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[Yosemite]

A "what would you do" question

Hiking, backpacking, running, biking, climbing, rafting, and other human-powered activities in Yosemite National Park

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A "what would you do" question

Postby Justin-T » Sat Aug 12, 2017 9:50 am

I'm curious what other, more experienced backpackers would have done in the following situation, after second-guessing our decision...

We were making our way to Bernice Lake last week, following Lewis Creek northeast. We'd just gone over Florence Creek (a little scary due to the extremely cold, fast-running flow that reached half-way up our calves) so we were maybe 2 or 3 miles short of our goal. Trail was on a steady incline and sloping down to the creek as well. Its 3pm, and the clouds have been building for a couple hours and its been spotting with rain and the odd distant (at least 5 miles away) roll of thunder has been heard over the previous 20 minutes. Now its starts raining more heavily, so we take shelter under the trees (slope is well wooded), to wait out the storm. Half an hour later its raining harder and no sign of the sky clearing. Temp has fallen to about 50 degrees so we are starting to get wet/cold despite raingear. Thunder is much more frequent and closer - frequent strikes within 1-2 miles of us. Periods of hail as well.

To us, our options at precise moment seemed to be:

A) just sit tight to wait the storm out
B) push on through the rain/hail/lightning
C) set up tents right there

What's the smartest course of action in this situation?
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Re: A "what would you do" question

Postby robow8 » Sat Aug 12, 2017 3:10 pm

If there was room, I'd set up tent(s). Nothing wrong with cramming people into a tent to wait out a storm. If you have to set up more later, you do it.
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Re: A "what would you do" question

Postby AlmostThere » Sun Aug 13, 2017 11:11 am

It depends. Lightning is a real risk, so it would be a choice made in relation to the terrain we're in. Moving on makes sense in some scenarios but not in others.

http://rendezvous.nols.edu/files/Curric ... elines.pdf

While doing trail crew not long ago we were being chased by a storm -- when we saw a lightning strike we cached all the tools (carrying steel crosscut saws is like asking for it) and beat it for the nearest place we could set up (we were on a steep incline) and hunker down.

There are scenarios where you would NOT want to be in a tent with metal poles.
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Re: A "what would you do" question

Postby Phil » Sun Aug 13, 2017 5:06 pm

The lightning changes everything.

In the scenario you described, at that particular moment, I would have hunkered down and tried to wait out the leading edge of the front moving on, making sure we weren't under the tallest tree(s) in the forest. In my case, if it looked like it was going to be a while, pitch the tent with the fly-only option or just grab the fly and drape it over us in order to stay warmer and drier. Back to rain only, start moving again or backtrack a ways if more appropriate.

But really, frequent strikes 1-2 miles away and you guys should already have been seriously putting some distance between yourselves and assuming the lightning position. The better time to act was about 15 minutes into that 20 minutes when it was getting obvious it was going to overtake your position. People get hit from 10 miles away sometimes, hence the saying "bolt out of the blue".

And if you really wanted to do it right, especially since it was only 3pm and you knew it was coming, you would have bitten the bullet, found a site down by the Fletcher/Lewis confluence, crossed in the morning when the flow was lower (since you were sketchy about it to begin with), stayed dry(er), said "damn"a lot from the relative comfort of your tents as the lightning struck near you, and known that since you only had a few miles left up to Bernice, you could have easily pulled up stakes at 6pm and made your destination before dark, especially if you only did the set-up-camp-lite version until you saw how the whole deal evolved.

No offense intended at all, but you guys were forced into being reactive because you weren't proactive.
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Re: A "what would you do" question

Postby Justin-T » Mon Aug 14, 2017 6:26 am

Phil wrote:No offense intended at all, but you guys were forced into being reactive because you weren't proactive.

None taken, but doesn't being "proactive" in the way you suggest mean that you should stop and set up tents whenever dark clouds appear, because it might become a thunderstorm? In practice, I don't see how you can avoid being reactive to some extent, waiting to see what actually develops.

With hindsight it was better that we crossed Florence Creek when we did, because there must have been well over an inch of rain during the storm, which would have made the crossing unsafe for some considerable time afterwards. There was a huge spike in water flow that day (Aug 5/6). In the end we sheltered under our footprints for about 3 hours and set up the tents during a brief easing of the downpour - but we probably waited too long, it was over a four hour storm in the end. It was one of those experiences that wasn't much fun at the time, but we learned a lot and won't forget it in a hurry!

The lightning link is a good read, good to know for the future.
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Re: A "what would you do" question

Postby Phil » Mon Aug 14, 2017 7:06 am

It does depend on the situation; where you are, what's coming, available options. I can't say that I've never had to be reactive too. I've been stupid, sucker punched and scared more than a few times. When I see it, situational awareness ratchets up. There are just times when you see it coming and want to get ahead of it however you can. Other times you just want to keep going and start pulling on your rain gear and covering your pack. You weigh doing dumb stuff out of desperation vs lightning danger vs drenched hypothermic misery vs "This sucks and it's wrecking our schedule/plan, but we're as good as we're going to get, and better off for it."

Hard to say without being there on the crossing, but on one hand, Fletcher and Lewis Creeks entail a lot of drainage area, but your flow surge from the storm itself would've probably occurred sometime in the middle of the night (the raw granite up there drains off fast). On the other hand, this has been the year of the water deaths, and the people that have had problems are the ones that went for it. It's always different when you're standing there facing it, but calf-deep is entirely doable. You combine the weather and the crossing though, and it sounds like you guys hated it, but essentially did everything you could. Second-guessing it all is easy from the sofa. You weren't the only ones getting caught by that storm.

