The High Sierra Backpacking and Hiking Mountain Safety Topics Page


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By Alex Wierbinski - Posted on 12 November 2010

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Tropical storm brings heavy hail, lightening to Sierra Crest July 8 2015
 

 

High Sierra Mountain Safety
NEWS & TOPICS

A.K.A:

A
REVIEW
of
OUR
CURRENT and THEORETICAL HAZARDS

 

High Sierra Mountain Safety 

On this page

High Sierra Mountain Safety TOPICS

 High Sierra Mountain Safety NEWS

 

The Other Page 
All Wilderness-Outdoor-Mountain Rescues & Events Log 

 

Resources 
Current Backpacker Alert(s)

Memorial Day High Sierra Safety Warning

 

April 1, 2017 BACKPACKER ALERT:
STILL CURRENT through JULY

 

Missing People in Yosemite

 

Earlier 
March 22, 2017 Alert

All Backpacker Alerts

 

 

APRIL-JUNE
2017
SPRING THREATS ON FULL DISPLAY

June, 2017

 

 LATEST NEWS BELOW

 

April 1
BACKPACKER ALERT
through
CURRENT DATE in JUNE, 2017

ONGOING
BACKPACKER ALERT:

The most important topic of this date is the massive snowpack on the Sierra Crest and the extreme danger it poses to PCT hikers. The dangers of High Altitude Snow Travel will soon be supplemented by very dangerous fording conditions when this snowpack begins to thaw.

These conditions require skills, gear, and fitness to assure any level of safe travel as of this date. Undercutting and safety along the banks of creeks emerging from snow cover is currently increasing, as will the difficulty of travel conditions increase as the pack softens under the increasing heat of Spring.

Extremely difficult travel conditions will soon shift from hard snow that defies traction to wet snow offering no foundation. We will shortly transition from barely clinging to the mountain-side to sinking up to our waists with each step. As Spring progresses cold mornings will bring the former condition, warm afternoons the latter.

The same temp shift driving the changing character of the snow pack will soon drive even the highest river fords to levels unsafe for fording, and make the major rivers raging torrents of destruction. These temp shifts change the character of the Sierra.

The snowpack itself will become sopping wet, saturating anything and anyone in contact with it. These are the times that hikers without sufficient insulation can find cold combining with exhaustion to degrade decision making as well as technical execution & style to create very dangerous situations. I see Wet, cold, and tired PCT hikers surrounded by a sea of deep, wet, energy-sucking snow divided by an endless series of raging torrents of typically tiny High Sierra creeks surging like rivers, each supercharged by Spring's mighty flows.

The trails will be flowing like creeks, when we get down to them. And they will lead to the mighty rivers, which will be downright scary, once this massive snow pack begins to melt in earnest.

 

 

MOUNTAIN SAFETY
TOPICS
INTRODUCTION
Welcome to the introduction to the High Sierra Backpacking and Hiking Safety Forum. As the website is currently under construction, this page is currently a catch-all safety page. As construction of the trail guide content eventually winds down, I will build the news & topics their own safety pages.

 

High Sierra Mountain Safety
TOPICS

 

News
Below

 

Things to Think About

 

Greatest Threats

Fording and Two Fording-Cold Water articles below.

Lightening

Lightening Forecast Probabilities

Internal Threats

Navigation

Missing People in Yosemite

Snags Safety Page

Snags, accident below, and here

Avalanches, here, and here

Altitude Safety Page

Fire-Smoke, and here

Personal Illness

Personal Stupidity. and esp this.

Green Water Page,

Green Water Article, below

 

Animal Kingdom

Bears

Mosquitoes

Small Mammals

Plague

Hantavirus

Marmots

 

Disclaimer
Backpacking is Dangerous

 

 YOU CAN DIE

 

FIRST
Be "Threat Aware." Observe any situation you enter, and think, "what can hurt or kill me here?"

Slippery snow next to a fall? Next to a raging river? Is there water? Are there standing dead trees that can fall on my head or tent, or rocks off the surrounding cliffs? A patch of steep snow across the trail? Are those beautiful clouds carrying electrical death? Where is it?

