Hunker down or bail out?

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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Re: Hunker down or bail out?

Post by balance » Tue Sep 26, 2017 10:49 pm

Greetings WD

A lot depends on how a person travels. Since I wear full leather boots, carry waterproof pants and a bomber hardshell jacket even in summer, when the weather takes a turn, I do whatever I feel like doing. Hunker down, head back, whatever. I'm singing in the rain and it's all good. That's the trade-off I get for carrying the extra weight in waterproof gear, one more top layer than I usually need, and a durable tent.

If I take a swim late on a windy day and get a little chill, I can bundle up and be toasty warm in a while. There have been occasions where I needed that gear, because I strongly avoid building a fire, even when it might be a good idea. Like the time my trusty old tent sprung a leak in a heavy rain at night, and I would up staying awake all night bundled up with the rain splashing off of me (I did catch a few naps sitting on a log). So my goal is to be able to stay up high, no matter rain or storm.

Now if I was going UL, trail runners, no rain pants, skimpy clothes, a tarp or bivyy sack that's not so great in blowing rain, then I would definitely scramble on down to treeline rather than fight the elements.

One thing that's different. Since I was raised in Michigan, snow doesn't bother me. I do solo winter camping, and it all seems pretty manageable (but a lot of work). I'm cozy in my bright yellow North Face (heavy) winter tent, I carry a liquid gas stove with enough fuel to run a tractor, and it feels like an adventure even when I'm not covering a lot of miles (snowshoes are slow).

However, being in a cold rain above treeline makes me nervous. I work to keep as dry as possible, but it always seems like hypothermia is lurking right around the corner. I'm always a little on edge in a hard, cold rain.

So yeah, the Sierra Nevada in October in some ways is harder than January, because you're trying to keep that summer weight pack, but you're not sure what might happen a couple days out.

The main thing is to avoid brain lock, where one mistake leads to another, and then things escalate. I stay alert to watch out for that beckoning vortex of bad judgment. Funny thing, sometimes this applies to life in the city as well.

Peace








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Re: Hunker down or bail out?

Post by rightstar76 » Wed Sep 27, 2017 3:49 pm

This thread made me think about how Theodore Solomons bailed on his trip after it snowed in September 1894. He made his decision based on his belief that it would take two weeks for the snow to melt and his food would run out. Also, his equipment was for the summer and unsuitable for an extended period of cold weather. Had I been in his shoes, I would have done the same thing.

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Re: Hunker down or bail out?

Post by dave54 » Sat Sep 30, 2017 10:33 pm

The one time I really had to face this situation was in the San Jacinto Wilderness, early 1970s A late Fall trip with only a few high clouds predicted.
The forecast was in error, and it started to dump heavy wet snow.

Since we figured the storm was only going to be a short squall, and we had plenty of food and the right gear, we opted to hunker down.
Someone, I never learned who, called out SAR for us. We were surprised when during the night we heard someone calling our names. The SAR folks introduced themselves, said they were here to 'rescue us, and told us to break camp. They would escort us down. We told them to go pound sand. We were waiting out the storm and would go out when we were ready. We did not request, want, nor need their help. They huffed and threatened us with arrest if we did not obey their orders. We told them OK, they could arrest us back at the trailhead when the storm was over and we decided to hike out, but we were staying.
They made camp nearby.
The storm broke in the early morning and it was bright and clear, but cold, morning. They insisted we immediately break camp and hike out with them, and we told them we were waiting a few hours until it warmed up and some of the snow fell off the trees. IIRC maybe 4-6 inches of wet snow on the ground. Some of them must have only had their hasty packs, because they looked cold and wet. We were fine. I let them use our stove to heat some water for breakfast. We finally hiked out about noon. At the trailhead the local deputy, who I knew and he knew me, apologized. He was out of town and did not call them. He knew we would not need any SAR. The SAR leader wanted the deputy to charge us with something because we disobeyed their orders. The deputy refused. We went home.
I never did learn how or who called out SAR. My wife said someone from the SO called her and told them SAR was going to rescue us, and she told them not to bother, that I would be fine, well equipped, experienced, and did not need assistance. But SAR came anyway.
A few months later I got a bill from the SO for rescue costs. I threw it away. Shortly after that I moved away. Never heard any more about it.

So the take away message is if you have the gear and are comfortable with the situation, stay put and wait it out. Just adds to the adventure. And do not let other people tell you what you should or should not do. You are the best judge of your skills and comfort level.
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Re: Hunker down or bail out?

Post by giantbrookie » Wed Oct 04, 2017 3:03 am

WD, I would have made the same call in your shoes. As others note there are many factors in the stay or bail decisions, including the options for the routes out, and it looks to me that you opted for the safest strategy.
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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Re: Hunker down or bail out?

Post by Wandering Daisy » Wed Oct 04, 2017 5:18 pm

Thanks for all the replies. I was not questioning my decision, it is the same decision I would make, even with 20/20 hindsight. I just wanted to see what thought processes and considerations others do when faced with this. For example, I never would have thought that one "problem" with hunkering down was that someone would report you as missing and you would get an unwelcome rescue!

