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TR: Bishop Pass to Taboose Pass Early September

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TR: Bishop Pass to Taboose Pass Early September

Postby BSquared » Wed Oct 08, 2014 12:03 pm

As you can see by the title, this was a pretty standard trip that many HST readers have done many times, so I’ll try to keep the TR short. It was supposed to be much more adventurous: I was supposed to help Marymaryland do some work at a research site she has near Amphitheater Lake, then head out of Amphitheater basin over Upper-Basin Crossing into Upper Basin, and then go out over Taboose. Mary was a student of mine a few years ago, and I was eager to see her site and help out as I could. But altitude and perhaps lack of conditioning caused a major change of plans.

I’d carefully planned my altitude acclimation: one night with Markskor in Mammoth (around 8000’), a second night at a campground in Bishop Canyon (around 9500’), an easy first day in to Saddlerock Lake (about 10,500’), and by then I figured I would be good for Bishop Pass and what lay after.

Monday 9/1. I arrive in California, drive to Mammoth and have a great time with Markskor, who turns out to be one helluva cook (thanks again, Mark!), and I enjoy wandering around Mammoth a bit.

BishopTaboose2014003.jpg
Markskor in his kitchen.

Tuesday 9/2. The highest campground near the Bishop Pass trailhead, called “Willow,” isn’t any great shakes, but it has the requisite flat spot, picnic table, and fire ring. A little dirty and no water (I have to filter from a nearby stream), but OK: good solid 6 on a scale of 1-10. I do a little day hiking; the first part of the Bishop Pass trail is a lot prettier than I remember it from 30-odd years ago, and I don’t seem to be having a lot of altitude problems.

Wednesday 9/3. I drive down to Bishop, where I meet Mary, finalize plans, and drive my rental Corolla to the Taboose Pass trailhead with Mary following, to set up our shuttle. I take the road slowly and gently and my rental car does just fine. Then back up to the Bishop Pass TH for a relatively late start around 4:00 PM.
BishopTaboose2014015.jpg
Bsquared at the Bishop Pass TH.

South Lake is hardly there at all. Wow, it is dry out here!
BishopTaboose2014007.jpg
South Lake, what there is of it.

Get to Saddlerock just as the sun is going down; dinner by headlamp.
BishopTaboose2014018.jpg
Campsite above Saddlerock Lake.
Thursday 9/4. The next morning I’m up early and ready to head up to the pass. No altitude problems at all going up. I stop briefly at the pass (you have to do that, right? ;), and then head down.
BishopTaboose2014023.jpg

Something is obviously wrong: descending becomes very painful and difficult almost immediately. My hips hurt, and I can’t seem to find my footing reliably so I keep slipping and tripping, and I get exhausted so quickly I have to stop every 15 minutes or so. The pack seems to be fitting poorly, too, and has to be adjusted every time I stop. I have never before had trouble going down: I usually just stomp on down, taking great big strides and sometimes singing out loud pretending I’m Tom Bombadil. This is very unpleasantly different!

I hobble down to lake 10,742, where I’m supposed to rendezvous with Mary that evening, and I sit down and take stock. The cross-country adventure looks very doubtful at this point, and I even momentarily consider heading back up to the pass to abort the trip entirely, but of course I don’t have a car there anymore. Going down hurts, though descending into LeConte Canyon would be the obvious thing to do if it’s altitude that’s causing my problems. However, the symptoms aren’t at all like what I’m used to—no headache, for example. I dither for a long time and finally decide to make camp as planned but make bloody sure that Mary can find me. I find a good campsite well off the trail and across the stream and go down to the stream and wash, but I’m so exhausted and uncoordinated that I fall over in the stream and hit my back on a rock, hard: just what I need. Thoroughly discouraged, I hang around by the stream until Mary shows up around 5:00 PM, which buoys my spirits considerably. I notice that evening as I write in my journal that my handwriting looks like I’m about 105 years old. I feel it.

Friday 9/5. Next morning things look a bit better.
BishopTaboose2014025.jpg
Atmospherics over Agassiz

I’m still very unsure of myself, and we start out a bit late, walking very gingerly. The place where the rock hit me hurts as I walk, but I make it across the stream OK, and we are further buoyed by the arrival of another friend, Rosie, who was planning to meet us at Deer Meadow that night but who is hiking incredibly fast and is ahead of schedule.

