Another Epic Tale from the Sierra

Discuss your favorite wilderness related books. Share your favorite poetry, quotes and folktales. Here's your chance to showcase your creative side!
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rightstar76
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Post by rightstar76 » Tue Aug 15, 2006 1:41 pm

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Post by giantbrookie » Wed Aug 16, 2006 7:26 am

rightstar76 wrote:It gave me a creepy feeling to think about how easy it is to die in one of these drainages and how careful you have to be if you're going to go cross country-not just physically, but mentally as well.
Yeah, you got that right. The place where they think he went through a snow bridge is in what most off trail hikers would consider very benign terrain (note photos in the book), but if you put snow over that drainage you add that snow bridge hazard which is I guess is sort of like our gentle mountain range equivalent of a crevasse hazard. Yes, I would read all these extreme mountaineering books about the Himalaya, Patagonia, etc. and I never really thought of our largely non-technical Sierra as being so potentially lethal for it is such a mellow mountain range in comparison. Yet I myself came close to getting killed twice as a result of very poor judgement on non-technical off trail stuff: once climbing (foolish attempted glissade on super steep spring snow--had great difficulty self-arresting), once FISHING for crying out loud (traversing steep sandy toe of rock glacier to get better casting angle to go after 20" goldens--undermined giant boulder that nearly crushed me and I broke my ankle upon landing after I barely dodged it with a huge sideways leap). This brings us back to your second point about the mental aspect...
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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Post by rightstar76 » Wed Aug 16, 2006 12:35 pm

How far were you in the backcountry? Were you medivaced?

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Post by giantbrookie » Wed Aug 16, 2006 4:17 pm

rightstar76 wrote:How far were you in the backcountry? Were you medivaced?
I hopped out, given that it was only a hairline fracture. I was 2-3 miles cross country from my camp, which was another 5 miles by trail to the car.

The whole thing was the result of undercutting an immense boulder that was embedded in the sand matrix of a rock glacier toe that bounded one side of this amazing lake with 20" goldens. The boulder lurched toward me from 10-15' above and I pretty much figured I was doomed, given it was so close and I had so little room to avoid it. There was no time for my life to flash before my eyes. I resigned myself to death and anticipated the feeling of getting crushed to the thickness of a credit card. The graphic mental imagery is forever etched into my mind. A desperate reflex sideways leap, aided immensely by the fact that my vertical jump those days was in the 30" range, just barely got me out of the way. Oddly enough, I broke the ankle touching down in snow--a small price to pay, however. I saw the lower leg sort of rotate in slow motion to a very unnatural angle, and expected much worse. I was pleasantly surprised to see no protruding bones and less swelling than I've had in some of my more severe ankle sprains. It still couldn't really support weight, though, leaving me in a pickle. To get back to camp I had to get around the lake. I didn't want to recross the lethal slope (the accident had occurred right as I was finishing my crossing of it), but the alternative was a steep snow climb w/o ice axe and using one foot, surmounted by a 10-15' class 3 pitch. The kicking steps with one foot (without losing my balance and going down), was an adventure, as was the class 3. This was followed by crawling some otherwise easy talus boulders to return to the lake shore where the shoreline was much more benign (low angle talus and slabs).

Here I took my fishing gear back out of the rucksack and attempted once again to do what I was there for catch those infernal 20" goldens. I had an 18-incher to within inches of the shore, but then had it unceremoniously flop off. After all that, zero fish. I then hopped the 2-3 mi of cross country down to the lower lake where I was camped with my dad. "Dad, I think I broke my ankle. Maybe it's just a little sprain or something, but I'll know tomorrow morning. If it's just not a big deal we'll bag Basin Mtn. tomorrow." I then described the accident. My dad had in fact been at the lake on the opposite side until about an hour before the accident; we had both jetted there after bagging a peak. He had witnessed the big warning sign that should have turned me around earlier. I had hopped onto this van-sized boulder that looked to give me a 180 degree casting platform, only to have it roll and pitch me into the lake. "At that point you should have clued in and turned around". Yup.

The next morning I crawled out of my bag toward the tent entrance in order to take the morning pee and cook breakfast. The first little push off while crawling sent electric pain up from my right ankle. "Dad, we're not doing Basin today. Sorry." After the usual boring oatmeal, I hopped on one leg around this lower lake to a good casting spot then rang up double figures in medium sized brookies, a few of which I kept to cook for a departure brunch. We then broke camp and headed to the car. My dad always hiked with an old wooden walking stick. I borrowed it and pogo sticked my way the 5 mi 2250 feet of loss to the car, never once stopping (starting up hurt quite a bit), and making it back somewhere in the two hour range with a somewhat tired right arm and sore hand. My poor dad, who hiked like a demon with his stick, was hurting without, and reached the car much later.

After returning home I still didn't believe the ankle was badly damaged and I drove to work the next morning (couldn't of been too bad given that I could still depress the gas pedal), only to find I couldn't climb the stairs to my workplace. I went back to the car, drove to the hospital, where they x-ray'd it, determined the ankle to have a hairline fracture, and casted it up, after which I returned to work.

