush and had to be on guard for sloping rocks hidden beneath the snow. Within fifteen minutes I encountered a section of trail that was snow-free, because it had become a creek. Over the next twelve hours and 15.3 miles of hiking, this would prove to be a frequent and interesting challenge. But my boots were wet already, so I didn’t care much if I had to walk through water up to about four inches deep. I just didn’t want it sloshing over the top of my boots and chilling my feet too much, so I still had to do some rock hopping.

I breathed a sigh of relief after carefully making my way across an especially narrow section of trail on the edge of a cliff. There would be many other sections ahead of me that required great caution, but the worst was over. As I descended, the wind started to let up and the precipitation stopped. When I reached the trail junction near the bridge over Lone Pine Creek, the sun came out! I leaned my pack against a log and spread several garments over the tops of bushes to dry them a bit while I ate some lunch. The cloud layer dropped and spectacular peaks covered with fresh snow began to emerge.

Suddenly my situation was looking a whole lot better. But I still had nearly 13 miles to cover before reaching the trailhead and only about seven hours of daylight. I knew I could hike by headlamp again, but it would be cold and I no longer trusted the weather forecast, so I didn’t know if there’d be rain or snow again. I tried to keep a brisk pace, but was only able to trudge slowly on the uphill sections, because my pack was so heavy from all the wet gear.

Hours later, sunset cast beautiful alpenglow onto the summits of surrounding peaks that were tall enough to break through the cloud layer. At dusk I was elated to reach Mehrten Creek, because I knew that I had “only” 6.2 miles remaining before reaching the comfort and safety of my car. But the temperature dropped and fog moved in, making it hard to see the path by the light of my headlamp, especially with my breath making dense clouds of steam in front of me. The inadequate amount of sleep, food and water that I’d had over the past couple of days was causing severe fatigue and my stomach was starting to feel queasy. I was frequently groaning and complaining out loud and occasionally stumbling. I was constantly scanning either side of the path ahead, looking for another suitable rock to sit on and rest. But I knew that if I just kept putting one foot after the other, I’d eventually prevail.

At 7:55pm I reached the trailhead. I’d never been happier to see my beloved, crappy old Kia Sportage! It started right up and I cranked up the heater. I pulled a lovely change of DRY clothing from a duffel bag, along with a bottle of water. I sequestered my stinky clothes and sodden backpack in the cargo area and headed for home – with a stop for an absurdly large meal along the way, of course!
“I don’t deny that there can be an element of escapism in mountaineering, but this should never overshadow its real essence, which is not escape but victory over your own human frailty.”

- Walter Bonatti



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Re: TR: Nine Lakes Basin, November 13 – 17

Postby balzaccom » Tue Nov 21, 2017 11:32 am

That's an amazing story. Thanks for sharing it. Given that the forecast was for 40-60% storms, I think it's unfair to say that it wasn't accurate. You just got caught in the law of averages and the shoulder season risks. Glad you made it out safe and sound!
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Re: TR: Nine Lakes Basin, November 13 – 17

Postby Wandering Daisy » Tue Nov 21, 2017 12:05 pm

I am glad you are OK. A lot to learn from this! Mid November is basically winter in the Sierra. No matter what other gear you have, if your shelter fails, it gets tough. One problem with this time of year is the short days. It is hard to properly evaluate and find a good campsite in the dark with only a head lamp. I cannot be smug about this myself, as I have ended up floating in a huge puddle twice, when it rained hard, but in the summer where the situation was miserable but not dire. In winter, miserable quickly becomes dire.

Problem with a PLB, is that even if you were to push the button, helicopters and rescuers may not be able to operate during a storm. You still would have to wait it out. When you get soaked, you will be warmer moving vs staying still, however, you risk an accident, which would probably be the end. Hard decision.

By the way, what tent did you have?
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Re: TR: Nine Lakes Basin, November 13 – 17

Postby maverick » Tue Nov 21, 2017 1:43 pm

FYI: The self-registration location for off season permits is now outside Giant Forest Museum – not the Lodgepole Visitor Center, as in years past.