There is danger, the only question is where. You are the first point of danger if you are unaware that danger is always present, and are not staying alert to its potential.

 

 

Recent
HIGH SIERRA
MOUNTAIN SAFETY 

NEWS,
INCIDENTS & CONDITIONS

 

Also See
Mountain Safety
TOPICS

 

  Updated 

July 20

FULL SMOKE-FIRE ALERT
Continues

See
July 20 Trail News

 

 

Lost Hiker
Green Lake trailhead out of South Lake

Active search under way for missing hiker,
Sierra Wave, July 20, 2017.

 

 

Three High Altitude Rescues

Busy weekend for Inyo County Search and Rescue,
Sierra Wave, July 20, 2017.

 

 

 

July 19

FULL SMOKE-FIRE ALERT

See trail news, July 19

All backpackers and visitors to the Sierra should check smoke and fire conditions. Smoke can be a real problem, even with no fire in near proximity to your area.

Fire & Smoke

CalFire

Inciweb Fed

 


Smoke

 

 

Report from Sequoia Kings Canyon

INCIDENTS AT SEQUOIA-KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARKS,
Kaweah Commonwealth, July 18, 2017.

 

 

Lost Hikers Remembered

Friends, family remembering Heavenly Mountain Resort ski patroller missing in Mount Rainier National Park,
Tahoe Daily Tribune, July 19, 2017.

Original report

 

 

HIKER'S BODY FOUND,
Kaweah Commonwealth, July 18, 2017.

Original report

 

 

 

July 18

FIRE & SMOKE HAZARDS

Smoke from Mariposa County fire a concern in Tuolumne County, surrounding area,
Union Democrat, July 17, 2017.

Fire & Smoke Information

 

 

MOUNTAIN SAFETY
2 Deaths, 1 Injury

Colorado’s fourth 14er death of 2017 renews drive to educate hikers of risks,
Sierra Sun, July 18, 2017.

 

 

Heavenly ski patroller dies on Mt. Rainier,
Lake Tahoe News, July 17, 2017.

 

 

LOOKS CAN BE DECEIVING,
Close calls and injuries for backcountry skiers are reminders of danger,
The Sheet, July 15, 2017, PDF, P.1.

 

 

 

July 11

Water Rescue

 

Floaters and a dog are safe after South Fork Tuolumne River search,
Union Democrat, July 10, 2017.

 

 

 

July 10

Lost Hiker from October 2016

 Body of missing hiker located near Bishop Pass,
Sierra Wave, July 9, 2017.

 

 

 

July 7

INTENSIFYING HAZARDS

Heat Warnings

Snow Travel Warnings

Fording Danger Warnings

Lightening Forecast Probabilities

 

See
July 7 High Sierra Trail Conditions News 

 

 

 

July 6

FORTUITOUS RESCUE

Backcountry patrol leads to medical rescue in Placer,
Lake Tahoe News, July 5, 2017.

 

 

 

July 5

Weather Hazard

 Red Flag Warning For Possible Dry Thunderstorms,
Sierra News, July 5, 2017,

Lightening Forecast Probabilities

 

 

Water Hazard

Kayaker pulled from Upper Truckee River,
Mountain Democrat, June 30, 2017.

Upper Truckee is one of our favorite trailheads.

Hiking Map
Meiss Country Roadless Area

 

 

  

July 3

RESCUES

 HIGH WATERS CONTINUES TO CREATE OBSTACLES FOR HIKERS,
Kaweah Commonwealth, July 3, 2017.

 

 

 

June 30

Desolation Wilderness

Missing hiker found,
Mountain Democrat, June 30, 2017.

Never wander off, without knowing exactly how to get back...

 

 

 

June 29

Summer Conditions Delayed

California in July: It’s time to hit the slopes,
Mercury News, June 29, 2017.

 

 

 

June 28

Autopsy shows man died of drowning at Wapama Falls,
Union Democrat, June 27, 2017.

 

Recent Rescues

Searchers make multiple rescues; one man last seen in Merced River is still missing,
Union Democrat, June 26, 2017.

 

 

 

June 27

Man dies at Wapama Falls on Hetch Hetchy,
Union Democrat, June 26, 2017.

