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Trip Advice - Cross Country

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Trip Advice - Cross Country

Postby rrrice » Fri Jun 27, 2014 9:57 am

I've been lurking on the site for a couple of years, but have never posted. Thanks to all of the regulars. I have learned a lot. It's an awesome resource.

For years as I've been on the trail, read guide books and posts on this and other sites, and looked at maps, one thing that I've always wanted to do, but have never gotten up the nerve to try, is extended cross-country travel. Honestly, I'm just scared. I realize the fear is probably misplaced and I just need to suck it up and do it. I know when I finally do it will be an awesome experience.

The following is a trip I'm looking at for later this summer:

Lake Sabrina to North Lake via Haeckel Col, McGee Lakes Pass, Lamarck Col. Originally I was thinking that Haeckel Col might be too much for a first trip, but I was reading a report yesterday by "snowblind" and it didn't sound that difficult. Anyway, after reading my specs, if anyone has any comments or suggestions I'd love to hear them. Thanks.

What level of backpacking experience do you have?
Level 3- Numerous backpacking trips, some x-country travel. I've been backpacking in the Sierras for about 35 years. I've never backpacked cross-country, but have done some day hikes with limited cross-country travel.

What terrain are you comfortable/uncomfortable with?
Comfortable with:
- Class 1 terrain/trail hiking
- Class 2 terrain/pass/x-country
- River crossings
Uncomfortable with:
- Class 3 terrain/pass/x-country
- Snow travel/Glacier crossings
(I say I'm uncomfortable with these things only because of my inexperience and fear of the unknown.)


What is your main interest?
- Seeing as much country as possible in the time available.

How many days/nights is your trip, not including travel to trailhead?
4/5

How many miles did you want to do a day, any layovers?
8-10 miles a day, no layovers. (I've adjusted the mileage downward from what is typical for me on trail which is 12-15 miles a day. I need to know if I should adjust the mileage further downward for cross-country travel which I know can be much closer than trail.)

Do you have a route logistics preference:
Loop or point-to-point.

Is there a particular area in the Sierra that your most interested in(Yosemite, SEKI
western sierra start or eastern start ect.)?
Must be eastern approach and proximate to Mammoth Lakes.

Will you be hiking with a dog?
No.



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Re: Trip Advice - Cross Country

Postby sparky » Fri Jun 27, 2014 10:23 am

There is no way anyone can tell you what you are capable of, or not capable of.

As with anything, start small, and work your way up.

If you are a quick learner, can think on your feet, can read a topo, can find the path of least resistence, and have good balance then you shouldnt have a problem. Things like reading the terrain, and knowing what to expect out of what you cant see comes with experience.

I have friendd that backpack that have no coordination or grace. Think bull in a china shop. I dont take these guys up loose class 2 or class 3 terrain
There is a million ways to be human, all are worthwhile.

True happiness is the absence of striving for happiness.
-Chuang Tzu.
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Re: Trip Advice - Cross Country

Postby rlown » Fri Jun 27, 2014 10:32 am

rrrice wrote:How many miles did you want to do a day, any layovers?
8-10 miles a day, no layovers. (I've adjusted the mileage downward from what is typical for me on trail which is 12-15 miles a day. I need to know if I should adjust the mileage further downward for cross-country travel which I know can be much closer than trail.)


Your off-trail miles per day will or should drop dramatically. Your concentration level has to be higher for that kind of work, and if you hit talus, your max would be 1MPH. It can take a mental toll, so prep for delays.

Hiking is supposed to be fun, so put in a layover day somewhere to kick back and just enjoy being there. Remember you don't have to be at exactly one place in time according to your schedule. That might work on a trail, but no so much off-trail. The layover day also builds in a buffer, and that's a good thing.
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Re: Trip Advice - Cross Country

Postby maverick » Fri Jun 27, 2014 12:00 pm

Hi Rrrice,

Welcome to HST!

rrrice wrote:
For years as I've been on the trail, read guide books and posts on this and other
sites, and looked at maps, one thing that I've always wanted to do, but have never
gotten up the nerve to try, is extended cross-country travel. Honestly, I'm just
scared. I realize the fear is probably misplaced and I just need to suck it up and
do it. I know when I finally do it will be an awesome experience.


