TR: Rush Creek to Thousand Island and some words of caution | High Sierra Topix  

TR: Rush Creek to Thousand Island and some words of caution

If you've been searching for the best source of information and stimulating discussion related to Spring/Summer/Fall backpacking, hiking and camping in the Sierra Nevada...look no further!
User avatar

TR: Rush Creek to Thousand Island and some words of caution

Postby jfelectron » Thu Jun 07, 2012 7:43 pm

This is both a trip report and a cautionary tale.

My fiance, our dog and myself drove through Yosemite to Lower Lee Vining Campground on Saturday 6/2. Its a satisfactory and lightly used campground off of Tioga Road just West of Lee Vining. We were pleased to find Jessie from Toy Story in the Bear Box:

Image

We got our permit Sunday morning and headed to the Rush Creek Trailhead near Silver Lake. The trail heads pretty much straight up past the ugly and very low Agnew lake and the prettier Gem Lake, which are both hydroelectric retention lakes. From Gem lake, an additional climb takes you up to the Clark lakes. We found a lovely site on a ridge just North of the Clark Lakes. As we arrived in the afternoon we noticed clouds building over the Ritter Range. As you might know, Sierra T-storms follow roughly a 4-5 day build cycle. By closely watching the sky each day you can roughly predict when the storm will occur.

Image

Image

Image

We woke up to brisk windy but sunny conditions and headed toward Thousand Island Lake at the base of Mt. Banner. On the way you are treated to some very nice views down the South Fork San Joaquin Valley.

Image

Once we arrived at TI, the weather looked considerably worse. Banner was half shrouded in clouds, which meant that the cloud stack was at least 1.5k thick.

Image

It soon became apparent that something wicked was brewing.

Image

Rather than bailing for lower elevations, we stupidly staid put and choose what would be a really bad site to pitch our tarp:

Image

High winds and hail started in earnest. The sound of the hail was deafening.

Image


After a number of hours, many inches of hail built up around us. Suddenly, the hail switched to rain and this melted all the hail around us. This lead to massive flooding of the bench we had pitched our tarp on.

Image

The flooding occurred within seconds and my fiances down sleeping bag partially wet. I had a synthetic quilt. We quickly shoved our bags into a backpack and prepared to move the tarp. It was near sunset and we didn't feel it was advisable to try to walk over any ridges in a T-storm to leave the lake. I rapidly tore down the tarp and ran further up the slope to find a better site. Due to the flooding, I only recovered 6 of the 8 stakes but I placed this at key positions to provide maximum stability against the winds. My fiance huddles with our dog under her poncho and then ran up to meet me. I instructed her to get under the now pitched tarp while I ran back down the hill to retrieve our backpacks and grab our additional warm clothing that we hadn't been wearing. I was successful in grabbing our backpacks and stuffed our food and stove into one. I grabbed a clothes bag and thought I had stuffed it into the other bag. There were some remaining items that had been scattered under the tarp that I deemed non-essential. My body temperature was dropping and I didn't want to remain out in the elements much longer so I ran back up to the tarp to strip off my wet clothes. At this point we realized that we didn't have all of our warm clothing and the down sleeping bag was quite wet at both ends but dry in the middle. We knew that our biggest enemy was hypothermia so we devised a strategy to make it through the night. We sand-witched either on top of each other or next to each other on a 20" wide NeoAir on top of frozen ground. We used the damp sleeping bag as a quilt over both of us and our 18 lb Terrier. We used the synthetic quilt to block gaps that the sleeping bag didn't cover.Fortunately, we each were wearing a warm hat. This strategy proved effective at trapping sufficient core heat to stave off hypothermia as temperatures plummeted during the night to the low teens. It was a sleepless night but we worked together to and kept cool heads to stay alive. Fortunately, the sun rose to clear skies but all our our gear and the entire landscape around us was a frozen winter wonderland. 5-6 inches of snow fell on top of the hail all running water on rocks was frozen. We had to chip our gear which we had left at the first campsite out of inches thick ice that formed over the flooded site. We were able to dry enough of our gear to get dressed and pack out. Snow dusted the entire region down to at least 8.5k. The trails are blazed, which made following the snow obscured trails easier.

I had tarp camped for many nights but had never experienced such adverse conditions. I do think that my many years of backcountry experience helped us survived once things degraded to a life threatening situation. I came away from this with many lessons:

1) I should not let my zeal for carrying less to compromise safety
2) I should not let the relatively warm winter and relative lack of snow in the high sierra to pacify me into thinking its summer. June is still June and inclement weather should be expected.
3) I should think more carefully about moving higher with an impending storm.
4) I should examine the topology around a chosen campsite more carefully when rain is expected.