Unfortunately, the descent into LeConte Canyon is pure torture, at least at the beginning. I’m still uncoordinated so I have to pick my way down very carefully, my hips still hurt, and I still have to stop every 15 minutes to rest and readjust the pack. I really can’t trust myself to do the cross-country, and Mary—proving herself the best sport in the entire world—assures me that the work we’d planned on at her field site can be done on another trip, and I shouldn’t worry; we can do any of several simpler trips. I worry nonetheless. However, although I can barely allow myself the hope, as we descend into LeConte Canyon things seem very slowly to be getting better: the hips hurt less, the pack seems to be slipping less, and the rests come at longer intervals. By the time we reach the ranger station and have lunch, I’m optimistic but still not willing to risk the cross-country piece. We tentatively plan to switch our route to the much more gradual JMT route over Mather Pass, and also to break up the Taboose-Pass descent by camping in the middle. The level trail from the ranger station to the junction of Palisade Creek with the Middle Fork goes fast and easily, the way it’s supposed to. The gentle climb to Deer Meadow is also quick and trouble-free. The three of us find a very pleasant campsite just below Deer Meadow and enjoy ourselves. This is much more like it!
BishopTaboose2014034.jpg
Mary and Rosie at campsite near Deer Meadow.

Saturday 9/6. Rosie, poor working stiff, takes off to go back up over Bishop, and we make our way up the Golden Staircase and decide to camp at the last water before Mather.
Palisades Panorama Reduced.jpg
Panorama of Palisades from campsite above Palisade Lakes.

By the way, what, exactly do HST readers think (or know!) is the Golden Staircase? I’ve always thought it referred to the heavily engineered switchbacks between Deer Meadow and lower Palisade Lake, but an experienced hiker we met on those switchbacks said he’d always thought the term referred to the part of the trail that climbs above the lakes. Opinions?

Sunday 9/7. We go over Mather Pass, and I reminisce about the JMT through-hike I did with my son in 2005. Upper Basin has got to be one of the most spectacular places in the Sierra, but you know, there’s a lot of spectacular scenery to choose from in the Sierra… A few clouds have moved in (it has been absolutely crystal clear since the beginning of the trip, with warm days and near-freezing nights).
BishopTaboose2014055.jpg
Venacher needle (etc.) from Upper Basin.

It’s a high-traffic day on the JMT, and we meet perhaps twenty people in groups of various sizes, from oldsters like me to a northbound young guy in an orange Spandex suit who’s obviously trying to set some kind of record. We decide to take the unmaintained northern short-cut trail up to Taboose but can’t find exactly where it meets the JMT, so we head cross-country in the right general direction and eventually run across it; the trail gets more and more obvious as we get nearer and nearer the pass. Shortly before it joins the main trail, the shortcut trail becomes literally covered with obsidian flakes! Looks like somebody quite a long time ago was very busy here…

The view west from Taboose is incredible; “Quite an introduction to the Sierra, eh?” says Mary.
BishopTaboose2014059.jpg
Looking west from Taboose Past near sunset. Arrow Peak and Bench Lake are in the left-center middle ground.

But egad, after what a pass! Easy enough near the top, but after a while the descent gets pretty rough, and even in my [apparently] fully recovered state it takes a lot of care just to stay upright. Lots of lose rock, some extremely steep parts, and generally a very, very demanding trail. I try not to think too much about what it must be like to go up; one couple we met in Upper Basin told us they couldn’t believe how long and hard a climb it was, and going down I can appreciate that.

We stop just after sunset around the 10,000’ level and make camp. There are quite a few clouds that night, but we assume they’re just the usual evening Sierra clouds. Nope. Around midnight it begins to rain in earnest, so we execute the usual fire drill, hastily buttoning down and dragging packs into tents. Ah well, into every life…

Monday 9/8. We get up early and continue going down, down, down, getting to the rented Corolla in the early afternoon. It is obviously autumn: there are incredible quantities of berries of nearly every sort: elderberries by the ton, gooseberries, and even coffee berries. We wonder why the bears aren't eating them, then discover large quantities of seed-laden bear poop: they are eating them! :bear: We had offered a ride to a guy we met in Upper Basin, so we hang around until around 4:00, when he pops out. We drive him to his car at Onion Valley, and then an unexpected highlight of the trip: Mary introduces me to the French bistro "Still Life Cafe" in Independence! (It is falsely rumored to be closed on Monday, although that would certainly be in good French tradition.) Wow, a good French dinner after a backpacking trip. Life is good. ☺

So, really an excellent trip in the end, though not without its challenges and discouraging moments. It does appear that the hip pain and coordination problems were altitude related, since the descent down Taboose caused none of the symptoms I experienced descending from Bishop, but it’s an entirely new kind of altitude problem for me. Has anyone else on the board experienced this kind of difficulty at altitude? Any other insights? Suggestions for future acclimation? I’m thinking maybe a week or so in Tuolumne Meadows before the next trip: oh, dear, what a sacrifice! :p
—B²



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Re: TR: Bishop Pass to Taboose Pass Early September

Postby rlown » Wed Oct 08, 2014 8:32 pm

barring any ailments knowledge, how heavy was your initial pack weight and did you overcinch? I've done that before and what you describe is what i experienced. I've had periods where my legs wouldn't listen to my commands; they were slow and it took time to get them to get back to rhythm.. I don't know why, but it is scary.