The funny postscript to a not so funny story comes from my wife's reaction upon coming home. I expected to receive a well-deserved tongue lashing for my idiocy. After telling the story, I cringed and waited for the barrage. My wife's reply:" So HOW big are those goldens? And, how hard is it to get to that lake?"
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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Post by rightstar76 » Wed Aug 16, 2006 8:07 pm

Glad you made it out in one piece! I remember seeing someone ahead of me while climbing the MR on Whitney nearly dodge a large boulder after reaching the top of the col. I had originally planned to go around the west face but after seeing the boulder come down, I decided to go up the gully to the left.

Speaking of wives, when I was backpacking with my wife last week, I went on a dayhike from Rae Lakes to Sixty Lake Basin and cross-country up to the overlook above Gardiner Basin. I told her I would be gone 5 hours. Coming back took me a little longer than I thought and I actually took about 6 hours. By that time, she had gone to the ranger. When she arrived at the ranger station there was somebody already there saying his daughter had real bad altitude sickness and needed help. Meanwhile I was back at camp just about to relax when I saw the note. I then went back to the main trail and intercepted the three, my wife, the ranger and the man as they were coming the opposite direction. Later, my wife did give me a big lecture about taking longer than I told her and going too far off the trail, etc. I guess it's hard not to resist going cross-country when you're in the mountains, even when you have a wife waiting for you.

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Post by giantbrookie » Thu Aug 17, 2006 12:21 pm

rightstar76 wrote:I remember seeing someone ahead of me while climbing the MR on Whitney nearly dodge a large boulder after reaching the top of the col.

Speaking of wives, when I was backpacking with my wife last week, I went on a dayhike from Rae Lakes to Sixty Lake Basin and cross-country up to the overlook above Gardiner Basin. I told her I would be gone 5 hours. Coming back took me a little longer than I thought and I actually took about 6 hours. Later, my wife did give me a big lecture about taking longer than I told her and going too far off the trail, etc. I guess it's hard not to resist going cross-country when you're in the mountains, even when you have a wife waiting for you.
At the risk of diverting this thread too far off topic, I can't resist responding (although I WILL return to the original subject of this thread at the end of this post).
The Whitney MR does have some hairy rockfall, much of it getting knocked onto/into it from by climbers on various E. Face routes (the call of "rock" was occasionally heard). I climbed it in 1970 with my family and I still remember the eerie, echoing, "crack" "crack" sounds as the rocks flew and bounced from points uncertain. While resting at the notch a big one came down. I flattened myself against a 10' vertical, north-facing cliff I thought should protect me and I saw this 3-foot-boulder vault into space above my head. Later, during the descent, my dad and mom were the last ones out of the chute, well behind the others (my dad, the strongest of the party was helping my mom down); the rest of us watched them from Iceberg Lake. A 3-foot boulder came rumbling down the chute. I saw them move one way, and, as these stories go, the boulder seemed to bounce the way they were dodging. I then saw them run sideways out of the chute--the fastest I ever saw my mom move in the Sierras--and the boulder missed them by about 5 feet. Because our night had been miserable at Iceberg L. before (super cold with high altitude headaches), our group decided to descend as far as they could before camping. We didn't get very far and we bivouacked among the talus at the base of the steep rise below Iceberg Lake. That night the odd position of our camp attracted the attention of a SAR group looking for someone who had their chest smashed by a boulder somewhere on the east face. The next morning a helicopter was flying all over the place.

Regarding wives, my wife was my ace backpacking and fishing partner, on all sorts of amazing trips from the late 80's until our first one came in 2002--she will rejoin me again someday when the kids start backpacking (we just dayhike right now). We almost never split off on our own--she was very much against any solo effort, especially if it involved bagging a peak. However, she was very understanding about slop in terms of estimated time (realizing from experience that plus or minus 50 percent is really ballpark up there). One time we did this epic split (gone for a long time), and she didn't flinch. We were moving our packs from South Guard L. to the Sphinxes. She figured on dropping the pack en route and hitting Big Brewer, because I had in fact split off and fished it the day before rather successfully and we were both hurting from a fishing standpoint after finding no fish in South Guard. On my part, I wanted to explore inaccessible North Guard Lake and I needed to really fly with my pack to the Sphinxes in order to have time to dayhike to the distant lake. I gave her a pre-arranged meeting place at the uppermost Sphinx Lake, hiked to the meeting lake, dropped my pack in a visible place, and took off. It was the spookiest solo thing I ever did. I don't know why but I had very bad vibes about the whole thing. It was a creepy feeling I had never had before and hope to never have again in the Sierra. I don't know if it's because the long hike is a net downhill and I had to "climb back out of the hole", but my confidence and psyche weren't good, even though the entire route is class 2. Fortunately nothing happened, I explored the lake, hiked back easily over the top and got back to the uppermost Sphinx around dinner time to see my wife concentrating very hard on fishing the lake (and enjoying herself). The closest I've come to having someone go get a rescuer for me was in 1973 when my dad and I were gone 13 hours from Thousand Island Lake climbing Mt. Ritter (huge route finding gaffe turning a class 2 route into a hairy class 4 thing--I was so scared I took the entire next year off from peak bagging). My brother and mom were just about to leave camp to get help when my dad and I arrived. Thank goodness we got back before they left, otherwise we would have had to send a real rescue party for my bro and mom who couldn't find their way out of a paper bag and would have gotten lost for sure.

Getting back to the Last Season, which is what the thread is all about, the fatal spot on Window Creek reminds me somewhat of Renato Casarotto's tragic end at the base of K2 in 1986 (he fell into a crevasse just when it looked like he had narrowly escaped on a retreat from a daring solo on K2--he had in fact gotten off the face and was in radio contact of base camp and within binocular sight when disaster struck) in the sense that the tough part of that part of Morgenson's route was over (Explorer Col, especially the north side of it), and the angle of the route was easing. Even if he had been in a better mental state, there would be the tendency for anyone to ease up a bit in terms of alertness after getting down into the more gentle topography. If you don't know the Casarotto story, it is one of the multiple tragedies that felled a number of the world's greatest climbers on K2 in 1986. That horrific chronicle is very well told in Kurt Diemburger's classic "The Endless Knot", a book that makes Into Thin Air sound like child's play (even though the latter is certainly well written).
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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Post by Snow Nymph » Tue Aug 29, 2006 12:41 am

George,
Do you remember calling for a helicopter in '89, from Guitar Lake for a pulmonary edema victim? And them meeting the person on the trail a few years later (near JMT/Charlotte Lake).
Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free . . . . Jim Morrison


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the last season

Post by Wade Helding » Tue Sep 12, 2006 12:25 am

George and others,
I just finished reading The Last Season. It is a testiment to Randy, the author and the Sierra that I want to discuss it. I am from Wisconsin, home of John Muir, it is beatiful country, it is to bad he felt he had to leave it. I have questions and obseravtions about the story that I would like to discuss, but it will not always be a love feasts and I know Ranger Randy was a friend to some of you and I don't want to offend or disrespect anyone. I am impressed with the detication and ability of the Back Country Rangers, however not as impressed as the author. it would seem to me the the list of people that would love to, and have the ablity to do this job, is longer than the availible slots to be filled by the NPS. Basically to my mind, I am more impressed with people who do a job most people are unable to do, neuro-surgery, or a job they are unwilling to do, janitor, than people who do a job many would love to do. I bring this up because the author of the book makes the fact the Randy does this brutal, dangerous, low paid job, a central theme in Randy's persona. The author seems to think that fact that Randy was a back country ranger makes him some kind of hero. I say he was lucky to get paid to do what he loved, that many people work in a cubicle to work and get a week each summer to experience the wilderness he got paid to experiece. Anyway, that was one of my thoughts as I read the book. Again I know he was a friend to those who knew him and I don't want angry responses, I just want to discuss my thoughts with some others who know the situation better than I do.

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Post by rightstar76 » Fri Sep 15, 2006 1:24 am

While the author of the book acknowledges the popularity of the position Randy held, he also highlights the negatives. The author does this to illustrate to his readers how what appeared to be a plum job was actually a ball and chain to Randy. The author also includes Randy's personal journals which reveal great psychological suffering over having to play the role of ranger, something the public and Randy's colleagues didn't see. The author only lists Randy's accomplishments to show that he took his job seriously and served the public above and beyond what was expected of him. I don't think the author is trying to make Randy into a hero. Rather, the author I think wants to contrast the view of Randy the public had versus Randy's inner self. The author shows how people saw Randy as a hero and a legendary figure as well as a modern day John Muir. That's why people were so surprised when Randy disappeared. He was the last person anyone would have thought could be susceptible to dying in the mountains. The author explores reasons why Randy might have died so we can come to our own conclusion. He reveals a side of Randy that is flawed and psychologically disturbed. Randy wants very badly to be his true self, but he doesn't know how to integrate his true self with his role as ranger and fervent environmentalist. At times he becomes aware of how he alienates other people for example when he visits his colleague at Simpson Meadow and apologizes for his behavior but says he doesn't know why he does it. Even after the affair and having alienated most of his colleagues, he still doesn't understand himself or the consequences of his actions. His journals reveal that for years he has been lonely and doesn't know how to solve it. This is why I really don't think the author is trying to show Randy as a hero. The author is trying to show that there are costs keeping a fun job like Randy did. In exchange for all the time he spent outside, he traded in security and recognition. He also gave up any chance of making management decisions for the mountains he so loved. That's because he would have had to work in an office and/or go back and get his college degree, something he didn't want to do. However, the author isn't trying to portray the job in a negative light by any means. A lot of people are park rangers a better portion of their lives and are happy and content and wouldn't do anything else no matter what the pay. However, for Randy this was not the case. Underneath his heroic image was a sad and desperate person. The fact that nobody knew about it is one of the reasons the book is so interesting.

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Renaming Peak 13,920+ To Mt. Morgenson

Post by Richard » Wed Dec 06, 2006 8:18 pm

Trying to get the word out about this, so there will be more discussion.

http://www.whitneyportalstore.com/cgi-b ... 005219;p=0

http://www.mt-whitney.info/viewtopic.php?t=1497

BTW, I thought the book was excellent.

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