More photos: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set= ... 559&type=1
Last edited by jfelectron on Thu Jun 07, 2012 7:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.



User avatar
jfelectron
Topix Acquainted
 
Posts: 56
Joined: Fri Jul 02, 2010 1:40 pm
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Re: TR: Rush Creek to Thousand Island and some words of caution

Postby Carne_DelMuerto » Thu Jun 07, 2012 7:49 pm

Very glad you made it back to deliver this report. Quite a tale and maybe one of the best trail reports I've read. Excellent advice all around. Thank you.
Wonder is rock and water and the life that lives in-between.
User avatar
Carne_DelMuerto
Topix Regular
 
Posts: 296
Joined: Sun Nov 28, 2010 12:43 am
Location: Auburn, CA
Experience: Level 4 Explorer

User avatar

Re: TR: Rush Creek to Thousand Island and some words of caution

Postby jfelectron » Thu Jun 07, 2012 7:59 pm

Even after many years of experience, its all too easy to become pacified my mostly good weather. Its easy to forget just how quickly things can change and become dire.
User avatar
jfelectron
Topix Acquainted
 
Posts: 56
Joined: Fri Jul 02, 2010 1:40 pm
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Re: TR: Rush Creek to Thousand Island and some words of caution

Postby phunhog » Thu Jun 07, 2012 8:26 pm

Glad you made it out safely. Serves as a good reminder to everyone to check and re-check current and expected weather conditions for your trip. Also to always have some sort of contingency plan.
User avatar
phunhog
Topix Novice
 
Posts: 6
Joined: Mon Jul 04, 2011 6:20 pm
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Re: TR: Rush Creek to Thousand Island and some words of caution

Postby quentinc » Thu Jun 07, 2012 9:02 pm

That is a scary tale and I'm glad it ended well. It's probably not much consolation, but that photo of the clouds coming over the Ritter Range is pretty amazing.
User avatar
quentinc
Topix Expert
 
Posts: 890
Joined: Tue Nov 01, 2005 10:28 pm
Location: Los Angeles
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Re: TR: Rush Creek to Thousand Island and some words of caution

Postby markskor » Thu Jun 07, 2012 9:36 pm

Not to appear callous or jaded here, but what are you doing up there so early without the proper gear in the first place?
Today too many ultra-lighters often thinking less is more, proceed to take calculated chances that the typical Sierra storms that frequently roll through will never "rain" on their early-season parade. Glad you made it back safe and all, but having tried and true gear, the experience in how to use it correctly, and the knowledge of how to pick a dry campsite initially would have placated the problem.

For the record, two of us were also up in Southern Yosemite around 8500 over Memorial Day when a 2-day storm came through.
A foot of snow (grapnel) stranded us with periods of intermittent heavy rain following...(Sound familiar?) Temps got down to the high teens...high winds/ heavy fog...all turning to morning ice. (Mike has the photos.)
Even though we were tent bound for a day (messed up some good fishing), we both stayed warm and dry, and after the storm subsided, we happily continued on for another week.
Same storm, tested gear, and never a thought of bailing out.

Yes a good tale of caution.
Mountainman who swims with trout
User avatar
markskor
Founding Member & Forums Administrator
Founding Member & Forums Administrator
 
Posts: 2048
Joined: Fri Oct 28, 2005 5:41 pm
Location: Mammoth Lakes
Experience: Level 4 Explorer

User avatar

Re: TR: Rush Creek to Thousand Island and some words of caution

Postby jfelectron » Thu Jun 07, 2012 9:53 pm

Well we all assume calculated risk in the back country eh? And I've talked to many a sierra backpacker that has never experienced foul weather in many years. They are afraid of weather and don't really know what to do. So to say one's gear is truly tried and true has to be considered in context. Even 3-season tents can fail in adverse conditions. The flooding was our down fall and the site chosen was not an obvious location for runoff to pool. For hours we weathered heavy winds and hail and rain without problem. The flooding was sudden and unpredicted and is obviously a problem with a floorless shelter. You're absolutely right, I made some stupid decisions in the spirit of ultralight.
User avatar
jfelectron
Topix Acquainted
 
Posts: 56
Joined: Fri Jul 02, 2010 1:40 pm
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Re: TR: Rush Creek to Thousand Island and some words of caution

Postby oldranger » Thu Jun 07, 2012 10:17 pm

jfelectron

My good friend mark is a little harsh in his criticism. Almost 50 years of experience has served him so well he probably has forgotten a few of his early experiences as well as how deep the snow got on our trip--3 inches max and the rain was a drizzel and it was Memorial Day weekend. But don't hold that against him, he is getting really old. You listed all right lessons and in 30 years you will probably shake your head at someone else's similar mistakes. One reason I use a 25 x 80 2.6 inch thick downmat airmattress is knowing that my bag is more likely to stay dry if an ark is in order. A tent with a bathtub floor is nice too but I've used tarps and stayed dry in multi day deluges. Don't forget those lessons you learned--ever, even on a bluebird day.

