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Spring 2017 Backpacking Cautionary Thread

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Spring 2017 Backpacking Cautionary Thread

Postby maverick » Tue Jun 06, 2017 4:36 pm

Many of us here have experience traveling in winter/spring conditions, this year our spring like conditions will extend well in July in the high country.

The purpose of this thread, is for everyone with experience in these extreme conditions, is to chime in with a cautionary note, specify things to keep in mind and prepare for.

Their are many folks who are itching to get out (cabin fever) or may be coming from another state, with reserved dates, for June or July, and will find themselves in extremely dangerous conditions, from snow covered trail, passes with icy conditions, dangerous crossings over snow bridges, cornices at the top of passes, and possible the most dangerous, swollen, ragging creeks and rivers.

Your sage advice/input is appreciated, let's try to decrease the amount of SAR incidents, their have been already to many for 2017. :(
I don't give out specific route information, my belief is that it takes away from the whole adventure spirit of a trip, if you need every inch planned out, you'll have to get that from someone else.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org



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Re: Spring 2017 Backpacking Cautionary Thread

Postby nunatak » Tue Jun 06, 2017 5:32 pm

The creeks demand respect.
With steep snow, there's good gear and actual skills available. Usually a slow, calm, meticulous approach can save a beginner caught on an ever steepening snow climb.
On the other hand, swollen watercourses are not easy to prepare for either at REI or in the field. Be careful!
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Re: Spring 2017 Backpacking Cautionary Thread

Postby wildhiker » Tue Jun 06, 2017 5:34 pm

My "sage advice" is not about specific techniques or equipment. I haven't done snow camping or snow travel in many years. My advice is to have a patient, flexible attitude. If nature is "ruining" your plans with deep snowpacks, nasty mosquitoes, or uncrossable rivers, change your plans! Think about why you are really going backpacking in the Sierra. If you focus on the experience of being in nature, not some specific trail itinerary, you can adjust to the conditions and still have a good time. If you are determined to "stick to the plan" in spite of unfavorable conditions, you will almost certainly be miserable and possibly endanger yourself. You may not be able to change your vacation time. But you can change your route and your style. Try an in-and-out to a basecamp with day hikes instead of a big loop. Spend more time at lower elevations.

In the last really big snowpack year - 1998 - I planned a trip in August around the Silver Divide from Lake Edison, to Mott Lake, Shout of Relief Pass, McGee Pass, Hopkins Pass, and back down Mono Creek. Everything was working okay until we got to the top of McGee Pass and looked down through all the snow to the huge cornice on Hopkins Pass. Even though we had just drug our packs all the way up to that 12,000 foot pass, we knew that it was probably beyond our ability to find a way through/around that cornice, and certainly dangerous, so we retreated and re-routed. But then we had a delightful camp at Cotton Lake and cross-country walk past Izaak Walton Lake and Hortense Lake and down to the Muir Trail, which we took back over Silver Pass, with an outstanding sunset light show at our camp on Squaw Lake. We had many peaceful and beautiful experiences on our revised route. We achieved the primary objective of the trip just as well on this revised route: to experience the beauty and serenity of nature and see big mountains. And Hopkins Pass is still there if I want to try again someday.

-Phil
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Re: Spring 2017 Backpacking Cautionary Thread

Postby Wandering Daisy » Tue Jun 06, 2017 6:23 pm

I am lucky that I started climbing in High School in the Pacific Northwest where snow climbing is THE THING. Climbed Mt Rainier at 16 years of age. I started with the Spokane Mountaineers and got excellent training and went on outing with really experienced older climbers. Hands on mentoring from the more experienced is really the best way to learn snow skills. We had a 2-day intensive "snow practice" at the start of every season. No matter how many times you have done the self arrest and other snow skills you need to refresh these skills EVERY year. Snow is an elusive medium- it changes minute by minute and you really need to learn to "read" the snow. This is not something you can learn from You-Tube or from a book. Whether you join a group or hire a guide, go to an outdoor school, or are lucky enough to find a mentor, you practice in a safe environment (we used to practice on closed ski runs because they had huge safe runouts- this of course assumes the ski run is not packed hard ice). I taught a snow skill class for the California Mountaineering Club at Kirkwood ski area after they had closed.

Conditions in a high snow year like this year in the Sierra really requires mountaineering skills. If I am going over steep snow, I wear a climbing helmet. If you already ski, you are a step ahead of those who have little or no exprience with snow at all. You already know that falling down a slope without a helmet is not a good idea. You already have experienced the fast changes of snow.

Even with all the skills you need the proper gear. Neither skill or gear alone will make you safe. The nice thing about going to a class is that you can first learn the skills with verious brands of gear before you choose to buy your own gear. If you choose to use microspikes, test them out to see their limit.

Be sure that you also practice snow skills with your full pack on. It really makes a difference.

There are some really good stream crossing skills that depend on a larger group of hikers. You are ALWAYS better off crossing a large creek with one or more other people. Basically you join (lock arms, etc) and make a line so that everyone except the first is in a calmer wake and the group pushes to keep the first guy up.

If the stream is really tough, it is better to first get a rope across and make a tight line to haul packs and use as a hand line.

If you choose to go solo, be extremely conservative. Like I said in my post on my Yosemite trip, water is always twice as deep as it looks and distance across twice as long as you think.

