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.
User avatar
Topix Acquainted
Posts: 80
Joined: Sun Nov 16, 2014 11:54 pm
Experience: N/A

Re: What Is Your Biggest Blunder

Post by creekfeet » Sat Feb 10, 2018 10:39 am

I have too many to choose from, so I'll just recount my first major blunder I made as a gung-ho 17 year old, although it wasn't so much a blunder as just a general level of stupidity that comes at that age. I had a few days off from work and I was bored, so I drove up to Sequoia from LA. I made it about 10 miles before remembering I'd forgot to bring shoes, so I turned around and grabbed some old, beat-up Nikes. I wound up making it up the mountain right before sunset, and found a great place to squat for the night on some granite near Crescent Meadow.

I woke up around 5:30 the next morning, ate half a cinnamon roll, and decided to go for a hike. Even after returning to grab my shoes, I'd still neglected to bring socks. I set off to hike the Congress Trail bringing nothing but my shoes, a t-shirt, and boardshorts. It was my first time ever visiting the Sierra solo, but I'd explored the Giant Forest countless times before on camping trips with my family. However, I'd never really noticed the northern offshoot of the Alta Trail from the Congress Trail before. It appeared to go somewhere wild so I followed it, and was instantly stunned by its beauty. Originally I only planned to walk up it for five minutes or so, but I couldn't bring myself to turn around.

Eventually I got to a sign indicating how far it was to Panther Gap and Alta Peak, and figured I'd just go to Panther Gap and turn around. Naturally when I got to Panther Gap I wanted to keep going, although I was a little burdened by the fact I hadn't had any water. Still, I was really blown away by the views, and just had to chase them further. I kept telling myself I would only hike another five minutes, but I was young and full of energy so I kept pushing on, cottonmouth and all.

I lived in the Sierra for a number of summers, but that was still the single hottest day I ever recall. On top of that it must've been a dry year because I'd been hiking for about seven miles before I finally crossed a spring. I knew you weren't supposed to drink unfiltered water, but I was desperate, so I wolfed down as much as I could until I thought I would burst. I've never filtered my water since.

I think the second I'd seen the first sign I knew in the back of my head that I'd be climbing Alta Peak that day. I was feeling really great the entire way, until that last brutal mile where for every three steps forward you take two back. I found myself thinking water, food, and even sunscreen would've been beneficial. Socks would've been nice too, because my feet were beginning to blister. I had to take a break like every ten feet, but I finally made it to the top, completely defeated.

On the return trip I once again stopped at the spring, which was the only water on the entire route that year. I hadn't seen a single person the whole day, which led me to assume I was on some completely unknown trail that no one ever used. I stripped down naked and lowered myself face down in the foot-deep water right on the side of the trail, drinking as I cooled down. Seconds later I heard a women screaming. She was with her husband and a girl that looked to be around nine. Suddenly I didn't feel like such a badass for being what I thought was deep in the backcountry. The family gave me some space to put my shorts on, and then the mom asked me all these questions about if anyone knew where I was, etc. To ease her mind I lied and said I had a cell phone with coverage, and moved on.

The rest of the walk back I was physically dead, and couldn't think about anything but food and ice cold drinks. Then finally after an 18 mile or so day of hiking I made it back to my car. I'd never been more hungry or thirsty. Immediately I devoured the other half of my cinnamon roll, and washed it down with piping hot water that had been sitting in the car all day. It was one of the best meals I ever had.

User avatar
Topix Addict
Posts: 2631
Joined: Wed Jun 24, 2009 4:38 pm
Experience: Level 4 Explorer

Re: What Is Your Biggest Blunder

Post by AlmostThere » Mon Feb 12, 2018 12:43 pm

My first trip after years of not backpacking, 15 years ago, was an interesting experience. I went to Sykes in Big Sur/Ventana theorizing that if I got into trouble there would be plenty of people around, hopefully one or two might be willing to help me...

