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Backpacking Responsibly

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.

Backpacking Responsibly

Postby maverick » Wed Jun 11, 2014 3:36 pm

Probably not the right decision
it was the best trip of life

Well that sums up it up. This open letter is in response to a current TR here: viewtopic.php?f=1&t=11138

Don’t want to come across as being harsh, the OP made some poor
decisions, to the point of being reckless. The decision to embark on a trip into
the backcountry on a bum knee is reckless, and then the friend suffering from
a serious foot problem should have had them bail much, much earlier. Sure they
all made it out okay, this time, but the OP fails to mentioned any lessons
learned from this experience, but rather finishes by saying "it was the best
trip of my life".

I hope this trip does not embolden the OP, or anyone else reading this TR, to
make such reckless decisions in the future. When embarking on these trips one
needs to have awareness and make calculated decisions, its not only about
you, your decisions impact your wife, kids, family, and friends, they all suffer if
you don’t. Not to mention the SAR folks who put their lives on the line looking
for you and extracting you from the backcountry.

There are new members on this forum who read these TR’s which was my main
motivation in posting this as an open letter, as opposed to a PM or attaching it to
the existing TR. Going in to the backcountry injured is not okay or cool, the OP
lucked out this time, but no one should count on this kind of outcome every time.

In 2012-13 season several people lost their lives in the Sierra Nevada, all
considered seasoned backcountry hikers/backpackers/climbers, some were
members of different forums like Summitpost and Supertopo. Those of you who
have been members or have been lurking here for less than a year may not be
aware that we here at HST also lost a friend, and long time member Larry Conn
while he was out backpacking in the Taboose Pass region of Kings Canyon:

Which consequently lead HST members to plan a major search effort for him in
the following year to look for his remains:

That tragedy has had a long lasting effect on many HST members, it has changed
the ways some folks now approach going into the backcountry, it also made them
reaccess their decision making process when it comes to safety. When it happens
to one of your own, it really make you re-evaluate a lot of things in your life.

So please do not fall prey to the false belief that nothing can or will happen to
you, many folks before us with much more experienced have perished in the
mountains. As a member of HST, and person who not only genuinely cares about
the safety and well being of its members, but also that you all enjoy your Sierra
experience to the fullest, I hope you heed this simple cautioning, and have a
wonderful summer season.

Mother nature doesn’t keep count on how many times you cheat death only the
human ego does.

PS Please use the HST Reconn Form: viewtopic.php?f=1&t=10192
Professional Sierra Landscape Photographer

I don't give out specific route information, my belief is that it takes away from the whole adventure spirit of a trip, if you need every inch planned out, you'll have to get that from someone else.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org

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Re: Backpacking Responsibly

Postby rlown » Wed Jun 11, 2014 3:37 pm

We tend to remember our most challenging trips as our best trips. Don't be lulled into a false sense of security. Plan and re-plan and be prepared to abort trips in the Sierra if you're not 100%, or even if something comes up that is a stretch.

Agree with everything you stated, Mav.
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Re: Backpacking Responsibly

Postby maiathebee » Wed Jun 11, 2014 4:17 pm

This is so important. SO important. Thank you for posting this, mav. :thumbsup:

It's never a good idea to let bravado or "this is my only chance ever" dominate your decisions. If you do, you might actually get what you acted on---this trip might really be your only chance ever because you might lose your life or severely injure yourself. Turning back for safety means that you WILL get another chance.

Heck, I already changed a trip this spring because the conditions were more difficult than expected. It turned out to be a great decision because I went to a place (Half Moon Lake in Desolation Wilderness) that I had always skipped because it was too close to the trailhead.

Don't be stupid. It's not just about you.
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Re: Backpacking Responsibly

Postby Tom_H » Wed Jun 11, 2014 5:09 pm

It is irresponsible. They put not only themselves at risk, but possibly SAR personnel and give no thought to how death or injury to themselves may affect others. Ah, the blindness and feeling of immortality on the part of the young!

This is why some of us advocate taking classes from REI, NOLS, or at least doing some serious reading and preparation before undertaking this pursuit, especially for those who want to attempt it in winter. There are some on here who say that doesn't matter, that you should just get out there and do it. That is dangerous advice. I grew up in Boy Scouts and still practice the motto: Be Prepared.

