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Fantasy trips/memories of 1977?

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Fantasy trips/memories of 1977?

Postby tim » Sat Jan 14, 2012 8:29 am

So according to SierraWave (http://www.sierrawave.net/9604/winter-so-far/) the winter so far is tracking the extreme drought year of 1977. Tioga Pass is still open for people to visit this weekend and "Most likely, you will never be able to do that again in your lifetime, in the middle of January". (http://mammothweather.com/2012/01/11/al ... next-week/). Even though it looks like the rain/snow will finally start later this week, it would have to be a miracle at this point for total rainfall to get back close to normal for the season, particularly in the southern Sierra, which is extremely dry.

So (given this is the time of year for dreaming about fantasy trips) my question is where would you go in an extreme drought year that might not be feasible at other times (due to say difficult river crossings or notoriously horrible skeeters). For the old timers, what do you remember of 1977?

And I know people will say I'll cause it to snow constantly for the next two months - but since I have a ski trip booked for President's Day weekend, that might just be my intention :lol:



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Re: Fantasy trips/memories of 1977?

Postby balzaccom » Sat Jan 14, 2012 8:50 am

Just had this conversation with a friend in the wine business. He points out that in 1990 we had very similar weather, then it poured rain and snow for all of Feb-Apr...

NO reason to jump to conclusions YET
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Re: Fantasy trips/memories of 1977?

Postby hikerchick395 » Sat Jan 14, 2012 10:32 am

I was in Yosemite Valley in April of '77. Tioga Pass was the way we came in. Glacier Point Road was open also and my gal pal and I hiked to Sentnel Dome...visiting the Jeffrey pine on top, which was trying to cling to life. Of course, despite the dry year, it rained and snowed during our visit.

(Oh, I look back on 1977...and that is the June when I was in a car with a driver who fell asleep and we rolled off of Glacier Point Road. Luckily we hit a tree after 1 1/4 roll. I have not been a very good passenger ever since.)
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Re: Fantasy trips/memories of 1977?

Postby tim » Sat Jan 14, 2012 3:17 pm

balzaccom wrote:NO reason to jump to conclusions YET


Very true, but isn't the winter the time for thinking about fantasy trips, 90% of which will never happen? What I'm intrigued by is whether there is the backpacking equivalent of "Tioga Pass in January", the like of which you'll only be able to see once in 30 years. If (and I mean IF) this turns out to be the equivalent of 1977, then now is surely the time to think about what that might be.

Just to get this started, how about the apparent "great flower display" in Tehipite Valley (viewtopic.php?f=1&t=6010)?
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Re: Fantasy trips/memories of 1977?

Postby Mike M. » Sat Jan 14, 2012 9:05 pm

Swimming through the Muir Gorge, in the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, comes to mind.

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Re: Fantasy trips/memories of 1977?

Postby giantbrookie » Sat Jan 14, 2012 10:22 pm

I guess I didn't start really exploiting weather for early starts and the like until the 80's, so I didn't take advantage of the exceptionally dry 1977. I do have especially vivid memories of my trips in 1977 and the dry winter of '77 probably had something to do with at least one these memories.

'77 was a bit difficult for me, physically, because I had suffered my first knee injury in January or February and didn't know squat about rehab, resulting in a pretty gimpy knee that summer. The signature trip with my dad was to climb Mt. Goddard and we went in over Haeckel Col which I remember as the most dramatic pass I've been over with a full pack. I recall seeing very little snow, but I wasn't aware it was a particularly dry year at the time. Back then it seemed that nearly every year was a drought year, although I remembered the exceptionally heavy winter of 1969. In any case the Goddard trip was quite an ordeal for me, given that I was the worst shape I had ever been in as a teenager or an adult (before or since), owing to lagging on conditioning because of my knee. For many years I would simply refer to that trip as THE death march.