I did a bunch of research but there were plenty of things to go wrong. I didn't know to research elevation gains -- used to go and just throw junk in a bag, when I was younger. I didn't used to have fancy anything, jeans and sneakers and the old external frame.... this trip getting back into it, I had a pack I thought was the right size, shoes I thought were the right size, etc.

The pack was the wrong size. I was so in pain by the time I'd gone that ten miles. Later, looking at cumulative gain, it sank in that I had done something harder than hiking to Half Dome... with a backpack that didn't fit. My feet were blistered to H***. Sunburnt, because I relied on 30spf and no hat. I got to the Little Sur River after dark, and crossed it - got my boots and socks soaked for no reason. Found a campsite. Made dinner. Met a couple guys who had a fire going, got my boots mostly dried, set up the hammock and slept like a rock through the night. Almost got lost when I got up to pee - it's dark down in that canyon, and I had no headlamp.

Woke up the next morning happy with my hammock setup -- best thing that happened the whole trip. Swung my legs out and realized I had hung in a patch of poison oak.

OH, well... I didn't rash. Next best thing that happened.

Got packed up after running out of stove fuel - I was going to boil my water, not having bought a filter yet, and well, I had a quart left, I should be fine. !!!! Was not fine.

Cross the river barefoot this time -- my toes were literally blue, when I got across, sat and rubbed and rubbed them. It got COLD the night before. The water was frigid. Got going hiking finally, and was out of water in a few miles. Got dehydrated to the point of stupid. I vaguely remember tripping and crying down the trail, holding myself up with trekking poles, my aching sore feet and back throbbing, determined to get back to the car - I crossed several little side streams but refused to drink it raw.

Got back to the car and sat in the parking lot next to it in a stupor for a while, sipping the bottle of water that was in my trunk.

I passed many people who were hiking both ways. NO ONE ASKED. No one stopped. You'd think I had the plague.

I know now that the majority of people who go to Sykes are not backpackers of the kind I know now, that a hot springs attracts the wrong kinds of people, that your first trip should not be 10 miles of hard hiking long, with backpack and shoes you have never worn before. I know all kinds of things now, like doing tick checks.

Oh, yeah, the tick. Embedded in a place I could not see and could barely reach myself. No idea when, I obviously never felt it bite. The rash traveled four inches per hour. The IV antibiotics did most of the work, the doxycycline made me nauseous but I took it as prescribed.

Threw away the shoes. Went to Sports Authority and tried on every *#@& shoe on the shelves until I found one that fit and gave me room in the toe box. The torture tools I threw away were womens size 9.5. The new shoes were mens 10.5, which I still wear, though I've had to start getting wider sizes. Sold the pack - got an Osprey, sold that too after it was also ridiculously painful to wear. Then I figured out that the store guy measured me wrong, repeatedly, found a way to measure my back myself, got the right size and right type of pack, things improved immeasurably.

I do not trust sales people in stores.
Do tick checks - use permethrin.
Take a filter.
Understand how much fuel you need.
Don't make assumptions about other people's behavior.
Set reasonable goals.
Packs are clothing, brands don't matter as much as having the right pack for the job.
If the filter breaks, drink the water anyway.

User avatar
Topix Novice
Posts: 19
Joined: Sat Jul 02, 2011 8:15 am
Experience: N/A

Re: What Is Your Biggest Blunder

Post by phoenix2000 » Fri Feb 16, 2018 4:17 pm

My first backpacking trip with my stepdad our large group stayed at a lodge near the trailhead the night before to get used to the altitude. My step-dad tends to leave things until the last minute so he was outside sitting at a picnic table with 3 Whisperlite stoves and 2 repair kits trying to get 2 working for our trip. The first step in lighting a Whisperlite stove is to fill the little cup at the bottom with fuel, light it then let it burn out in order to prime the stove. I watched as my stepdad filled the little cup but he used too much white gas, the cup over flowed and a good amount of the white gas ended up on the top of the picnic table. As he lit the white gas in the little cup I pointed and said "You put too much in and some spilled over on to the table" but it was already too late. He had bumped the stove while lighting it and some more white gas spilled over but this white gas was already burning, so now the white gas on the table was also burning. He grabbed the stove and moved it away from the fire on the table so the bottle of white gas wouldn't be near the flames. Unfortunately it spilled more of the white gas from the little cup on to the table. We both tried blowing it out but the white gas had spread out too much, so it was like blowing out a trick candle.