Nice and thoughtful essay, Mav. I hope the author of the TR will remain part of the forum and take Mav's excellent advice to heart. Mav isn't trying to be unkind to you, he's trying to keep you alive.
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Re: Backpacking Responsibly

Postby Wandering Daisy » Wed Jun 11, 2014 5:25 pm

I think what we are seening here is youthful exhuberence AND the tendency nowadays glorify "epics". Read any climbing magazine and you will see the same stuff. I will stop short of totally criticizing. I was once a stupid exhuberent youth myself! Luckily, Mother Nature can be forgiving. But not always, so your thoughts on this are spot on. Deep down these two probably have taken notice of the lessons they learned, but the youthfully exhuberent seldom want to admit that in public! Be assured that I will NOT write up any of my stupid youthful epics on this forum! Nevertheless, I want to welcom all the younger participants in this forum. But, please notice that this forum is not into sensationalism - and that kind of reporting of a trip is not going to go over unnoticed by we older (and perhaps wiser) members. You were lucky. Please understand that luck will not always be in your favor.
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Re: Backpacking Responsibly

Postby ndwoods » Wed Jun 11, 2014 6:35 pm

I didn't read that post. But your open letter is appropriate in any case. I have to say tho that my hubbie and I have gone on trips with less than healed broken bones and not quite healed bronchitis before when younger. I know better now....but wandering daisy is right...we are lucky to have survived our youth aren't we?
Here's a little story to drive home your point. My hubbie injured his knee and tho we didn't hike right out, we did shorten our miles. Regardless, just as he arrived at the car at the end of the trip he passed out and I thought I had lost him. Turns out he had a blood clot from a torn meniscus in his knee and was on cumidin (sp?) for 3 mos after that. We won't be so eager to complete our trip next time...
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Re: Backpacking Responsibly

Postby maverick » Wed Jun 11, 2014 7:03 pm

ndwoods wrote:
I know better now....but wandering daisy is right...we are lucky to have survived
our youth aren't we

WD wrote:
I was once a stupid exuberant youth myself!

Yes, we all have done some crazy things in are youth, and just to be clear, in no way am
I trying to stifle anyone's adventure spirit here, that is the last thing I want to do here.
With that said, there is a major difference between someone going on a trip and getting
injured, as opposed to going out injured, or able to get out and choosing not to do so, or
being egged on to continue.
And yes, your story is quite eye opening, and happy to read that things have worked out
well for him! Thank you for sharing that.
Professional Sierra Landscape Photographer

I don't give out specific route information, my belief is that it takes away from the whole adventure spirit of a trip, if you need every inch planned out, you'll have to get that from someone else.

Have a safer backcountry experience by using the HST ReConn Form 2.0, named after Larry Conn, a HST member: http://reconn.org
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Re: Backpacking Responsibly

Postby AlmostThere » Wed Jun 11, 2014 7:07 pm

I think it's a combination of factors - four parts inexperience (as in, not ever had a problem before, so why would we now?), two parts "vacation - itis" (this is the time I have, need to make the most of it and not let this little thing stop me), two parts ignorance (it's just walking, what's the big deal), and two parts "I'm tough enough" - adding up to the perfect 10.

I know that people I hike with (from my hiking group) raise their eyebrows at me sometimes, because I sound like a search and rescue statistics generator and likely sound paranoid to them. Don't leave the group without telling someone. Don't go off on your own. STOP RUSHING AHEAD OF THE GROUP. And yet, there have been instances where people needlessly suffer blisters upon blisters and later comment "I was limping for days at work!" when all they needed to do was say, "I need to stop and put tape/moleskin on" or dehydrate themselves instead of "bothering" someone for a filter or extra water. Someone rushed ahead of a day group and actually went to the wrong trailhead. Another guy actually got lost in a mess of use trails and set up his tent - everyone was sitting at the trailhead waiting for him.

There really will be another chance to do it again. You don't need to walk in pain for days, when you could just turn around. Or admit that you need something. Stop being embarrassed that you didn't bring the moleskin this time - just ask. Experts do it all the time too! "Experienced" backpackers are frequently just those who have made the same mistakes for years without paying any price for doing it. Yet.

I still struggle with dehydration - even after I hiked myself into a silly, weepy, miserable state once, refusing to stop at streams for water as I kept thinking about a bottle of water in the car. It's easy to fall into a stupid dehydrated state in which you just aren't quite your rational self. I have a hydration bladder the size of a tank and drank it dry twice over last weekend, and still struggled with dehydration. This stuff is sometimes not intuitive.

And, people are tops at rationalizing. My experience has taught me not to combine "it was the best trip ever" with "I guess that wasn't the best decision" - for me, that kind of trip has become "boy, I got off lucky again. Next time I go I'll do better." Experienced backpackers in my mind have become not ones that have gone out a lot of days and a lot of trails, but ones that have a realistic sense of the risks, their own limits, and strike a balance - not going too many miles on those bunions, not pushing just a few hours more, not deciding to go on rather than get more water with the idea more is up the trail, but being reasonable and sensible and respecting reality. The reality is, experienced people get lost, get hurt, and get dead just as often as the noob fresh out of downtown L.A. I'm a few dipshit decisions from it as much as anyone else. Pick the wrong boulder to stand on as we descend the ridge from the Tablelands, and I'm gone. And that's the facts, Jack.

