TR - A Ridge Too Far (Upper Blue Canyon via Wishon)

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robertseeburger
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Re: TR - A Ridge Too Far (Upper Blue Canyon via Wishon)

Post by robertseeburger » Sat Aug 22, 2020 10:42 am

Wow.. interesting trip report ..

Sorry to hear about your daughter.. I dont really know how this must feel.

I did a very similar route and published a TR in 2018. I went high.. started at Hoffman, a little bit of cross country, then Woodchuck, Crown, Scepter, over a pass and into Kings Canyon and then to Blue Canyon and Tunemah that way. I had no issue really with cross country and trail hiking on the way in. On the way back..things were different. I took a lower route and ran into similar problems, mainly that the trail is no longer maintained exiting Blue Canyon on the southern route. I had major areas where I lost the trail , typically because of overgrown brush, and had to re find it 100 yards or so later, which I always managed to do. It didnt help also that that there was a fire a couple of years back which added to the difficulty.

But, I would add that I understand completely the allure of Blue Canyon and Tunemah and the lakes east of Tunemah as a destination.
There is something magical about this area. I plan to go back. I would recommend going high as I did though if you want to go. The low "trails" are difficult to follow. A GPS would be handy. (I dont take one..at least not yet)








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Re: TR - A Ridge Too Far (Upper Blue Canyon via Wishon)

Post by giantbrookie » Sat Aug 22, 2020 11:07 am

Wow this is an epic report and moving read. I too have experienced "blink out" sections even on the "red" trails (ie maintained) on the USFS JMW map. In addition to a great narrative, this report is rich in information about the specific terrain and trails, and the challenges of off trail navigation, dealing with aging and its impact on hiking.

Above all, though, are the emotional challenges connected to your heartbreaking loss and the poignant clarity with which these are presented. I can but dimly imagine the paralyzing impact such a loss would have on me whose daughter is my no.1 backpacking buddy. When the High Sierra is a part of the connection it becomes part of the healing and coping. A dedication hike and climb (actually, two of them) were part of how my brother and I coped with the loss of our dad, who introduced me to the mountains and was my main High Sierra partner before my wife (who passed the torch to our daughter four years ago).
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" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

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Re: TR - A Ridge Too Far (Upper Blue Canyon via Wishon)

Post by paul » Sat Aug 22, 2020 2:40 pm

My condolences for your loss. And I would not discount the idea that your grief had something to do with your energy levels.The body and mind are a complex combination.
While I am not up to 70 yet ( 61 at the moment) I have certainly had to deal with reduced capacity in the mountains. A long time ago I gave up on the drive in and hike in on the same day approach, despite the fact that I have generally acclimated to altitude pretty well. I would bet that the effects of altitude played a bigger part in your travails than you think.That first day, with the long drive and then hike, followed by no dinner, put you in a hole you could not get out of - that's my guess, as I have been there before. Loss of appetite is a typical effect of altitude. My approach is always to drive up in the afternoon/evening , sleep at the trailhead or nearby, and start in the morning. This gives me a night at some elevation, which seems to be a big help, plus I start out walking in the nice cool morning. And I need all day to get where I'm going, since I don't move as fast as I used to. Doing it this way, I have never had one of those no appetite first nights, which I used to have fairly often back when I would drive and hike the same day.
I have stopped cooking on summer trips, also. Not because I get too tired to cook, but just for the simplicity of it.

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Re: TR - A Ridge Too Far (Upper Blue Canyon via Wishon)

Post by hurricaniac » Sat Aug 22, 2020 2:54 pm

Blue Canyon is a worthy destination via the trail below Kettle Dome, but the mosquitos can be insane there early season. I've always considered it one of the most beautiful side canyons in the Sierras. And Tehipite Dome is an easy scramble from the trail if you want to see the largest full dome in the range (and climbing it is a real thrill if someone has left fixed ropes for the one exposed section).

Tehipite Dome from trail below Kettle Dome, 1977
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Re: TR - A Ridge Too Far (Upper Blue Canyon via Wishon)

Post by michaelzim » Sat Aug 22, 2020 2:58 pm

As ever I am grateful, impressed and humbled by the people on this forum. Thank you for your thoughts, comments and understanding re my long "sans daughter saga". In some way sharing that travail was, I sense, part of the process of trying to come to grips with me having to do this stuff alone from now on. I suspect too, it will make me pay more attention to all the reports and gleaned wisdom here on HST that give so much fantastic information to help in 'the best laid plans of mice and men'. As expressed in my report, just age alone is making it quite clear I need more thorough trip planning beforehand instead of just winging it once out there. The terrain will always put plenty of natural wild cards out to keep it interesting!

