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Go Back. You are going the wrong way

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Go Back. You are going the wrong way

Postby balzaccom » Sat Jan 28, 2012 8:08 am

There are times on the trail when it is important to recognize when you are at Fishhook. We once climbed up to the top of Chilnualna Falls in Yosemite in the winter. The trail was covered in snow, but we were fine until we got to with about 100 feet of seeing the top of the falls. Because at this point the trail had three feet of powdery snow on it, and followed a narrow ledge along a 500 foot drop. And we couldn't exactly see where the trail actually went. We poked our feet around in the snow for a minute or two and decided that we were at Fishhook. The benefits of seeing the top of the falls just didn't justify the risks of having one of us slip off that ledge.

(You can get an idea of the terrain in the photo here. And yes, if we'd had hiking poles, or climbing ropes, the decision might have been different. We didn't.)

Image

So we turned around.

What brings this to mind is our recent trip up Fairview Dome in Yosemite. It's steep, and the wind was howling. And because it was January, it was cold. And so we decided that it didn't really matter that we weren't going all the way to the top. As a friend told me many years ago: "Summits are all in the mind."

We've stopped our hike or changed our route many times because of swollen creeks, time of day, or icy or overhanging snow. And we have never once regretted it.

When we hear of people getting rescued off mountains, we usually don't admire their courage or their adventuring spirits. We dp find ourselves questioning their judgment, and wondering why they didn't turn around when it made sense to do so.

So when have you turned around? And when did you keep going...and realize it might have been a mistake?

There are plenty of examples on our blog: https://sites.google.com/site/backpackt ... g/fishhook
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check out our website: http://www.backpackthesierra.com/



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Re: Go Back. You are going the wrong way

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sat Jan 28, 2012 10:29 am

One of the first things you learn as a mountaineer is how to retreat! And when to retreat. It is a balance- those who are too conservative never get to the summit and those who are not conservative enough end up in an epic if not death. There is no rule of thumb- it is all a matter of judgement born of experience. It is amazing that young fool mountaineers even live long enough to gain that experience. I am thankful that my youthful misjudgements lead to epics instead of death. And I did learn. Eventually. Now I am on the other end of things. Getting older and continuing to get into the mountains, I now find I am in the same situation- this time I have to balance my growing conservative psyche (fear) with a rational awareness of my abilities and dangers. I have to be able to distinguish when retreat is simply a lazy excuse for avoiding a bit of discomfort versus when retreat is really needed because, as much as I hate to admit it, I simply am not physically up to the challenge anymore.
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Re: Go Back. You are going the wrong way

Postby giantbrookie » Sat Jan 28, 2012 2:17 pm

I have retreated on a number of occasions for different reasons:
On at least one occasion I can recall retreating when I picked a poor route (I recall U-turning and still having time to get it right).
On at least one occasion I turned back when I felt the route I was on became riskier than I wanted it to be. On the occasion I recall I was within something like 15 vertical feet below the summit of Mt Emerson on its horrifyingly crumbly north face (unroped). There was this final move where I would have to really commit myself to a set of handholds I really didn't want to trust. I bailed at that point. I failed to summit while so close but never regretted my decision to turn back (I did very much regret my very poor choice of routes on the upper part of the peak, however).
On many occasions I aborted a climb when thundershowers moved in.
On two occasions on Shasta, one at Misery Hill (only 200' below summit), I turned back when weather closed in--those little Shasta storms can be very dangerous.
Another time I aborted a climb of Mt Montgomery from the town of Benton within 600' of the summit when I figured I didn't have enough time to get back to my car while I could still see.
Finally, on a grueling trip in the Colby Pass area (part of the 2002 trip described in the death march thread), I aborted a dayhike to a distant lake because it seemed that I might push physical collapse if I continued.
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: Go Back. You are going the wrong way

Postby slikvee » Sat Jan 28, 2012 6:26 pm

You definitely made the right decision. There's no sight worth injuring yourself (or worse) over. I've certainly had my share of trail injuries over the years and one particular experience was very rough, indeed. This is why I always tell rookie hikers or even people who "think" they are tough enough to take anything that the end does not always justify the means when it comes to safety. Always ere on the side of caution and be very cautious on trails that are far away from civilization. It could mean the difference between life and death, literally. The right weather, the right gear and the right common sense...always!
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Re: Go Back. You are going the wrong way

Postby balzaccom » Sat Jan 28, 2012 6:29 pm

Hey Brookie...I did the same thing on the summit block of Cathedral Peak. 20 feet below the summit, and just no good way to get up it that felt safe.
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Re: Go Back. You are going the wrong way

Postby lambertiana » Sat Jan 28, 2012 8:55 pm

The most notable turnaround for me was when I was doing a solo hike to summit Mokelumne Peak in the Mokelumne Wildnerness in mid-October about 15 years ago, from the Tanglefoot trailhead. To get to the trailhead, you go from Hwy 88 past Bear River Reservoir, then a few miles on a gravel road, then a few miles on a dirt road that is seldom used (brush scraping both sides of the car). I hadn't paid attention to the weather forecast, so I didn't know a storm was coming. As I proceeded, I had the entire area to myself, but the wind was slowly building, and the cloud cover was getting thicker. When I was only a few hundred feet below the summit (and about seven miles from the trailhead) the sleet started. I looked at the summit longingly, but decided to turn around. Being alone that far from the road in a blizzard would not have been good. And it was good that I turned around then. Shortly after I started back, it changed to heavy snowfall. By the time I got back to the car there was a foot of snow on the ground.