We were both in full panic mode at the point. My stepdad looked up at me and told me "quick run into the cabin, get the bucket of ice and use it to put out the fire". I looked at the fire on the table, looked at his 16.9 ounce plastic Arrowhead bottle that was half full, then I looked at his plastic cup filled with ice and liquid from the bottle. I thought to myself "why run all the way into the cabin to get the bucket of half melted ice when there is a cup of water within arms reach". As I grabbed the cup and reared back my stepdad shouted "No" but it was too late I tossed the contents of the cup over the fire on the table. The liquid and ice quickly spread across the table and the yellow flames went out. I looked at my stepdad and said "what" then I noticed that the half of the picnic table that was covered in liquid now had blue flame coming up from it. My stepdad started laughing uncontrollably and barely managed to get out "that was vodka you idiot". I groaned and replied "how the heck was I supposed to know that. Its in a bottled water container and is clear just like water!". He kept laughing while I ran into the cabin, grabbed the bucket of melted ice and returned to the table. I tossed the contents of the bucket on to the table and this time the flames went out for good.

Luckily it was only the fuel and vodka that burned so there wasn't any burn marks on the picnic table. Once my stepdad stopped laughing he moved to a different picnic table that was dry and continued to work on the stoves. I went back into the cabin, filled the bucket with water, came back out and stood by ready to, if needed, put another picnic table out

User avatar
Topix Expert
Posts: 488
Joined: Tue Jul 26, 2011 4:44 pm
Experience: Level 4 Explorer
Location: Palo Alto, CA

Re: What Is Your Biggest Blunder

Post by wildhiker » Sun Feb 18, 2018 12:32 am

This reminds me of a real stove blunder.

My first backpacking stove was one of those little Svea white gas stoves, with the small tank on the bottom and the burner on top. A real blowtorch once it got going, but hard to regulate. We were still using this stove for our early family backpack trips. On one of those to Desolation Wilderness, it was very windy. The little Svea had no windscreen, so I started fiddling with rocks to block the wind. I finally ended up with big rocks forming a U shape with the stove in the middle that blocked enough wind so I could actually cook on it.

I didn't realize that besides blocking the wind, those rocks would also reflect the heat... So I'm preparing dinner and the stove has been going for a while, running pretty hot (again, hard to actually turn down those stoves). The Svea had a little pressure relief valve in the cap for the bottom tank. Suddenly, a long jet of flame roars out of that cap. The relief valve had just blown! It's roaring like a jet engine. There was nothing I could do but stand back and let it burn out. Fortunately, the Svea had a small tank that could only hold a few ounces. After it finished burning up all the fuel and cooled down, I took a look to see if it could still be used (in theory, the pressure relief valve could re-close). But so much pressure had built up, including from the extra flame jetting out of the relief valve, that the Svea had "popped" into practically a round ball.

We cooked over campfires the rest of that trip.


