What Is Your Biggest Blunder

Grab your bear can or camp chair, kick your feet up and chew the fat about anything Sierra Nevada related that doesn't quite fit in any of the other forums. Within reason, (and the HST rules and guidelines) this is also an anything goes forum. Tell stories, discuss wilderness issues, music, or whatever else the High Sierra stirs up in your mind.
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Lumbergh21
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Re: What Is Your Biggest Blunder

Post by Lumbergh21 » Wed Feb 21, 2018 9:35 pm

SSSdave wrote:balance, that is a pretty good one haha. Am interested though in how familiar you were before doing so of getting into cold High Sierra waters since a majority of backpackers almost NEVER immerse themselves during their trips?

As I've related numerous times on the board, those I backpack with do so daily despite how cold water is. (And my writing this is proof we've lived to see another day haha) In doing so I've developed a huge respect for how debilitating cold water can be. And note, there is an immense difference between 55F (winter Pacific beach water) and 45F (many Sierra lakes mid summer and 35F (Sierra lakes at ice break up and those with heavy snow inflow). Water that is just above freezing is ridiculously debilitating such that I can barely stand putting my hands in such say to wash socks. It has been a few years since we had a thread about how to immerse oneself in cold water so maybe will start a thread this May.
I spent about 10 minutes in Papoose Lake at the end of May in the Trinity Alps. Still snow down to the lake. After rinsing out my clothes and rinsing myself off, I got out of the lake, dried myself off and put on my dry camp clothes and down puffy. I couldn't stop shivering, so I skipped dinner and got under my 20 degree down quilt for 15 minutes before I finally stopped shivering. Crazy cold.

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Re: What Is Your Biggest Blunder

Post by balance » Wed Feb 28, 2018 10:12 pm

Reply to SSSDave

I knew enough to realize how dumb it was. I do winter snowshoeing and some snow mountaineering, so hypothermia is a familiar topic. I'm also one of those people who likes to jump in a lake or stream to get clean at the end of the day, whether summer, fall or spring.

I'd like to say that the reason I did something so foolhardy was that I had been dating a woman who did spur of the moment, dramatic, impetuous things whenever the mood struck her. Of course that excuse is absurd reasoning. But since my former girlfriend is not here to say otherwise, that's the story I'm going use to rationalize my big mistake. It was all her fault. Although she was many miles away, she made me jump into that frigid water and almost die.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it. :nod:

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Re: What Is Your Biggest Blunder

Post by oleander » Mon Mar 19, 2018 11:05 pm

My friend and I - at the time, in our early twenties and pretty inexperienced at backpacking - wisely signed up at REI for an all-day compass field course.

Then, the weather got nice. So we decided to forfeit the class and go backpacking instead.

The Sierra National Forest was beautiful, that June. Ultimately we got off the trail and followed a very pretty watercourse downhill. Way downhill. I remember joking with her: Why would we even need a compass course? We seem to be doing just fine.

After a nice lunch, we realized we had no idea how to get back up. Tributaries came in from every direction. Which one of them had we descended?

So then we pulled out our compasses and had a long and heated argument about how the heck to interpret them.

Eventually made it back to the trail, more than a little humbled.

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Re: What Is Your Biggest Blunder

Post by mnagwalker » Sun May 13, 2018 4:35 pm

The time my tent went missing in Dusy Basin. Long story but maybe amusing to some.

In September 2009 I planned to do a 5-day solo backpacking trip through Evolution Valley starting from the trailhead at South Lake. I got a late start on day one. It was late afternoon when I went over Bishop Pass where the weather became a bit unsettled. When I reached Dusy Basin a short time later, the wind and light rain had dissipated and the sky was mostly clear. It was already late so I decided to stop and camp in this scenic area.

Dusy Basin is surrounded on three sides by iconic massifs of the Palisades, Mount Goode, and Isosceles Peak. To the west is a deep drop into Le Conte Canyon and an impressive array of more distant peaks. In clear weather these landmarks make off-trail navigation almost a no-brainer. In contrast, the basin’s floor is a relatively undifferentiated landscape: rolling undulations of similar looking rocky hummocks and slabs, clumps of stubby pine trees, and a scattered collection of more than a dozen small lakes and tarns.

I stepped off the trail about 1.5 miles below Bishop Pass and hiked over rocky terrain for a hundred yards or so. I didn’t see any other campers around. For all I knew I had all of Dusy Basin to myself. I dropped my pack and set up my tent on a flat sandy spot between two hummocks. A fairly short distance away, down a shallow low-angled gully I could see a small lake where I could get water.