I returned the next summer with a friend and made it to the top.

In early June 2006 I decided to check out Pear Lake/Emerald Lake in SEKI (I had never been there). It was a very heavy snow year, and once I turned the corner at the Watchtower, the entire trail past that point was a steep snow slope above the big dropoff down toward Tokopah. I kick-stepped about a hundred yards, but figured that doing this alone was not the best idea and turned around.
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Re: Go Back. You are going the wrong way

Postby mokelumnekid » Sat Jan 28, 2012 10:43 pm

I've always been pretty good about assessing available daylight, so if things are taking too long we turn around- I don't even really think about it or worry about it too much. Never had summit fever. The only time things became really urgent was one year when my wife and I went in to try and do an "entire" Matthes Crest. That is, starting from the very southern end, not half-way along like the normal route which I have done previously. We camped at the base to get a very early start. We made rapid progress on the moderate rock, until I looked up and noticed a big storm, not just afternoon T-heads, approaching at incredibly rapid speed. But the location was not good for single rope rappel so we were racing along the southern tooth of the Crest to get to a place where we could rappel off. We finally simply HAD to get off the Crest and luckily found a spot where we could rappel tho I had to leave gear and slings behind. The minute we hit the deck all hell broke loose. We scampered back to our tent and managed to make the best of the rest of the day :unibrow:

Another time I found that I couldn't turn around. This was on Ariola Peak in 1978 (between Ebbetts and Sonora Pass), composed of volcanoclastic rock that is poorly consolidated, but steep. I started up a chimney on the north side that looked solid enough, but soon found myself in a place where I could not go up or down, as the "rock" has turned to junk. By some miracle I managed to continue upward and top out. But I was shaken. Oddly on the way down in a cavity I found the largest smoky quartz crystal I've ever seen from the northern Sierra- about seven inches long with a diameter of three inches.

There have been days when out doing geological work I get back after dark- but I am usually equipped to deal with that so it isn't stressful especially.
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Re: Go Back. You are going the wrong way

Postby TehipiteTom » Mon Jan 30, 2012 10:11 am

When I did Tehipite Valley in 1991, I wanted to dayhike down to Little Tehipite Valley. I got to a point where the use trail ran along a very steep extremely unstable slope ~50' down directly to the river, and there was poison oak on the uphill side, so the gap between lingering misery and certain death narrowed down to a matter of inches. That's where I turned back. As I said at the time: call me a wimp, but I'm a live wimp...and I don't itch. ;)
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Go Back. You are going the wrong way

Postby ironmike » Mon Jan 30, 2012 11:08 am

Denali in 1992. A buddy of mine planned on doing the Cassin alpine style and invited me last-minute when his original partner cancelled. At the base of the Japanese Couloir we encountered the most treacherous snow/ice conditions I'd ever seen. Very unconsolidated and loose. A record number of folks died on the mountain that season (including 2 or 3 on the Cassin), and we really didn't want to add to the total, so we decided to backtrack a bit and tackle the West Rib instead. This was no picnic either (Alaska Grade 4) seriously testing our limits with crappy weather, marginal snow/ice form, plus just the sustained exposure of the complete WR line. But I thank my lucky stars that I was able to talk my partner (a somewhat pigheaded climber) into forsaking his Cassin dream, which would have been our last climb I'm sure (a true death march!).
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Re: Go Back. You are going the wrong way

Postby SweetSierra » Mon Jan 30, 2012 7:05 pm

My story is small potatoes compared to Iron Mike's. I agree with Wandering Daisy about how it's a judgment all in the moment. At the time, my husband and I had gone over Lion Lake Pass to Iron Lake. We had read in Secor that the way to Tamarak Lake was to follow the left side of the stream. We looked over there, but not seriously. It didn't look doable. Secor's description was vague enough that we thought he might mean far left. From Lion Lake, the huge bowl around Tamarak looks like it can be navigated safely. That was my lesson from this experience. The slabs to the left of the lake looked like they were at an angle that could be negotiated. There were thunderheads overhead and lightning. When we dropped down, little cliffs intervened and we could not get down safely. Finally, my husband found a narrow ledge about 20 feet long that ended in easy terrain to the lake. But a slip meant death. It was a cliff essentialy. I couldn't carry my pack across out of fear of falling. My husband carried it for me (he went back and forth over the ledge) but on the way across with my pack, he started to waver and let the pack go. We crossed it safely. My pack survived We were more afraid of the lightning than crossing over the ledge. Reteat was an option but fatigue and the will to just get down to that lake took over. We didn't consider going back. I think of this as a calculated risk that ended well (and that sometimes, what appears to be easy, sometimes isn't because of small cliffs that you can't see). I was never so happy as to get down to Tamarak. We talked with someone else after this that said they got into the same predicament and that the trek from Lion to Tamarak looks easy, though it's not, if you miss the correct route.
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Re: Go Back. You are going the wrong way

Postby SweetSierra » Mon Jan 30, 2012 7:09 pm

Sorry for the typos.
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Re: Go Back. You are going the wrong way

Postby SweetSierra » Mon Jan 30, 2012 7:10 pm

Not Iron Lake, Lion Lake. I should never compose after work. :)
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