I thought this would be a good discussion to have this time of year when everyone is trying to "stretch" the season as much as possible.

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Re: Hunker down or bail out?

Post by rlown » Wed Oct 04, 2017 7:05 pm

A nice thread, WD. I'm in the hunker down camp. They won't rescue in a snowstorm, so, for me, it is best to stay warm and safe in the hunker down position. I haven't ever tried to outrun a storm, as too much can happen on that slippery slope. When the weather finally clears, then you make the obvious move to show where you are so maybe the searchers can find you if it comes to that.

I don't eat that much so, my food seems to last endlessly. Tuna packets and tortillas are my fave now. I can live off one a day. Never touched my MH stomach-plugging food, so I'm not taking that anymore. Needed more fuel and coffee though. 6 days solo on the last trip and my canister was still mostly full on the way out, except for the fettuccine, cheese and tuna and tortillas.

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Re: Hunker down or bail out?

Post by Wandering Daisy » Wed Oct 04, 2017 8:41 pm

I too am mainly a "hunker down" proponent, EXCEPT in the Fall. I have done enough winter backpacking/mountaineering to have a high degree of respect for snow. Had I awoken to a foot you I would not have gone anywhere; but if the snow had just started and is lightly falling, so I could reach the trail from my off-trail location. I could have waited out the storm and taken the same route down to the trial the next day in better weather (but that is 20/20 hindsight). However, given how cold it was at 8600 feet (Sphinx Creek at trail), I am glad I was not at 11,000 feet (Big Brewer Lake)! Either day going out, Sphinx Pass would not have been safe so I was heading down to the Avalanche Pass trail, regardless.

And I guess you could classify me as the "lean and hungry" type. I am always hungry and eat a lot. Thankfully I did have lots of fuel. I took one of those huge fuel cannisters which lasts 10-11 days. The medium cannister only lasts me 6-7 days. And since I did not catch many fish (two small ones to be exact) my rations were pretty low.

But you are absolutely right, that if dry and warm, staying put keeps you dry and warm, for a few days, provided that your tent does not collapse with snow or start to leak or you do not run out of food or fuel.

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Re: Hunker down or bail out?

Post by rlown » Wed Oct 04, 2017 8:59 pm

Not really sleeping if it is snowing. Double Rainbow. Just tap the sides and the snow slides off. I've slept in worse conditions in the snow. And wind.

My new fave is a potato or chicken noodle soup in the morning for breakfast.

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Re: Hunker down or bail out?

Post by sparky » Wed Oct 04, 2017 10:25 pm

I've bailed every time I've been in this situation in a shoulder season that I can remember. I don't have the gear for a full on winter storm, so if it's Oct-May, and the sky is looking suspicious, I high tail it out. Just don't want to take a chance to be pinned down in a winter storm. 20 degree bag just won't cut it.

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Re: Hunker down or bail out?

Post by Shawn » Wed Oct 04, 2017 10:37 pm

I've got to say the story about the unrequested SAR was hilarious (in hindsight of course). Can you imagine, laying in the comfort of a warm sleeping bag and hearing someone call out your name like that and hear "we're here to rescue you". Hah. :D

While I'm typing, the only "bail out" I've done was simply caused by rookie mistakes. I discovered the Sierra in my 40's, and it was only my second trip there (solo) up to East Lake in late September. I hiked in from Roads End on day one, expecting to camp at the lake for one or two nights while I explored the area. I had a decent backpack (which I still have), but nearly everything else was on the low end of quality (sleeping bag, tent, etc.). I set up camp at the south end of the lake. After putting up my el cheapo tent and putting everything else in order it started to get a cold. As there was a fire ring, I thought it would be a brilliant idea to start a nice fire to keep warm. #-o

So with the fire going and nightfall coming fast, I climbed into my sleeping bag and rapidly fell asleep. Some hours later, I woke up very, very cold. To add misery to the situation, the cold wind was blowing directly across the lake making it colder still (and blowing the smoke from the burned out fire into my tent). I got up and put on every item of clothing I had with me and put the tents' rain fly over the sleeping bag and tried to go back to sleep. A couple of hours later it occurred to me when I started shaking uncontrollably that perhaps I should switch to plan B. Only problem is, I had no plan B. Sooooo, I got up, put the smoking fire out, packed up everything and started hiking out. While it was still very cold, my body had warmed up enough on the way out to be comfortable. About the time I got to the Bubbs Creek crossing, I pulled a "Power Bar" out of my pocket (the old original solid type). As I bit into it, I nearly cracked a tooth because it was frozen solid.

In hindsight, I learned a lot from this trip of minor misfortune. 1) Don't buy cheap gear, 2) if at all possible, don't camp with prevailing wind blowing across a lake into the camp site, 3) camp fires are over rated, and um, most importantly - 4) know what the heck you are doing.

Thankfully I have not repeated my mistakes of the distant past and have enjoyed trips to much colder areas without issue (and I always have a plan B) !

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