Later that year came two memorable moments on trips with a friend of mine. This was only my second year of doing any trips on my own instead of solely with my dad. The first of these two trips was to climb Cloudripper and camp at Thunder and Lightning Lake. Because of my friend, I had just begun to get interested in fishing, after having been focused only on peak climbing before. I picked Thunder and Lightning Lake because I thought its comparatively isolated and trailless position might promise big fish. On the way up there, we passed by Green Lake noting how horribly abused the grassy fringes looked (trampled by stock) and being glad we didn't choose to camp there. Once at Thunder and Lightning, though, we found that although we had the desolate lake to ourselves, the lake contained oodles of stunted brookies (in those days I hadn't figured out that inacessibility and big fish are NOT related). Not a hinderance to good fun. Funny brownies. 151 and Tang. We also did some gourmet cooking of sorts with the brookies. Melting some cheddar over the brookies in the frying pan, then applying the final touch with a 151 douse and igniting it. Very tasty. The next day (having climbed Cloudripper) we bailed Thunder and Lighning and hiked out and past trampled Green Lake. A few guys were camped near the inlet and they had a few cleaned fish being kept cool in the inlet stream. Holy smokes, those fish were MASSIVE---huge high-bodied rainbows that looked like salmon (est 18-20"). The guys told us that these fish only seemed to hit in the evening but my buddy and I gave it a shot in the afternoon---nothing doing of course. My friend made me promise that we do a REAL fishing trip next, which set up my biggest adventure of the year--this was a weekend or two later, probably in mid? or was it late? September. I think the string of dry winters meant long growing seasons and especially big fish. As the years have gone by I think I've seen enough lakes so that the connection between mild winters (especially several in a row) and large fish (in lakes that are not overpopulated) is probably valid.

The target for this next trip was Little Lakes Valley and we camped at Chickenfoot Lake. However, with the easy hike in we arrived so early that I told my friend we could just go run up Mt. Dade (yes peak bagging was still my favorite thing then) and still get back in time for good evening fishing. I guess 1977 was an oddball year because some 200' short of the summit we were chased off the peak by really intense thundershowers--I can't recall experiencing this so late in the season. In any case, we retreated and were really doused by some torrential downpours. We were seriously frustrated because of being so close to the summit but being denied, so my friend was no longer interested in fishing on the trip--he now wanted to go for the peak we had so narrowly missed. As if to add insult to injury I had left a flap open in my pack and forgotten a bar of cheese in there. A chipmunk apparently forced it's way into the pack gnawed on the cheese and left but leaving the flap open to the downpour. The inside my pack was this horrid mess of cheese pieces and cheesy water. At first light the next day we were gone in a streak to climb Dade and we were on the summit much faster than we anticipated. I remembered our hiking time, whatever it was, was significantly faster than the times other hikers were recording in the register from the more proximal Treasure Lakes (by this time of the year both me and my buddy were in top hiking shape, unlike my conditioning earlier in the year at Goddard). In any case, the day was still young and I gazed over at Mt Abbot and thought that it didn't look as bad as all these horror stories I had heard. We descended Dade then hopped across the various and moraines to the standard NE couloir route. Somewhere en route I stepped on this big boulder that started sliding down the side of the moraine. I actually thought this was amusing as I hopped off the sliding boulder before it gathered too much speed--when you're 18 things don't tend to scare you as easily, I guess, although this was to change soon.

On arriving at the base of NE couloir then the fear set in. There wasn't a bit of snow on what amounted to the most sinister looking black ice I have ever seen. We didn't have any ice climbing gear. My intention on this trip had not been to climb Abbot (hence not expecting snow or ice) and, when I scoped it out from Dade, I didn't realize that the true couloir was not in my line of sight. The chute I mistook for the couloir completely lacked snow or ice (no doubt owing to the dry nature of 1977), so I thought things would be fine. I suppose the complete lack of snow atop the ice in the couloir was also a function of the really dry winter. In any case here was this fluted black ice, with lines of scree and talus on top of the little ice ridges. In the first of several harebrained decisions I thought that we could work our way up the right combination of talus topped ice ridges to the rock on the edge of the couloir and then we'd be fine. Almost. There was a pretty big gap between the top of whatever mini ridge I was leading and the rock.

