TR and NEAR DISASTER. Beck Lakes TH Xcountry. Help Wanted | High Sierra Topix  

TR and NEAR DISASTER. Beck Lakes TH Xcountry. Help Wanted

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TR and NEAR DISASTER. Beck Lakes TH Xcountry. Help Wanted

Postby Asolthane » Sun Feb 11, 2018 12:56 pm

Hey everyone. This is from early August 2017. Record snow year, something like 175%. Mammoth mountain was open through July.

So I have been pushing my edges over the past few years, going deeper into the wilderness and farther off the trail.

I had been given this rough outline:

Beck Lake Trailhead (Minarets)>Ashley Lake>Iron Lake Pass into Iron Lake Drainage>McDonald Pass>Dike Lakes>Upper Twin Island Lakes Basin>Clinch Pass>Davis Lakes>Garnet Pass>Whitebark Pass>Iceberg to Minaret Lakes route>Deadhorse Pass>Nancy Pass>Beck Lakes Trailhead

Last year with the heavy snow fall I went out in June and July and had fun walking over snow with just my trail runners and trekking poles, and I got a little over confident. What follows is a trip report but also some words of caution about what can happen out there if you are out of your depth. I definitely learned some important lessons. Please be ginger with your lectures, trust me this experience has changed my outlook.

Mistakes:
- inadequate planning
- inadequate gear
- overconfidence

Questions:
- ***How does one get from Dike Lakes to Upper Twin Lakes Basin?
- Can you self arrest with an ice axe in slushy, afternoon snow in August?
- How much help are micro spikes in these conditions?

Here's a map of the trip https://caltopo.com/m/NLDF

Day 1: Beck Lakes to Fern Lake. Late start. Rangers warned us we should have traction and ice axes. We disregarded this warning.

Day 2: Tons of snow but melted enough that we could get over Iron Lakes Pass without too much trouble, though it is a very steep, loose path. Mostly melted on East Side, lots of snow on West. We headed North cross country up the drainage with the Minaretts to our right. The travel was steep and exhausting, walking on snow pack takes so much more energy. We stopped around 4 and dropped our packs, and went to explore and swim in the last of the day's heat. I ended up cutting my boot badly on a sharp rock, just as the sun was going down. Suddenly, an relaxed afternoon felt very scary. I was naked, bleeding, and the sun was about to go behind the ridge. I was separated from my pack. I tied a bandana around my foot, got my tops on, and then crossed the stream to a flat area where we would camp for the night. My friend walked the 5 minutes to the packs and returned with both of them. I got all my clothes on and prioritized stopping the bleeding while he set up camp. Once the bleeding had stopped I superglued the cut on the inside of the ball of my left foot, and then taped it up thoroughly with leukotape. As night fell, the smell of smoke became noticeable.

IMG_20170812_074138_962.jpg




Day 3: We woke up and luckily I was able to walk without any pain. We had a slow start, starting to feel the fatigue and elevation. The San Joaquin river valley below was filled with smoke coming from the South. Up towards Minaretts 3738 and 3736 we went, rather than heading to McDonald Pass on the left. Snow everywhere, the higher we got the more difficult. I am definitely getting myself micro spikes next time. The lake at the basin before the pass was amazing, so cool to be up there. We skirted to the left, and then spent a long time looking at the pass, a wall of rock and snow. We weren't sure we could get through, and had to find routes where a fall would not be dangerous (no rocks below) as we didn't have an ice axes for self arrest. We were able to get to a rock outcropping, do some class 3 moves across it, and then found a seam to the far right of the pass where the snow was melted enough that we could get up. The final crest was sketchy, and involved carefully digging in each step. We were right on the edge, stopping to think and consider turning back multiple times. Once over, we were faced with a snow field that took us to another island of rock, and then no way down without down climbing a chute about 20'. It was fairly straight forward, but required lowering our packs with cord as we needed to press our backs against the wall with our legs to get down. Finishing this we were starting to get tired, both physically and with the emotional toll of pushing the edge of safety. I will say though, this is a really cool route. I would love to go back with proper tools or with less snow. We continued to the Dike Lakes Basin, which is a super gorgeous area. It was covered in snow, but we found an amazing campsite on a ledge above the northernmost lake. It was a long, exhausting day. The smoke was starting to come up from the valley floor below, and was thick enough that it would clearly be dangerous to go down, or back. Down and back had been escape valves I was counting on, knowing that we might not be able to complete this route given the conditions.

IMG_20170812_125635_737.jpg

IMG_20170816_095706_126.jpg

PANO_20170808_175034.jpg

IMG_20170814_160856_391.jpg



Day 4: Thick smoke starting to come all the way up to our campsite at 3250 meters. We headed over the ridge to the Slide Creek drainage,
PANO_20170809_102653.jpg

across the creek. Very difficult travel across boulder fields and talus. On and off of snow. Exhausting. Smokey enough that we were starting to get worried. Looking at the map now, we should have tried for Ritter Pass. I made a navigational error and we headed up the first instead of the second fork of slide creek, which meant an extra hour of travel on snow and climbing to a pass, only to realize we were in the wrong place. I think we were exhausted, don't underestimate the cognitive component of this. We got back on the path I had marked, and got into the basin where I thought we could drop onto the glacier S of the Ritter Lakes. This wasn't possible. The pass I had identified on the map would have involve class 4 climbing. We climbed up to a notch on the right and were clipped out. We climbed a notch to the left, and it looked like it might have been possible to traverse a ledge East until we could get on the glacier and glissade down. But it was too late in the day, the entire Ritter Lakes Basin was covered in snow and we weren't set up for snow camping. We were too tired to make North Glacier Pass. I was pretty freaked out, feeling responsible for getting us into this mess as trip leader, and unsure about a plan to get out. Looking at the map, it didn't look like there was a way down (too steep) and going back meant going towards the forest fire. Either way meant going down to the San Joaquin valley, which was full of thick smoke. We decided best course of action was to head down until we found a flat patch to camp at, and to get some rest and regroup in the morning and make a plan. At this point, while descending over a steep section of talus, the ground moved beneath me and large rocks came loose. I had to kick my legs out to keep a large rock from rolling onto my ankles, and as I fell backwards a boulder the size of toilet fell onto me from behind, pinning my backpack and smashing my wrist. I was able to pull my hand out, and get myself out of my bag. I was in a lot of pain. My bag was destroyed, and I needed help lifting the rock off it to extricate it. We found a place to camp, splinted my wrist with a trowel. I was exhausted, scared, guilty, in considerable pain and unsure how to get out. We were talking about calling for a heli rescue on my Delorme. We used the three hands we had to sew up my bag with dental floss, and again my hiking partner had to set up both of our shelters and cook dinner. Going down didn't look like an option on the map, and the smoke was still thick. Going back wasn't an option because of the difficulty of the route - I would need both hands for sure.


Day 5: The winds shifted, and the smoke was gone from the valley My hiking partner did some scouting in the morning, and decided our best plan was to follow the drainage down and hope we didn't get cliffed out. We were able to get to the San Joakin not too long after noon. It was warm, and the river was beautiful. No smoke. I shed some tears of gratitude, and we made the most of the day fishing and hanging in a meadow. We needed the rest.

Day 6: Winds were still blowing SW, so no smoke. We decided to go back, not sure we had enough time and food to try and go North to Clinch Pass-Garnett Pass - JMT back to Devils Postpile. Plus we weren't sure what snow conditions would look like at Clinch Pass. We headed south down the trail along the San Joaquin. On the way out we ran into a trail crew who was impressed with our ambition, and got on the radio to see if we would be able to get out with the fire. We determined we would have to go x-country again up Iron Creek Drainage, as the trail route (through corral meadow and over granite staircase) was closed due to smoke and proximity to the fire. We wend across Hemlock Crossing, x-country up Iron Creek, and back over Iron Creek Pass. We had to push hard and barely caught the last shuttle out of Devil's Postpile. We were planning on getting a hotel in Mammoth but everything was booked due to some music festival, and we ended up driving all the way back to SF that night and arriving after 2am.
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Re: TR and NEAR DISASTER. Beck Lakes TH Xcountry. Help Wante

Postby maverick » Mon Feb 12, 2018 2:47 pm

I'm happy to read that you made it out okay!