Otherwise, you need to see your doctor. :)

PS: Dinner with Markskor is ALWAYS good.

Nice TR!
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Re: TR: Bishop Pass to Taboose Pass Early September

Postby BSquared » Thu Oct 09, 2014 3:30 am

Thanks, Russ!

rlown wrote:barring any ailments knowledge, how heavy was your initial pack weight and did you overcinch? I've done that before and what you describe is what i experienced. I've had periods where my legs wouldn't listen to my commands; they were slow and it took time to get them to get back to rhythm.. I don't know why, but it is scary.


Interesting! Overcinching is actually extremely likely, given that my old REI Greatstar was having problems and was pretty heavy. I'm in the process of replacing that pack as I write, and one of my criteria is that the pack needs to ride well even when very heavy. I've got a large bag of sand inside a borrowed Osprey Aether 70 right now, and it seems to be working pretty well, though I haven't yet had a chance to take any really long walks with it .
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Re: TR: Bishop Pass to Taboose Pass Early September

Postby markskor » Thu Oct 09, 2014 8:30 am

Bill,
'Bout time you got around to posting a (BTW, well-written, excellent) TR...
All in all, a job well done. Kudos!
Thoughts:
1) Impressed that your trail companions aquiessed so graciously to the altitude/leg problems you encountered...nice to have understanding folk to backpack with...willing to change routes on the fly - probably with a smile. This contrasts greatly with my usual hiking buddy - who lambasts me constantly about : who leads, my "not keeping up", his route choices, where/how to fish...usually anything and everything...a real basshole.

2) RE: About your change in routes/not doing the x-country part...
Did you redo your HST ReConn Form 2.0?

3) About the hip/leg issues...It sucks getting old. I never have experienced those symptoms personally, specifically in the legs. It does sound a lot like the infamous - too much pack weight/ over belt-cinching /too high altitude too fast/not yet acclimatized/ High Sierra flu - quite common really...at most (hopefully) a temporary condition.
Or just maybe your underwear is too tight...commando?
Good idea to change to lighter gear though...not just the pack either...(Saw the pack - Dropping 10 pounds would work better?)

4) Next year, if you need a few more days to adjust locally, Mammoth Lakes - call... gonna cost you more than one bottle of good red wine (BTW - got any?)...an Australian Shiraz? (sigh) -
(Did go well with a leg-o-lamb though.)
Mark
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Re: TR: Bishop Pass to Taboose Pass Early September

Postby overheadx2 » Thu Oct 09, 2014 11:17 am

My brother had some similar issues last year for a day going over Muir Pass. I chalked it up to altitude, but we had already been out 3 days and it seemed odd that altitude would be a problem then. When you say the pack was cinched to tight, do you mean the waist belt, the shoulder straps, the chest strap or all of them?
Also, I was shocked at how low south lake was a month ago. We had breakfast at Sabrina which was low, but not bad, so I spoke with the owner of the marina at Sabrina, and he told me they are draining South Lake it to work on the dam.
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Re: TR: Bishop Pass to Taboose Pass Early September

Postby rlown » Thu Oct 09, 2014 11:27 am

overheadx2 wrote:My brother had some similar issues last year for a day going over Muir Pass. I chalked it up to altitude, but we had already been out 3 days and it seemed odd that altitude would be a problem then. When you say the pack was cinched to tight, do you mean the waist belt, the shoulder straps, the chest strap or all of them?


Generally, waist belt. cuts off nerve function (at least that's what I believe). Waist belt should be carrying the weight, but if too much weight, that's a problem. I'm happy at 45lbs. Unhappy at 55lbs plus.
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Re: TR: Bishop Pass to Taboose Pass Early September

Postby BSquared » Thu Oct 09, 2014 11:41 am

It was definitely the hip belt that was tight. I like to have the pack a little "floppy" around the shoulders when I'm on trail, and the Greatstar used to do that pretty well, but this time I had to cinch it up very tight, and as I noted in the TR, even then it kept slipping down off my butt. Russ, I didn't actually weight the full pack at the start of the trip (some day I'm going to have to bring along a scale just to do that; I've always wondered what mysterious things add weight to my carefully calibrated pack between the time I pack in the east coast and the time I put it on out west. :unibrow: ), but I'd be astonished if it had been over 45 pounds. It weighted in about 38 at home, with a full water bottle.

Overhead, I'm fascinated to hear that your brother had similar problems! That's the first time I've heard of anyone else. Also, thanks for the extra info on South Lake, though the surface of the lake was at least 10 or 20 feet below the level of the bottom of the dam, at least where I could see it...

What bothers me about the "cinching" hypothesis is that it seems to me things should have got better more or less immediately after I took the pack off, and they definitely did not. It took time and perhaps a decrease in altitude to accomplish that.
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Re: TR: Bishop Pass to Taboose Pass Early September

Postby rlown » Thu Oct 09, 2014 12:14 pm

injuries to nerves do not heal immediately after removing the source. My hips are generally sore the next day as well. after 3 days and the weight comes off, all is well. Advil helps me at least.
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Re: TR: Bishop Pass to Taboose Pass Early September

Postby gary c. » Thu Oct 09, 2014 1:37 pm

B2, have you gained a few Lb this year. My weight fluctuates 10lb from year to year it seems. When I'm down 10lb my pack rides pretty well. On the years that I'm +10 my belt rides lower and doesn't carry the pack as well. That is when I find myself constantly tightening my waist belt trying to get it to hold the pack off my shoulders. I've never had my legs go numb but my hips sure can start to ache.
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Re: TR: Bishop Pass to Taboose Pass Early September

Postby giantbrookie » Sun Oct 12, 2014 10:00 am

Whoa, I could almost feel my hips ache as I read your report. I've had quite a few injuries, tweaks, and flare ups over the years, and I did have some oddball hip flare ups (although perhaps not exactly the same as yours). I recall in the mid 90-late 90s having several trips when I had these odd and very disabling hip pains that were almost like some sort of hip spasm. They tended to happen to me on the first day of a trip when I (I think) wasn't quite well-enough hydrated or a bit short on electrolytes. The worst developed during an uphill stretch after or during slinging on my pack after a rest stop (my pack is also a Great Star, by the way). This was on a trip out of Kibbie Ridge (Sept 1995) to what we called the "Emerald Staircase" (trailless lakes along Bartlett Creek that once had fish and don't anymore). In any case, my hiking was slowed to a crawl for the rest of day 1 and my wife really had to wait up for me as I inched into camp at Mercur Lakes. The next day I was really gun shy about walking but things went OK and days 2 and 3 went normally (after a very cautious start to day 2), which was a good thing because those were the big off trail days of the trip. I remember thinking at the end of day 1 that the trip was doomed--I was pretty demoralized. On another, much easier, trip we were headed to Buck Island Lake (late 90s?) out of Loon Lake a nearly flat 6 mi hike. About half way there, I was either slinging off my pack at a rest stop or putting it back on after a rest stop (pretty sure in this case it was the former) when I triggered a very similar sort of severe hip pain that limited my mobility for the next several hours. I took a bunch of electrolyte replacement drink (Gookinaid) because I was a bit dehydrated (was a hot day) and by the end of the day I was feeling better. The next day I was fine.

I habitually carry a pretty heavy pack and sometimes the take off or sit down move depending on how I do it, can cause spasms or tweaks. Other than the two trips listed above, I recall there were a few times over the year when my hip sort of "threatened" to go off as it did in the two trips above but I'd self correct whatever motion I was engaged in (usually taking off or mounting my pack) before I really tweaked myself.
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Re: TR: Bishop Pass to Taboose Pass Early September

Postby Cross Country » Sun Oct 12, 2014 10:47 am

I used a Kelty pack that put almost all the weight on me hips on and against my back - VERY comfortable up to 55 pounds.
Of the times I went over Bishop Pass my best trip was through Amphitheater, and Lake Basin.
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Postscript: Bishop Pass to Taboose Pass Early September

Postby BSquared » Sun Nov 02, 2014 7:01 pm

It now seems clear that the "hip" pain was probably a return of sciatica, which I had a few years ago, severely enough to put me in bed for a week. I recently did a very short hike with no pack after a multi-day drive in the car, and although the symptoms were much milder the type and location of the pain was unmistakably similar to what I experienced going down Dusy Basin. While it's good to have a name to hang on it, it's not a lot of help, since there's not much one can do about sciatica except wait it out, which can take weeks. I'll certainly pack along industrial-strength ibuprofen next time, but I'm not sure how much good it'll do. Mostly I'll just keep up the anti-sciatica back exercises the doc gave me years ago. :nod:

Might high altitudes provoke sciatica? Hmmm... Not clear what the mechanism might be, but it's an interesting idea.
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