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Advice for 4 day trip in South Sierras in 3rd week of Sept

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Re: Advice for 4 day trip in South Sierras in 3rd week of Sept

Postby chulavista » Tue Jul 29, 2014 1:04 pm

For planning a late September trip, the key is flexibility. Assuming you are set on Rae Lakes, if it was me, I'd plan on Rae Lakes loop out of Roads End. The loop is a good beginning backpacking loop, and you are less likely to run into altitude related problems starting low. Plus you are almost guaranteed to run into bears near Roads End. I think most people enjoy running into bears in California. :)

If there is any hint of weather in the forecast, head to Sequoia or Yosemite and stick to day hikes or short backpacks.

You might also want to consider hiking into the Pear Lake/Alta Peak/Bearpaw Meadow areas, set up a base camp, and go exploring for a couple days. It is relatively easier to bail out from these locations, and you can get some "lower-risk" cross-country experience without the burden of a full pack that way. A lot of people don't have the opportunity to go on a trip with a more experienced backpacker/climber, but the way to overcome this disadvantage is to do a lot of research and come up with a good plan.



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Re: Advice for 4 day trip in South Sierras in 3rd week of Sept

Postby maverick » Tue Jul 29, 2014 1:31 pm

Hi Chulavista,

Welcome to HST! Thank you for chiming in with your advice, and hope to read about
some of your adventures in the future. :nod:
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: Advice for 4 day trip in South Sierras in 3rd week of Sept

Postby acvdmlac » Wed Jul 30, 2014 1:06 pm

abcdethan wrote:From my two trips to the Sierras, I experienced temperature drops into the 30's but not low into the teens. In terms of sleeping bags and clothes, I think our group will be well equipped but I didn't think about freezing temps affecting fuel and water filters. What is the likehood of snowfall in Sept?


Only weather forecasters can speak to likelihood in terms of %s for any given day/week/month and of course even they get it wrong. But it is certainly possible to get snow in the Sierra at any time of year, even July and August, at high enough altitude. So it's safest to be well-prepared. I take most of my back-pack trips in the first half of September and assume night-time temps will be around freezing once I get above 9,000', and have experienced drops into the mid-twenties (which can crack water filters and containers). I have also seen mild brief snow showers--not enough to significantly obscure trail, but that too is a possibility. A storm that dumps significant snow and lasts more than 1-2 days would be rare in September but my step-dad has a story about getting chased out of Dusy Basin by such a snow storm in mid-September (that was in the 1950s, probably less likely in the era of global warming). I'm sure some other old-timers and experienced packers in this forum have experienced such as well.

If I were going above 8-9'000 feet in late September I would definitely prepare for possible night-time dips into to the teens and well as snow (or rain). If that sounds spooky another option is to stay at lower altitude or plan a trip where one is never more than an easy day from trailhead and one knows the safe exit routes.

Either way, checking the weather forecast up to the last possible minute is a good idea.

Also, knowing how to recognize on on-coming cold front and respond accordingly is an essential back-country skill and there is a section of this forum devoted to that topic. None of which should discourage one from going in September--I go at that time every year because the crowds and mosquitoes are less and the weather is often the best--crisp, cool and clear. Global climate change does introduce variables however and the last few years seem to me to have a dry winter-wet summer pattern that perhaps others have noted or will comment on as well.
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Re: Advice for 4 day trip in South Sierras in 3rd week of Sept

Postby seanr » Wed Jul 30, 2014 2:22 pm

^^^I suspect you have been following El Nino pattern predictions as well?
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Flexibility with entry point, mileage, campsites, and exit points continues to come up for a variety of important reasons. Permits can complicate matters, but can be worked with. Also, as could be accomplished with the form linked by Maverick and aided by satellite communication devices, noting possible deviations from core itinerary is important.

Regarding weather and flexibility, comfortable temperature and lowest forecast chance of significant storm activity often determines which area of California I decide to drive to for camping and hiking (regardless of time of year). Once at a given area, weather impacts decisions regarding routes.

I will share an experience that is somewhat typical during summers from the recent trip I mentioned upthread. My family and drove over Tioga Pass knowing significant thunderstorms were likely. We slept at Saddlebag with wet dirt road evident from apparent storms earlier that evening. We awoke late after a late drive in, surprised storms weren't already brewing by late morning as they had there a year prior. We luckily were able to squeeze in a short family hike to Greenstone Lake and back (rain gear packed along) with barely a hint of what was coming. I saw signs that we didn't have long by mid-afternoon and warned that we needed to get back to the truck, further warning that driving down from Tioga Pass to Lee Vining during storms is a dangerous place to be due to rockfall. We made it part way down to Lee Vining as the skies began to unleash a major downpour. Road crews were clearing rocks from the road and we fortunately made it through unscathed. Heavy rain ensued off and on all the way to Bishop, with reports and signs of heavy rain in the mountains upslope from there on both sides of the Owens Valley. I knew forecasts indicated similar weather for several days, but friendlier conditions for a few days to the south. I hiked Langley the next day under clear skies. We moved up to Onion Valley and my daughter and I did a mostly sunny hike up to Golden Trout Lake and over the ridge east of Gould to Kearsarge Pass.

My planned long hike over University Pass and up University was next, but almost a no go. Rain and thunder with nearby lightning kept me in bed after sunrise. A break around 7 a.m. encouraged me to get up and scope things out. It seemed like there might be more thunderstorms, but I got summit fever and headed out anyway. Luckily while still down in the forest below Robinson Lake, the remainder of the lightning, rain, and hail unleashed. I hunkered down in a low spot among a clump of small trees surrounded by large trees, chasing some deer out of their hideout. I looked around after conditions cleared some and guessed that was the end of lightning I would see for the day. I checked weather radar and confirmed significant storm activity was far away. I opted to risk continuing up. I did not face more lightning and barely heard a hint of distant thunder the rest of the day, but I did get rained on a bit more and snowed on at University Pass. I wished I had my waterproof gloves in place of my now soaked ones, but all other gear was sufficient. Without waterproof jacket and pants, and a change of wool socks I would have needed to cut my trip short and things could have gotten miserable. I completed my hike to U. peak, down to a lake in Center Basin, and back to OV via the JMT and Kearsarge Pass mostly under sun and light clouds.

The next day was clear. A couple of days after my first long hike, another long hike was great under clear skies. The campground host seemed to suggest that lightning strikes near O.V. we're somewhat rare or maybe he meant the morning thunderstorms. I didn't think to clarify.

Anyway, my decision to press on was highly questionable and would have been downright foolish if not properly equipped. Waiting a day, using an option to exit early, or driving to another area would have been safer. I wouldn't have wanted to drag any partners along with me, especially a family member or close friend.
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Re: Advice for 4 day trip in South Sierras in 3rd week of Sept

Postby acvdmlac » Wed Jul 30, 2014 9:50 pm

Abcdethan,

On reading this thread and your ideas more carefully, I have a couple of other suggestions and comments:

--Planning to head over Kearsarge Pass (or for that matter, Bishop or any other passes in the 11,000-12,000' + range) may be safe if you already know your response to altitude, but if you or your fellow hikers are relatively new to alpine hiking, it risks acute mountain sickness which could force a turnaround to avoid nasty and potentially quite serious consequences.

Response to altitude is determined by genetics (not fitness--consult any mountain medicine guide for this). Thus just because members of a party feel fit (or someone suggests it on-line) doesn't mean everyone in your party will be able to safely make it over Kearsarge or Bishop's 12,000' altitude the day they arrive, or the day after.

The genetic norm is that it takes a week to fully adapt to each 1,000' of altitude above 8,000 for those coming from sea level. It's one thing to plan to day-hike to the top of Kearsarge and back (I've done it, felt sick at the top, then spent the night at Lower Grays Meadow at 6,000' and felt fine the next day). But the risk of planning to back-packing over a 12,000' pass on Day 1 is that the sickness gets severe enough to be recognized as you are coming down the other side, and then you are stuck without being able to get either low enough (below 8,000'), or get back out to medical care without going over the pass again--or calling for help (if you have the gear to do so).

Sure some experienced packers and lucky novices head over the 11,000-12,000' east side passes on Day 1 all the time, but again, AMS vulnerability is genetically-determined. I have seen people puffing up Kearsarge with obvious signs of altitude-induced pulmonary edema and heard from rangers about air-lifting hikers out of LeConte Canyon which is only 8,000' and takes at least 2 days to get to from trailhead over 12,000' Bishop or Muir passes. An experienced mountaineer friend of my dad's nearly died in his sleep on night 1 in a climbing hut at 11,000' and needed to med-evac-ed out.

So with an un-tested (even if fit) party, it would be safest to plan to spend at least 1 night on trail up Kearsarge (Matlock Lake is gorgeous) or Bishop (many lakes and campsites to choose from). It's also important to know the signs and symptoms of acute mountain sickness (doubtless detailed elsewhere in this forum or can be easily found on-line) and understand that the only treatment is to decrease altitude rapidly to < 8,000'. Taking even that extra night and day makes a big difference in risk reduction (but even then, AMS can still develop later). With a little more experience, you and other members of your party will get to know your personal norms and can then plan accordingly.

That said, all of the suggestions above for destinations west of Kearsarge and Bishop Passes are fantastic and very worthwhile if you have the time to get there without risking AMS. And Dusy and Humphries Basins are great, beautiful wide-open spaces for testing out map/compass navigation and other XC skills with negligible risk of getting lost. But for an un-tested if fit party--particularly in late September where weather can be a factor--I'd aim lower, like the Garnet/Thousand Island/Ediza Lakes region of the Ritter Range hike I suggested, or the Green and East/West Lakes region between Tioga and Sonora passes--or approaching from the gentler west slope where acclimatizing to altitude is much less of an issue.

That said--have a great time!
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Re: Advice for 4 day trip in South Sierras in 3rd week of Sept

Postby abcdethan » Fri Aug 01, 2014 10:47 pm

After considering the suggestions on this thread, I would like to still keep Rae Lakes via Kearsage Pass and the sixty Lakes Basin as a viable option or a the hike to Dusy Basin and doing short cross country exploring. They are all great options. My greatest concern is cold weather, and looking at those trails, the elevation is pretty high. I would like to be able to coordinate the trip so we are camping below 10000 ft most nights. I was looking at elevation graphs and the Loop to Thousand Island Lakes and Minaret Lakes looks like the best option, as Acvdmlac has already pointed out.

Our group so far is only three people with only one of them having no backpacking experience. My other friend has backpacked the Sierras many times. As a rule, we always stay at a nearby campground to acclimate to the elevation on the first night, since we spend the first day driving to the Sierras from the Los Angeles area.

I'm case it does get really cold, how can you prevent the water filter from cracking? I have my dads old msr sweetwater pump filter.
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Re: Advice for 4 day trip in South Sierras in 3rd week of Sept

Postby acvdmlac » Wed Aug 27, 2014 8:56 pm

abcdethan wrote:
I'm case it does get really cold, how can you prevent the water filter from cracking? I have my dads old msr sweetwater pump filter.


I put my filter at the bottom of my sleeping bag at night (making sure it is empty and dry first). If you are using isobutane as stove fuel, also wise to put the canisters at the bottom of your sleeping bag to make it faster/easier/possible to light quickly upon arising.

Have fun!
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