Unexpected Snowstorm in the High Sierras: My Shoulder Season Lesson
Oct 5, 2023 at 4:03 pm #3790509
Companion forum thread to: Unexpected Snowstorm in the High Sierras: My Shoulder Season Lesson
Well, I had an unexpected epic that I hope not to repeat. I made some mistakes. I’m trying to learn from them and figured I might as well share my expOct 5, 2023 at 6:10 pm #3790515Matthew / BPLModerator
It sounds like bailing was the right call and this is a good warning about having some margin of error.
Isn’t Bishop Pass around 12k, not 13.6k?Oct 5, 2023 at 8:30 pm #3790517Bruce TolleyBPL Member
@btolleyLocale: San Francisco Bay Area
Agreeing with Mike here. I think you should add to your list of what saved your ass: making the decision to retreat early. Kudos to you. Way too often we are stuck in the mindset of finishing the hike or making the summit.
There was a group of Scouts and adult leaders that facing an early Autumn snow storm got stuck up near Florence Lake in October in 2012 or so that hunkered down. The powder that the storm dropped got so high that they were unable to travel. They had lots of food, double-walled tents, and sufficient fuel but I recall it took perhaps 5 or 6 days before they were rescued.
The mountains make their own weather. We have to respect Mother Nature because she has no respect for us.Oct 5, 2023 at 11:34 pm #3790521Bill BudneyBPL Member
@billbLocale: Central NYS
The good news is that it makes a great story.
Could have been fun with snowshoes and a 4-season tent. Maybe next time.
I’m with you on redundant lighting, navigation, and batteries. It seems silly to skimp on those just to save a couple of ounces. The weight difference is nothing when the weather changes.
Glad you made it back with mostly just the story. Hope your thumb and toe recover well.Oct 5, 2023 at 11:46 pm #3790522Paul SBPL Member
Glad you made it out safe.
I’ve more than once found that the inReach weather reports are not very accurate. I tend to look at the weather, particularly in the fall, just before leaving for my trip and use multiple sources — plan for worse case scenarios and adjusting for altitude when necessary. e.g. mountain-forecast.com + NOAA point forecasts + windy.com + wunderground, etc..
Having bail out plans and lower altitude “safe” camps is important.
A few years ago I sat and listened to trees all night, waiting for 1 to come crashing down during a mono wind storm. Won’t do that again.Oct 6, 2023 at 6:45 am #3790523nunatakBPL Member
For more context it would interesting to see a gear listOct 6, 2023 at 7:23 am #3790525Oct 6, 2023 at 7:40 am #3790526Paul WagnerBPL Member
@balzaccomLocale: Wine Country
Good job on getting out!
But how did you miss that forecast? My trail crew for those dates was cancelled because the weather concerns…Oct 6, 2023 at 7:45 am #3790527David HartleyBPL Member
@dhartleyLocale: Western NY
Agree that gear list would be a great addition.
Disappointing that the inreach weather was so far off for your location. I have had better luck with inreach weather for eastern locations (NY Adirondacks, Smoky Mountains, etc.). Thanks for the weather info tip Jerry – I will definitely add [email protected] to my inreach contacts and “wx now” to my “quick” messages.Oct 6, 2023 at 7:59 am #3790528DanBPL Member
Sounds pretty miserable, Mike, glad you made it out safely.Oct 6, 2023 at 8:41 am #3790530
wx now is one of my three, free preset messages
thanks to Doug for turning me onto thisOct 6, 2023 at 1:25 pm #3790542
Matthew – ” Isn’t Bishop Pass around 12k, not 13.6k?”
oh, you are right. edited.Oct 6, 2023 at 1:26 pm #3790543Oct 6, 2023 at 1:38 pm #3790546
Paul Wagner –
“But how did you miss that forecast? My trail crew for those dates was cancelled because the weather concerns…”
Like I said, more experienced shoulder season people will roll your eyes. I didn’t know how off my weather resources were. Now I’ve got Jerry’s NOAA recommendation.Oct 6, 2023 at 2:41 pm #3790547Chris KBPL Member
Thanks for posting this as a trip report. Always valuable and interesting to read about the decision process in these scenarios. And glad you made it out safe despite the toe!
Jerry do you find the Garmin forecast often differs from the NOAA forecast to this extent?Oct 6, 2023 at 3:10 pm #3790552
“US forecasts are provided by the National Weather Service. Elsewhere they’re provided by VisualCrossing.com.”
It translates the forecast to abreviations that maximize the amount of information that fits into the 144 character limit of inreach messages, for example “Tn ChRnShw 44% 49 Tm ChRnShw 43% 60 TmN Cld 15% 47 Th RnShw 72% 55 ThN Clr 5% 45…”. It gives the percent chance of rain and the max temp for days and min temp for nights.
It takes maybe an hour for it to reply. It usually works but occasionally gives me gibberish.
Also on wx2inreach.weebly.com – “donate” – “It costs very little to keep this service going, but there are a few minor expenses. Any donations are much appreciated!”Oct 6, 2023 at 6:24 pm #3790561jscottBPL Member
@bookLocale: Northern California
Mike, you’re still around to post this report. You did the right thing. Bravo! Not an easy decision to make, hiking out at night over a snowed in trail.
As I recall, there’s a brief very sketchy stretch just below the pass, if there’s ice or snow.
