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TR Modified Roper's Route Aug. 4-10, 2014

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TR Modified Roper's Route Aug. 4-10, 2014

Postby Shhsgirl » Tue Aug 12, 2014 5:15 pm

This is my first trip report, so thank you in advance for your patience. I wanted very much to do the second chapter of Roper's Route this year, but my husband had a knee replacement two months ago. Our Marine veteran son volunteered. We delayed the trip for a couple of days, due to heavy rains, but finally had to set off the evening of Aug. 4, due to time constraints. It rained from the get-go, and we made a short hop up to Loch Leven on the Paiute Pass trail. The wind and wet picked up and Mike figured out how to set up a "civilian" tarp in very short order. It cleared at night and we had a good wind to keep insides of tarps dry.
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Beginning of Paiute Pass Trail

For Aug. 5 the original plan had been to camp at Mesa Lake, but thunderstorms threatened, so we chose a less-exposed location at Tomahawk Lake. Rain started at about 2:00 p.m., and then the thunder and lightning, but nothing too horrible. By 6:00 p.m. it was clear and cool. Many wildflowers and quite wet on the high plateau.
We walked over Puppet Pass, using my husband's tried and true descent. He had made it in 20 minutes without hurrying (that same time it took me an hour, because I did a terrible job of picking a take- off place and ended up on the huge talus in the middle). We did it in 30, with me stopping to take pictures. Intel is a valuable tool.
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Mike pointing at the easy route-finger is a little off, but you get the drift.
We camped at Meriam Lake in the rain, thunder, and slight hail at about 3:00 p.m. Our escape route at this point, if weather became too bad, was Pine Creek Pass.
Stopped for a whole day at Meriam to fish and enjoy the rain, and met 66 year- old Pam, who arrived down from Feather Pass by herself, carrying about 44 pounds. Had a pleasant visit with her and got some good intel on Feather Pass, i.e. go down the left side. Earlier that morning, we saw a fresh bear track in the rain-wettened sand along the shore of Meriam. Looked to be small-about 200 lbs.(?)
We packed up the next morning for the trip to LaSalle Lake.
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On the way up to LaSalle from Meriam
Took awhile talking to Pam, then arrived at LaSalle Lake as thunderheads were becoming dark. Mike could have made it over Feather Pass before storm broke, but I couldn't, so we stopped. No fish there. We spent our time enjoying the rain and hail and watching a little pika run industriously back and forth from his place under a rock to a patch of grass, carrying pieces of grass with each return trip to the burrow. He did this numerous times, despite our presence, and it appeared, to our anthropomorphic eyes, that he may have had some kind of inside scoop on the upcoming weather.
We took his warning to heart, and packed up at 6:00 the next morning and got over Feather Pass pretty early.
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On Feather Pass, looking toward Glacier Divide
We diddled and dawdled our way down the basin, enjoying the sun and the gorgeous lakes below.
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At Bearpaw Lake, looking back toward Feather Pass

Ursa Lake, our planned stop, was exquisite. When the sun shone, we had to seek shelter in the shade.
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Eating lunch, protected from the sun.

Soon it clouded over, became suddenly cold, and at and about 2:00 p.m. the hail and thunder started. There were some close (I consider one mile to be too close, due to a bad experience in Palisade Basin 35 years ago) lightning strikes, so we left our tarps and "assumed the position" away from our tarps. The hail became alternately the size of small peas, and then as big as peanut M&M's. It gave a boiling appearance to the surface of the lake and was deafening. The thunder, lightning, and hail storm lasted until 6:00 p.m., with rain for an hour after. We had to dig the hail away from the tarp sides. Overall, the thunder and lightning, although close at times, were not that bad, but the hail was horrendous. I was grateful that our tarps were able to take it. I learned later that my husband had limped to the top of Italy Pass at the same time--around 2:00 p.m. The sky was dark, but there was no rain, wind, or even distant thunder. He thought he'd sit for a minute and look at his map. Suddenly, KA-BLAM! a huge lightning strike right in front of his face. He immediately hobbled down the pass, but had to crouch by the time he reached the first bowl. He threw his poles away from him, and ended up losing one under the hail. I have to add here that I am glad he wasn't hurt, but also glad that at 66, maybe this will help him respect the storm a little more, and not sit on top of passes at 2:00 p.m. on a cloudy August day in the Sierra (our running hiking argument is that I want to get up early to get over passes, and he doesn't see the necessity).
Mike and I got up to a frozen landscape early the next morning and decided to get out.
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Looking down on Ursa Lake from first rise. Our tarps were pitched where you see what look like two paw prints on the left shore.
We hightailed it over Dancing Bear Pass, not even stopping to look down White Bear Pass. Even in the sun as late as 10:30 a.m. the nice, large, flat granite surfaces of the talus that I usually like to step on were covered with ice, and to be avoided with care. There was very little non-icy granite to step on in the huge talus fields of Dancing Bear, so we stepped on the hail between the rocks where we could. It was still quite thick, and bore our weight well. In our haste, we turned the first part of Dancing Bear Pass into a class 3 scramble, instead of the nice walk it should have been.
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Someone else had gotten up early, as well.

We traversed over talus and hail and reached Italy Pass before noon.
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On the way down Italy Pass

Now we knew the trick was to find Dad. He was supposed to be camped at Honeymoon Lake, but we were out a day early, so we figured he could be anywhere, given his penchant for cross-country travel, even with a bum knee. When we reached the second lake or so we met a couple resting on their way up to the pass. We described Dad, and asked if they had seen him, and they said they had seen a man a little ways back, but their description didn't sound like Dad. So we chewed the fat with them for a while, then said our farewells and continued down the use trail. Not fifty yards from where we talked to them, around a corner on the use trail, there was Dad, just breaking camp. Mike says, "Seriously?" Yes, it was him, and I took a lesson from this about the reliability of eyewitness descriptions. The couple had hiked within ten feet of him, looked at him, and described him with some degree of accuracy, but it didn't match our idea of what he would look like, so we didn't think it could be the same person. Nor did our description, which was fairly accurate, jive with their impression of what he looked like, yet we were both describing the same person. But, I digress.
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We found him!

We had a leisurely lunch where Dad was camped, and at about 2:00 p.m. left to hike to the Pine Creek Pack station at our own paces. The weather, of course, was beautiful, and only a gentle little rain fell at the very end of the day. We drove home, arriving at about 4:00 a.m., and all were up by 7:00 a.m., unable to sleep because of the altitude "high." The next night, though, we slept like the dead.



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Re: TR Modified Roper's Route Aug. 4-10, 2014

Postby maverick » Tue Aug 12, 2014 5:37 pm

Very cool first TR and pictures Shhsgirl! Sounds like your trip was full of adventure, and
a lot of dodging thunderstorms/lightning. What was the Palisades experience about
if you don't mind sharing? Could be a learning experience for others.
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: TR Modified Roper's Route Aug. 4-10, 2014

Postby rlown » Tue Aug 12, 2014 5:38 pm

a nice report. Weather looked like fun :) (I know it's not that fun but at least you guys stayed mostly dry)

Any pics of your "tarp" set ups?
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Re: TR Modified Roper's Route Aug. 4-10, 2014

Postby giantbrookie » Tue Aug 12, 2014 9:27 pm

Terrific report and quite an adventure. A great read. One heck of a first trip report, I'd say.
Since my fishing (etc.) website is still down, you can be distracted by geology stuff at: http://www.fresnostate.edu/csm/ees/facu ... ayshi.html
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Re: TR Modified Roper's Route Aug. 4-10, 2014

Postby Shhsgirl » Tue Aug 12, 2014 10:05 pm

Sure, I don't mind sharing.
Dear Readers,
Please see how many errors in judgment you can find in the following true story:
My new (same) husband and I hiked into Palisade Basin on September 14, 1981. We entered Palisade Basin via Thunderbolt Pass, and my old photo prints show me in my plastic rain suit, because it was raining at about noon when we crossed the pass. We camped on the shoulder of Thunderbolt Peak, level with the pass, at what I now guess to be around 12,000 feet. We had a little orange double walled North Face mountaineering tent with metal poles.

At about 2:00 p.m. that day, my husband left to climb North Pal. We didn't have a very good view of the western sky because of the high walls of the basin (i.e. we couldn't see incoming). Nor did we have any clue as to a weather forecast. Husband went up the original route via the U-Notch (he remembers the joy he felt in finding and following the original route). According to my old photo, he was wearing jeans, a white cotton turtleneck, a worn-out orange rain parka, his old slick Pivetta boots, and a canvas broad-brimmed hat. He carried no water or flashlight. At about 6:00 p.m. he summited and signed the register. He noted in his climbing journal that the weather was clear and mild at that moment. I remember looking for him up there at about that time, but, of course, couldn't see anything.
At 7:00 p.m., as husband reached the bottom of the class 3 part of the descent, the storm struck. It was sudden. I took shelter in the tent, but soon realized I should get out. The thunder and lightning were simultaneous and right on top of me. There were only three to five seconds between strikes during the first minutes. My husband later described it, from his perspective up on the mountain, as like being inside a kettledrum.
My husband realized he was in trouble, and so crouched, waited for the strike, and then ran down the scree for three or four seconds, and then crouched again for the next strike. It became very dark, like night, and he could only see by the illumination of the lightning strikes.
Meanwhile, I ran about 50 yards downhill, but cliffed out there, so hid underneath a large boulder which stuck up above others in the area. I crouched in a running streamlet caused by the heavy rain and snow.
After about a half an hour of what I can only describe as being like an artillery barrage (from what I've heard from various members of my family who have experienced the same), it tapered off and I returned to the tent. I was wet to the bone and snow made the fifty yards between me and the tent slippery. At that point I was pretty sure my husband was not in good shape, because I just didn't see how he could have made it down without being struck or falling in that chaos.
At about 9:00 p.m., lo and behold, he crawled into the tent. Needless to say, it was a joyous reunion. He had missed the tent in the darkness and had run all the way down to Barrett Lake, and then had to climb back up, using his nose, I guess, to guide him, because he sure didn't have anything else.
Luckily the tent had not been struck, so we were able to get warm. We dried everything out the next morning and had a great rest of trip.
To this day, I have an exaggerated fear of lightning. I will get up at 6:00 a.m. even on a clear day in the Sierra in order to cross a pass before noon. This fear of mine has tried the patience of some hiking partners. This is also why I have never backpacked in the Rockies. I hear the lightning there is worse.
My husband felt the event was exciting and did feel his life was in danger, but does not have the lingering fear that I do, as evidenced by his recent behavior on Italy Pass.
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Re: TR Modified Roper's Route Aug. 4-10, 2014

Postby Shhsgirl » Tue Aug 12, 2014 10:11 pm

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Tarp in the hail
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Tarps in the sun
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Re: TR Modified Roper's Route Aug. 4-10, 2014

Postby SSSdave » Wed Aug 13, 2014 10:38 am

Nice read thanks. Always enjoy reading what others do in storms. Tis good to be afraid of lightning. There are so many out there, especially some peak baggers and thru trail backpackers, that are so clueless that I've seen them climbing up trails I was rapidly dropping down on. A few times have also seen the ground covered like that after several hours of crest storms as they sometimes just sit there until dissipating in evenings.

Was up at Vee Lake one summer in the 90s when a monster thunder lightning hail storm suddenly appeared over the ridge from the south. Had just enough time to set up my tent and gear as it hit. Lightning all over close by with deafening strikes and frequent. As someone knowledgeable of lightning phenomenon am quick to size up the least likely spot to receive bolts but the unknown factor is always scary. Generally average backpackers don't have much of a clue where to tent in such storms beyond getting down off high spots or next to taller trees.

As weather forecast was for more of same in following days, even though I'd spent 3 strenuous days from the Diversion Dam climbing all the way up there, was spooked enough that I decided to immediately drop back down deep in the canyon below 10k into forest and make a plan. After a pleasant day at the stream junctions went back up into the high country via the Italy Branch, spending a couple of pleasant days catching several large golden trout while T-storms were mild. Then dropped back down and climbed up to Orchid for the first time that was also less stormy each day than nearby crest areas I had excellent views to watch at a safe distance.
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Re: TR Modified Roper's Route Aug. 4-10, 2014

Postby maverick » Wed Aug 13, 2014 12:00 pm

Thanks Shhsgirl for taking the time to come back, write this up, and include some
more pictures! :thumbsup:
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: Palisade story

Postby giantbrookie » Wed Aug 13, 2014 4:10 pm

Wow that Palisade story is pretty hairy. It is really interesting how many peak climbing stories I've heard from that area with people getting back to camp really really late (most of them actually involve the much easier Mt. Sill from the Barretts or Dusy). This is the first one I've heard that had the hike-in-the-dark with the lightning terror added on top of it.
Since my fishing (etc.) website is still down, you can be distracted by geology stuff at: http://www.fresnostate.edu/csm/ees/facu ... ayshi.html
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Re: TR Modified Roper's Route Aug. 4-10, 2014

Postby Shhsgirl » Wed Aug 13, 2014 8:36 pm

Yup to all. We made so many ignorant mistakes that first Palisade Basin trip, it's a wonder we survived. I totally agree with giantbrookie's spookiness about lightning, and how he modified his trip. Once you've been in one of those storms (and the Palisade Basin one is the only one of that magnitude I've ever been in), you don't forget it. It gives me the "fight or flight" response to read about others' severe lightning experiences.
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Re: TR Modified Roper's Route Aug. 4-10, 2014

Postby cgundersen » Sat Aug 16, 2014 3:50 pm

shhsgirl,
In 40+ years of backpacking in the Sierra, my first 30 years led to one instance where lightning destroyed a tree close enough to smell the aftermath. Very memorable! However, the last decade has been another story, and even though I avoid camping as high as you did below the Palisades (in fact, I'm impressed you found enough flat ground on Thunderbolt even for a tiny tent; good job!), there have been a couple storms where the lightning flash and thunder coincided. Definitely, not fun! Even though the electrical engineers I've asked assure me that 10 ft from a strike puts you in a safe zone, I really don't want to test that notion. And, although the idea of the lightning stance sounds very sensible to me (giving the current a path to return to ground), I wonder how well it really works? I certainly would not want to be the guinea pig. So, like you, I do my best to avoid going too high when it gets dicey, and I'm increasingly willing to quit at noon or earlier if the weather is threatening. And, threatening seems to have become the theme of recent years. Muir's gentle Sierra is turning into a monsoon-driven electrical generator. I'm guessing the only reason there have not been more incidents of folks getting struck in the Sierra is that ~10 ft radius, because I doubt even half the backpackers know the stance. Anyway, glad you guys survived to tell the harrowing story!
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Re: TR Modified Roper's Route Aug. 4-10, 2014

Postby Shhsgirl » Sun Aug 17, 2014 8:32 am

My husband recalls that we camped high in a drainage that came down from Thunderbolt. That is why we were able to find a small, flat sandy area--where water collects during storms!--to pitch the tent. It is also why he was able to find the tent without a flashlight. Since he had hiked from the tent to the start of his climb, he knew how many drainages were between the start of the climb and the tent. After he ran all the way down to Barrett in the storm, he went west just above the lake and counted the number of drainages he crossed, picked the right one, and headed up.
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