Thanks for that info, SEKI NP site still reads:
Outside the quota season: Wilderness permits are self-issued, free of charge and not subject to quota limits. They can be obtained at anytime from dropboxes located outside of trailhead-specific Visitor Centers/Permit Stations.


Will get in touch with them to update the website. :\

Yes, what tent did you have?

Biggest lesson, do not trust the weather forecast from October on, it can change on a dime, be prepared for anything.

Have also been caught in a winter storm at Emerald Lake, in Sabrina Basin, had to get out every hour to remove the snow from the side of tent walls, set the alarm once for a two hour awake up, instead of one hour, to get a little extra sleep, and the tent was almost completely under snow, luckily I was prepared, my tent on that trip was a big Walrus 4 season tent.

When you get a snow and rain mix, tent sites can turn into pools from the excess water and melting snow, a reason I prefer setting up on a large, smooth granite rock, if available.

That section, between Nine Lakes to Kaweah Gap must have been nasty with those high winds, snow, and limited the visibility.

Very happy to read that you made it out Steve, this could have turned out much worse!

Would really appreciate a write-up of the things that you would have done differently, and what you learned from this trip, so it becomes a learning experience for all Eric. Thanks
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Re: TR: Nine Lakes Basin, November 13 – 17

Postby longri » Tue Nov 21, 2017 2:02 pm

Good story.

Thanks for reminding me why I almost never go into the Sierra in November. It can be worse than winter.

One thing I kept wondering was why you didn't cook your food or at least make a nice pot of hot tea inside your tent. It would have warmed you up and been a big morale booster.
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Re: TR: Nine Lakes Basin, November 13 – 17

Postby giantbrookie » Tue Nov 21, 2017 2:17 pm

As with all of us, I'm so glad you returned safely. No doubt the frightening lessons of this trip are not lost on you, but special thanks for posting in detail about your experience so others may learn from it.
Since my fishing (etc.) website is still down, you can be distracted by geology stuff at: http://www.fresnostate.edu/csm/ees/facu ... ayshi.html
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Re: TR: Nine Lakes Basin, November 13 – 17

Postby SSSdave » Tue Nov 21, 2017 2:18 pm

Hello EpicSteve,

Don't want to be too critical of you but your adventure serves purpose of an example of what I regularly warn others against doing beyond early October. I'm sure you learned a lot of how dangerous cold wet rain and snow can be. I appreciate the fact you actually provide your story while the majority of others who get caught so are much too embarrassed to post anything publicly. Notice your threads on the board go back to 2009 and you've backpacked before late season, so thank you. Making sense of weather forecasts is something many Sierra outdoor enthusiasts have little skill at mainly because they haven't bothered to ever become interested in doing so. And that includes a fair number like peak baggers that are rather experienced. Well until they eventually get caught in a bad snow storm. In late season being able evaluate storm weather becomes increasingly important especially beyond short trips or short distances from lower elevation trailheads. In the case of your trip, an experienced weather savvy person would readily have stayed home.



ES >>>"Before leaving home, I had noted that the forecast included a 40% chance of snow above 10,000’ and wind gusts up to 25 mph on this date, followed by 60% chance of snow the next day, with similar winds. But I figured I had good winter gear and would be just fine. Besides, I could always retreat to the lower elevation of Hamilton Lakes or Bearpaw Meadow, where conditions should be much milder
...This was a bit worrisome, because snow hadn’t been predicted at such a low elevation
... I turned on my headlamp (still strapped to my head, for emergencies such as this) and was horrified to discover my inflatable sleeping pad was literally floating in a two inch deep pond inside the tent!
... But then I turned my face into the battering wind and felt the sting of freezing rain and realized that hiking in these conditions might be suicidal.
... I would simply try to wait out the night and hope for better weather in the morning, which was predicted by the last forecast I’d seen.
...Again I had to resort to stuffing my fingers and thumbs into my mouth and breathing on the palms and backs of my hands to keep them from freezing. (My glove liners were soaked and my thicker gloves don’t provide enough dexterity to perform various tasks quickly.)
... But my boots were wet already, so I didn’t care much if I had to walk through water up to about four inches deep. "


Go to this page:

http://www.nohrsc.noaa.gov/nsa/index.ht ... 19&units=e

The date is set to end on November 19.

