Jul 15, 2014 at 7:20 am #1318942
I'm preparing for JMT starting Sept 4th. Traveling with a friend, we're expecting to take about 22 days to reach Whitney (including some zero days).
I'd love to have comments on my gear list, particularly from anyone with experience backpacking in Sept on or around the JMT.
My gear list is here: Duane's Gear List!Jul 15, 2014 at 8:11 am #2119860
I've backpacked in the sierras at the end of September many times as it is one of my favorite times to escape the crowds at the more popular places. I will be there at about the same time this year. Your list is pretty good, except the obvious craziness of the 4 oz fuel bottle – if you are actually cooking then I'd guess 3 times bigger might be more appropriate for the southern stretch.
So I will focus on the "September" part. The thing about that month, especially the second half, is it is the point where the weather finally may snap – where the temps drop 20 degrees suddenly and you know the summer is officially over. Once this happen you can pretty much rely on the temps being low 20 or lower overnight at the elevation you will be at at the end of your trip. The good news is that this seldom leads to any seriously rough weather, and any snow should burn off in a day or so.
Still, and for full disclosure this IS from a guy who both sleeps cold and likes to be toasty, you are potentially cutting the edge of comfort with your 30 degree bag and very light jacket – maybe even at times if it doesn't get "summer is over" cold. If you wear everything at once, worst case scenario, you will be safe, but possibly uncomfortable. The pad will go a long way with this, but if you have one, or can afford one, seriously consider a 20 deg bag. It would only be a few oz more. The most efficient use of the extra down. I have been borderline cold the last week in September at 10k feet in my 15 deg bag.
The thing about being cold is that in the abstract it seem like "oh, I can deal with it", but in reality if you actually are cold almost nothing else will seem to be important. :-)Jul 15, 2014 at 8:22 am #2119861
full disclosure, I'm not a tarp person.
now regarding shoulder season on the JMT (Sep 4 is not really shoulder but late Sep is), I would much rather bring a 35* bag and a real tent than a 20* bag and a tarp.Jul 15, 2014 at 8:34 am #2119866
Yeah, wouldn't disagree with Art on that. Don't want to crimp your ultralight style, but having n fully enclosed shelter makes a HUGE difference under those conditions. In my BD FirstLight I can usually sleep with a 20 deg bag unzipped under those conditions. Still oz per oz more down in your bag is the most efficient. But really know how to pitch that tarp in a strong wind, not to just stand up, but to keep it off you. Makes me shiver just thinking about it. But a fully enclosed shelter will not only cut the breeze to zero, but will raise the temp a bit inside – a powerful double whammy.Jul 15, 2014 at 9:12 am #2119876
I've been planning on a 10×10 flat tarp for a Sept 6-13 trip for 3 tall guys. I've been thinking that a low A-frame would do the job in wind or rain; now I'm second guessing. Should this be a last minute decision based on the forecast? Time to go practice pitching I guess.Jul 15, 2014 at 9:27 am #2119881
the decision here partly depends on your level of experience and familiarity with the High Sierra. those with more experience can maybe push the envelope a bit further.
in late April in our very mild local SoCal mountains (el. 6,000 ft) a cold one day storm blew in and some PCT hikers were texting for help on their cell phones because their Tarps couldn't cut it. imagine if they had been in the High Sierra.Jul 15, 2014 at 12:54 pm #2119953
Thanks for the insights. Really appreciate your perspectives. I've been going back and forth on the issue of my 30 deg. quilt ("do I need a 20 deg bag?"), particularly because I'm beginning to think I'm a bit of a cold sleeper.
I had not considered the degree to which a fully enclosed shelter might make a difference. I have gotten some experience with tarp pitches for windy conditions. The one suggested by Ryan Jordan here on BPL as a storm pitch works particularly well for shedding wind. Still not going to be as warm as a tent.
I'm also considering a slightly heavier, warmer down hoody and some microfleece long underwear, which would help a bit.
I don't have experience with temps in below the mid-low 30s, nor with the Sierras except in June-August.
Will have to take a look at what it'd take to pitch my tarp as an enclosed pyramid…Jul 15, 2014 at 12:58 pm #2119955
And re: the 4 oz fuel bottle – it's actually 2 bottles (turns out 2X 4 oz. fuel bottles fit inside my can pot, while a round 8 oz sticks out above the rim). And I can get 4 days out of 1 bottle (hot meals every night, hot breakfast every other morning), so that should be enough to get between resupplies.Jul 15, 2014 at 1:08 pm #2119961
"a 10×10 flat tarp"
That will do fine for the rain that falls vertically. However, you need to think about the horizontal stuff. Can you close two sides of this down to the ground?