Would advise that you start with easier cross-country routes/passes to get a feel
and experience for it, then move on to harder/challenging terrain.

Reading these beautiful TR's can make one romanticize of doing things way beyond
ones ability or experience level.

Your fear or trepidation is not misplaced, and a healthy dose of it will keep you
from getting into a situations where you find yourself way over your head, get
injured, or worse.

Always head into the back-country with the utmost respect for mother nature and
leave your ego behind, and your percentages of walk out will be much higher.
HST= Wilderness Adventurer who knows no bounds, except for their own imagination.

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: Trip Advice - Cross Country

Postby rrrice » Fri Jun 27, 2014 12:25 pm

Thanks all for the feedback. Much appreciated.
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Re: Trip Advice - Cross Country

Postby rrrice » Fri Jun 27, 2014 12:34 pm

Maverick -- Are you able to offer me any examples of what would be considered an easy route suitable for a cross-country novice? I'm quite fit and confident in my map-reading/navigation skills.
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Re: Trip Advice - Cross Country

Postby markskor » Fri Jun 27, 2014 12:58 pm

Not mentioned but tacit to this conversation is, at first anyway, never going alone!
Try going with someone with major x-country experience and just follow along some...learn...ask questions.

Some basic map reading, compass, and trail experience is a large plus (you seem to have lots of this), but even at that, learning to read the mountains sans trail - best routes - where best to go up/down, following the trees/green...realizing that <1 mph is normal... when to turn back...talus...when to avoid dangerous water crossings....much to learn/ get used to.

Also, when off trail with another, stay connected. Two minds will be better than one - route decisions made are more rational with two -(safety in numbers)...easier to stay calm too when things hit the fan.

One last comment - Buy good (the best possible!) equipment - know your gear's limitations and be prepared for all contingencies. Notice that all regular x country members here have "the kind" gear...(coincidence?). Going out Sierra (off trail or not) means snow/rain/whatever can happen any time...expect it.
Getting stuck with the right gear off trail is a mere distraction...Just hunker down and wait things out. Getting stuck with inadequate gear (too light a sleeping bag, cheap tent, crappy stove, shoes that break) can mean death.
Above all...Have fun.
Mark
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Re: Trip Advice - Cross Country

Postby Jimr » Fri Jun 27, 2014 1:05 pm

x-country takes good navigation/map skills. GPS is a good back-up, but not a replacement for map and compass. My suggestion would be to keep your x country limited to day hikes from base camp. Start with half day jaunts and be absolutely sure you can find your camp upon return. This may mean keeping the general area within sight until your skills and confidence build. If you have a GPS, set a waypoint at camp to aid in your return. This can be accomplished by simply exploring upper lakes within the same basin. Keep the mileage low when planning and plan on plenty of daylight left in case you have to hunt for your camp.

Once you become more proficient at navigation, reading terrain, knowing exactly how to get back to camp, then add a class 2 pass to your day hikes and go to the top, but not over (or not too far over). Once your skills and confidence build, then you may be ready to carry your pack up and over into a new area. You will be the only one able to determine when that may be.

Oh, listen to your body and stay in your comfort zone. Don't push it. Too much uneasiness can lead to piss poor decisions. Look back often so you know what the terrain looks like going back.
What?!
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Re: Trip Advice - Cross Country

Postby maverick » Fri Jun 27, 2014 1:19 pm

Rrrice wrote:
Maverick -- Are you able to offer me any examples of what would be considered
an easy route suitable for a cross-country novice? I'm quite fit and confident in my
map-reading/navigation skills.


As Markskor wrote, having an experience friend with you a few times is the
best approach.