Select the Snow Depth...Two Weeks
Then immediately change the speed from 200ms to 2ms by backspacing over the 00. When then date reaches Nov 15 select Stop and change the speed back to 200ms by adding 00. AFter the accumulation ends select Stop...Reverse go back to Nov 16 07 zulu (Nov 15 11pm PST) That is when snow began accumulating on highest peaks while you were in your tent.
Then repeat the same with the Non-Snow Precipitation graph. That will show the first rains began Nov 15 at 4pm PST.

Here are snippets from the NWS forecast from Monday Nov 13 when you started your trip. As someone interested in having the Tahoe ski resorts open, I had been following the discussion for days before that had indicated a large storm was possible though it was not until after the weekend that forecasters had enough confidence to say how far south in the range impacts might occur. Generally forecasting even today is least accurate with large storms, especially Atmospheric River storms. So ANYTIME such is anywhere in the range it would be wise to stay away.

http://www.wrh.noaa.gov/total_forecast/ ... version=25


Area Forecast Discussion
National Weather Service San Joaquin Valley - Hanford CA
315 PM PST Mon Nov 13 2017

Models are in better agreement with a mid week storm system.
Progs indicate tropical moisture NE of Hawaii will be picked up
and carried NE into a gulf of Alaska storm. This weather system is
progged to be rather progressive and move to the NE bringing a front
into Ncal on Wednesday. Strong SW winds ahead of the trough will be
optimum for orographic lift enhancing rainfall amounts across the
sierra front range. Models continue to indicate heavy precipitation
potential with one to two inches of liquid water possible in the
sierra. Precipitation may be limited to the sierra on Wednesday and
start by mid-day. The central valley should see rain Wednesday night
along the initial frontal boundary and spread southward becoming
more widespread across much of the central CA interior. Storm totals
in the valley may range from a tenth towards the west side to around
half an inch. Precipitation diminishing Thursday night with
lingering upslope showers into early Friday. Snow levels will be
relatively high, starting above 9000 feet Wednesday and lowering as
low as around 6000 ft in the Sierra near Yosemite Thursday night.
Total snow amounts at the highest elevations could be as much as 12-
24 inches if the system pans out as models indicate. Confidence is
increasing but remains medium at the moment given the model
performance with these early season systems.
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Re: TR: Nine Lakes Basin, November 13 – 17

Postby kpeter » Tue Nov 21, 2017 9:37 pm

I hiked almost all that route last summer in splendid weather and had some nerves with the exposure. I cannot imagine navigating the blasted sections of the HST in a snowstorm and with uncertain footing. That is really scary. Thank goodness you survived.

I have noticed that my tendency to stumble goes way up when overly fatigued at the end of the day. It is so important to keep food and water going in even when you are in a rush. Getting weak and stumbling on the HST is not something pleasant to contemplate.
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Re: TR: Nine Lakes Basin, November 13 – 17

Postby EpicSteve » Wed Nov 22, 2017 12:42 am

The thing I've always loved about these HST Forums is the incredible amount of knowledgeable, thoughtful people, sharing their insights. As usual, the responses to my post have lived up to that expectation. I really appreciate all of you who posted above. You have all made great points and yes, I'm well aware that there are a lot of lessons to be learned from this.

There are two reasons I'm willing to own up to all of these details, rather than sweeping them under the carpet to avoid embarrassment. First, I've always tried to learn how to do things more safely by reading about other's mistakes. So why would I deny anyone else from doing the same thing by reading about mine? Secondly, I'm really not embarrassed. I KNEW I was taking risks and I accepted responsibility for their consequences. I figured it was possible I might experience an unpleasant ordeal like the one I actually did endure, but I was pretty darn sure I was at least prepared enough to not actually perish. And in my opinion, this is justified by the fact that I never used my (still dry) Marmot Power Stretch jacket and pants or my Space Blanket. Despite the unpleasant night I spent being cold and wet, I never caved and used those items. I held them in reserve, in case the situation became more dire. Obviously that doesn't mean I didn't made mistakes. I did make them. But I don't think I was being stupid. I would be embarrassed if I ever had to use my PLB! I hope I never do. It's bad enough to experience negative consequences from my own decisions, without risking the lives of rescuers too. I'm totally determined to take care of myself. I only carry the PLB in case of an absolutely desperate, life-threatening situation.