–B.G.–Jul 15, 2014 at 1:27 pm #2119969
@rushfanLocale: Northern California
Last September we were snowed on. Not sure you're prepared for that with your current gear. Warner base layers and a warmer jacket make sense. Also good advice to bring a tent unless you are really good at pitching a tarp.Jul 15, 2014 at 1:35 pm #2119972
I can pin the tarp edges to the ground. I put 16 tie-outs around the perimeter, plus four mid-panel using grip-clips (to pull the sides out a bit). I basically copied this tie-out pattern from the BPL article:
If the wind was blowing from a constant direction I can see 2-sided protection leaving space for comfort, but if it was necessary to put 3 sides to the ground it might get rough. I'll just need to do some more testing and see if I'm being realistic. We've got tents, so my contingency at this point would be to bring a BA UL3 and my 10×10 tarp, and if it really blows/rains then we could put 2 in the tent and 1 under the tarp comfortably, or 3 in the tent in a pinch. Of course my tarp-only high-sierra aspirations might be delayed another year. :)
Has anyone made removable beaks from polycro or similar? Not sure how I'd attach them without adding velcro.Jul 15, 2014 at 1:58 pm #2119979
First of all, I am not sure how you support your 10×10 tarp. Trekking poles work, if you have them. A ridgeline cord will work if you have trees to tie to. There are places along the JMT where you are above timberline. Now what?
Personally, I use a cuben fiber shaped tarp over two Fibraplex poles. I made my own beak using cuben fiber scraps, some velcro bits, some tape, and some paper clips. Cuben fiber is really strong stuff, much stronger than plastic.
–B.G.–Jul 15, 2014 at 2:17 pm #2119984
"Last September we were snowed on."
A reminder. Lots of beginners are told that September is a pleasant time on the JMT, even around Mount Whitney. Some years ago, some newbies camped halfway up the Whitney Trail over Labor Day Weekend. They got snowed on heavily. The experienced backpackers knew when to cut and run. The newbies didn't. A few days later their bodies were found about a thousand feet lower on the trail.
If it snows, it is more likely to be an inch or two only. That isn't enough to destroy all of your gear, but it is enough to make the trail slippery and difficult to follow. Then, you take a bad fall and everything goes to hell from there.
–B.G.–Jul 15, 2014 at 6:38 pm #2120057
Bob, Do you also have a recipe for making improvised crampons out the paper clips and tape? As a klutz I would fear the Whitney trail covered in ice going downhill more than almost anything else. I have used those springy one meant to be pulled over your trail runner at the grand canyon rim going down the first 1000 or so feet, but carrying them on the JMT in September seems like it might be excessive.
It there a way to tie cords to you shoes to make then snow-grippy? I wonder about waiting for it to melt off instead.Jul 15, 2014 at 6:50 pm #2120062
@retiredjerryLocale: Oregon and Washington
wrap #18 guage galvanized wire around your boots. Provides a little grip in icy conditions.Jul 15, 2014 at 7:56 pm #2120081
Hmmm. First of all, I guess you are thinking in terms of September. If there is any snow at all then, it is likely to be very new snow, and that is not so bad as old snow and ice.
I went up and down Whitney in June. There had been a snow storm just two or three weeks prior, and I had seen the new photos of snow covering the entire Switchback slope. As a result, when I drove over there, I took an ice axe and Yaktrax. Then when I talked to rational people at the visitor center, I realized that they were not needed. There was a path about eight or nine inches wide beaten into the snow. Of course, that is all gone now, and September might have something new. Remember, though, that you are not the Lone Ranger out there, and many hikers will be using the same trail ahead of you.
You could probably wind some parachute cord around your boots in a crisscross fashion. That is done in Japan using ladies nylons twisted into a rope. You want to get the rope about a quarter inch thick so that it mashes down under your weight, but it gives you a little traction.
Start with a long piece of cord and find the middle. Tie a loop there that will fit around the toe of your boot, but it won't slip all the way back to the laces. With that loop around the toe, do crisscrosses as you wind it back onto and under the boot. Then tie it off with the regular laces. That won't be perfect unless you keep it tightly on.
If you have trekking poles, it won't be so bad.
On the other hand, if you get up there and get stuck and die, then we will divvy up your gear.
–B.G.–Jul 15, 2014 at 9:03 pm #2120096
Don't know about J.J.'s experience, but I grew up hiking in the Colorado Rockies. Been snowed on in July and August. Once in early Aug, I was hiking solo above 12,000 ft (Flattop / Hallet's peak above Bear Lake) and was caught in a snow storm and socked in for a few hours. I had the right set of layers, and compass and map, and got down safely (although it took a while). So I fully appreciate what you all are indicating can happen.
