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Maybe not today...
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Paul Wagner
(balzaccom) - F

Locale: Wine Country
Maybe not today... on 01/28/2012 08:09:50 MST Print View

There are times on the trail when it is important to recognize when you are at Fishhook. We once climbed up to the top of Chilnualna Falls in Yosemite in the winter. The trail was covered in snow, but we were fine until we got to with about 100 feet of seeing the top of the falls. Because at this point the trail had three feet of powdery snow on it, and followed a narrow ledge along a 500 foot drop. And we couldn't exactly see where the trail actually went. We poked our feet around in the snow for a minute or two and decided that we were at Fishhook. The benefits of seeing the top of the falls just didn't justify the risks of having one of us slip off that ledge.

(You can get an idea of the terrain in the photo here. And yes, if we'd had hiking poles, or climbing ropes, the decision might have been different. We didn't.)

[Need to actually upload photos, can't indirect them. RNC]

So we turned around.

What brings this to mind is our recent trip up Fairview Dome in Yosemite. It's steep, and the wind was howling. And because it was January, it was cold. And so we decided that it didn't really matter that we weren't going all the way to the top. As a friend told me many years ago: "Summits are all in the mind."

We've stopped our hike or changed our route many times because of swollen creeks, time of day, or icy or overhanging snow. And we have never once regretted it.

When we hear of people getting rescued off mountains, we usually don't admire their courage or their adventuring spirits. We dp find ourselves questioning their judgment, and wondering why they didn't turn around when it made sense to do so.

So when have you turned around? And when did you keep going...and realize it might have been a mistake?

There are plenty of examples on our blog:

Edited by rcaffin on 01/31/2012 14:14:57 MST.

Michael Levine
(Trout) - F

Locale: Long Beach
Maybe not today... on 01/31/2012 09:38:34 MST Print View

Well I'll tell you about a time I was too idiotic to turn back. I hiked the bridge to nowhere hike, which is a trek to a perfectly formed bridge with nothing on the other side but mountainside. What a friend told me was a 2-3 hour hike we'd start at 4pm turned into us taking off a lot later as the sun was going down. There were multiple hours of trail finding, crossing very cold streams involving boot on/offs, backtracking, losing a tent (my mate took it off my backpack to access a towl, forgot to put it back on). We camped for the night, the next day we went onwards with little sleep and cold wet boots, eventually with the walls getting closer and steeper until we realized we must have gone past the rightful trail up the side to the bridge area. There was just no option to keep going forward without a full on swim. We figured our options were either to backtrack for two hours or to try to scale the rock, we opted for the latter. It was the freakiest thing of my life. The rock wasn't firm, chunks of it fell by the wayside, the footing was a mix of scree and sand. There were sharp pokey bushes you'd have to nudge into painfully so that you didn't fall. There was a desperate move or two when I thought "I'm going down". I scrambled to the top lucky to be alive. It was a shot of adrenaline still unmatched by skydiving, rock climbing falls, scuba diving, and 12 foot waves. I walked around for about two weeks with a perma-smile. In retrospect it could have ended a lot worse, and two hours of backtracking is worth it compared to losing my life.

. .
(RogerDodger) - F

Locale: (...)
[...] on 01/31/2012 10:11:59 MST Print View


Edited by RogerDodger on 06/12/2015 14:38:40 MDT.

Michael Levine
(Trout) - F

Locale: Long Beach
Re: Risk assessment on 01/31/2012 10:38:08 MST Print View

haha all I could hear in my head was "highway to the danger zooooooooonnnne, dun nun nun nah"

K ....
(Kat_P) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Coast
Turned around. on 01/31/2012 11:11:53 MST Print View

Summer before last my daughter and I went back to Switzerland and had a few backpacking trips planned. The first one, we hit the last snow storm of the year, on June 21st. We proceeded through the snow, in a whiteout, looking for a very elusive refuge. The trail was lost, the refuge somewhere straight above us. Every so often we would spot the flag that signaled our haven, and then it was gone again. After hours of feeling our wY through rocks with our trekking poles we found it. The door was open and the cellar was stocked with wood. I could go on forever about the refuge and the two of us.....But, the plan for the following morning was to continue up to the pass, no more than a couple of miles from the refuge and then head down to this amazing lake. I took a little exploratory outing while my daughter watched me from the little window. According to the map there were lots of small lakes along the trail. Well, all I saw was snow. No trail, no lakes. We decided to head back down to town and approach the little valley and lake from a different direction. We had to take 3 post buses and a train, then hike another day, to make our destination. It just was not worth the chance

Our next trip, after roping each other across a moraine, we came to a trail that flanked a lake, but 200 meters up, unbelievably steep, only a foot wide, icey and no ropes or cables. One wrong step ( and we are both clumsy) would have been the end. We turned around and decided on a different route all together. It was still an adventure and beautiful, but not nearly as dangerous.
I would rather be alive then have the most incredible adventure that I will not survive.

Edited by Kat_P on 01/31/2012 11:14:34 MST.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Oh Yeah! on 01/31/2012 14:20:38 MST Print View

Main Range in winter, howling snow storm, shouldn't have camped right on top ...
When Things Go Wrong

On the retreat in the storm a cornice broke under me but I rode it down. My wife Sue couldn't see a way down and was getting cold, so she jumped. More guts than me.


Edited by rcaffin on 01/31/2012 14:21:21 MST.

