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TR: Aloha Lake Fastpack - a reminder of Fall

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TR: Aloha Lake Fastpack - a reminder of Fall

Postby no2haven » Sun Oct 16, 2011 9:37 pm

A spur-of-the-moment quick trip that shows that shows you still need to focus when going into the Sierra

Having approximately 24 hours between dropping my girlfriend off at a wedding in Davis on Saturday and picking her up again Sunday morning, I decided to go for a quick backpacking trip in the Desolation Wilderness to finish off the hiking season. After a few quick stops to REI to fix a leaking sleeping pad and the Pacific ranger station to get an overnight permit out of Echo Lake, I arrived at the trailhead and headed out around 3.30pm. I couldn't find a spigot for water anywhere around the Chalet complex, but figured it wouldn't be a problem - after all I'm hiking around a huge lake for the next hour. Unfortunately the trail is cut into the granite cliffs lining the resevoir and never gets within a hundred vertical feet of the water. Oh well, the views kept my mind off the fact that I was thirsty...

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Echo Lake


I cruised up towards Lake Aloha, purifying water at Tamarack Lake. Mt Ralston above showed evidence of the snowstorm two weeks ago.

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Mt Ralston


Indeed, above ~8000ft there was 3-4 inches of icy snow left on most north-facing, shaded aspects. It made for careful stepping above Lake Margery. At 6.30 I arrived at Lake Aloha and set up camp. Timing it almost perfectly, I spent the next twenty minutes taking pictures of the gorgeous sunset; the few high clouds were offset by the calm waters of the lake.

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Pyramid Peak sunset
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Lake Aloha sunset


The night cooled quickly and the stars came out as I ate dinner. There was no wind, and I amused myself by trying to take star photos with my girlfriend's point and shoot. With her slowest shutter speed (15s!) I was able to get a few to come out. I settled in with my tent free-standing and no rainfly to spoil the view of the milky way as I fell asleep, happy with my final backpack of the season.

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Big Dipper over Lake Aloha


At 2.30am the howling wind woke me up. It was coming up and over Pyramid Peak, crashing down on the top corner of my tent. I was in the lake basin, with nothing to act as a windbreak. With each gust the top-right pole lifted and skidded in towards my head, the walls of the tent collapsing in on me. I debated going outside and trying to secure the corner, but there was nothing but granite on that side of the tent: no purchase for my tent stakes. The wind died a little, and I fell back into a fitful sleep that echoed the rise and fall of the wind in my dreams...until it started raining at 4am.

With the first sprinkle I instantly awoke. I could see that the stars were gone and the wind had risen even further than before. Another few drops landed on the tent netting and I sprang into action, dashing outside, struggling in the dark with the gusting wind to secure the rainfly. Getting it on backwards and upside-down, I hurriedly tossed my pack and boots into the tent with me, along with my maps and phone. As I zipped up the tent it started raining in earnest and the wind rose to a new pitch, pushing strongly against my tent's weak corner and flapping the rain fly out like a flag. With each lull I pushed the corner out square, and with each gust braced it with my hiking boot to keep it in line. The wind and rain kept coming and the temperature dropped. For the next three hours I fought to keep my tent upright (I couldn't leave the tent now if I wanted to - the wind would instantly flip it) and took stock of the situation: though I was currently dry and relatively comfortable in my sleeping bag, I was wearing every piece of clothing I had brought (top and bottom baselayer, fleece top with hood, nylon pants) except for a puffy jacket. Even though I was getting colder, I decided to save the jacket for if I got wet. I had no rainwear for my torso, and the nylon pants wouldn't do much against a steady rain - it would be an uncomfortable walk back to my car if things went bad and I had to bail. With three hours still before dawn there was no chance of sleep as I listened to the storm around me - just stoic patience and hope that it would abate in the morning and that my tent would hold and I wouldn't get wet and hypothermic.

At sunrise the storm increased in intensity again, but I could see through the billowing rainfly that the clouds were breaking to the north. Finally this break came overhead as the rain poured, then stopped, the poured again, the stopped for good. I emerged and began packing quickly, hoping there wasn't another round of rain on the way - if there was I wanted to be in the protection of the trees before it hit. The wind flipped my tent, but I could see that the sky was clearing.

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Sopping wet tent


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Storm clouds clearing out...


The air was clean and clear, fresh with the dawn. I saw two other groups emerge from their tents and take stock of the situation. I had no time to laze around, however, since I needed to be in Davis and it was already 8, an hour past when I had wanted to leave camp. Quickly, I shook things moderately dry, packed up, and headed out. The wind continued to be blustery, but blue sky quickly chased the clouds to the east. The sun came out as I took a last look back towards the basin; I hiked out in a perfect morning, much like the perfect evening...perfect Sierra weather to bookend a rainstorm.

