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Duck Pass Encounter

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Duck Pass Encounter

Postby sandersans » Thu Jan 07, 2016 6:24 pm

Duck Pass Trail -> Pika Lake September 5 - 7

A trip report of a different variety. Curious what the community here thinks of our encounter.

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Every year my wife joins me on an annual backpacking trip over labor day weekend. She is always happy to go and the once-a-year commitment is just right for her. So as usual I waited too long to plan our trip and had slim selections but did hone in on Duck Pass and was able to secure a permit without issue. We drove up from SoCal and stayed the night in Mammoth to acclimate. The next morning we hit the trail by 8 and had a great hike in. We set up camp at Pika Lake and then went hiking around the area exploring. We saw the old cabin I have seen mentioned on the boards here and an old aluminum skiff on the shore someone left behind which I assume had to have been flown in at some point. The weather was great and it wasn’t too crowded, only two other parties camped in the area when we arrived.

Later in the day a group of middle aged men rolled in and almost set up right on top of us. I walked around our camp and down to the water trying to make it obvious (without saying something) that they were a little close. They moved further down shore to a more respectable distance. They were a bit boisterous but mostly b/c there were 8 or 9 of them all reminiscing about those things guys reminisce about when on a guy’s trip with women and children left at home. But I also did witness some machismo between the group later in the afternoon as one started yelling at another and threw a sizable boulder at his yelling partner (coming far short of it's target). The rest of the group calmed the situation down and that was that. I just chalked it up to a bad apple in the group who was probably a little drunk and would probably be passed out early that evening. Hopefully these guys wouldn't be an issue.

The sun started to fade and the wife and I made dinner and watched as beautiful alpenglow painted the ridges yellow, then orange, then red. By 8 o’clock the guys next door were all totally quiet and surely already in bed. Awesome. The two other camps were only 2 or 3 people each and we never heard them. It was shaping up to be a nice quiet and uneventful night. That all changed around 10pm.

We slowly drifted off, cozy in our tent. But it wasn't long before the urge to pee again returned having downed lots of water to counter the light headaches stemming from coming up from sea level the day before. We got out of the tent and my wife thought she heard some huffing but I didn't hear it. So we continued on to our pee spot and then we both heard some really loud huffing from back near our tent. I thought it must be a bear. The sounds was coming from right near our tent. The bear canister was far away and we cooked downwind following the usual triangle so seemed strange a bear would be this close to our tent. But I thought for sure I was about to have an all too-close encounter with a bear, my first up close. I turn on my headlamp and point it towards the sound and to my surprise, and shock, we see some guy just standing there, about 15 feet away, in shorts, socks (no shoes) and a shirt...just standing there looking at us like a deer in headlights. Mind you it's 35 degrees. Surely this guy stumbled out of a tent close by somewhere and was lost...or he was deliberately paying us a visit. If I had had a gun on me I would probably have pulled it out or had my hand on it but I am not the gun toting kind. It’s pretty much an unwritten rule you don’t go walking through someone’s camp in the middle of the night (unless you are lost or folks are camped right next to the trail of course a la PCT style). So this situation immediately had me alert and in a heightened state. Of course I was most concerned about my wife and protecting her. I reminded myself to remain calm, be smart and feel out the situation. What the eff was this guy doing 5 feet from our tent in the middle of the night when everyone was well asleep?