 

BACKPACKER DIES CROSSING SILLIMAN CREEK,
Kaweah Commonwealth, June 26, 2017.

 

 Kayaker pulled from Upper Truckee River,
Lake Tahoe News, June 27, 2017.

 

Search For Mariposa Man Missing In Merced River,
Sierra News Online, June 26, 2017.

 

 

Uninformed, Unprepped Hikers Suffer

Wet Winter Ups the Ante for Pacific Crest Trail Hikers,
KQED, June 26, 2017

Tahoe to Whitney reported PCT hazards on April 1

 

 

June 21

 The Threat Environment 
High Sierra Mountain Hazards

 

Special Circumstances 
EXTREME DANGER WARNING 

 

 

June 20                                    All High Sierra Mountain Safety
                                                 Warnings thru June 16th below
                                                                      in
                                                            FULL EFFECT

 DANGEROUS RIVERS & FORDING CONDITIONS

Heat, Thaw, Snow Travel & Fording
HAZARDS

Avalanche and Lightening Hazards, too !

Mono Flooding Hazard Warning

 

Merced Flooding Outlook Warning

 

MOUNTAIN SAFETY HAZARD

THE THREAT OF ACCESS

With Sonora Pass opening on the 13th, the Bishop Creek Shuttle on the 17th, and Tioga Road getting ready for its public opening, we are looking at open access to the High Sierra Flanks and Crestline in very difficult and dangerous snow and fording travel conditions. The rivers dividing Sierra Crestline Peaks are running at powerfully dangerous flows. The creeks are dangerous, the rivers are deadly.

 

April-June Backpacker Alert Update:

ACCESS HAZARD DISCUSSION

 

 

June 19

MOUNTAIN SAFETY HAZARD

Not an Expert at Snow & Cold Fording?
STAY OUT

After 1,000 miles of hiking, everything literally turned upside down as one mistake pulled a man toward a raging waterfall,
SF Gate, June 19, 2017.

First Report, Sierra Sun, below

Accident Location Information:
Return Creek Ford in Virginia Canyon

 

 

Not an Expert at Snow & Cold Fording?
STAY OUT

Dangerous PCT keeping rescue crews busy,
Lake Tahoe News, June 19, 2017.

 

 

HAZARDOUS TRAVEL-FORDING CONDITIONS

FORDING ACCIDENT SELF RESCUE

How dangerous are High Sierra conditions? Even experienced hikers say ‘stay out,’
Fresno Bee, June 15, 2017.

See the Location
TRAIL GUIDE
Page

Kerrick Canyon Ford

 

TRAIL GUIDE
Map
Rancheria Creek through Kerrick Canyon Map


The Kerrick Canyon Ford is on the West end of Kerrick Canyon, below where PCT hikers begin the climb over to Stubblefield Canyon.

 

 

April 1 Backpacker Alert still in FULL EFFECT

 

 

June 16

MOUNTAIN SAFETY HAZARD
Heat Wave

See
Trail Conditions Report, June 16

 

 

June 14 

 

Amazing Self-Rescue brings Full Rescue

Marcus Mazzaferri Rescue: Happy To Be Alive,
Sierra News Online, June 14, 2017.

Finally, a happy ending. Good decisions create the space for "luck."

Later SF Chronicle Article

 

High Sierra Mountain Safety
Fording

 

Let's Disect

I identify this ford Marc was knocked down in as the Return Creek Ford in Virginia Canyon:

Virginia Canyon Trail Guide: Return Creek Ford Points

 

The "shelter" he cited was likely the stone kitchen building at Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp.

Glen Aulin Trail GuideStone Kitchen & Canvas Dining Room

 

Here's a TRAIL MAP of the whole area of interest

Virginia Canyon to Tuolumne Meadows Hiking Map

I figure Marc found the National Park Snow Removal & Repair Road Crews working Highway 120 into shape somewhere between Tenaya Lake to Tuolumne Meadows.

Click the map above for more detailed maps. Click the red dots marking trail routes to see the guide for that location.