Anyone with experience in mid-late Sept with a tarp in and around the southern end of JMT? Is that flirting with "stupid light?"
and Bob G – what killed the "newbies" near Whitney (besides inexperience)? Were they unprepared to just wait it out in their tents (did they have none?)? Was their clothing inadequate? Did they do something stupid (like allow all their gear to get soaked)?
Duane B.Jul 15, 2014 at 9:27 pm #2120104
"and Bob G – what killed the "newbies" near Whitney (besides inexperience)? Were they unprepared to just wait it out in their tents (did they have none?)? Was their clothing inadequate? Did they do something stupid (like allow all their gear to get soaked)?"
As I recall, their problems were all of the above.
They had a tent, and they made it from Whitney Portal up to Trail Camp, expecting to go to the Whitney summit the next day. There was a big snow dump that night. First thing in the morning, the experienced people saw how bad it was and immediately bailed. The newbies were already half-wet from inadequate equipment and clothing, but they tried to hunker down and wait it out for nice weather. By the end of that day, they were all alone and their gear was getting worse and worse, so they decided to bail as well. Unfortunately, their gear had gotten so heavy from water that they had to abandon it. Their bodies were found a thousand feet below Trail Camp. If you know the trail there, it is a good solid trail, but there are some slippery rocks if it has raining. I don't recall the COD, but it doesn't really matter. It was sort of due to inexperience. You have to know when to fold your tent and slink away into the night, literally.
–B.G.–Jul 15, 2014 at 9:45 pm #2120111
@in4life6Locale: Central Valley, CA
Just wondering. I used a bivvy for the the first time last year and thought it was warmer than a tent. OR Aurora was the bivvy. About 20 0z I think and warmer.
Am I right?Jul 15, 2014 at 9:49 pm #2120115
Thanks. That description fits with my observations and experiences. It's rarely a single factor that results in a horrible outcome – but a single good decision can avoid it completely. Knowing when to pack it in and bail is a valuable skill.Jul 15, 2014 at 10:04 pm #2120117
Very peripherally related to the slinking out quickly – by some stroke of bad luck I was crossing the sierra on my way to a trip in Utah exactly at the time, and it was pretty short, that it snowed late in September (think it was the 28th) last year. When I got to the entrance station before Yosemite Valley, and exactly then to a few seconds, the was the most god awful cloudburst where I got drenched just by rolling my window down to communicate with the ranger there. This continued as I turned and climbed heading towards Tioga pass, and I suspect the gate across 120 was closed behind me not long after I past by there. The snow was about medium intensity, and was melting as it hit the road, so it was easy to drive. What people who have driven in snoww before would consider problematic, but perfectly manageable. But it was 3:30 or 4 pm and I was worried about what might happen when it got dark. Then I hit the back end of the traffic jam, no doubt cause by a few little old ladies (of both sexes) who have never driven in snow and who refused to drive more than a mile an hour. So we are stuck virtually motionless in reasonable good driving conditions for no real reason behind these idiots as the sun goes lower and lower, and as I watch the temperature dropping 36, 35, 34. Finally I reach the idiot(s) in question and blast past them at 10 mph with open slushy highway in front of me. I made it to Lee Vining shortly after dark, but I imagined the idiots petrified and going 1 mph finally accelerating down hill or off a cliff as the slush re-froze with them still somewhere around lake Tenaya.
Anyway, moral of the story to go with Bob's story – often times hunkering down like an idiot does not make you safer. A little imagination and extrapolation, together with active countermeasures and retreat may be better in a lot of cases.Jul 15, 2014 at 10:09 pm #2120119
"It's rarely a single factor that results in a horrible outcome – but a single good decision can avoid it completely."
I think that there was a death on the Whitney Trail earlier this year. The deceased was found at the bottom of the steep rocky chute that goes from Mirror Lake up to a point on the trail around 11,000'. The theory was that the deceased missed one turn in the trail and then went down the chute. Poor fellow. Maybe his headlamp had failed or something.
On the other hand, I made that same mistake myself once about 38 years ago, but I managed to scrape down the chute and survive.
–B.G.–Jul 16, 2014 at 12:49 am #2120142
All great information.
My trip this year isn't actually the JMT (but I don't think I'm too off topic). With my father and brother, I'm doing about 50 miles from Agnew Meadows to Yosemite Valley, hoping to do a fair bit off trail wandering between Marie or Davis Lakes and the Upper Lyell Fork of the Merced. So I won't be scrambling up Whitney, but I'll be up high a fair bit.