The guy was standing still, no shoes and there were lot’s of sharp rocks between us so the distance seemed safe for the moment as I calculated the situation. I I asked him what he was doing. He just stood there and stared at us...and then finally was able to spit out that he was “F____d” up and didn't know where he was. I was trying to asses if he was drunk, high on something or both. He was speaking slow and seemed delirious. My wife's worst nightmare is us camping and having a creep come into our camp...so this is all happening which is nuts. My mind was racing trying to determine what to do here. I continue to chat with the guy to figure out what his deal is and as then he starts walking towards us. I tell him I need him to stop and sit down, and I explain that he is scaring us. He complies without issue, a good sign. He wasn't aggressive or anything but we had no idea what his intentions where. He literally had no idea where he was or what he was doing. He looked like a normal middle age guy, not scary which was good. When I asked he said he wasn't with anyone. He also said he had no idea why is was out in mammoth or in the woods anyway. Mind you we are 5-6 miles from the nearest road so it's not like this guy just walked in off the road. He had to be with the big group of guys. And if not? What do we do with him? I was thinking do I have extra clothes to offer him, should I offer him a sleeping bag, but I was also pissed this was now my burden. He's the one who got effed up in the woods after all. Could he survive a night in the open on his own? Probably but he'd also likely scare some of the other campers nearby (maybe someone with a gun or someone all too willing to use their knife) or he might hurt himself wondering around so I felt an obligation to help. And I needed to figure out what I was gonna do with this guy. I asked him if he had a phone with him and he did. I figured we could look at his recent photos to figure out where he last was and who he was with and help him remember where he came from. He was clearly not thinking straight.

After talking to him some more, a circle of questions about who he is, who he was with, what he is doing here, all of which he continued to respond with "I don't know....I am F'd up". I was calming down a bit from the initial shock of the situation and figured he HAD to be with the nearby group of guys despite him repeatedly saying he wasn't with anyone. But he agreed to walk down to their camp with me and I continued to keep him at a distance and to position myself between him and my wife just in case. As we neared the tents I started with a soft voice and gradually got louder trying to wake up the crew. No one made a peep. My wife was impatient and yelled at the top of her lungs to wake these guys up. Can't blame her. One guy finally shuffled in his tent and yelled out his friend's name. Turns out our guy was with the group as I figured and upon hearing his name it clicked where he was. Thank god. I wasn't in the mood to deal with this guy all night. He got back in the tent and guys said nothing...not a word of thanks or apologies. We went back to our tent to try and get some sleep. Needless to say we didn't sleep well that night. The wife was super scared and was strongly considering hiking out but she slowly calmed down. I promised to stay up listening to make sure he didn't come back and stumble in our tent b/c that might give her a heart attack. I eventually dozed off too after I was convinced all was good. But it was a fitful sleep waking at every little noise.

The next morning we went down and chatted with the group and they apologized for their friend's behavior. A few said they heard us yelling but stayed quiet b/c they didn't want to deal with it. Obviously this guy is the problem dude in the group. But seriously, if you bring a guy like that on a trip with you you also bare the responsibility of managing him. Just my 2 cents. The guy himself seemed embarrassed and was quiet. He simply apologized but said very little. We never found out what exactly the guy was on or why he was acting funny. They didn't look like the type of guys that would be doing drugs. So I am guessing it was booze maybe combined with altitude. Or he took an ambien to sleep or something. They left camp later that morning heading elsewhere. The encounter had really spooked us and the wife in particular so we decided to head to a lower lake closer to the cars thinking maybe more people around would make us more comfortable. We day hiked to some other lakes first and then headed to the lower lakes with our gear to set up camp for night 2. The lower lakes were jam packed with people, more than expected, and we didn't find any open camp spots we were interested in. With so many people it no longer felt like backpacking but more like car camping with a long carry so we decided we would head home early instead and savor an extra day back home before returning to work.

Needless to say the whole experience has left a sour taste in our mouths. Not sure my wife will be willing to join me on another backpacking trip but hopefully she will get past the experience. She is fine now and thinks she will go again but I know once out there in the woods the past may come back to haunt her. It's a shame that this happened. I'll give the benefit of the doubt to the guy and his group but not sure they realize the magnitude of what happened in so far as the impact on the other campers (us) who their inebriated friend spooked in the middle of the night. They will surely have a fun story to tell their friends back home but hopefully they also realize that they directly impacted the outdoor experience of others and perhaps will not bring the bad apple friend the next time or better manage him to begin with (no booze or drugs for you buddy). I also hope they realize how lucky they are that this guy didn't run into a different camp, a camp with folks less tolerant of such a situation or just plain edgy folk who might have taken the encounter as an immediate threat and done something rash in self-defense.