Keith Bassett

Locale: Pacific NW
Re: Maybe not today... on 01/31/2012 14:58:14 MST Print View

Three weeks ago, we had a permit to camp in the backcountry near Paradise in Mt. Rainier National Park.

We were geared up, and ready to go. We arrived at the ranger station at longmire at around 8 am when they were opening and got registered for a good spot about 5 miles in from Paradise. Not a bad snowshoe, and far enough to be away from the day hikers.

Predicted weather was 3-6 inches of snow, and 70 mph winds at Camp Muir. We were never going to go that high, so it wasn't supposed to be very windy.

Fast forward to a full whiteout, white sky, white ground, white air. 25 mph sustained wind, with 70 mph gusts. I am a big guy and one gust pushed me over, even with planted poles.

We were only 2-3 miles in and in a risky spot. So we hunkered down until the gusts slowed and visibility got a bit better, and turned back. Carefully. We were pretty sure that we would get stuck and have to set up our tents and get ready for a long night, but we managed to safely get back.

When we got back to Paradise, they were closing down the mountain. They had changed the forecast to indicate blizzard conditions.

The uphill gate from Longmire had been closed at noon and one snowshoer (from a different group) was lost on the mountain. He survived due to experience and smarts and was found 4 days later.

4 others went out into the backcountry on the same day and still haven't been found.

We all felt like wimps when we decided that it was too much to be fun or safe, but we all feel lucky not to be the ones who got stuck or made the wrong choice.

Fun, but scary at times.

Jim W.
(jimqpublic) - MLife

Locale: So-Cal
Re: Maybe not today... on 01/31/2012 16:14:14 MST Print View

Going back a few years...
Ski tour through Yosemite- starting at Twin Lakes near Bridgeport, over Matterhorn Pass, past Tuolumne Meadows, Donahue Pass, Island Pass, out to Mammoth Lakes.

That was the plan. Weather forecast looked good. First day (city legs & lungs) we made it halfway up the first pass, camping just short of treeline.

Started snowing early afternoon. Snowed all night. Overcast but not snowing next morning. Packed up and headed for the pass. Didn't like the slope- thought to let the new snow settle. Back to same camp spot. Started snowing early afternoon. Snowed all night. Overcast but not snowing next morning. Packed up and headed for the pass. Didn't like the slope- thought to let the new snow settle. Back to same camp spot. Started snowing early afternoon. Snowed all night. Overcast but not snowing next morning. Decided this storm was sticking around too long and headed out.

Got to trailhead and clear skies to the East. Hitched ride to town. Asked at diner whether they got any snow.

"Snow? Hasn't been a cloud in the sky all week."

Looked out the window, blue skies. Sierra crest was completely clear. Except one spot. One cloud. Right over Matterhorn pass.

Buck Stolberg
(bstolberg) - MLife

Locale: Harlem
Snow, ice, and water in the Sierras. on 02/01/2012 21:47:19 MST Print View

A couple years ago I went out solo from Roads End into the Sierras. It was a high snow year and early June, but from the Valley there wasn't any snow visible on the peaks. The day was hot, and the trail conditions were supposed to be clear. The 5,000 feet of switchbacks was typical Sierra trail, dry and dusty.
Kings Canyon above Roads End

Footprints disappeared as I went higher, and once I came over the ridge I saw this.
Granite Basin

Well, that's fine. It's just rotting snow and I have a map. I spent the night down there and there was a little more snow the next day.
Granite Pass

Then it was back down to the middle fork of the Kings River and warmer climes. The only problem here was hard packed avalanches covering the trail, with some choose your own death run-out (trauma, hypothermia, or drowning).
Bad run-out.

One slip and it was a slide into rocks and 1,000 cfs of ice cold rapids. It took me about 20 minutes to prep, cross, and recover each 100 feet of snow. I would never have done this without an ice axe and knowing how to use it. Trekking poles were useless here. It occurred to me that I would't let my family cross these, or anybody that I wasn't sure knew how to self-arrest well. It gave me time to think about my comfort level and risk acceptance. Here is another picture after crossing. Notice how little of a platform I was able to create after 10 kicks.
Leftover avalanche in the summer, hard packed and slippery.

What eventually stopped me was trying to cross a stream to get on the JMT going through Le Conte Canyon. The water was high (a 20-year high I would find out later), as the first 2/3 of that crossing is usually dry. When I was almost halfway across the deeper section I was unable to plant a trekking pole because the water would sweep it away before it could touch bottom. The water had surged to my hip belt, and I felt my head turn to look behind me because my body was being pushed over backwards. It was a disturbing sensation to say the least, and I essentially gut-checked myself back to shore.
Too fast and too deep to cross.

I looked up and downstream for a better place to cross, and waited until the next morning for the water level to go down but had no luck. The alternate route across the middle fork was flooded even more. I had to forego the next 100 miles of my trip and backtrack a couple days to where I started. When I walked in to the parking lot I sat on my full 20 lb bear can (I had eaten all the extra food around it by then), and did not feel any regret for a trip cut short.

Someone thought it was a good idea to have a bridge there.
That would have been nice to have.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - M

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Maybe not today... on 02/02/2012 00:06:27 MST Print View

I turned around once only a day into a 5 day trip because of elevation sickness. It was a bummer, I really want to get up there to the lakes. But I was nearly collapsing with every step.