I don't have the miles or nights that lots of guys do, which is why I'm happy to absorb more than contribute around here, but I'd say I'm generally confident with tents, and I'm cautiously optimistic with tarps. I'm used to shoulder season temps occasionally dipping down to 20 up here in the PNW, and I've tarped in the cold/wet up here successfully by myself. And the more I've continued to learn about the high sierra in September, the more our clothing list has become what I usually take during shoulder season in Washington. I'm confident we've got the right insulation for 20 degree nights, if we're dry.
Which leads to the part where I lack confidence with tarps: I've never tried to keep 3 people dry with a 10×10 tarp in strong wind, at 10,000 feet, in potentially much more exposed locations. I pitch the tarp with trekking poles, and have done so successfully in what I'd call breezy weather, but nothing like 30MPH winds. And as Bob pointed out, wet gear can be hairy situation.
At this point, I'm leaning toward bringing a tent and a tarp. I don't have the money for a 3-person pyramid. My Fly Creek UL3 is ~3lbs. Adding a ~2lb tarp, I'd be looking at 5lbs shelter. I think I'm fine with that. I'd be able to test run the tarp with a fallback option. I'd much rather shoulder the extra weight than make for a miserable trip.Jul 16, 2014 at 11:47 am #2120253
I enjoy the Sierra Nevada in September. No crowds, bugs, less chance of thunder storms on the high passes, and water fords are trivial. It can occasionally snow (normally just a few inches at the most), but normally you'll have sunny weather though the nights can be cold.
Around the middle of September, the lows can often start falling into the low 20's as others have mentioned. I use a 20F degree quilt all the time with a tarp in the High Sierra (June through September). You should have no issues with a tarp if you know how to use it in bad weather. As someone who hiked the PCT with a tarp and has dealt with snow many times, a tarp is more then enough shelter to deal with it IF YOU HAVE THE PROPER KNOWLEDGE of how to pitch it and pick a campsite. I've had not just horizontal snow, but snow blowing upslope towards me on a ridge I was camped on and stayed dry and warm with a small tarp. However, I do use a bivy sack as well which does add some additional warmth and protection. Even with a 20F quilt, you may find it cold if you camp on Mt. Whintey in the later part of September so I'd recommend camping further down the mountain.
I think your clothing layers are similar to what I would carry except I would go for a warmer pair of thermal pants then just silk. Gaiters aren't necessary but if you like them so be it. I don't like the hoody version of the jacket. I would rather have a seperate warm hat from the jacket as that jacket will likely be too warm to hike in most of the time but there will be times you'll still want a warm hat on. I normally use a Montbell Extremly UL down jacket with a Mountain Hardware lightweight Balaclava (1.3 oz). I find the balaclava to be the more versatile warm hat you can wear. You can wear it as a single layer beanie style hat where its just pulled down over the ears with the rest dangling off your head even if it looks dorky. You can double it up for more warmth by pulling it down all the way and then back up so it just covers the ears but now has double thickness of material. Or for really cold, just pull it down so it covers your face and neck which really warms you up. Been in 20F temperatures with 30-50mph wind gusts blowing snow at me and found it more then warm enough. Plus with a quilt without a mummy hood, being able to cover you entire head is a plus.
I would have enough water capacity for at least 2L of water; you look like you are only carrying 1.5L. Make sure you protect your water filter at night when the temperatures drop below freezing. Put it in a ziplock and keep it in your quilt to keep the filter from freezing.
I didn't notice anything like a compass but I'd recommend having one. Overall, your gear list looks good to me.Jul 16, 2014 at 1:32 pm #2120274
Thanks for the suggestions & comments. Great info.
I've camped enough with the tarp now that I am very aware of site selection, and I've at been rained on a few time – but nothing like sideways rain or upslope-blowing snow to date. I do know how to choose a site that is relatively sheltered from wind. What pitch or pitches do you go to in windy/stormy conditions? I've used the storm pitch suggested in Ryan Jordan's article (Tarp camping in inclement conditions – there's a link in one of my previous posts on this thread). I plan to try some pyramid pitches I've seen as well.
Is there any data on how much a bivy sack helps with warmth? I think I might consider down pants first, for the same weight. Although the bivy might be more effective for windy conditions(?)
For thermal pants, that's an oversight. I have some microfleece pants that I need to put into the list (I just dont' have their weight right at the moment).
I appreciate the thoughts about a balaclava vs hood. My thinking was the that integrated hood probably gives the best warmth for weight while sleeping. But if I need something warmer than my hat and long hair when I'm hiking… I'll have to think about this some more.
For water, I can actually carry 3.5L (1L platy, 0.5L bottle, and 2 L Sawyer Squeeze bag). So that should be plenty. And I agree with you on the compass.
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