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Re: Duck Pass Encounter

Postby justm » Thu Jan 07, 2016 7:23 pm

Wow, what an awful experience !! Congrats to you'll for keeping your cool. You certainly did all the right things. What a creep !!
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Re: Duck Pass Encounter

Postby kpeter » Thu Jan 07, 2016 10:07 pm

It sounds like you handled it as well as you could, given the shock. I know just about where you must have camped and can imagine the scene vividly, and we had 2-3 other groups near us on that popular low ridge over Pika Lake.

Your Ambien guess sounds very plausible from what I know about that drug. It is particularly disturbing that the rest of his party did not do more to help, to apologize, to take responsibility. I hope your wife does not develop a phobia based upon that experience. If it helps her to feel secure, you could carry a small can of mace, but it is dreadful to have to start to think in those terms.

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Re: Duck Pass Encounter

Postby SSSdave » Thu Jan 07, 2016 10:50 pm

Scary situation. For too many in our society alcohol and depressants, are a regular habit and no doubt some take that out into our wilderness areas. One of my brothers once brought along someone that secretly carried up a fifth of hard liquor, and then became a useless burden. The further one gets away from trailheads the less likely one is likely to come across unpleasant people.

My suggestion to you is to learn to camp in places other do not. Give up camping at usual lakeside and trailside communities. Learn NOT to be afraid of truly remote places. Ironically that is apparently hard for some to do as many are obviously afraid of real wilderness. If one analyzes topo maps for such places vast areas open up as possibilities. We almost never camp in areas others do. Last summer we did backpack over Duck Pass and I did have plans to camp in the Duck Lake basin so will give you some direct advice of where we planned to camp as an example. I'm an expert at avoiding other groups for camp spots in wilderness.

First will say that in mid summer at Sierra timberline elevations there are many many streamlets that are not shown on topo maps but can be identified complementing those maps with satellite images. Knowing where water is available near where one might camp is of course valuable. See on this satellite image at the crosshairs:

http://mapper.acme.com/?ll=37.55750,-118.95200&z=19&t=H

Notice the greenery that is not whitebark pines? That be one of several small water courses draining off the talus slopes above. Most of those might not dry up till mid September. Now switch the map tab to Topo. The magnification will zoom out to the max topo scale. Notice how that is about 2 vertical lines above the trail or approximately 130 feet above the trail. From experience I can tell you that even in such a heavily visited destination as the Duck Lake basin that no group, nada, zero groups might have camped up there all last summer. If any groups did camp above the trail they were probably at the very first group of trees about just 60 feet above the trail. That is because almost all groups despite hiking uphill hundreds, thousand of feet, over miles, will almost never choose to look for campsites where they have to climb up above a trail more than 50 feet. Especially if it is in an opposite direction to a lake edge. Not only is that location sure to give one isolation from others but also being up above the lake has better views. Any fishermen will complain but hey, if one can carry a backpack all the way from the trailhead out here, one can endure having to climb back up from the lake edge 150 feet up a hill haha.

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http://www.davidsenesac.com/2015_Trip_C ... les-0.html
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Re: Duck Pass Encounter

Postby balance » Thu Jan 07, 2016 10:59 pm

Kind of an odd situation, but I don't see any reason to go on worrying about something like this happening again. You handled that awkward situation okay, and the odds of anything like that ever occurring are pretty slim. Most people like that don't get beyond the trail-head campground.

Peace.
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Re: Duck Pass Encounter

Postby balzaccom » Fri Jan 08, 2016 7:39 am

That's a sad story. I am sorry about your wife. If that happened to us, I know my wife would really worry about backpacking again...

You handled everything really well. The only suggestion I would make is what others have said here--we generally camp where other people do not. Not because we're worried about other people, but we do find that they take away from our wilderness experience from time to time.

But that's hard when your wife doesn't want to hike long miles or head off trail on a bushwhack. Luckily, mine now sees the advantages of those activities...