To answer the tent question, I was using a Henry Shires TarpTent Sublite Sil. I've always loved this amazing little 1-pound tent and I still do. Obviously it was never designed for the conditions I described above! I'd love to have a HIlleberg Soulo or a TarpTent Scarp 1, but I just can't afford either one right now, so my only other alternative would've been my REI Quarter Dome III. It's pretty heavy for one person to carry, but I've used it solo before, on winter snowshoe trips. (It's only a "three season" tent, but it's an amazingly burly tent for its weight, actually. I've used it in high winds and heavy snow and it performed admirably.) But due to the predicted storm, I was carrying a LOT of clothing on this trip, along with an ice axe and Microspikes, plus 7 days' worth of food, so I was trying to lighten my load, even though I knew full well that I was taking a gamble. I was actually curious how much this tent could stand up to, although this obviously wasn't the ideal way to test it! I think everything would've turned out fine, had it not been for my mistake of camping on a level site with poor drainage. For some stupid reason, it never occurred to me that once it started snowing, the precipitation would change back to rain and melt the snow during the night. I just assumed it would get colder, not warmer. I think that was my biggest mistake.

Admittedly, I'm not the most scientific person when it comes to weather. I'm super impressed by SSSdave's level of weather detail in his post above, but I'll admit that it makes my head spin just a bit. I usually confer with this part of NOAA's website: http://www.nws.noaa.gov/wtf/udaf/area/?site=sto ...and that's how I knew about the impending storm in the first place. But I interpreted the information too quickly and casually and I didn't consult with any other weather-related websites. Part of this is due to lack of time. I have a pretty crazy schedule sometimes and a lot of responsibilities. I had a week of vacation coming up and I didn't want to "waste" it. I didn't feel I'd spent enough time hiking this year, so I was trying to make a last ditch effort to "pad my stats," so to speak. I feel this was my second biggest mistake. Getting caught up in trying to be a hard-core, badass mountain man and pointing to my 48 years of backpacking experience (along with some SAR experience, mountaineering, rock climbing, backcountry skiing, etc.) and using that to justify the idea that I'd be fine regardless of the risks I took. One could easily argue that this was my number one mistake, but if my tent floor hadn't turned into an ice water pond, this hike still would've been a totally fun adventure (other than the slight injury to my thumb). So I still think that poor campsite selection based on misunderstanding the weather was my biggest problem.

A lot of people thought John Muir was crazy for climbing into the top of a large tree during a big storm. But he craved the intensity of the experience and considered it worth the risk. Sure, he could've died. But because he didn't, he was living large. That's a real tightrope to walk. Was he being "stupid?" Taking "unnecessary" risks? Why is it "necessary" to go into the wilderness to begin with? I'm not a particularly brave person, but I do love intense adventures... to a point. Despite a strong fear of heights, I spent 10 years of my life rock climbing nearly every day in Yosemite. Consequently, I was a below-average performer for my experience level. I tended to climb slowly and cautiously, yet I'd always push to do just one more pitch before dark, since I was always climbing after work. This led to a lot of headlamp rappelling "epics." That's why the nickname "Epic Steve" was bestowed upon me. This wasn't great for my self esteem, but I've learned to embrace it over the years. Perhaps sometimes I push my luck a bit, still trying to prove to myself (and everyone else) that I'm not some kind of "wuss." Sorry if I'm baring my soul a bit too much here, but I think this is something that all of us outdoor adventurers probably need to examine in ourselves from time to time. Am I doing this because I simply crave intensity, or to satisfy my ego? Personally, I think the former is good and the latter is bad, but it's probably usually some combination of both, in all honesty.