The Big Picture

North Yosemite Backcountry and the Grand Canyon of The Tuolumne River

Click Red Dots for Trail Guide entries, Black Dots for Highly Detailed trail maps

 

 

June 13

WARNING
Conditions Deteroriate & Change Rapidly

 

Storm churns waves up to 6 feet on Lake Tahoe, drops foot of snow in Sierra,
SF Crate, June 12, 2017.

No big deal. Expect the unexpected. Last year the remnants of TS Blanca hit us during the same time of June.

 

DROWNING FEARS UP IN US WEST AS RIVERS SURGE WITH SNOWMELT,
AP, June 12, 2017. 

 

 

TWO FATALITIES?
High Sierra Water Hazards at Peak Levels

 

Weather hinders search for Tahoe kayaker,
Record Courier, June 11, 2017.

 

Drowning woman pulled from Upper Truckee River,
Record Courier, June 9, 2017.

Let's hope Tahoe kayaker got safely off the lake and is hunkerd down waiting out the stormlet, and that the woman Truckee River-kayaker survives her ordeal.

6-13 Update:
RIP woman kayaker.

Search continues for lake kayaker

In the meantime, we'll use extreme caution approaching all forms of Sierra Water, including the still-deep snow on the Sierra Crestline.

 

 

June 7

SEVERE WATER HAZARDS

 

Search Continues For Man Who Fell From Mist Trail In Yosemite,
Sierra News Online, June 6, 2017.

Union Democrat Notice

 

  

Near drowning on Upper Truckee River,
Lake Tahoe News, June 7, 2017.

 

 

June 6

Note
Serious mountain safety issues in Washington and Colorado. (And California!)

 

 

 

June 1

Trails are Dangerous

Teen dies after falling 50 feet while hiking in Lake Tahoe’s Emerald Bay,
Tahoe Daily Tribune, May 31, 2017.

 

 

Out of the Sierra, but very very relevant...

Ill-prepped Climbers pulled off Quandary Peak in Summit County.

 

 

 

May 31, 2017 
More
Memorial Day Mountain Safety Reports

Report from Sequoia
SNOW HINDERS HIGH-COUNTRY TRAVEL IN SEQUOIA-KINGS CANYON NATIONAL PARKS,
Kaweah Commonwealth, May 30, 2017.

 

 

Report from Kern River
Memorial Day weekend on the Kern River is one of the deadliest in 24 years,
Bakersfield.com, May 30, 2017.

 

Good Fording Advice, Too:

Avoid a tragedy on the lake: Why swimming in Lake Tahoe is unique,
Mountain Democrat, May 31, 2017.


Forest Service offers safety tips,
Record-Courier, May 28.

Greatest Threats
Fording and Lightening

 

 

 

May 30, 2017 
Memoral Day Report 

Deadly weekend on California’s Kern River: 3 dead, 24 rescued,
Tahoe Daily Tribune, May 30, 2017.

 

 

Kern River kills two over Memorial Day weekend as at least a dozen others are rescued from rough currents,
Bakersfield.com, May 30, 2017.

 

 

Where were all the people? American River nearly deserted due to dangerous conditions,
Sac Bee, May 29, 2017.

 

 

Woman rescued by helicopter after tumbling 30 feet near Lake Tahoe,
Tahoe Daily Tribune, May 29, 2017.

 

 

On the Lighter Side 
Guatemalan Insanity Peppers?

Man rescued after bad drug trip,
Record-Courier, May 26, 2017.

Did the coyotes tell him they were hungry?
The Simpsons episode 162

A fine example of very poor decision-making:
Don't start your hike with Guatemalan Insanity Peppers!

 

 

 May 27

PCT-JMT BRIDGE DOWN

Woods Crossing Suspension Bridge

Damaged bridges affect PCT/JMT and Rae Lakes Loop in significant way,
PCTA, May 25, 2017.

Woods Crossing: Suspension bridge over Woods Creek DOWN

Master trail mechanic Marty Maine of Sequoia National Park, AKA, "Reaper,"
inspecting and recording repairs to Woods Crossing during 2009.

 

This is just the first of what are going to be many damaged trails, broken bridges, tree falls, washouts, and avalanches that are happening or being reveled as the snow pack receeds up-mountain.

