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October Backpacking

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October Backpacking

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Sep 29, 2014 3:40 pm

Well, September is about gone. We are losing a minute or two of daylight every day as we go into October. Different planning criteria need to be used as we march towards winter. Here are a few of mine. I would like to hear what others do to adjust to this time of year.

1) Shorter trips 3-5 days and shorter travel each day. Weather can dramatically change and the 3-day forecast is pretty good. I hesitate to commit to weather a week down the road. This is not the time to hike until dark. It gets mighty cold mighty fast once the sun goes down. Setting up a tent and cooking in the dark is not fun when it is that cold.

2) Half day bail out from off-trail back to a big trail that can easily be followed even if covered with snow. No more than a 1-day total bail out. I do not get way back in there. This is the time of year to go to those easy-to-get-to but too crowded in summer spots.

3) Do not park on the top of a high pass. I made this mistake once and parked on Sonora Pass - the first road they close when even a little snow falls. Luckily by the time I got back to my car, they had re-opened the road.

4) Choose campsites for maximum sunlight. This means staying out of deep canyons, even though the elevation may be lower. Yosemite Valley is a good example. I even backpack there in the winter; the Yosemite Falls trail is usually open year round. It gets frigid in the valley (no sun and sinking cold air), yet the rim can be very pleasant.

5) Sometimes you do not get both early and late sunlight. If you are an early morning person, then choose morning sun - easier to get on the east side. If you rather linger in afternoon sunlight and sleep in to maybe 9-10AM, then west side locations may be better.

6) Assume it will snow and be prepared. Assume you will have well below freezing temperatures at night. October is not the time to skimp and go UL. Water in your bottle will freeze. If you fill a platypus and set it outside, you may have a block of ice by morning. Water filters can have lines freeze if you leave them out. Little things - like olive oil becomes solid!

7) Avoid rock slabs and boulder hopping - things do get icy. Always look for ice. Trails in the shade can get icy.

8) Bring something to entertain yourself during those long nights. This is the time of year I prefer not to go solo - it is nice to have someone to talk with. Plus solo gets more risky as the season gets later.

9) Consider wind chill. When day temperatures only get up to 45 degrees or less, it is not the time to also add a 30-50 mph wind. Camp and hike where there is some wind protection.

10) Be prepared when you return to your car. Have chains. Nothing like getting stuck on the wrong side of the mountains when you are trying to get home. Even if you live at sea level, have standard winter/snow gear and extras in your car. Do not forget the windshield scraper. Park at the trailhead with at least half a tank of gas. Have some extra food. Winter boots.

11) Go to the "Low Sierra". There is a lot of great terrain lower than 9000 feet. Also good time of year to hit those other ranges - Trinity Alps, Coast Range, etc.

12) Pre-think what you would do if a storm comes in. Do you wait it out? Do you immediately bail? Each situation is different but going over options in your mind before you get out there helps.



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Re: October Backpacking

Postby schmalz » Mon Sep 29, 2014 3:51 pm

I'm heading out this upcoming weekend. It'll be my first time backpacking in October.

Here is my general plan:

- Choose a trail that has good fall color opportunities.
- Check the weather forecast. Don't go if there is a storm in the forecast.
- Bring extra warm clothing.
- Keep the trip short.
- Bring a book.
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Re: October Backpacking

Postby LMBSGV » Mon Sep 29, 2014 5:30 pm

I’ve always liked going for a couple of nights in Yosemite in October before they don’t allow parking along Tioga Road (hoping to go next week, weather permitting). However, I do follow all of WD’s suggestions except I love going places above 9,000 feet (though when the water bottle freezes inside the tent, it can be annoying). I like star-gazing so even when I’m alone, I enjoy it. The chains are stored in the car so I don’t have to remember them. I also always go for at least one October trip locally at Point Reyes. You can get some of the best days of the year there in mid and late October and sometimes on weekdays have the campground to yourself.
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Re: October Backpacking

Postby maverick » Mon Sep 29, 2014 6:34 pm

LMBSGV wrote:
(though when the water bottle freezes inside the tent, it can be annoying).