In most cases, do not cross barefoot. At some difficulty, do not even use wading shoes - stay in your hiking boots. Neoprene socks, or just putting plastic bags over our socks really help keep feet warmer. When your feet go numb, you get really clumsy.

Unbuckle your waist belt. If you fall in you want to be able to quickly escape out of your pack.

Jumping rocks or crossing on logs also have their own dangers. When wet, both are very slippery and it is probably safer to wade if that is feasible. I have fallen head first in a river jumping rocks, but was in a large group so was pulled out and most of my gear was also retrieved.

Take time to really scout up and down a creek to find the best crossing. It may take an hour or more. Most trails cross where it is best for horses. You may have to wait for the next morning at lower flows. A one foot difference in river level translates into a vast difference in the power of the flow. In general, once over your crotch you cannot stay attached to the bottom- you start to float away. Tall big (heavy) poeple definitely have an advantage.

I tend to get dizzy if I look at the water too much. I try to focus on a point on the far shore. I use the three-point concept, just like in climbing. Keep three points of contact all times - one foot and two trekking poles, and move one foot. Then move one pole, next pole, next foot. Always having three points of contact.

I could go on and on, but have to fly to Colorado tommorrow morning to see the grandkids. I am taking my 10-year old grandaughter on her first overnight backpack!
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Re: Spring 2017 Backpacking Cautionary Thread

Postby AlmostThere » Tue Jun 06, 2017 6:47 pm

CURRENT condition reports are important. I'm getting on Facebook feeds for national forests, resorts, etc in areas I hope to hike in. I look at satellite shots but there's nothing like someone at Vermillion to say, "don't even try to cross Bear Creek, it's EPIC" or that picture of the snowplow dwarfed by the snowdrifts to really drive home what I need to do.

National Forests have zero budget. Have patience, there's likely one harried ranger in the station when you're calling.

My trail crew is being told we won't get to go out this year AT ALL. We work in Dinkey and Ansel Adams, and currently? We're working trails in Sespe because they are accessible. Expect downed trees to be legion, as the deluge after years of drought will have consequences.

The less snow and snowmelt there is, the luckier you will be in having a safe trip without incidents.

Use reconn.org no matter how much you like your phone/GPS/PLB/SPOT/thingie. Trust me on that one. Search teams do not get called on the phone without accurate information, and munged/inaccurate/no signals from your thingie aren't going to be helpful, you'll wave at the helicopter in vain unless you have a bright colored (think RED, ORANGE, SHINY, not white or green or brown or other natural colors) object to swing around. That much ignored signal mirror works great over distance.

Do not expect to get ten miles a day if your route crosses a creek or is above 9k. Cut down your expectations. Be flexible, willing to turn around, not determined to the point of stupid. Even if you shuttled to the trailhead. Bail out and hitch somewhere and stay alive. If you find safe creek crossing or figure out a safe route, great. If not -- GO BACK. There are bodies we have never found out there. Occasionally, an old bone is found, decades later. Don't be one of them.

For the love of mike, stay off the snow bridges over loud running water!
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Re: Spring 2017 Backpacking Cautionary Thread

Postby rlown » Tue Jun 06, 2017 7:18 pm

With the snow pack this year, and I do not care if you have a friggn permit for June/July, and you haven't been on 6-10' of Sierra snow for days in a row, I'll just say one word.. September..

ok.. I'll add this... :)

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Re: Spring 2017 Backpacking Cautionary Thread

Postby robow8 » Wed Jun 07, 2017 5:48 am

I have a permit for the first week of July for Glacier Point>Illilouette. Was planning on going over Red Peak Pass and down to the Valley. Pretty sure that isn't going to happen, but I have alternate plans already. I have concerns about all of this stuff, and appreciate everyone's expertise, but one thing I haven't heard much on is snow bridges. Can someone please elaborate?

And thanks to everyone; this forum is so helpful!
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Re: Spring 2017 Backpacking Cautionary Thread

Postby AlmostThere » Wed Jun 07, 2017 6:44 am

robow8 wrote:I have concerns about all of this stuff, and appreciate everyone's expertise, but one thing I haven't heard much on is snow bridges. Can someone please elaborate?


http://www.whitneyzone.com/wz/ubbthread ... pics/15158

Marcia was LUCKYYYYYY....
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Re: Spring 2017 Backpacking Cautionary Thread

Postby robow8 » Wed Jun 07, 2017 7:08 am

AlmostThere wrote:
robow8 wrote:I have concerns about all of this stuff, and appreciate everyone's expertise, but one thing I haven't heard much on is snow bridges. Can someone please elaborate?


http://www.whitneyzone.com/wz/ubbthread ... pics/15158

Marcia was LUCKYYYYYY....


Thanks for that link. I think that my main question is, can you be on a snow bridge and not know it. I have zero interest crossing one and want to be able to avoid it if at all possible. I will turn around. Don't want to take the risk and really don't want to put my wife at risk.
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Re: Spring 2017 Backpacking Cautionary Thread

Postby AlmostThere » Wed Jun 07, 2017 7:26 am

I think you'll know, there's a difference between the trickle-trickle of melting snow forming puddles, and the rush and chatter of a creek flowing. A lot of people cross creeks on obvious ones. Usually the creek has also melted away snow completely in places and you can see the obvious bridge -- Marcia knew she was crossing it, she crossed it on the way up safely and fell on the way back.
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