User avatar
Founding Member & Forums Moderator
Founding Member & Forums Moderator
Posts: 2880
Joined: Wed Dec 28, 2005 10:22 am
Experience: N/A
Location: Fresno

Re: What Is Your Biggest Blunder

Post by giantbrookie » Sun Feb 18, 2018 1:45 pm

Have a quite a few big blunders, and all of them involve extremely poor decisions while doing rugged off trail scrambling/peak climbing etc. No. 1 (July 1991) would be my decision to fish the "far shore" of the large Horton Lake which once held mammoth goldens (since gillnetted). I have told this story before, but here's another version. I received fair warning...When I jumped onto a van-sized shoreline boulder to serve as a casting platform the boulder pitched and threw me into the drink. That alone should have testified to the instability of that spot which is more or less the toe of a rock glacier. I should have turned around at that point. But my eyes were glazed over with the prospect of catching 18"+ goldens which repeatedly teased me with strikes and follows but did not fully hook up, so I traversed the unstable shoreline. At the "end" of this reach of shoreline I had the choice of reversing my course the way I had come or doing a short ascent up the unstable stuff then a bit of steep snow and a 15 foot 3rd class headwall to get out. Reversing course seemed unattractive owing to all of the delicate stuff getting there, so I ascended the unstable stuff which was sort of like big boulders embedded in sand. My climbing up the slope destabilized an immense boulder above me which rolled out of the slope and appeared to promise certain doom. I was really certain that I was about to die a quick but painful death, and I anticipated the pain of getting crushed, even as I launched on what I thought would be a futile leap to my left to try to dodge the inevitable. I was fortunate that there was a small irregularity in the ground between the boulder and me that deflected its trajectory just a tiny bit to the right as I leaped desperately to my left. Without the giant leap, though, and without sufficiently quick reaction time, I would have been smashed to the thickness of a credit card. As it was, the boulder barely missed me as I flew into the air into the snow chute to my left. The landing in the snow seemed perfect but I rotated enough that my right foot, which had embedded itself very deeply, couldn't adjust, so the right ankle broke (hairline). The worst was over, but I still had to crawl out of the place. I couldn't put weight on the right foot, so I couldn't kick steps in the steep snow, which I needed to do to keep from a quick luge run into the lake. I dug out steps with my hands and semi crawled up the slope. Slow going that was because I had to pause to let the hands warm up after a few of those. The 3rd class stuff to bail the chute was actually not any worse than crawling through the big talus field that came after that. Normally the big talus would have been "boulder hopping" but it was more like boulder crawling then. Now during this episode and I had not go of the fishing rod, so when my route took me back to a much more benign part of the lake shore I figured I would in fact take a few casts. One of them finally connected with a big golden. As I brought the fish into view, I saw that is was really big golden, probably up in the 18" range. However, if flipped the hook just as I prepared to land it. After that brief interlude, it was back to the issue of hiking out out with one foot, which from Upper Horton Lake wasn't too difficult. From there down to Lower Horton is a reasonably good use trail and there were all sorts of things I could grab for balance as I hopped on one foot. From Lower Horton there is a full blown trail, plus I appropriated my dad's walking stick (my dad was back in camp there when the dodge and jump thing happened at the upper lake) which made "pogo sticking" down the trail with a full pack not so bad at all the next day. Anyhow, I was fortunate to survive that particular blunder.

Honorable mention on my blunders list would include poor decision making on some peak bagging trips, notably attempting to glissade the headwall on Brewer's East Ridge in May 1979. There I learned first hand about the issues of self arresting in steep (and soft) spring snow. The self arrest eventually worked but there were some anxious moments as the ice axe sliced through the snow like a hot knife through butter for about 40 feet and I had about 100 left before a really terminal drop off.
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;

User avatar
Topix Regular
Posts: 279
Joined: Mon Oct 31, 2016 10:11 pm
Experience: Level 3 Backpacker