Put it in your sleeping bag at night, just make sure to make sure the cap is on tight. :)
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Re: October Backpacking

Postby rlown » Mon Sep 29, 2014 7:25 pm

I do exactly that, but it doesn't have to be October. It just has to be anytime its an extended period of below freezing overnight. I also bring in my filter and my camera (esp the batteries). My WM Badger has enough room for me and "stuff."

Probably not the olive oil, though..
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Re: October Backpacking

Postby bluefintu » Mon Sep 29, 2014 7:56 pm

Wandering Daisy,

Thank you for sharing your experience for all of us ! I was going to take some of my Scouts to White Mountain (Bishop) this weekend, but, I cancelled it. (Snow) The points of the hiking you posted, I will pass it on to my Boy Scouts and the Cub Scouts, if you don't mind. :)

Thank you,

Don
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Re: October Backpacking

Postby SSSdave » Mon Sep 29, 2014 7:58 pm

If one just thinks they need to bring along a book to amuse themselves in their tent during the long long dark hours...think again. After an hour holding a book and or poking arms and hands out to turn pages in 20F degree temps, your hands are going to get unpleasantly cold. Think you can turn pages with gloves on...Haha! Thus a need to hold a book open minimally.

Far better an E-reader though they all use buttons on the case for turning pages. And yes you need to have a holder for it to sit upright on your chest instead of holding it.

Actually although I've done a modest amount of snow camping over the years, have lots of gear, and am an old enthusiastic resort powder storm skier, in my oldening years if solo prefer to camp inside my vehicle and dayhike. Last year dawn October 9 with over a half foot atop Conway Summit and Dunderberg Peak in the background:

Image

Feature story from leaf work last fall:

http://www.davidsenesac.com/MonoFall_20 ... _2013.html

If one is actually expecting snow in the backcountry, there is a whole lot more to winter camping especially regarding clothing. And there are lots of little things only experience teaches.

Actually a worse condition than cold snow is wet snow when temp is about at freezing. When you bring snowy clothes inside a tent any snow is likely to melt. Any thing your clothes then touch will then get wet. Unless one has a waterproof bivy or water resistant shell on one's sleeping bag, any water on a tent floor has a way of finding its way into a down bag. Keeping the inside of a tent dry is a prime directive during snow storms. With blowing snow, spindrift can be insidious. Best to have several large plastic bags to put wet clothes into. And what about those boots all wet now on the outside? Not to mention those humid socks with that fragrance to avoid. By morning at 6am they are going to be frozen stiff. A lot of fun trying to put your warm foot into that will not be for long. Better to put them in a robust 3 mil thickness plastic bag that one puts inside their sleeping bag about 3am to thaw out. Same things with gloves and head gear. Put it inside your sleeping bag later in the night AFTER your bag is cozy warm inside and NOT when you first get inside. And you DO NOT want to go outside a tent at night if at all possible if it is snowing. That means yes bring a sizeable pee bottle and know how to use it without an accident, haha.

I could go on and on like this for a few pages worth of advice. In fact there are whole how to books out there about snow camping and much is about the little stuff novices would never think of. What I'm really saying here is anyone without experience just thinking they can wake up some morning a ways out in the backcountry after a half to foot of snow has fallen and walk out are naively foolish.
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Re: October Backpacking

Postby rlown » Mon Sep 29, 2014 8:22 pm

What I'm really saying here is anyone without experience just thinking they can wake up some morning a ways out in the backcountry after a half to foot of snow has fallen and walk out are foolish.


that is what skis are for and expecting the snow. Some of my best times near Ellery and Saddlebag lks In November. I do get your drift, so to speak. Be prepared, know the conditions, and expectations put upon you by the elements. I learned a heck of a lot in 3 winter trips. Nothing was insurmountable. Uncomfortable at times, maybe. Your shelter will be #1 priority.

If you're a fair weather hiker, check the weather and the temps. If you don't like snow or cold, and it looks like that.. Well, don't go.
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Re: October Backpacking

Postby dave54 » Mon Sep 29, 2014 8:41 pm

Some of us prefer this time of year. Bugs are gone, crowds are gone, fall color, wildlife tend to be active, cold nights yield to sunny but not warm days, crystal clear nights, et al

There are some potentialities one must allow for, but no more so than any other season. Each season has its own unique set of challenges.