Harebrained decision no. 2: the ice above was coated with gravel and grit. If I ran fast enough maybe I could get enough traction to not slide down. For whatever reason I didn't think of the consequences of actually slipping (pretty grave). In any case we made it to the rock but this forced us to the rock way below where the high 2nd/easy 3rd exit rock heads up to the north ridge. Here, down lower on the north side of the couloir, the climbing is mostly high class 3 over rather large steps with each ledge covered with an annoying amount of loose debris that I had to 'houseclean'. There was at least one really hairy class 4 move--a mantle move over a particularly large step (can actually see this step to the right of the couloir in the photo in Secor). After a bit more class 3 we then had this relaxing high 2nd/easy 3rd climb up to the ridge and then the few exposed but very solid 3rd class moves on the ridge before finishing the climb. The problems with the descent--the glazed ice and the one big rock step weighed heavily on our minds. We noted that 80 percent of the sign ins in the Abbot register were rather gloomy--many folks fretting about descent (although under somewhat different specific circumstances). The upper part of the descent went in a snap. Then we were at that big rock step along the north side of the couloir.

The mantle move up had been a diagonal one off of a crack. Gravity didn't hang my body diagonally. As I stretched out I realized there wasn't anything beneath my feet and my upper body strength was insuffient in those days for me to recover and pull myself back up and think of an alternative. I remembered that there was in fact a ledge down there somewhere which I was pretty sure I would hit when I let go. I let go and my feet did stick the landing on the ledge (probably 3-4 feet below). I looked up and my buddy's eyes were as big around as dinner plates. After he recovered his speech he remarked that he thought I had truly gone over the brink to my demise. He then handed down my rucksack, which I had removed to make the downclimbing easier. I fumbled it, it bounced on the ledge and was gone. We eventually picked it up, some 700' below. I then used my hands as footholds for my buddy and helped him down the step. A bit more scrambling about and we had to figure out a way to cross the ice. Again I tried to choose the right combination of scree topped ice ridges. Similar to the ascent this one almost made it. On the opposite side of a glazed black bobsled chute was an obviously continuous and generous talus ridge that led all the way down to the moraine. The gap was formidable, though. A miss meant a spectacularly fast run down the bobsled chute with likely damaging impacts. How wide was it? My estimate was and is that it was about about an 8' jump to the other side. My buddy's estimate was that it was closer to 14'. Both of us were good athletes and with jumping ability. I backed up so as to get a good running start, and then long jumped over the gap. The jump cleared the gap into a very short ice chute (about 10' high) that dead ended in talus--I did my best slide into 2nd base and slammed into the rocks without damaging myself. I then set up to form sort of a human pad between my incoming buddy and the rocks so as to minimize the chance that he might break a leg or an ankle. My buddy successfully cleared the gap and with great relief we reached easy ground. We made a small detour to pick up my rucksack--still intact because it was like this padded ball with my jacket inside of it--then with much relief hiked back to Chickenfoot. We hiked out the next day after a trip in which neither of us caught a single fish. Thus concluded my 1977 High Sierra season.
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
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Re: Fantasy trips/memories of 1977?

Postby Cross Country » Sun Jan 15, 2012 5:31 pm

Do I remember 1977? YES! In May of that year I was able to BP with a friend (Mike Ruiz) to Miwok Lake on Labor Day WE. We hiked at 8K feet with no snow. I figured that to be the case and it was. What I didn't realize is the likelihood of what happened. Despite no snow, the lake was semi frozen over and the fishing was poor. We met some people coming from Edith Lake (only 6400 feet). They reported poor fishing there too. This was before I learned (from a fishing mag. and from my own experience) that fish strike lures poorly at a temp. below 46 or 47 degrees. You would have thought I would have learned something from this immediately, but it took some time to sink in. Two weeks later I went with 2 friends (Joe Hirsher, and Art Borgquist) to Kid Lakes (about June 10). This is out of Kings Canyon. Kid is at about 10.6K'. We could have gone over Goat Crest in May. The hike there was no problem but catching fish in the 43 degree water was a different story. The only way to catch them was in the shollow water of the outlett (which I didn't do).