Re: What Is Your Biggest Blunder

Post by Lumbergh21 » Mon Feb 19, 2018 12:03 am

I'll throw in another blunder that actually happened just a few years ago. I was descending Mt Shasta after turning around due to my water freezing, not my drink tube, which I had been blowing out after taking sips of water, the bladder itself. Yes, it was cold, much colder than I had prepared for. I had left the Bunny Flat trailhead around 4 AM and turned around at 12,000 feet with the sun just starting to cast light on Avalanche Gulch which is where I was hiking/climbing. I was getting very thirsty with all of this frozen water around me mocking me, and decided against the better judgment that I had exercised earlier to glissade the rest of the way to the interestingly named Helen Lake (flat spot at 10,400'). It was very hard ice, but I thought I could control my descent by slowly leaning back and increasing the pressure on my ice axe. Wrong, it went from skidding across the surface to dug in in an instant, wrenching it out of my hands/armpit and snapping the tether. Fortunately, it slowed me down enough that I was able to finish stopping using just my boots about 20 feet below the imbedded axe. I put my crampons back on, retrieved the axe, and sensibly (shakily at first) climbed back down to Helen Lake and eventually Horse Camp where I was finally able to get some liquid water.

User avatar
neil d
Topix Regular
Posts: 123
Joined: Tue Aug 24, 2010 12:46 pm
Experience: N/A

Re: What Is Your Biggest Blunder

Post by neil d » Tue Feb 20, 2018 3:02 pm

Wow, some really good tales of woe!

One example of poor planning and execution stands out, due to the timing (just last summer) and because I am now old enough to know better.

The Grouse Ridge area of Tahoe National Forest is a favorite weekend destination due to it's proximity. The 2016-2017 season will be remembered as a very heavy snow year, and I had several memorable snowshoe hikes during breaks in the weather that year. In early June, I started a day hike from Carr Lake. The plan was to take the Crooked Lakes trail past Penner Lake, take a mild cross-country route down to Shotgun Lake, and follow the Middle Lake drainage south to where I could pick up the Round Lake trail back to the car. Planned mileage was about 12 miles. I had the large-scale NFS map, water, hat, sunscreen, boots, gaiters, and a bit of food. Notably, no water filter or emergency store of food.

It was a gorgeous bluebird day, and the dog and I made easy time past all the lakes that make this hike so pleasant. At Penner Lake, we dove east off the ridge, and easily picked up the trail past Shotgun Lake. A couple of miles up the drainage, the trail became much more faint, and I lost it several times in braided outflow streams. I encountered a group of backpackers, one of which had a GPS app on their phone, so I followed them for a bit. The problem was that they made very slow progress, especially after we began to encounter snow, and I got antsy to pick up the pace. I left them behind, and struck out on my own to close my loop and finish my hike.

Soon, I was walking over 5 feet of snow, and you could hear all the meltwater moving down below. I punched through the snow a few times, and progress really ground to a halt. I had not seen a trail marker since before I met the backpackers, and the topographic relief was mild enough that I had trouble recognizing exactly where I was. The large-scale map was no help, given that I was not at a recognizable landmark. I was probably only 1.5 miles from the car, but the route was over deep snow through uncertain terrain.

It was decision time: push on into uncertainty, or turn around and go back the way I had come, adding significant mileage and time. I noticed myself having quite a bit of difficulty with this decision, and that sealed the deal: i need to turn around. I was out of water, and the only food I had was a smoked turkey leg, of all things. I had been hungry for hours, but the idea of eating that turkey leg turned my stomach. I was close to bonking, and I needed to be careful.

So I turned tail and headed back the way I had come. I passed the backpackers, who were on pace to be hiking well past dark, but at least they were prepared with gear. I ran into a few mountain bikers, who showed me the actual trail back to Penner Lake vs the cross country route. That was very helpful. At the trail junction for Penner Lake, one of them shared his apple with me, which was a lifesaver. I ate half an apple, gave the core to my dog, and felt halfway human again. We punched it for home, and I caught another lucky break by finding a bladder of water at the outlet creek from Penner Lake. I sucked on that all the way back to the car.

It ended up being a 20-mile day, and I beat sunset by about an hour. The worst part is that I missed the check-in call with my wife by several hours...she was very displeased with that. I stopped at the Burger King at Nyack and downed two burgers and about 80 oz of soda...it was so good. Then I was able to safely drive home.