So did you report any of this to the rangers? Given the size of their group, it would have been easy to identify them. And the group leader is responsible for his group. Getting a letter from the authorities might make him less willing to invite this clown in the future...
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Re: Duck Pass Encounter

Postby sandersans » Fri Jan 15, 2016 5:19 pm

Thanks everyone for your feedback and comments. I really do hope my wife is not overly spooked from the encounter and she will be willing to go again when the time comes. As well, I hope it doesn't end up bothering me too...the typical nightly forest sounds might spark some memories of this experience although the chance of this happening to begin with is so slim that I would have to be terribly unlucky to experience it again. But lightning can strike twice...and the memory of it may be enough to jump start a racing mind when I hear a crack or a pop echoing over the forest floor.

@kpeter - a small mace might be a good idea when with my wife although I hate to even consider bringing it. But as a last minute deterrent it's better than the alternative. Although in this case I could have found myself with 8 other guys pissed off at me for spraying their friend whom they obviously thought was just lost from a night time pee or disoriented from whatever he was on. In other words they could have been pissed at me for taking such a drastic measure since the obviously thought this was more on the "no big deal" side of the spectrum.

@SSSdave - thanks for the advice. It was definitely a consideration but my wife has generally felt more comfortable within easy yelling distance of fellow humans. I think I might be able to convince her next time though after this encounter. :-)

@balzaccom - I did not report the incident to the rangers. The guys were not totally inconsiderate (after all they did apologize, although not profusely as you would have wished) and I hoped that they learned their lesson and would be more responsible the remainder of their trip. Given they seemed to have found the incident entertaining more so than irresponsible however it may not have been a bad idea. Hopefully there is no next time...
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Re: Duck Pass Encounter

Postby AlmostThere » Fri Jan 15, 2016 5:49 pm

It's tough to feel like it's a good thing that these guys were somewhere well traveled, because it's not a pleasant thing to camp near guys like that one, but I have to feel that it was a good thing - for that guy. Search and rescue efforts are too often complicated by substance use -- the problem is that legal or illegal, drugs have an impact on your body that is not intended, sometimes, and that can increase risk in the great outdoors that, if not mitigated somehow, can result in situations just like that one. Someone not right in the head wandering. He could have so easily have wandered the wrong way and drowned, fallen too far into rocks, or just vanished into the night and become one of those partial sets of remains that are found years later, to be hopefully id'd by DNA testing.

So I have to agree with the idea of being more comfortable with remoter camps, than parking in such a heavily used area.... There are some things that have an impact on safety, and others that make it 'just not fun.' I make a point of trying to find a compromise position on trips with groups of folks I don't necessarily know well -- I articulate the desire that people not get drunk on the trip, whether it's frontcountry camping (people disappear out of campgrounds too because of this stuff) or backpacking, not because I want to be a buzzkill but because of this very thing. I take wine. I like wine. I don't drink to excess, and I don't find it enjoyable to drink it with people who insist on getting so off their head that they are out of control in some manner. And, I have been out at 2 am hiking along with my team, looking for someone's cousin after he "just got lost" -- pretty sure they were both high and the guy in front didn't notice when his bud fell off the trail, 12 hours prior. Not a big fan. :\
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Re: Duck Pass Encounter

Postby Jimr » Fri Jan 15, 2016 5:57 pm

Regarding Mace,
It sounds like you handled it well. Interviewed and assessed the potential danger and situation properly. Mace, although not deadly force, is still a weapon. Could you have pulled off the same assessment and interview if you had mace on you? That's the question. Could you continually assess and fire only when a certain line is crossed or fire first and ask questions later? Just throwing out some food for thought. What and if you carry something is a personal choice.
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Re: Duck Pass Encounter

Postby JWreno » Sun Jan 24, 2016 6:55 pm

I prefer not to spend a lot of time at places that are just a half day from a trail head. I have never run into drunks once I am a full day from a car. As pretty as lake side camping is, it comes with the downsides such as heavy dew. It also include problems associated with high use, lack of solitude, etc... Glad to hear that it ended up not being a bigger confrontation than it was.
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