- ***How does one get from Dike Lakes to Upper Twin Lakes Basin?


August during a high snow year, is like late June early July during normal/below normal years, you are correct, you should have taken ice axes and crampons, and of course know how to use them, on this trip.
Your route on the map is pretty much correct, except that Cinch Pass is the pass located south of peak 11880, not north of it as indicated on your map.

- Can you self arrest with an ice axe in slushy, afternoon snow in August?


Ascending or descending a snowfield without ice gear should be done during mid day, after the snow has softened somewhat, if the slope angles are not dangerous, there is a safe run-out, and we are not talking about crossing a glacier with a layer of snow on it with solid ice beneath it.
Learning proper self arrest techniques should be in ones repertoire before heading out on such a trip, and not learned in the field, while on a trip. Trying to use an ice axe and/or crampons, or attempting to cross steep snowfields without any previous training could end up in injury or death.

- How much help are micro spikes in these conditions?


Spikes are good on trails that have snow on them and may be slightly icy/hard, or if your crossing a low angle snowfield, anything more should only be attempted by someone who understands snow travel/techniques and its dangerous.

Based on your lack of experience with snow travel, your accident, and just the way you felt after the second day, it may have been a better idea to just stay put and explore that region of the Minarets, instead of pushing forward, feeling the need to complete the predetermined route. A lot of folks feel they have to finish a route, not matter what, same as summiting at all cost, there is always another time, when conditions will allow for a safer trip. :nod:

Good decision on heading down to the San Joaquin, instead of attempting to go up towards Cinch, where snow would have been a major obstacle! :thumbsup:

Please be ginger with your lectures, trust me this experience has changed my outlook.


Hope I was gingerly enough. :)
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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: TR and NEAR DISASTER. Beck Lakes TH Xcountry. Help Wante

Postby AlmostThere » Mon Feb 12, 2018 3:54 pm

It's often difficult when you're there to tell when you're at the edge or pushing beyond your experience level. Being someone who tends to hike with green backpackers, I often turn around when someone starts to express rising levels of anxiety. There is a fine line between adventure and the brink of disaster. I'd rather bring them back some other day than risk a helicopter ride. When someone is already anxious, it brings them ever closer to that one wrong step... pushes them to be in too much of a hurry, or to do something they aren't comfortable with, just to not "be a wuss" or hold the group back. That exhaustion would have been my cue to layover, reassess and make a decision the next day. Surviving decisions you make while exhausted is great -- learning how you feel at that point and not letting yourself get there again is even better. The next trip you have that to use as a gauge and make good decisions rather than increase risk to life and limb. I think most of us who keep doing off trail get there and I'd like to think most of us learn from it...

Great pictures. I'm sure you'll be back.
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Re: TR and NEAR DISASTER. Beck Lakes TH Xcountry. Help Wante

Postby kpeter » Mon Feb 12, 2018 6:55 pm

Thank you so much for your honest and sober self-assessment.

One thing I was not clear about were the extent of your injuries. How badly did you cut your foot? You splinted your wrist, was it sprained, broken? That last day out sounds like a long, long hike with some serious cross country in it, and doing it with a cut foot and a throbbing wrist must have been excruciating. And how fortunate you had a companion to help. I hike solo quite a lot, and so your tale just reinforces my need to be quite conservative about risks. How much worse would it have been if you were alone. In fact, at the moment you took this trip, I was hiking solo on a Mineral King trip.