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Pyramid Peak after the storm


Lessons learned - Expect everything when you hike. I typically time my backpacks for good weather windows - which as of Saturday morning was what the weekend would be. I was tempted not to bring my rainfly with me when I left since the weather appeared calm and cloudless, just like the forecast. Fortunately I did. I had no rain gear or gloves, just nylon hiking pants and a synthetic puffy that are minimally water resistant. I also sited my tent with no protection from the elements. Typically I pick sites near trees, but the low-level Aloha islands/peninsulas were too tempting to pass up with the calm and clear evening conditions. Had my tent failed in the wind (rain fly ripping/tearing, collapsing since I had not guyed the walls/corners, or water leakage) I would have been very cold in the 40-45 degree night. Had the temperature dropped even more and produced snow, I would've been completely unprepared. As it was, I was only ~6 miles out, but that's still a long hike in a stormy night when you're soaked and chilled to the bone. As it was, I ended up just losing sleep, but it does make one think...



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Re: TR: Aloha Lake Fastpack - a reminder of Fall

Postby QITNL » Mon Oct 17, 2011 2:01 pm

Nice shots and story. Was this from last weekend?

I'd been packing my raingear all summer, for the most part felt like a dummy. But there were a couple of spots where it came in handy. Sometimes forecasts are dead wrong.

Edit: typo
Last edited by QITNL on Mon Oct 17, 2011 4:24 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: TR: Aloha Lake Fastpack - a reminder of Fall

Postby windknot » Mon Oct 17, 2011 2:37 pm

Great shots! I've never camped at Aloha, but I've experienced that howling wind at places like Heather and Gilmore (a friend of mine once described this feeling like "sleeping inside a jet turbine"). Too bad about the rain and wind, but it looks like you came out of it none the worse for wear. Like QITNL, I too often feel silly bringing my rain shell and waterproof pants on all of my trips, but sometimes they've come in handy when the weather forecast would have indicated otherwise. Anyway, thanks for the report.
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Re: TR: Aloha Lake Fastpack - a reminder of Fall

Postby Wandering Daisy » Mon Oct 17, 2011 5:19 pm

Having done much backpacking and climbing in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming, where it is usually very windy, I am in the habit of backing up tent stakes with a second line tied to huge rocks. I also had strong winds the night of Oct 13 at Brannigan Lake- I purposely set up on top of a rock to get wind because I have been having chronic problems with condensation in my Tarptent Moment. I tripple attached each end- two stakes and two large backup rock anchors and glad I did! Even though I planned well, I still forgot to put my rain clothes in my pack! Thankfully I did not get rain. I set out the raingear on a bed and they slid off behind the bed so although I had laid out everything carefully, they did not get packed. With all my "senior moments" this summer, I decided to put my old hiking shoes, old bivy sack and sleeping pad in my car trunk for backups. Guess it is time to add old raingear to that backup stash! I can even forget stuff with a gear list in my hand!
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Re: TR: Aloha Lake Fastpack - a reminder of Fall

Postby no2haven » Mon Oct 17, 2011 9:12 pm

Yes, I was out this past weekend, October 15-16. Clearly everything turned out fine (and it's not like the worst case scenario would have been all that threatening, just uncomfortable), I just had a long night of turning what-ifs around in my head. It wasn't so much that the forecast was wrong that threw me, it was more the manner in which the storm brewed up: I'm used to the summer monsoonal patterns with building clouds during the morning/afternoon leading to storms and then clear skies. In this case it was completely clear and calm when I went to sleep, so I thought I was golden.

That's a good idea about backing up the tent with ropes to rocks, especially in places without good means of securing the poles. Most of my camping has been near trees or other areas with softer soil so I can get the stakes in, though I usually cover those with rocks as a backup. I don't usually carry cord...maybe it's a good idea though. Seems like it'd be a useful thing to have around.
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Re: TR: Aloha Lake Fastpack - a reminder of Fall

Postby Wandering Daisy » Tue Oct 18, 2011 8:47 am

I sure know that feeling! I have many times sat in my tent being buffetted by wind, rain and snow, wondering if my "shelter" would protect me until the storm ended, weaving survival tales in my mind. I too have never had a total failure and all my tents were basically storm-worthy, but am too anxious to sleep through it. Not all tents are storm-worthy, particularly some of the ultra-light 3-season or cheaper tents on the market today. So "buyer-beware"! Winter and shoulder season storms are different, and a 4-season tent is definitely better, even if heavier. Many 3-season tents will collapse if you get significant snow. Yeh- the weather report said 20% chance rain. Where I was the bank of clouds was to the east- guess you were sitting right under that 20%.
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Re: TR: Aloha Lake Fastpack - a reminder of Fall

Postby balzaccom » Tue Oct 18, 2011 10:59 am

I think any time you are in the Sierra, you should be prepared for wind. I've had it come up over night at all times of the year. But in the fall, it's a lot colder, and can be bringing much more serious accoutrements with it!
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