On a less psychoanalytical note, the main reason I didn't cook inside my tent was because I didn't feel I had room in my tiny tent to do it safely. Another reason was that I'd have to go back outside to get my bear canister, dig the nickel out of my pack to turn the screws to open it, get out my stove, set it up, and handle a lot of freezing metal surfaces during the entire process. And simple laziness probably came into play too.

kpeter makes a great point about the High Sierra Trail not being a good place to stumble from fatigue. I actually did think about that quite a bit at the time. Again, it was a calculated risk: I figured I'd be past the most dangerous areas by the time the fatigue really set in. And even late in the hike, when I was extremely fatigued, if I came to a particularly scary spot, I'd just slow down and concentrate a whole lot more and not allow myself to relax until I got back to a safer section of trail. As it turns out, I was right about this. But then again, that's easy to say now, because I didn't fall to my death! It may have been calculated, but it was still a risk. Frankly, I don't think I'll be doing any more backpacking trips in November in the future.

I'm sure many of you will disagree with various things I've said, and that's fine. I'm still having an internal debate about all of these things myself. I respect everyone on these forums and value your opinions, even when we disagree, as long as civility is maintained. But so far, all of the feedback I've received has been incisive and intelligent. I really appreciate that. Sorry if I've been ridiculously verbose, but I'm really trying to be honest about everything. Perhaps the origin of my nickname was going overboard, but I don't think so. More than one hang glider pilot has died because of a reluctance to cancel the flight, due to poor wind conditions. Why? Because they'd made reservations, dreamed of the flight for months, traveled a long way, spent money on the whole endeavor... You see where I'm going with this, right? That's why I think it's worth deeply examining our own motives.
“I don’t deny that there can be an element of escapism in mountaineering, but this should never overshadow its real essence, which is not escape but victory over your own human frailty.”

- Walter Bonatti
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Re: TR: Nine Lakes Basin, November 13 – 17

Postby Wandering Daisy » Wed Nov 22, 2017 9:42 am

I almost asked how you got your forum name, but hesitated. LOL, thanks for telling that story! :lol: As an old "has-been", "not-stellar", but enthusiastic climber I can relate to your background. Climbers are comfortable with taking more risks than most backpackers. However, I have had enough "epics" in my past, to avoid them like the plague nowadays. I guess that is old age. I also have the luxury of doing this because I am retired and have plenty of other chances to backpack.

Again, I think one of the main lessons here is the problem with "shoulder season". Do I take full-on winter gear or not?". In fact most backpackers do not even own full on winter gear. Then it becomes, how late in the season can I push it? I have done winter mountaineering in down to -40F and it is an entirely different game. I tried once to do it without the proper gear and learned my lesson. But, the less severe temperatures, in the freeze, snow, rain and thaw range are actually just as difficult to deal with, it being almost impossible to stay dry. In these conditions I actually prefer wool to fleece as I seem to stay warmer when wet, as long as I have a good windproof outer layer.

When in conditions that you were in, I have no qualms about bringing my bear can, or even the food without bear can, inside the tent. Also will cook in the vestibule. In fact, honestly, I would have disregarded the regulations and instead taken my Ursack instead of a bear can, or if did not have a Ursack, just a odor-proof zip lock and system to hang the food. Bear cans in freezing conditions are just a pain to get open. I am a real hot-food addict. No way would I go without. Often, hot food is the only way I can get warm, once chilled.

My rule-of-thumb is that anything more than 40% chance of rain, I will likely get rained on. Low predicted temperatures can easily go another 10 degrees colder. Find a campsite up out of drainages. Cold air sinks into valleys.

All those campsites near Hamilton Lake are prone to flooding, even in the summer season. There are actually some established campsites in Nine Lakes Basin, that are in timber and quite sheltered. They are just a bit farther than you went.

Thanks for identifying the tent. I have a Tarptent Moment, and have had it in similar conditions. It is large enough that even with snow piled up from banging the sides, it is roomy. But I always am anxious about its worthiness in more severe conditions. The excessive stretching of sil-nyl is a real pain. I would prefer a tent made of material with less stretch. If late season trips are in your future, I would strongly suggest biting the bullet and buying a one-person winter-worthy tent. Easier said then done. I am in a quandary as to which tent would actually work, more than the cost.
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