The sun was low in the sky and I realized it would probably set while I was down at the lake. Knowing how quickly it cools down in the mountains, I put on my down sweater and stuffed my gloves and hat in a pocket. I then set off for the lake with these items, my headlamp, a paper map, my iPhone, a water filter, and a two-liter water bladder.

Going down the gully I lost sight of my tent behind the rocky crest above. For a second I considered leaving a set of ducks to follow as breadcrumbs for my return. I decided this wasn’t necessary. A few minutes later I was at the lake and started filtering water.

While working the hand pump I gawked at the impressive scenery. Sunset is always the most beautiful time of day, especially in the mountains. I watched the fading alpenglow on the face of Isosceles Peak. Then I watched the last bit of sun disappear behind the ridge far to the west. As if on cue, the temperature rapidly dropped. Just as quickly, the cool moisture-laden air turned into dense fog.

By the time I was done pumping water the scene had transformed. Everything more than fifty feet away was in complete white out. All the surrounding macro-scale landmarks were obscured. Off trail navigation wasn’t the no-brainer it had been just minutes earlier. I would have to find my way back using only what I could see in my fifty foot perimeter. No problem, I’ll just go back up the gully I came down. How hard could that be?

I turned to face the gully and saw that there were actually two gullies. Which one was mine? For some reason I chose the one on the left. Up through the fog I went. I soon became convinced I was in the wrong gully. No problem, I’ll just cut to the right. A few more course “corrections” later and I was completely disoriented.

I had neglected a simple rule of navigation: when you first realize you’re off-course try going back to your last good location and regaining the course from there. Instead, I pushed on believing I could make course-correcting adjustments along the way. These became increasingly arbitrary guesses, a random walk in the near white-out of fog. Backtracking was no longer an option. Now, utterly disoriented, I had no idea which direction lead back to the lake. Light was rapidly fading but it wasn’t dark yet. I decided I had no choice but to stumble around looking for the tent while I could still see.

The twilight gradually faded into darkness. At the same time, the fog slowly lifted. With the fog gone, I could once again see all the surrounding landmarks now illuminated by the brightly shining moon and a sky full of stars. It became apparent that I was traveling directly toward Isosceles Peak. This was disconcerting because I wanted to be going in the exact opposite direction.

A few minutes later I spotted a campsite. As I approached I saw two campers outside their tent. I told them how glad I was to run into somebody and explained my predicament. They generously offered me a spot at their camp for the night.

As I considered this kind offer I assessed the situation. I badly wanted to find my tent and was annoyed at having lost the damn thing. I knew it was tantalizingly close by, a bit lower down towards Le Conte Canyon. There was no longer any trace of fog. With the bright half-moon and all the stars there was enough light to walk around safely. Plus, I had my headlamp. The weather was clear and windless. It was chilly but I was comfortable enough in my down sweater, hat, and gloves. My orientation was restored. I had a paper map and knew my location on it.

In short, the situation was not dire. I was not lost. My tent had just gone missing. I thought if I got back on the Bishop Pass trail I could find it by retracing the steps I took before setting up camp. I asked the campers if they could direct me back to the trail. They described the short hike between their site and the trail. I thanked them, let them know I would be OK continuing my search, and headed off toward the trail. As I walked I decided that, if necessary, I could always hike the 7.5 miles back to South Lake by headlamp, sleep in my truck, and come back for the tent after the sun was up. This seemed like an excessive amount of time and effort. I would stay and search.

I found my way back to the trail in a few minutes. Once there I turned left towards Le Conte Canyon and the point where I had earlier exited the trail. I soon passed the metal pole used for making snow depth measurements. I remembered going off-trail not far below this point. But it was difficult finding exactly where. I ventured off the trail in several places that looked familiar but these forays yielded no tent and no clues.

This approach wasn’t working so I decided to try a new tack. On my iPhone I had a GPS app and downloaded copies of the USGS 7.5 minute quads for the areas I planned to hike. Stupidly, I had not bothered to mark my tent location with a GPS waypoint. But I could locate my current location precisely on the GPS map.

The map also showed the numerous small lakes that dotted the area. I decided to systematically visit them one by one using the iPhone app to navigate. With all the moonlight and starlight, I was pleased at how well I could see without using my headlamp. I assumed I would be able to recognize the lake where I got water and, since the fog was now gone, identifying the correct gully back up to my tent would, hopefully, now be obvious. Off I went.