Lessons learned: always take more food than you think you need, as well as means for treating water. Means of making a hot beverage is never a bad idea...in the past, I have used a tea break to force a 'hard reset' on the situation, something I really needed to do here. Leave plenty of time when dealing with possible uncertainties such as deep snow. I should have 'cut and run' much earlier in the day, rather than spending several hours trying to make the loop happen.

User avatar
Topix Regular
Posts: 200
Joined: Sun May 04, 2014 12:26 am
Experience: N/A

Re: What Is Your Biggest Blunder

Post by balance » Wed Feb 21, 2018 1:29 am

This was worse than a blunder. It could have been fatal.

I camped at Pear Lake. In the morning I went for a day hike up the ridge to a place called Bear Table, or something like that, with my pack holding a jacket and lunch. I came back down on the other side of the ridge, and arriving back at Pear Lake was separated from my tent by a high rock ridge. I could have gone the long way around the lakeshore. I might have climbed a crack in the face of the rock ridge. But I decided it would be a short, easy swim around the ridgeline that jutted out into the lake.

Bad idea. First, I put my boots inside a bag in my pack, then jumped in and started swimming with my pack on my back. That was not working, so I hastily threw it off and started swimming with it in front of me. The cold water quickly drained my energy. Rounding the rock cliff it felt like I couldn't move. I was desperately dog paddling toward the far shore, and was not sure if I would make it to land. When I did barely make it and stood up on the rocky shore, I noticed one of my trekking poles was out in the water about 20 yards away. So I jumped back in to save the trekking pole, and once again almost lost my life to the chilling, numbing water.

I had plenty of warm, dry clothes when I got to my tent. But I'd estimate if I had to swim a few more yards in that cold water, I wouldn't have made it.

Extremely bad judgment. Not just a silly inconvenience, but one of those things that can turn people into a statistic. :derp:

User avatar
Topix Addict
Posts: 2664
Joined: Thu Nov 17, 2005 11:18 pm
Experience: N/A
Location: Silicon Valley

Re: What Is Your Biggest Blunder

Post by SSSdave » Wed Feb 21, 2018 10:17 am

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.

User avatar
Topix Regular
Posts: 240
Joined: Sat Feb 13, 2016 11:24 pm
Experience: Level 2 Backpacker

Re: What Is Your Biggest Blunder

Post by sambieni » Wed Feb 21, 2018 10:24 am

Two blunders.

Death Valley NP in high mountains mid-February. I was there solo two years back during the super bloom. Trying to get back into hiking shape and put off by the super blow crowds, I headed to high country for a hike up Wildrose or Telescope Peak. Being from East Coast, but years removed, I was super excited to see some snow and ice on the trail. Thought little of it and decided to scurry across. Almost immediately, I slipped up way high and with all my weight and force landed directly on my knee, right on the ice. It crashed hard. I screamed louder than ever before. Shook off the cobwebs, thought I could keep going, but pretty quickly realized pain was worse than I thought and ice/snow was going to make my stupidly solo hike far harder than I realized. I headed to my car, only 1/4 mile down the trail, and drove back to LA in pain on my right, driving knee. Wound up needing X-Rays a week or so later. It was a very severe knee sprain / hairline fracture on the knee cap. It could have been way way worse. I wound up in re-hab for about 2 months. Lessons learned.

Ediza Lake later that summer with my brand new JetBoil. It gave me some issues night before w/ the automatic starter faialing so I had raced to camp store in Mammoth Lakes to get it checked out. They said starter was shot, but would work fine w / a lighter. Fine. That night ready to cook, I must have let out too much gas b/w lighter and stove and long story short created a mini-fireball getting the thing up and running. My hair was nearly singed and I seemed to swallow some of that gas/fire ball and burn inside of my mouth. It was not super painful as much as it was super scary and nerve inducing. It could have been way way worse. I was fine the rest of the trip; I continued using the JetBoil more carefully with no problems. But minute I got home that thing was sent back to REI.

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests