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Hoover n Ice Not All Nice July 12-14

Posted: Tue Jul 16, 2019 11:53 am
by giantbrookie
No matter how rigorous one's conditioning is at sea level, we all know that you have to build to the more strenuous High Sierra backpacking trips. Doing a tough trip with no earlier Sierra trip tends to result in a lot more pain and suffering than most of us would like. Accordingly, with my first week-long trip since 2004 planned for July 20-26, I figured my daughter Dawn (now 13) and I needed a warm up trip first. I chose a two-night trip (Fri. July 12 to Sun. July 14) to a destination in Hoover Wilderness that is just a tad far for a single-nighter (about 8 mi. and 2900' of elevation gain). Owing to the Code of Silence associated with one of the activities planned on the trip the destination will not be named. Those that have been there will know, prowlers that may wish to exploit the place will not be able to trace it, but this trip is sort of an example of how a heavy winter and late thaw impacts High Sierra backpacking and fishing, so I figure the experiences and observations may be useful for hikers in "early season".

First, the planning. I knew the planned dates would be dicey in terms of the destination lake being thawed or not. Windknot alerted me to the satellite photo feature on CalTopo which had what I'd presume to be a rare hiccup during the week and a half leading to the trip: the July 1 photo showed the lake ~90 percent (I had said 75 to some in PM exchanges) frozen, then on July 8 an image was apparently briefly posted showing the lake totally thawed which was what I had (wishfully?) predicted, but by July 11 before I drove off with Dawn to stay on the east side, an image was up that looked like the July 1 image, so I assumed this was erroneous and the 'real' image was the thawed one. What I missed was that although the shape of the thawed patch was the same in the two images it had in fact slightly enlarged (~85 percent frozen as of Jul.8 vs 90 percent for Jul. 1 with same overall thawed patch shape with several "toes"). As an aside, the same imagery gets updated on Google Maps which is can be viewed at higher res. as far as I can tell. I note that the current Google Maps image looks just like the condition of the lake when we left it Sunday (~80 percent frozen, perhaps). What I saw on the Google imagery didn't look promising: although there was open water, none of it was directly against the shore. Rather there was a scary looking ice/snow rim with cracks in it. In any case, I thought the "real" image was the phantom one with the totally thawed lake.

The other planning issue was a stream crossing by the trail about 4 miles upstream from the trailhead. I worried that waters may be too high to cross there, so I looked at "Plan v 1.2" on the topo and the aerial imagery and figured I could work some distance upstream (1-3 mi) off trail to a point upstream of the confluence of several tributaries to find a much smaller stream. On the other hand, I thought the drainage basin size upstream of the trail crossing would probably be too small to generate too much runoff, so I figured Plan v. 1.2 probably wouldn't be necessary.

On Friday, Dawn and I were hiking by about 730 in pleasant conditions up the stream valley.
The weather report predicted fairly strong winds, but they hadn't kicked in yet, but the mosquitoes were rather mild, even in the boggier sections. I figure I had a total of about 5 bites and 15 kills during the hike in, which would put it at a fairly low annoyance rating. Dawn reported about 4 total bites for the entire trip (vs about 8 for me). We knew the early start would be helpful because afternoon temps were predicted to reach the 80s at the elevation of the trailhead. We moved quickly up the trail and soon arrived at the stream crossing. There were no doubts: the stream could not be crossed. Someone has left a rope there, which I think is a bad idea, because it encourages a dangerous crossing. So I went with Plan v. 1.2. The offtrail went well for about 1/3 mile then became physically difficult with all of the sidehill brush through scattered aspen and other vegetative obstacles. Downed timber also ganged up to make the off trail trek a real steeplechase. Dawn, perhaps expecting a simple grunt up the trail grew increasingly frustrated with the brush and her mood would not really recover (fishing skunk didn't help either).
After breaking out into an upper tier of meadows, I figured the streamflow would be low enough to cross, so I went to take a look. The flow appeared to be about 1/5 of what it was downstream at the trail crossing. I spied a possible crossing and told Dawn I'd give it a try first. To Dawn's consternation ("Daddy!" she screamed) I was knocked off my feet and swept downstream a bit, then knocked down and swept a second (maybe a third) time before I dragged my drenched self and pack out of the water to the opposite bank and, stating the obvious, told Dawn that we'd walk together upstream on opposite sides until I found a better crossing place for her, which I soon did: the stream was about 3 times as wide and much shallower at that point. I then crossed without my pack to carry Dawn's pack across, then crossed again with my walking stick to help support Dawn across. We then took a break to empty our boots and wring out our socks. I also moved my camera from its mildly wet case to a top compartment in my pack (recall it had died after dropping it into a lake during last year's Silver Divide trip). While removing my socks I noticed a tick embedded in my shin. Good gracious this has been a bad tick year for me. That is the first time I've been tunneled by a tick in the High Sierra, and only the 2nd time I've ever seen one (brushed off a few nearby on a trip in 1988). So far this year I've been tunneled 4 times (3 times on Mt Diablo) after going 28 years without a bite (and brushing off thousands, sometimes hundreds in a day, while doing geologic field work in the Cal. Coast Ranges). This prompted an all body tick check for both me and Dawn (no additional ticks were found for the duration of the trip).

After drying off a bit we refound the trail and followed it a touch upstream looking for the cutoff spur going to our destination. I did not find it, but was not too concerned given that I figured (correctly) that so much snow would be on it that we couldn't really follow it anyway. The final part of the ascent was mostly snow climbing. Some of the slopes were moderately steep, but not so steep (or without sufficient runout/easeout) as to be unsafe without snow climbing equipment.
Upon reaching the lake, our spirits sank further: it was mostly frozen over with a fairly large patch of open water that was rimmed by ice on both sides. The next challenge was finding a flat and dry spot to camp in the snowy wonderland. I figured the top of the ridge on one side of the lake might offer something but a quick recon showed the top to be very narrow and rocky. However a bench about 50' in elevation above the outlet had a beautiful campsite on it, so after a lot of slogging around, I directed Dawn to the dry refuge in the sea of snow.

After pitching the tent and getting the camp situated, Dawn decided to stay in the tent and nicely arrange our wilderness home, while I broke more trail in the snow to the distant thawed spot, hoping I could bomb some casts into it from a security of where snow actually lay on solid ground (rather than floating over the lake). I had taken my time with Dawn getting camp set up and relaxing a bit (was tiring even to fetch water which was quite distance away where the outlet stream emerged from under snow), so it was rather late, say about 630 pm, when I arrived at the place with the narrowest ice rim around the thawed patch. I winged a few unsuccessful casts into the water. Then I poked at the snow/ice on the next "tier" out beyond the first "crevasse". It seemed pretty thick and solid, so I hopped out and it was solid. So my casting distance to the water was cut in half, and I fired more casts, including some which I sank my "Watermelon" 3/8 oz Kastmaster to the bottom (very deep lake!) before retrieving. Nothing. Every now and then I'd see a rise, ranging from fairly nearby to distant. The sporadic and scattered surface activity would typify the entire stay there. The lake was not in the "spring turnover" thaw mode yet and the fish were not really active yet. I then tried the spoon shape sort of retrieve where I make a long cast, start reeling in immediately, but control the depth with the speed of retrieve, in this case retrieving very slowly to get a pretty good sink on it. Several of these encountered some resistance but I couldn't tell if those were fish on, or hitting the bottom. I kept firing then encountered gradual resistance again that continued. It was indeed a fish and heavy one. I looked at the ice edge and realized there would be minimal chance of pulling it over the edge without putting my rod tip over it. I tested the outer rim and found it promising so I took a hop over the "outer crevasse" onto the rim. It felt no worse than the inner rim, but I knew I had to stand back from the actual edge as I continued to work against a strong fish fighting deep. I saw it down there and it looked pretty big. When I slid it out onto the snow, I found it to be a fairly chunky male golden with a good kype running 15.5". After having dialed in what seemed to be the best retrieve trajectory, I picked up hits on about half of my casts, but lost most of them. The three fish I caught that evening (other two goldens were 13.5 and 13") were barely hooked. Fish were apparently somewhat tentative in this early season condition. Two of these red-meated goldens were kept for a luxurious dinner.

Before I had headed out for the evening fishing, I had discussed with Dawn the possibility of a Plan v. 1.3, which would be to bail on day 2 and hike into a fairly accessible place, or get a room for day 3 dayhike somewhere. My fishing session, however, prompted Dawn to cancel the v. 1.3 option and take the planned day 2 layover at our snowy stronghold.

Saturday was a different experience for me. It has been a long time since I've taken a full layover day at a destination without a dayhike to some other place. The last time I think I did this was in the late 80's (or maybe early 90's) at Big Blue Lake in the Russian Wilderness. I felt fairly tired and lethargic and we both took relaxing naps in the tent during the afternoon between a morning and an evening fishing session. The fishing did not go well for Dawn (one or two strikes). Dawn wants to fish but has not yet absorbed technique details, which in this situation were more important than usual, owing to the low activity level of the fish and the unusual presentation angles. I had steady morning and evening sessions, that totaled 8 goldens running from 12.5 to 15" with an average rate of a strike every 5 casts (and loss of a bit more than half of those strikes). We kept one for dinner and a few others to pack out the next day for a Sunday dinner at home where we eagerly anticipated the superb culinary skill of Dawn's older brother, Lee.
Sunday, I wanted to leave early so as to get home at a reasonable dinner hour and to cross the streams at lower flow levels. Dawn, however, wanted one last try at the lake, so I further worked on the snow trail (now a pretty nice path) to lead her out for morning fishing (my gear had been packed away the night before). Dawn had one more strike and threw in the towel after another frustrating session of about 15 casts. I tried to help with various pointers on technique. Certainly she had improved in casting consistency in terms of distance and accuracy, and was beginning to get a better feel for adjusting her retrieves and minimizing slack line on parts of her retrieves (when doing somewhat herky jerky slow retrieves). We needed a fair amount of time to completely pack, but we still managed to start the descent at about 915 am. Unfortunately, the tedious snow climbing heaped on top of the frustrating fishing crushed Dawn's usual radiant spirit and this got worse as we were once again stuck in brush as I tried a different route after crossing the stream, in an attempt to reduce the brush fighting.
At last, we emerged from the tangle of greenery found a little use trail, then intersected the real trail. As we accelerated to normal outgoing speed, Dawn cheered up and started thinking about getting ice cream after our hike, as well as looking ahead to next week.

Lessons to be applied to next week? First, I won't get delusional about some short-lived aerial image: One of next week's objectives still has quite a bit of ice on it, the others are totally thawed. The one that has ice on it, has plenty of open water available adjacent to rocky shoreline, so walking on ice will not be required. There is one stream crossing I will not even attempt and I will plan the trip with a v. 1.2 that replaces the day 1 destination with a different one. As for fishing, unlike the all-or-nothing aspect of this "warm up" trip, next week will offer a spectrum of "premium" (low population density, big fish) as well as "easy" (high population density, smaller fish) alternatives, so Dawn will certainly catch fish somewhere. A last note: Some of you are probably thinking that this was a bit harsh for a "warm up" trip. I agree, and in fact it ended up being the 3rd most difficult opening trip I've ever done, exceeded only by my 1980 opener to Grouse L. and Goat Mtn, and my 1979 spring climb of Mt Brewer in Kings Canyon. Next year the opener will not be this strenuous, but for now Dawn and I will be in fine condition for the "big" trip.

Re: Hoover n Ice Not All Nice July 12-14

Posted: Tue Jul 16, 2019 12:43 pm
by TahoeJeff
That is an ambitious destination for a warm up trip!
The picture of your daughter fishing the inner ring of ice/snow says it all. Pretty brave of you to jump to the outer ring.
The results were worth it obviously.
She shouldn't be too bummed out on the skunk, those were pretty darn tough condititons.