Re your route @robertseeburger - indeed a more northern swing would I think be a lot easier. I mean golly, if there is no trail anyway then you may as well have some open areas and granite to at least see what's going on! In the first video one can see that when the camera swings round to the north those endless woods and forest south and west open up more, plus there is more granite. Yes there is the drop into upper Crown River valley, but that could coincide with Crown Basin and thence over the pass above Hummingbird Lake. For my odds, I would prefer to come down the other side on bigger tumble-rocks (which mostly seem to be on hand at X-country passes I have done) than slipping sand-soil, scrub, and small "slip-out-under" rocks. [However, I speculate of course as have not gone over Mantle Pass].

It also sounds like the southern Blue Canyon route (with much bigger elevation gains and losses) around Kettle Dome may be in a state of similar trail neglect. Without a trail some of that skip northwards section on the east of Kettle Dome looked a bit complex if there were no trail there. Maybe not, though once again, to me it depends on how much I can see around me. If socked in with trees, navigating gets challenging and the potential of missing Randle Corral and that very steep drop into Blue Canyon got higher odds of a miss the more my map showed major "discrepancies". Would be good to know if that trail exists and is clear enough to follow.

All the trails I was on and the one to Kettle Dome are "red trails" on my map. The only black trail was up to Coyote Pass. Once into Kings Canyon, they plain stopped being shown at all. I figured by then it would be pretty hard to lose the objective so no biggie.
What this says is, that "red trails" cannot be relied on in more outlying areas. By the middle part of that swing off onto the Mountain Meadow "red" trail from the 'main' Chuck Pass trail, even the faintest faint trace of a path was gone.

@schmalz I had indeed looked at satellite imagery as agree that can be really helpful. I was a bit concerned that I could see absolutely nothing of any trails in that whole area - even straight out from Rancheria - which I figured was highly unlikely (to not see anything), so blew it off as to an imagery anomaly (like wet non-reflective ground in late spring or whatever). As it happens, the main trail leaving Rancheria TH for Crown Valley is a big, clear, very obvious thing, so I have no explanation for the lack of being able to see it from the imagery. Very odd! *[I just looked again and even knowing exactly what is there I can't see a trail. Do see some residue snow on the ground so Google satellite photo may be reflecting that "non reflectivity" of wet ground!?]

Again, thanks all for input and support...Tunemah is still a wish-list destination. Oh dear!..... Michael

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Re: TR - A Ridge Too Far (Upper Blue Canyon via Wishon)

Post by sekihiker » Sun Aug 30, 2020 3:27 pm

Sorry for the loss of your daughter/hiking partner.
I have spent time in the country that you traveled, but it was many years ago. Even then, trails were disappearing. It looks like the Forest Service and National Park Service are not interested in bringing them back.
Access from the north into Blue Canyon is still probably pretty good because there is not a lot of growth to deal with once you get above Portal Lake. I've hiked in from Crown Basin, also, and it is not overgrown, either.
Coming out over Coyote Pass once and also on the Blue Canyon Trail were adventures, though. I'd guess the FS/NPS figure the north and west access is enough. After all, it's cross-country so they don't have any maintenance to worry about.
I've been dealing with aging issues in my 70's. Balance and endurance are the major ones. I'm beginning to accept that the hiking experience is not going to be the same as it was through my 50's and 60's. It has taken some getting used to.
I wish you the best on your future trips and I hope that they bring you joy.

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Re: TR - A Ridge Too Far (Upper Blue Canyon via Wishon)

Post by Harlen » Sun Aug 30, 2020 6:52 pm

Michael, can we start with a light detail from your intense trip report? My well-traveled wife and I, and our ex-pat Englishman friend and hiking partner, Frank are all here trying to place your accent from the great videos you shared. Frank says first, that you must have lived in the U.S. a long while, because the accent is so faint, but he thinks you hail from Australia; my wife Lizzie thinks she hears an educated Englishman, and I am leaning toward South African descent as your voice reminds me of a friend from there?

Regarding your trip, as Russ points out-- many of us have had trips that went south, or went far off somewhere we didn't intend. You struggled on admirably through that woodsy tangle, which included wading through perhaps the single most painful scrub in the Sierra--that one you queried is the dreaded "Buckbrush ceanothus." On one of my recent mishap trips, I managed a mere 8 miles out of a planned 28! So you've got me beat by a decade of age, and 20 miles of distance! So I will have to hope that you are doing just fine, or I am hopeless! :( These sorts of trips shine brighter with every year they are put farther behind you.... till sometimes they even provide the best memories-- or at least the best stories.