Luckily, I'm not one of those people that ever hikes with a concrete schedule. If I have to or want to, I add or subtract the time I need, so my perspective comes from that.
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Re: A "what would you do" question

Postby Justin-T » Mon Aug 14, 2017 10:28 am

I wouldn't say we hated it, although the lightning was uncomfortable for a period when it was rather closer than we'd have liked. In the end I was more concerned about us getting hypothermic - once we were in the tent I wished we had made a dash to do so earlier, the difference in temperature inside was dramatic.

As you might remember from a thread earlier in the year, we had planned in a down day at Bernice, so it was an easy call to delay our arrival there. We finally got there mid-morning the next day and (after another half-hour hailstorm in the early afternoon!) had a fantastic day either chilling or exploring around the lake. I'd say the highlight of our whole trip. Only regret was the full moon that wrecked our chances at a spectacular night sky...
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Re: A "what would you do" question

Postby Phil » Mon Aug 14, 2017 11:13 am

I figured you guys were really stoked for this trip. You planned well. Things happen, but that doesn't ruin everything else. You shake it off and go forward. The night sky is always amazing up higher, but there's something about the glow of the granite with a full moon that's pretty special, especially when it's all reflecting off a lake and making it even brighter. I've been known to get up and walk around in the middle of the night. The thing with me though is, I have a quarter in my pocket and know how to quietly open bear cans. You're generally safe though...unless you happen to have maple fudge and more coffee than I do.

Come back soon.
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Re: A "what would you do" question

Postby CarolE » Sat Aug 19, 2017 1:56 am

In a recent storm I finally got a chance to see the benefits of the way I've been practicing putting up my tent- footprint/fly (joined together) go up first then the tent goes up inside (if not just using the fly for a quick shelter). Not perfectly dry but wipeable and much better than having the tent exposed while sticking the fly on.

I did, however, do a rookie mistake and left one of my 2 pairs of socks out to dry the next day- of course it poured while I was out day hiking- Wet feet all weekend! All and all it was a good chance to try out crappy weather hiking techniqus as I was in a perfect spot (hiking shelter nearby even) so it's great to think back on what you did or could do differently.

Loved my helinox zero chair as it actually fit inside my tent so I could read sitting up (I'm short) :)
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Re: A "what would you do" question

Postby Phil » Sat Aug 19, 2017 6:28 am

CarolE wrote: All and all it was a good chance to try out crappy weather hiking techniqus as I was in a perfect spot (hiking shelter nearby even) so it's great to think back on what you did or could do differently.


Absolutely, Carol. Trial and error, learning never ends...work in progress, forever.

Bonehead moves never end though.

I had a trip last year where I pitched the tent in a low spot; I knew it was the last place on earth I should, but it was just such a soft and fluffy area that I couldn't resist. I mean, we didn't even have to toss a single stick or rock to clear it, but every single granite slab for 50 feet around funneled right into. I sat there for half an hour debating it. There was a storm coming in, but I judged it to be far enough east to probably not be a problem. Well, it was. We caught the edge of it and got pounded...ominous green sky, hail, lightning, the whole thing. We shut down the stove, grabbed the pot and our spoons, and quickly threw all the gear into the tent. Bags and pads were all set up, everything. A few hundred yards west was sunny and clear...never got a drop...of course. Figured it would be brief and we could ride it out and stay dry. It lasted a little longer than we thought, long enough that by the time we were sitting in 3" of water and it was about to come over the top of my bathtub floor seams, we ended up getting out, pulling the stakes by braille, getting soaked, and grabbing the entire thing with 75 lbs of gear inside, then hauling the fully pitched tent to where I knew I should have set up to begin with. Well, Duh!, live and learn. Another in a long list of "I'll never do that again" moments.

Chairs with a back to lean on are nice sometimes. If I'm carrying one, I like the original Crazy Creek Hex. Tried an Alite, it went out once, became a nuisance, got returned.
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Re: A "what would you do" question

Postby AlmostThere » Sat Aug 19, 2017 8:02 am

CarolE wrote:
Loved my helinox zero chair as it actually fit inside my tent so I could read sitting up (I'm short) :)


So absolutely no lightning concerns?

If there is lightning the tent and all things metal are the last place you should be.
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Re: A "what would you do" question

Postby Phil » Sun Aug 27, 2017 10:11 pm

Here's one to contemplate. Back to the "bolt out of the blue" thing.

http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/73430 ... ing-strike
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Re: A "what would you do" question

Postby Justin-T » Tue Aug 29, 2017 8:29 am

wow, scary, although its not clear from the story what conditions were actually like at the time of the strike. The only mention of conditions is that there was no rain or lightning when they started their hike. I'm not familiar with the route they took, but it seems like it could easily have been hours later when they reached the summit, and as we know, conditions in the Sierra can change quickly, with early afternoon storms commonly developing as the day wears on.
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Re: A "what would you do" question

Postby AlmostThere » Tue Aug 29, 2017 8:31 am

I'm not surprised. Lightning can travel a long ways from the storm -- the NOLS info says up to ten miles, I suspect that it can travel farther. You can be standing and watching the clouds in the distance and get hit.
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Re: A "what would you do" question

Postby Phil » Tue Aug 29, 2017 7:16 pm

Tinker's Knob is south of Donner Summit in the Granite Chief Wilderness. Near Squaw Valley.

Could've been charged air and plasma discharge from the rock with the bright flash, St Elmo's Fire, but they didn't say anything about hearing the buzz. Amazing that it blew him completely out of his clothing and boots and he got out of it in "fair condition". He's very lucky to even be alive.

Saw a guy standing in the field during a baseball game years ago get hit directly. From the change in his pocket, to the rivets on his jeans, to his belt buckle and car keys , every single metal object on his body was melted into his charred skin. It was like he was cooked and welded on. One of the most amazing and horrible things I've ever seen. I have a lot of respect and a good healthy dose of fear where lightning is concerned.
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