Mike
Mike

Who can't do everything he used to and what he can do takes a hell of a lot longer!
User avatar
oldranger
Topix Junkie
 
Posts: 2168
Joined: Fri Jan 19, 2007 9:18 pm
Location: Bend, Oregon
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Re: TR: Rush Creek to Thousand Island and some words of caution

Postby rlown » Thu Jun 07, 2012 10:45 pm

I didn't think mark was harsh. Still a great report on how not to set up a camp. The ominous cloud formation in your pic kind of said it all.
User avatar
rlown
Topix Junkie
 
Posts: 5349
Joined: Thu Oct 25, 2007 5:00 pm
Location: Petaluma and Wilton, CA
Experience: Level 4 Explorer

User avatar

Re: TR: Rush Creek to Thousand Island and some words of caution

Postby jfelectron » Thu Jun 07, 2012 10:51 pm

Mike,

Thanks, I respect the wisdom of your combined years. Skill kept us alive, we didn't panic and we used the pieces of equipment we had to mitigate a bad situation.

Respectfully,

Jonathan
User avatar
jfelectron
Topix Acquainted
 
Posts: 56
Joined: Fri Jul 02, 2010 1:40 pm
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Re: TR: Rush Creek to Thousand Island and some words of caution

Postby OzSwaggie » Fri Jun 08, 2012 4:26 am

Wow, exciting and scary to read, glad you survived. Pics are great too. I'm scratching my head thinking how would I know what is a good spot not to flood in those conditions - any more specific tips? you said the spot you chose was NOT an obvious place for water to pool so maybe there was just too much water and nowhere would have been good?? Your tale had a bit of everything, including the dog! Bet he got cuddled nearly to death that night! :)
User avatar
OzSwaggie
Topix Acquainted
 
Posts: 83
Joined: Fri Mar 02, 2012 9:19 pm
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Re: TR: Rush Creek to Thousand Island and some words of caution

Postby oldranger » Fri Jun 08, 2012 8:25 am

oz...

I always look for a place that water cannot flow down to. The perfect site would be over 25 ft. above the level of a stream or the nearest lake (this puts you above the level of pooling cold air over night and minimizes chances of condensation in the tent, too.) Obviously the first sentence could lead one to think a mountain top would be perfect but obviously that is not the case. A small rise on a low ridge is what I look for. Sometimes you will find what looks like a perfectly flat spot--if there are pine needles evenly and heavily covering the area it is likely to be ok but if the spot has pineneedles at one end or around the edges it is a place where water settles and not a good place to sleep. 90% of the time I choose a site with the worst case scenario in mind. But sometimes if it is late in the afternoon, the weather has been great, and there is not a cloud in sight I will pick a spot that would be less than ideal if conditions were dicey. On our trip in May to s. Yosemite only one night out of 10 did I pick less than a good spot for my tent. On Friday of Memorial Day weekend the weather was threatening and Mark and I choose our tent sites extra carefully and consequently were quite comfortable despite snow, rain, and temps down to 22°. Best thing though was that I didn't have to share a tent with mark when tentbound :D

Four other things. 1. Don't pitch your shelter under the edges of the canopy of a tree--that can lead to dumps of snow on your shelter and concentrations of water falling on it as it drips off the needles of the tree.

2. Keep your eye on the weather and do everything possible to set up shelter before preciptation starts. It is a good Idea to figure out at home the best way to set up your shelter in precipitation without getting moisture inside.

3. If you can avoid breaking camp when it is pouring rain or dumping snow. That helps keep your gear dry (less weight to carry and clothes keep dry). Mark and I made Saturday of memorial day weekend a layover day even though it was not planned. We lost a planned layover day at another loction and missed visiting one lake but we were warm, comfortable, and the following day was beautiful and good for traveling. Lesson: Be willing to adjust plans to the weather--you have future years to visit the places you might have to miss.

4. Always have some activity for layover days. I read, Mark does sketches. If you are with your honey :littledevil: !

Cheers

Mike
Mike

Who can't do everything he used to and what he can do takes a hell of a lot longer!
User avatar
oldranger
Topix Junkie
 
Posts: 2168
Joined: Fri Jan 19, 2007 9:18 pm
Location: Bend, Oregon
Experience: N/A

Next

Return to Backpacking / Hiking / Camping



Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Bing [Bot], Google [Bot] and 10 guests