I spent a couple of hours going from lake to lake. It became clear that none were the right lake. I worked my way west, down toward Le Conte Canyon. Eventually I hit the top of a small cliff band. I hadn’t climbed up any cliffs earlier. So it seemed reasonable to conclude that I should limit my search to the lakes east of this band. I made another round revisiting every lake east of the cliff band. Still no luck. Then the iPhone battery died.

At this point, I was getting tired and more than a little frustrated. I decided to hunker down and wait for daylight. I tried to make a bed of pine boughs to have some insulation from the cold rocky ground. Unfortunately I had no axe or saw. The short scrubby pine trees were extremely tough and could not be persuaded to give up their limbs. These guys survive burial under twenty feet of heavy wet Sierra snow every winter. So my efforts to pry and twist off boughs were easily defeated.

I ended up dumping most of the water from my water bladder and filling it with air so it could be used as a seat cushion. I could squat on this while leaning back on a tree and almost, but not quite, achieve sleep. This soon got old. I was getting uncomfortably chilly, even with the improvised seat cushion.

I decided that walking would generate body heat and be warmer and less miserable than sitting. Plus the chance of getting lucky and bumping into my tent wouldn’t be zero. The remainder of the night was spent roaming around in a zombie stupor, partly in half-assed search mode, but mostly just trying to stay warm.

Eventually pre-dawn twilight crept over the landscape. There was frost on the ground and the small amount of water still in my water bladder was frozen. With the benefit of daylight I began searching again in earnest. At some point I passed by the two campers I met the previous evening. They were now up making breakfast. I assured them everything was OK. Now that it was daylight I would find the tent soon. Either that or I’d hike out to my truck and come back later. They smiled and nodded politely, no doubt thinking I was delirious with hypothermia.

The sun was well above the horizon by the time I finally connected the dots: I need to search below the cliff band. I had exhaustively and repeatedly covered the area above. So look elsewhere, dummy. I worked my way over and down around the cliffy part. A short time later I passed between two hummocks. And there was my tent...
Last edited by mnagwalker on Mon May 14, 2018 2:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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longri
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Re: What Is Your Biggest Blunder

Post by longri » Sun May 13, 2018 5:47 pm

mnagwalker wrote:I was not lost. My tent had just gone missing.
That was a fun read. Thanks.

My first thought was that yours was too long a post for the internet age. Who has time to read more 140 characters? But I started reading anyway and found that your little story was carefully composed and entertaining. Moreover, it brought back memories of my own blunders, including one night in Dusy Basin where we wandered around for hours in the dark, searching for our bivy site, at one point passing within 25 feet of it yet unaware. Your story evoked numerous other memories. I've blundered so many times in so many places that choosing one would be difficult.

Fortunately, like your error, my blunders have been inconsequential. It's for that reason that the stories I might write about them wouldn't have the currency that a real epic story might. Steve Roper once wrote that in order for a story to be good someone has to break a leg. Either that or a real knack for writing is essential. I don't have either.

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Re: What Is Your Biggest Blunder

Post by Jimr » Mon May 14, 2018 10:44 pm

Dusy Basin seems to be a bit of a blunderfest. In 1985, my buddies and I spent several hours looking for out lost tent.....well, lost campsite. It wasn't the campsites fault. It was ours. That's what happens when you drop acid, the go on a fishing adventure.
When life closes a door, open it again.
It's a door, that's how they work.

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Re: What Is Your Biggest Blunder

Post by Wandering Daisy » Tue May 15, 2018 4:55 pm

Dusy basin actually has quite complex terrain. Not that easy to "read" the map. Lots of little subtleties that even a GPS will not pick up. I always carry one or more very bright stuff sacks, and tie that to the top of my tent so I can find it. Now that I am using an orange tent, less of a problem. I have never lost my tent for more than an hour, but have momentarily lost it many times! Mountaineers carry very bright colored tents so they can find it. On glaciers and large snowfields, they actually take wands with little flags and plant them going out on your climb, and then pick them up on the way back.

Thanks for the story. It was very fun to read. Lots of good learning points too.

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longri
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Re: What Is Your Biggest Blunder

Post by longri » Tue May 15, 2018 7:13 pm

Wandering Daisy wrote:Dusy basin actually has quite complex terrain. Not that easy to "read" the map. Lots of little subtleties that even a GPS will not pick up.
It is a bit convoluted. I placed a cache there one time in an "obvious" place. When I went back on a dayhike to retrieve the empty canister I forgot my map. And I was surprised at how that complicated my search. I found the canister but it took a little longer as a result.

That said, with a GPS it would have been child's play. A decent GPS nowadays will easily get you within spitting distance of a tent. The GPS in my phone can even tell me what part of my house I'm in and I live in a pretty small house. In the not too distant future we'll all have GPS chips in our phones accurate to about 10cm/2.5".

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Re: What Is Your Biggest Blunder

Post by creekfeet » Tue May 15, 2018 9:50 pm

It's refreshing to hear I'm not the only one that's ever completely lost track of camp before. For me it happened in the Tablelands. I began my hike from the Lodgepole campground where I ran into a girl I knew at the amphitheater. She was with a group of elderly people and I was confused, so we got to talking, and I asked her what she was up to. She said it was an impromptu Sunday mass to which I replied, "That's right, it's Sunday."

A woman in the group gave me a judgmental look and said, "May God be with you in the mountains."

It was an ominous way to start a trip, but things went well as I crossed from Alta Meadow to Moose Lake. I'd never been to Moose before, and I didn't much care for its starkness, so I pushed on without descending to it. Instead I wound up at some beautiful little pond where I dropped my pack. I hadn't bothered to bring a tent, so there was no setting up to do. It was still fairly early, so I decided to do some exploring. I used a stuff sack as a backpack, and loaded it with all my food, some water, a headlamp, and a map. Besides that I just had the clothes on my back, which were swimming trunks and a long-sleeve shirt.

I set a time by which I should turn-around while still having plenty of leftover light in case I got lost. But as I went deeper into the Tablelands, I got hellbent on making it over the crest which was seemingly forever on the horizon. By the time I finally got there, sunlight was limited, but the view of Fergusson Canyon that evening was one of my all-time favorite scenes in the Sierra. Initially I thought it would be easy to retrace my steps and find my camp, but that was before I realized that there are about 1,000 ponds in the Tablelands that aren't exactly easy to tell apart.

It got to the point where I knew I'd have to find my camp in the dark, and by then I was close to the Pear Lake Ski Hut. I'd met the ranger there before a few times, but I'd forgotten her name and had way too much pride to show up and admit that I couldn't find my camp. So instead I ran up to the top of a ridge to get a better view of things, but once I got there it was dark. All I could see were stars reflecting off Moose Lake in the distance. Knowing I was more or less in the right area I started wondering around aimlessly. I came upon a small pond, but didn't see my pack. Accepting my fate, I started gathering rocks to build walls to cut the wind. I knew it wouldn't make much of a difference, but I needed to do something to keep moving. Using my map as a blanket, I was actually able to sleep for a half hour or so before this booming voice in the night said I needed to keep moving or I'd freeze to death.

I hadn't really slept in a few days, so I was super delirious. In my delirium I wandered up and down little peaks, occasionally stopping to sleep in twenty minute increments when I could find mini-talus caves. One of these caves that I stopped at was inexplicably warm, and I actually got kind of cozy. When the sun rose I was wondering around on some ridge, and with the morning light I knew exactly where I was. I descended towards what I was 95% certain was my pond. Sure enough I saw my backpack lying about, but what shocked me was what I saw no less than fifty feet away from it. Standing there were the rock walls I'd built the night before. I'd wandered all around that damn pond looking for rocks, and somehow I'd never stumbled across my pack.

Walking back along the Watchtower I ran into a guy I knew from the trail crew, and he shared oreos and a joint with me. This fueled me up pretty well, and I rolled into Wolverton nice and early. Not wanting to walk back to Lodgepole, I hitched a ride down to the shuttle stop at the General Sherman. The woman that gave me a ride had been super reluctant, and told me I was lazy for getting a ride for such a short distance. I thanked her and said, "May God be with you in the mountains."

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Re: What Is Your Biggest Blunder

Post by mnagwalker » Wed May 16, 2018 12:17 pm

Blunders we can laugh at and, hopefully, learn from are one thing. Reading about Bob Woodie, who was found very near where I spent my chilly night, put my little story into an entirely different light. Mother Nature didn’t throw anything at me more severe than a short period of fog. I can only imagine how much more difficult traversing that rocky maze would have been for Bob who had to battle a sustained period of extreme winds, snow, and cold -- very sobering. There but for luck and weather…

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