You should give yourselves credit for turning back, deciding to regroup, and extricating yourselves--particular after the wrist injury on day 4. Day 5 sounds like a vital day for emotionally recharging and coming to grips with your situation.

While you no doubt regret several decisions that you made, the point is that you also made quite a few proper decisions that enabled you to recover from adversity and extricate yourselves without help. And now you have shared this experience, and one of your readers may learn from it and avoid similar adversity. Thank you.
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Re: TR and NEAR DISASTER. Beck Lakes TH Xcountry. Help Wante

Postby Lumbergh21 » Mon Feb 12, 2018 9:44 pm

If you survived and you learned something from your trip, I'd say it was a success. It's good to hear there is another use for a trowel, as I've used a tent stake to dig cat holes for years. Maybe I'll re-think that as I can't think of anything else that I carry already that would work as a splint if I hurt or broke my hand.

Like kpeter above I also hike entirely solo. I was on a 2-week hike starting in mid-August that had included some cross country, but while on it, I realized that it was too ambitious and involved some snow travel that I wasn't comfortable with without an ice axe for self arrest and at least micro-spikes (if not crampons) for traction given that I was by myself. Maybe I'm a bit too cautious in my old age, but I figure I can't afford anything that really pushes my boundaries, since I can't count on help/rescue (by myself and no PLB).

Maybe I'll see you out there one of these years; keep on hiking.
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Re: TR and NEAR DISASTER. Beck Lakes TH Xcountry. Help Wante

Postby mrphil » Tue Feb 13, 2018 7:23 am

Day 1: Beck Lakes to Fern Lake. Late start. Rangers warned us we should have traction and ice axes. We disregarded this warning.

Honestly, in terms of the trip itself, regardless of previous experience or ability, this is the point where the problems began, and your serious reassessment should have happened. You had a great adventure and saw some amazing scenery, but you also saw what can come of the odds not working in your favor and problems compounding one on top of the other. You had just enough good in your mind (and fatigue clouding your judgment) to overshadow a whole lot of bad that was actually real and taking place....and yet, you kept going. It's not so much that you realize the need for that ice axe or crampons next time, it's that your takeaway lesson should be that you'll know when to call it quits. Luck isn't a reliable substitute for skill, and maybe the top skill you can possess is to be able to say "Nah, that's it. We're done." Lousy gamblers and Dead mountaineers are the ones that, in spite of all things working against them, keep going until they've lost everything. The mountain will always be bigger, badder, and painfully ambivalent about your fate.
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Re: TR and NEAR DISASTER. Beck Lakes TH Xcountry. Help Wante

Postby maverick » Tue Feb 13, 2018 7:25 am

since I can't count on help/rescue (by myself and no PLB).


Hope you will at least consider implementing our reconn form into your trip planning Lumbergh21, something is better nothing. :nod:
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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: TR and NEAR DISASTER. Beck Lakes TH Xcountry. Help Wante

Postby cgundersen » Tue Feb 13, 2018 8:39 am

asolthane,
That was an incredibly cool plan for a loop, but I got nervous just reading your report. I've never seriously factored into trip plans the possibility of an "escape route" being cut off by fire, but this adds one more variable to the stew. Thanks for a sobering TR!
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Re: TR and NEAR DISASTER. Beck Lakes TH Xcountry. Help Wante

Postby Tom_H » Tue Feb 13, 2018 5:36 pm

Nice TR. Happy you were OK and this seems to have turned out to be a valuable learning experience. Ditto to what Mav said above about high-snow years/August and snow gear.
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Re: TR and NEAR DISASTER. Beck Lakes TH Xcountry. Help Wante

Postby Gazelle » Tue Feb 13, 2018 6:54 pm

I think I had an ice axe and crampons with me for EVERY trip even day hikes last year would rather carry and not need than need and not have! only time I consider micro spikes is if I am going to be on trail the whole time which is almost never actually I have never used them now that I think about it! Great report always good to learn from other peoples mistakes!
The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before. Albert Einstein
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