You are days - not hours - from help. Search and rescue teams that go out at night to search are rare (I know of one) and helicopters do not fly at night in mountains. You will not, if unable to walk out on your own power, be waiting just 24 hours but more like 48 or 72 - if someone goes for help or if you have a signaling device. Solo hikers can only hope to see someone come along or hear them yelling. If you are already limping - stop. If resting doesn't improve it, turn around and limp out. Better to abandon the trip than your own life.
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Re: Backpacking Responsibly

Postby SSSdave » Wed Jun 11, 2014 10:56 pm

Most of we older experienced backpackers in our early years made some pretty unrealistic plans and made ocassional poor decisions. And from those mistakes the wise among us learned lessons while those that did not probably soon took up couch potato pursuits. One reason I know with certainty I have been very successful backpacking, both in reducing unpleasantness despite inherant strenuous effort and enjoying much of those days is because I have always put considerable effort into planning and making sure I brought the right gear checked out as working gear with me into the backcountry where one does not have the usual umbilical cord to civilization. And further as one leading groups, I aggressively checked before trips how others were prepared regardless if that annoyed them or not. On a group trip, one is no stronger than the weakest link. The more people in a group, the more chance one person out of shape or without proper gear may limit the experience of all others. And with longer trips with larger groups each person ought to clearly know what is on a trip itinerary, its options depending on weather and conditions, and buy into a concensus with others.

As general advice to twentysomethings new to backpacking, I would advise doing shorter trips of 5 days or less with lower mileages and less verticals with people one are familiar with instead of the kind of stenuous week plus death marches between best of lists of supposedly famous destination lakes where participants are lugging packs on trails most of their trips with little time to slow down and experience these spectacular places. Believe me as one that has been seeking such places for decades, many of the best places in the Sierra are lakes and peaks with no names, and not in any guidebooks or the lips of those posting on web boards.
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Re: Backpacking Responsibly

Postby 1866yellowboy » Thu Jun 12, 2014 11:09 pm

Hi all,

The TR mentioned is the one I posted a few days ago. I really appreciated the concern and criticism. I'll be the first one to admit I don't have the best writing skills and I try make up for that with what I believe is one of my strong qualities, my broad range of humor. That was the first TR I'd ever attempted so I was going for entertainment more than actual details. I'm now not sure that was the correct way to go about it. I in know way meant it to be encouraging recklessness or showing that it can pay off or be seen as how to have epic trips. There are several points I need to make about that trip, and some questions on how to better my reporting.
First, my knee was hurting due to runners knee. I'd had it several times before and knew the stretches and exercises to alleviate the pain and help solve the problem, which is the knee cap being pulled down which causes the pain. I did these exercises and stretching leading up to the trip and during which is why my knee got better, until the steep descents, which have always caused my knees problems. I've been an athlete my whole life and know my body very well. If something is really wrong I wouldn't put myself in that kind of danger.
Second, my friends foot. Your correct that we probably should have turned around after the first day when his foot started bleeding. But we didn't just do nothing about it, I had all the proper 1st aid materials and he cleaned it several times a day. After the 1st day he covered the problem spots with moleskin and/or bandages and made sure they didn't get worse, which they didn't until the 2nd to last day. At which point we determined to bail out.
Which leads to my next point you showing the part that I say "probably was the wrong decision" is taken out of context. I'm talking about bailing out being the wrong decision because it was still almost as long as a hike and we had to hitch hike over 50 miles. We were with the ranger when we made that decision and she didn't oppose either option. While writing the report I was feeling like I was already writing too much and wasn't sure what details to put in. I wanted to make it entertaining, which again I admit now was probably the wrong way to go about it.
Next, I now know that people were concerned that I wasn't prepared so let me clear that up. When I plan a backpacking trip I go through every detail of the trip many many times. I study the maps very carefully to the point where I could probably not bring them and still know where I am and where the best exit trails are. That happened on that trip and I knew were the exit trail was. My itinerary plans are so detailed that it even annoys my wife. I leave the itineraries usually with 2 people back home so if something does happen at least people know where I was supposed to be during that time frame.
Admitingly that trip had some youthful exuberance but other than my friends foot issue should not cause any concern. I love the backcountry and respect nature and know that i'm just lucky to enjoy it once in a while. I strictly follow the Leave No Trace, which is why I couldn't leave my water bottle down that cliff.
When I first read these criticisms it hurt because I knew I made good people concerned. I didn't join this site to gloat about my youth fullness and say "look how crazy I can get." I joined to share trips and get advice from experienced people. I humbly admit it hurt when I found out I let you all down and for that I am sincerely sorry. All I can do is ask how to fix that TR by adding the details about how we addressed the problems or would you like me to just pull the whole thing down, if that's even possible. Again I really am sorry if I may have made anyone feel disrespected and if you have any criticisms about me please approach me with them as that is one of the best ways for me to learn.
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