The main take away for us reading this is, you recognized that you were under-prepared for conditions, and took drastic but appropriate steps to get out. It seems that your headlamp ended up being the real critical piece in all this! A good lesson.Oct 16, 2023 at 5:33 pm #3791143Eric KammererBPL Member
I’ve found that a simple charging-port dust plug will keep the moisture out of the phone and prevent those annoying moisture messages. Search Amazon for “USB c dust plug” (or USB micro, Lightning, etc.).Nov 5, 2023 at 11:17 am #3792534Michael SagehornBPL Member
My Ludite assessment is an over-reliance on technology. Cloud forms, temperature, and relative humidity- all deduced from observation and “feel” are sounder predictions. A more snow shedding tarp, ground cloth, and a sleeping bag rated to single and/or below zero digits would be better. With a tarp you could also build a warming fire. In any hinge season, I pack like Colin Fletcher did, wool trousers, plus poly long johns, I like hiking solo too, but with weather on the horizon and walking a new route, I’d have two more buddies presuming the same fitness level. I’ll also take a shot at this hiking with sneakers gambit. It’s designed by the shoe companies to get you to buy more of their products. I wear leather boots- same two pairs that are two-three decades long. I hike fifty miles a week. Two have been re-soled twice. Wet and snowy weather soak through nylon (consider your tent) real fast. The Marine Corps infantry officer in me recalls the plight of cold and wet feet on the march. Good luck a thanks for the courage in sharing lessons learned.Nov 5, 2023 at 4:34 pm #3792548Jeffrey HBPL Member
Great trip report. This got my heart rate up just reading it.
I wanted to mention how helpful checking meteoblue.com for the historical weather extremes for the time and place is. It’s nice to know the historical worst case scenario when planning against the forecast. Also, they have very detailed forecast info and can extrapolate between weather stations.
One other thing comes to my mind about your story. If you had fallen in the snow and injured yourself on the return trip would you survive the cold/wet? Given how easy it is to sprain or break something in the woods it always seems like a good idea to bring enough warmth that if stuck I won’t freeze to death.Nov 6, 2023 at 6:22 am #3792584Steve MBPL Member
Very well done to Mike for managing himself in a difficult situation, and thanks for sharing – really helpful to be reminded of pitfalls and the difficulties in thinking through in advance the range of potential unanticipated problems and difficulties to be considered. One thing not mentioned in your article, Mike, is your rehydration and calorie intake during your trip down the mountain. Really easy (for me, anyway) to forget or at least minimise the importance of these in a crisis when the survival urge is to press on regardless.Nov 6, 2023 at 7:22 am #3792585NFN ScoutBPL Member
After the hassle of a few kayak trips where my phone port too wet to charge, I started to carry a few strips of thin electrical tape around on my phone case. Now if the phone could get wet, I cover the charging port up beforehand with the tape, works a treat. Just peel if off when you want to charge.Nov 23, 2023 at 8:19 pm #3793793Eric BlumensaadtBPL Member
@danepackerLocale: Mojave Desert
I’m 80 now so I have to remember that my endurance is about half wha it was when I was CX ski racing and patrolling in my 40s.
->A SPOT beacon always goes with me now, even on day hikes in Nevada’s mountains.
->I chose my SUL Dyneema TT Notch Li (“solid interior”) for its ability to handle snow better than most other solo Dyneema designs and still ventilate enough to keep me dry(er) than most.
->My WM Megalite overstuffed mummy has been good to 15 F. with a light base layer and light balaclava but with my down vest of jacket and day pants it would likely go to almost 0 F. , even with a 3 season REI FLASH insulated mattress (R 3.2) Inside the Notch Li solo tent I get another 10 F. of warmth.
-> A pair of low ripstop GTX gaiters will keep snow out of my boots, which have a “WPB” laminate (for shoulder seasons).I also carry a pair of 3 mm thick neoprene divers’ socks and thin poly liners if there is even a chance of unseasonably cold weather. This keeps the inside of my boots dry(er).
->Light GTX mitten shells and light fleece gloves are packed as well.
That’s about all I’d need UNLESS the snowfall was moe than 10″ deep. More than that and I need to pray and/ or push the SHTF button on my SPOT beacon.Dec 3, 2023 at 1:30 pm #3794424Donald CBPL Member
I myself ran into much the same conditions back in 2015, the first week in October. I was on my way back from a loop out of Edison Lake over Goodale Pass on down to Iva Belle Hot Springs and decided to take the Fox Meadow trail up out of Fish Valley to drop into the Silver Creek drainage and go up and over Saddle Mountain Pass. I followed the drainage up to timberline at Fern Lake, set up camp for the night and the next morning I awoke to a snowstorm that had already dropped about 3 inches. Visibility was about 20 feet but the trail was well worn and I followed it up and over Saddle Moutain Pass. I did get lost and attempted to continue up over talus the size of pickup trucks till I realized in this storm I would die in the talus before I reached the top. I had to backtrack a mile or so and found a navigable chute up out of the deadly snow covered talus. I made it to the top of the pass and as soon as I crossed over the skies parted and the snow turned to rain. I had adequate raingear and made it down the trail to my car parked at Vermillion Valley Resort. There was one employee left buttoning everything up and he told me if I hadn’t shown up by the time he left the next day he was going to call search and rescue. My first dicey trek but unfortunately not my last. I had another 2 years later after botching a creek crossing on Granite Creek up in the Ansel Adams wilderness, (too early this time, so much snowmelt) but that is another story.Dec 4, 2023 at 8:48 am #3794509Grant TBPL Member
Just want to say thanks for posting. A great cautionary tale
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