The one pitfall many people fall into is the weather forecast may call for a temperature in the 70s, and so do not bring as much warm clothing thinking they will simply bag up at night. It will be in the 70s only for an hour or two in the afternoon -- the rest of the day can be quite chilly even though sunny.

This is also the time of year to use your micro-meteorology skills. Canyon bottoms and meadows, even at low elevations, can be very cold at night as the cold air from the upper slopes sinks downslope and accumulates at the bottom. The middle third of a slope is often 10 degrees warmer than the canyon bottom. Sometimes making camp on a small bench just a short hike uphill will lead to a more comfortable night.

I have postholed several miles through an early season unforecasted snow. it is not fun. So as you hike keep looking up at the sky and treetops for the tell-tale early signs of a weather change, and alter plans accordingly.

Most of us carry extra food for unexpected delays in regular hiking. Carry more. Hiking in inclement conditions burns many more calories than the same hike in pleasant summer weather.
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Re: October Backpacking

Postby bluefintu » Mon Sep 29, 2014 10:14 pm

Thank you everyone for your input. I like the cold weather, but, not so much when the snow covers the trail that I'm not familiar with and I won't take my Scouts.

SSSdave,that is an awesome picture.

I'm hoping for snow and more snow, so I can take an avalanche class through SMI this winter. Pray for snow everyone. I started my "Wood Badge" course through Boy Scouts and that would count as one of my five "Tickets" or, something I need to improve the BSA. Since I took most leadership courses, I can't use them and I need to find other things to do.

Anyway, please post your experience for fall and winter trips. I always like the stories of what not to do, or what went wrong, because my young Scouts will do it. My main priority is to have a safe trip for the Scouts.

Thank You,

Don
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Re: October Backpacking

Postby Wandering Daisy » Tue Sep 30, 2014 7:39 am

I would think one of the more difficult things with fall backpacking and scouts is that teens are not apt to enjoy hanging out in their sleeping bags inside the tent for 12 hours! I would definitely go where campfires are allowed and use this as an opportunity to teach proper campfire building and how to put them out. Also may be a good time in the evening to teach how to bake on a campfire- easy stuff like cinnamon rolls.

All out winter backpacking and fall backpacking are different. Winter backpacking is serious business and should be practiced in increments - first car camping to get the skills learned where you have an easy bail out if needed. Winter backpacking requires very specialized gear- special boots, etc.

By Fall backpacking I mean the typical shoulder season conditions - less daylight, colder nights, windy version of summer backpacking. The big difference is that IF a storm comes in it could either be a short event followed by nice Indian Summer conditions, or the actual start of winter (think Donner Party epic). In general the later in the fall, the more likely it becomes that a storm will be the start of winter. My strategy for Fall is not to take winter gear, but rather to add some layers, and plan the trip for quick bail-out if needed.

Great advise above for learning how to read the clouds and weather. Some research in historical dates of storms and start of winter in the Sierra is also useful to know.

SSSdave - what a great photo! I really enjoyed reading about your last year's fall adventure. My husband and I are planning on the "great eastern Sierra drive" after Oct 15, camping in our new trailer and day hiking. He is a CPA so cannot get away until after the 15th and I fear this year we may be too late for the peak of fall colors.
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Re: October Backpacking

Postby Ska-T » Tue Sep 30, 2014 11:38 am

SSSdave wrote:If one just thinks they need to bring along a book to amuse themselves in their tent during the long long dark hours...think again. After an hour holding a book and or poking arms and hands out to turn pages in 20F degree temps, your hands are going to get unpleasantly cold.

I like to bring my iPod nano loaded with an audio book. No pages to turn, no flashlight, no buttons to push except the on/off switch.

(Sort of off topic: I am planning to head out from South Lake on Thur or Fri. If anyone has any information about snow coverage from the last storm on passes like Thunderbolt & Knapsack related to the hazards of boulder hopping there please post your knowledge in the Conditions Section. Information about areas further south would be appreciated, too. Thanks.)
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