The rest of the year I (we) had no problems. Drought years are bad for some people but not for someone like me (a backpacker). The only thing I had to pay a lot of attention to that year was my water stops. I got most of my drinking water from lakes that year (and this was before I used a water filter). I think I went on about 10 trips that year including 6 trips of 7 days or more during the summer. I backpacked many drought years and LOVED all of theml. I consider myelf to have been very fortunate to never have had to endure a year like almost all of you had to put up with last year.

I'm hoping to go on trips this year (I had some dizzyness problems recently, at 68 yo) and if I can I must say that the current conditions seem to lend to my prospects.
Last edited by Cross Country on Sun Feb 05, 2012 8:13 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Fantasy trips/memories of 1977?

Postby dave54 » Mon Jan 16, 2012 11:25 am

1977 was my first year as a fire crew captain. Mostly I remember going from one fire to the next all summer long through the Fall until the snow finally started.
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Re: Fantasy trips/memories of 1977?

Postby gcj » Mon Jan 16, 2012 9:22 pm

During the winter of 76-77, well, Christmas, 1976, to be exact, I was able to hike to the top of Mt. Williamson via George Creek without encountering any significant snow until I reached the summit plateau at 14,000 feet. The creek was very icy and there were a lot of frozen cascades, but there was virtually no snow.
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Re: Fantasy trips/memories of 1977?

Postby kpeter » Wed Jan 25, 2012 11:38 pm

I'm afraid I do not have a great Sierra story to tell, but California's drought that year very much affected me. It would be fair to say that the drought helped put me through college.

I grew up in Idaho and was on my way to start college at Stanford that fall. To earn college money I joined a BLM fire crew. I got my introduction to California a little earlier than I expected.

In June and July I got my training and we were deployed from the Boise fire center to a number of fires in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. It was hot, dirty work. Either we were scraping out temporary fire lines with hand tools, or we wandering around burned out forests looking for smouldering hot spots to extinguish. Wandering around burned-out smouldering forests in July
is not fun. To this day I shudder when my trails take me through burn zones.

In August a fire began in California's Ventana wilderness between Big Sur and Carmel. The hills there--which were burned deliberately by Indians until the mid 19th century--had accumulated many years growth of thick chaparral, much of which was dead and tinder dry after the drought. There were two fires that ultimately burned together and later became known as the Marble Cone fire. (In 1977 we all just called it the Big Sur fire--it wasn't until years later that I heard the term Marble Cone.) At the time it was the largest fire in recorded California history.

As our plane came in to the Monterey airport the crew could look out to the south of Monterey and see a mushroom cloud. The fire was already so large and hot that it was creating huge thermals. Burning embers were being thrown by the thermals miles in front of the fire line.

At first they sent us to block the fire's spread north to the Carmel river valley. I will never forget my trip up Carmel road on the back of a flatbed truck. You would think we were Patton's army liberating France. The road was lined with worried homeowners cheering us on. Unfortunately, it was on the northern lines that some members of my crew inhaled the smoke from burning poison oak and had to be hospitalized.

The fire shifted more to the south and became a threat to Big Sur. The national guard airlifted us by helicopter from Carmel to Big Sur. It was the trip of a lifetime. The Helicopter pilot flew us right down the coastline--right over the beaches and rocks--along what some regard as the most spectacular piece of coastline in the world. That short helicopter ride made the whole summer on the fire crew worthwhile.

Fighting the fire in the south we had a close call. We were deployed on a ridge and had created a line there. The fire was coming towards us but there was an intervening ridge between our ridge and the fire. The plan was to wait for the fire to just reach the top of that intervening ridge, then set a backfire that would be sucked into the main fire. The crew had to stay up all night watching the silhouette of the next ridge for any sign of fire, and we had to look over our heads for any burning embers that might cross our line so we could chase them down to prevent the fire from jumping us.

A little after midnight the wind increased dangerously. The ridgeline we had been watching exploded all at once in flame, and nearly as quickly the entire facing hillside was engulphed. It took no more than 120 seconds for that whole mountain to explode into fire, and we realized it might take no more than another 120 seconds for our mountain to follow it, with us on top of the pyre.

They started the helicopters up and evacuated us on the spot--a very rare (and probably dangerous) night flight. We were rotated off the fire and within the week I was home packing for college.