If no friend is available, then picking areas in the Sierra that are popular cross-country
locations with easy access are your next best alternative. This will allow you
have a better chance of getting help if your lost or get injured. Going into locations
that are far from major trails and/or gets very little usage, are not a good areas for
introducing yourself to cross-country.

Humphreys Basin is a good location for example. It gets moderate usage by
backpackers and a lot of fishing persons. It is desolate, not a lot of trees, except
some around Tomahawk which makes for a good basecamp. Having Mt. Humphreys
standing tall in the basin allows you to have a prominent landmark to use for
navigational purposes in the southern part of this huge basin.

Pioneer Basin out of the Rock Creek area over Mono Pass, is a good place for an
introduction, and it also get visited by the same groups of folks as the previous
location.

Minarets out of Agnew Meadow also has several easy cross-country location worth
visiting like Davis, Marie in the north or Ashley Lake in the southern end.

Also Desolation and Emigrant Wilderness have good areas for this.
HST= Wilderness Adventurer who knows no bounds, except for their own imagination.

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: Trip Advice - Cross Country

Postby paul » Fri Jun 27, 2014 5:54 pm

If you are new to off-trail travel,then picking a route that allows you to bail to the trail is a really good idea. So here's a suggestion, in the area you had in mind: start by going over Piute Pass on the trail. then off-trail through Humphreys Basin, over the ridge to French canyon, maybe up to Royce lakes and/or Merriam Lake, and back out via the trail over Piute Pass, either trail all the way from French Canyon or X-country back over the ridge to Humphreys and catch the trail near the pass. Both Humphreys basin and the upper part of French canyon have lots of fun country to explore, and excellent landmarks to help you navigate. Royce lakes is just a cool area and again, easy navigation. Merriam Lake as well. And if all goes south it is easy from anywhere you might get to to find your way back to the trail; plus all of that area is relatively well traveled.
Oh, and on your way take a few extra hours to walk up to the top of Four Gables. Easy walk-up and great views.
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Re: Trip Advice - Cross Country

Postby rlown » Fri Jun 27, 2014 6:51 pm

If you're not experienced at off trail, his trip might stop right at Puppet Pass. That has the appearance of air and it's all off trail to Mesa from Lower Deso and beyond. It's fun to look at, but if this is the first time off trail, It's best just to look around and keep your bearings. Humphreys is a great first start (use trails). Those trails somewhat disappear unless you know what your looking for.

You would not be sorry with a trip to Humphreys and just amble around.

Muriel to the Goethe area isn't bad either. Just to see what talus is. Base camp at Muriel on the West side.
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Re: Trip Advice - Cross Country

Postby Tom_H » Fri Jun 27, 2014 8:46 pm

All the advice given so far has been good. Mileage depends on conditions, and that can vary so much that in some places you won't go far at all and others you can go at full pace. Dorothy Lake to Tower Lake, then contouring around to the source of the W. Walker, over the pass into Thompson Canyon until you're due W. of Peeler Lake, over the saddle and to Peeler is a XC delight. Bushwhacking your way through 10' high manzanita thats growing on top of steep talus and boulder fields is downright miserable. Bushwhacking down the Mouluumne Canyon through Poison Oak and over ledges and crannies with rattlesnakes is also not the place you want to start.

It sounds like you have a lot of backpacking experience and I would agree with those who have suggested you go with someone who is experienced. It also helps to be really good with map and compass, and being able to read contour lines well on a topographical map. I have done it old school so much that I've just never gotten into the GPS thing, but if I were learning XC today, I would definitely use that. Having a SPOT or Sat phone is also not a bad idea if you plan to try this solo, but again, I really would do it the first few times with someone who's done it before. There are those like WD who are so experienced at it that much of the danger is mitigated. Nevertheless, there really is a joy in reaching remote locations where you don't encounter other people. As a guide in CO, I almost never saw anyone else even when on trail. In many parts of the Sierra, it can be difficult to have that sense of genuine remote solitude without going off trail.

Good luck. Let us know how it turns out.
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