Re: Hoover n Ice Not All Nice July 12-14

Posted: Tue Jul 16, 2019 1:34 pm
by SSSdave
I haven't fished that remote lake but know where you went. A lot of aspen in that canyon that make for fall aspen photography. Worth knowing there is still a nice population of fish.

On my warm up trip 3 weeks ago, I only hiked 4 miles each of the first 2 days though always hike quite a bit sans pack after reaching camp. I am very wary of over stressing joints, muscles as that has a way of not healing quickly that can impact further trips. My limitations are carrying the heavy pack as had 56# carrying weight. On the return to the trailhead after building up strength over 6 days, did 7 miles.

Re: Hoover n Ice Not All Nice July 12-14

Posted: Wed Jul 17, 2019 11:46 am
by steiny98
Great first trip!

Re: Hoover n Ice Not All Nice July 12-14

Posted: Wed Jul 17, 2019 2:14 pm
by windknot
Great report! Dawn is a trooper -- I was pretty spent after my own "warmup" backpack a few weeks ago of about 9 miles (but only 5.5 carrying a full pack).

Re: Hoover n Ice Not All Nice July 12-14

Posted: Wed Jul 17, 2019 3:41 pm
by giantbrookie
windknot wrote:
Wed Jul 17, 2019 2:14 pm
Great report! Dawn is a trooper -- I was pretty spent after my own "warmup" backpack a few weeks ago of about 9 miles (but only 5.5 carrying a full pack).
Yeah Dawn is pretty tough even though she was much less cheery on this trip than usual. Yunno I was pretty gassed on the final ascent but I wasn't hydrating enough and once I did that felt the "finishing pull" of the destination and really wanted to get there. The altitude seemed to bother me, too, even during the layover day. The morning after I returned home I felt less fatigued and less sore than I have the morning after my Mt Diablo geologic mapping days (other than the scabs on my legs I would have not known I had been on a hard backpacking trip)--I think those Diablo descents are just brutal and they prepared me well for the all-too-brief (two trip) High Sierra season. Lots of battle damage, though: big bruise on my right quads, scabs all over the shins, my temporary hiking shirt (forgot good one at home) was torn up really good, along with my tent bag (forgot that I usually carry my tent internally and sleeping bag externally---now I have to do it that way.). Next year I think I'll do a Deso trip or something else that is mellower (probably highest degree of difficulty would be W-Chuck) as a warm up, though.

Re: Hoover n Ice Not All Nice July 12-14

Posted: Wed Jul 17, 2019 3:52 pm
by venturefar
Nice TR! I must have just missed you. I day hiked up there on Sunday. You did better than I did. I fished for two hours and didn't even get a bump. Looks like I may have to go back for seconds. Thanks again for sharing.

Re: Hoover n Ice Not All Nice July 12-14

Posted: Wed Jul 17, 2019 6:37 pm
by giantbrookie
venturefar wrote:
Wed Jul 17, 2019 3:52 pm
You did better than I did. I fished for two hours and didn't even get a bump. Looks like I may have to go back for seconds. Thanks again for sharing.
You dayhiked up there and still had time to fish for two hours? Wow, dayhiking to that place, especially in these conditions, is pretty hardcore. What time were you hiking to get there and did you detour upstream to avoid the main stream crossing? Our car was the cherry red Pathfinder and I'd guess you were the other car parked behind us?

Re: Hoover n Ice Not All Nice July 12-14

Posted: Thu Jul 18, 2019 11:31 am
by sekihiker
You have a hard-core hiking partner. Shame about the fish. I'll bet she'll be back for more. It gets in the blood.

Re: Hoover n Ice Not All Nice July 12-14

Posted: Thu Jul 18, 2019 11:44 am
by robertseeburger
Nice trip. You are very lucky to have a teenager who wants to do this is this day and age!
Amazing snow level mid July.