Just a couple of years ago I found an interesting article about the damage caused by the Marble Cone fire. After our efforts failed, special permission was obtained to use bulldozers in the wilderness area to create many firelines to compartmentalize the blaze. Thirty years later scientists returned to study the effects. The damage caused by the fire had been entirely erased, but the erosion and soil damage caused by the fire lines remained.

The denoument to all of this is that the year after the study, in 2008, much of the same area burned again, in a massive 163,000 acre fire. Marble Cone was 178,000. Fire is a natural part of the ecology of that region.
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Re: Fantasy trips/memories of 1977?

Postby Cross Country » Thu Jan 26, 2012 8:30 pm

What a great commentary about the fire and the fire lines. Fire IS natural.
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Re: Fantasy trips/memories of 1977?

Postby Troutdog 59 » Fri Jan 27, 2012 5:55 pm

While I tend to agree with Balzac (too early to predict and it has snowed since the original post), and I certaily dont have any daring tales of adventure that others have posted of, I will chime in as I was backpacking back then. In fact, I took a 9 day trip into the upper Bear Creek headwaters, crosssed over to the Pinnacles Basins (East then West), and back to Bear Creek, in June of 77 (went in on 6/18 I beleive), and we saw little if any snow on the whole trip. Truth be told, I had no clue it was out of the ordinary as this was only my 3rd year packing and the previous years were low snow years as well. I took up snow skiing at the same time, so I didnt have a history of being in the mountains in the winters.

Ist year was 75 and I did one trip. The state was in the midst of the drought then, but I was hooked none the less. In 76, I did 5 trips (Mosquito Flat over Mono to Pioneer twice, Kearsarge Pass, Kern River (Forks of the Kern), and the Ruby Mtns in Nevada). Again a drought year, so we had no experience with snow packs, but we got pretty good at carrying water to make sure we had water at the many dry creek crossings later in the year. Again, it didnt really dawn on me why the creeks were low, I just thought this was typical.

1977 was about the worst year of the drought if I recall correctly. Mammoth Mtn was not open at New Years (76/77) as they hadnt recieved enough snow to open. My brother and my friend Glen and I took off for the Sierra the first weekend after school got out. We saw no snow pretty much at all until we went cross country over Gemini Pass from Seven Gables. I actually recall thinking seeing snow "this late" was pretty cool. My inexperince was pretty obvious. Regardless, we had an awesome trip and had some of the best fishing I ever had for big goldens. I was now officially a Sierra fishing addict to say the least.

The following year, I tried to go back in in late June with my GF of the time, and we got turned around at about 8,000" by snow and high flowing streams. I was somewhat puzzled, but my knowledge of the sierra snow packs was increasing like it or not. While I have hiked low snow years since, I do not recall another year in which there was basically no snow up to 10,000 feet in June!! Such years are bad for our water budgets, but actually pretty interesting as a back packer and the low snow years seem to allow better fish growth as some of my best catches have followed low snow years by a season or two.

I have dealt with large snow packs before such as last years. In October 1982, I took a job at the Sugar Bowl ski resort. If I recall corrctly, last years snow pack was only slightly less than the packs of 1969 and 1983. I went to work on my day off in early Jan 1983 as my boss had asked us all to come and help shovel snow. What a mistake. It snowed so hard they lost power and I was snowed in at work (I slept on a cot in the Ski Patrol office) for 4 frigin nights!!!! When we finally dug out, I went to the parking lot only to find I couldnt locate my car as it was under 10 feet of snow. Luckily I got a ride home from a friend and didnt have to spend night 5 on the cot.

I left Sugar Bowl on 1 May 1983 (they closed) and they still had 17' of snow. Me and some buds went to Mammoth, bought a spring pass for $125, and skied until mid July. A tad different than 1977 to say the least. Funny, but 1983 is one of three years I did not do any back packing trips. I saw so much white that year, I wanted to see sun and sand the rest of the summer, so I went back to So Cal and worked until there until the next winter, when I returned for more punishment.
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In your mind you can hear, a voice so sweet and clear, and the music that plays in your head......
As it flows up from the ground, taking all that hear the sound, close your eyes, it’s about to begin.

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