And Michael, regarding the challenges in your life, I want to echo all the condolences and best wishes for your future that you have received from this kind-hearted mountain community. Lizzie, Frank, and I all felt your writing was heartfelt and emotionally moving. It certainly is not too long, as you feared, and would be welcome in an even longer essay form if you feel up for it. You think, and write well, and have obviously been through some of life's deepest hardships. The challenges you faced on the trip to Blue Canyon, the tangled Sierra web you found yourself in, must have felt sadly similar to the distressing turn your family life has taken. I think we all sense your courage and the enlightened acceptance with which you are facing your trial, and wonder how you have managed to rise up to that state? If you feel up to sharing this more widely, others will surely be inspired and benefit from your story. We sure wish you well.

057.jpg
Martha Lake. Just a ridge away from the elusive Blue Canyon.
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Last edited by Harlen on Thu Sep 03, 2020 7:59 am, edited 4 times in total.

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Re: TR - A Ridge Too Far (Upper Blue Canyon via Wishon)

Post by michaelzim » Mon Aug 31, 2020 9:47 am

"Golly"...Harlen - or perhaps that should be: "My gracious!"...or more accurately: "Strewth, that is a helluva reply man!"

In relation to your query in case others are so 'intrigued'...you were closest. My first response above would be from the amount of time I have spent in the USA (40 years). The second would be from my Brit period in the UK (5 years). Then the remaining (25 years) from being born and raised in what was then Southern Rhodesia - then Rhodesia - then Zimbabwe. Some SA lilt may have intruded too via 4 years in Cape Town during my university years. I also picked up German, French and Swedish during my randomly scattered "exile period" within all that.
So a bit of a mongrel vocal heritage. You all did well to pick up what you did as living in the Missouri Ozarks for 5 years certainly 'altered' my accent thereafter as they plain seemed to not understand me if I spoke 'properly'.

With that sorted, I must sincerely thank you for an equally heart-felt response in your post. It is indeed, a fine example of the help, kindness and generosity I have received from people in this forum. Ah, and thank you, but I think I will defer on adding more depth to my "Ridge" saga as there is also a slight possibility of an "Episode II" in the near future as I may come at it again - from a different angle. The north!...via the long trek down Goddard Canyon from Florence. Entry is all trails with a gentle initial gradient to acclimate and potentially very few areas of intimacy with "Mountain Whitethorn" (Ceanothus cordulatus) aka "Buckbrush Ceanothus" et al. First off trail would be near Martha Lake, so your photo is very apt.

I have yet to decide exactly where I want to go, but am packed an ready to "get back on the horse after sort of falling off" on this trip I reported here. Much of it depends on the fires and smoke, as it is just sitting, not moving at all where I live. It seems a bit risky to head into the hills as if our very usual westerly winds pick up again it is going blow all this muck straight up into the Sierra's. Mmmmmm...does not look too good today I see:
Smoke - 31.PNG
Anyway, if I decide to try for Blue Canyon again, I would hope to live and tell the tale as a second version of my initial attempt - hopefully with less "blood" and some of those pretty pictures I had so hoped to share.

As a footnote @Harlen I will say that I was somewhat puzzled by my "acceptance" of what was happening through the whole trip to Coyote Pass, etc. Yes it was pretty brutal, but apart from a few swear words at choice moments, I just sort of buckled up and carried on, exhausted as I was. I know for sure that turning back even within sight of my goal was the correct decision. I would have injured myself badly if not permanently, no doubt in my mind.
Perhaps some psychological theory could extrapolate a need for some pain and suffering in the wake of my daughter's death, and maybe that would be partially correct. I honestly don't know, though do sense that I was in a somewhat "altered state" the whole time. That many falls, clearly I was not fully present in the physical world!

Again, thank you for your kind words and support. Deeply appreciated... Michael (michaelzim)
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Re: TR - A Ridge Too Far (Upper Blue Canyon via Wishon)

Post by Shaggy » Tue Sep 01, 2020 9:46 am

I appreciated your TR and commend you for making the good decision to call it a trip and head back while you safely could.

I've had the bad fortune of losing my backpacking buddies on all three of my trips this year turning two-person trips into solos and, while I think I'll always enjoy a good solo trip to the backcountry, I'm increasingly aware that, on balance, that's probably not the smartest decision (particularly if I'm a fair bit off the beaten paths).

Many of you probably read the Gigi Wu story in the recent SI but it's eye-opening (again) for those of us who head out solo - glad your trip turned out ok and best wishes for many more!

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Re: TR - A Ridge Too Far (Upper Blue Canyon via Wishon)

Post by Jimr » Tue Sep 01, 2020 6:03 pm

Epic
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