EXPECT bad trail conditions and make your plans accordingly. Nature is the wild card, and IT has dealing hands of destruction over these past years, and is topping this run of drought off with a crazy Winter and Spring.

Last year we were worried about fires. This year about drowning. From one extreme to the other.

 

 How to BYPASS
Downed Woods Crossing Bridge

Northbound on the PCT-JMT

1> West down Bubbs Creek from Vidette Meadow towards Roads End.

2> North up Woods Creek to rejoin PCT-TYT on the Northbound Shore of the downed Woods Crossing Bridge.

3> Continue North along Woods Creek towards Pinchot Pass.

 

Southbound

1> South past Woods Crossing to Bubbs Creek Trail, just a bit North of Roads End.

2> East up Bubbs Creek to PCT-JMT @ Vidette Meadow.

3> Continue South up to Forester Pass.

 

30 Minute USGS Topo Map: Rae Lakes Loop & the JMT-PCT route

 

REPORT ALL CONDITIONS-DAMAGES-OBSERVATIONS FOR POSTING

 

Woods Crossing Image: High Sierra Backpacker Magazine, bottom-right of page. 

 

 

May 25

Dangerous River, Stream, & Fording Conditions

Rapid snowmelt will continue around Lake Tahoe; flood advisory in effect in central Sierra Nevada
Tahoe Daily Tribune, May 24, 2017.

 

 

Reprise: All Hazards Still in Effect

Dangerous Terrain & Fording Conditions

West’s super snowpack could be deadly summer hazard,
Reno Gazette-Journal, May 4, 2017.

 

 

Dangerous River

Kings River Closed
Below Pine Flat Dam

You won’t be able to cool off this spring in the Kings River,
Fres Bee, May 24, 2017.

 

 

Snow-Ice Terrain Accident

Update: Missing Mt. Whitney hiker found deceased,
Sierra Wave, May 23, 2017.

 

 

Get Ready for Difficult Terrain

West’s super snowpack could be deadly summer hazard
Reno Gazette-Journal, May 4, 2017.

 

 

May 23

Water Accident-Drowning

Rivers swollen from melting Sierra Nevada snowpack claim another life in the Central Valley,
LA Times, May 23, 2017.

 

 

May 22

 

Search

Search Continues For Missing Coarsegold Man,
Sierra News Online, May 19, 2017.

 

 

May 18

Owens River Victim Recovery

Bellflower man found deceased in Owens River,
Sierra Wave, May 18, 2017.

 

 

May 15

Mountain Rescue
Mount Whitney
IDIOT ALERT
Improperly geared and skilled hikers

 

Atop Mount Whitney and battling frostbite, these hikers sent out an SOS,
Fresno Bee, May 15, 2017.

 

May 10

Merced River
HIGH WATER 
WARNING

 Merced River in Yosemite is rising again. Flooding expected Wednesday,
Fres Bee, May 9, 2017.

 

 

 May 9

East and West Forks of the Carson River

HIGH WATER
WARNING

 Flood advisory issued for this week
Record Courier, May 6, 2017.

 

 

May 8

LOST-INJURED DAY HIKER SEARCH

Search for Lost Day Hiker around Yosemite Valley 

 

 

May 5

EXTREME MOSQUITO THREAT

Mosquitoes surge after rain and heat in Northern California,
Sac Bee, May 4, 2017.

Health and Fitness

 

 

May 4

EXTREME FORDING-WATER DANGER
FIVE DROWNINGS SINCE APRIL 15
After a third body is pulled from Tule River, sheriff wants to close river access,
Fresno Bee, May 3, 2017.

 

 

 May 3

Avalanche

HIKER INJURED IN AVALANCHE,
Kaweah Commonwealth, May 1, 2017.

 

 Topic
Avalanches

Incredible Avalanche Dangers

I warned of serious layering of the snow on Jan 20 2017, writing a note called, "January 2017 Assesment," especially "Danger-Danger" where I specifically warned of the potential for these dangerous Spring avalanche conditions building across Winter. Here they are.

 

 

Equipment Failure, Improper prep & gear for journey?

Cause of death released for man found at Eagle Meadow,
Union Democrat, April 27, 2017.

 

 


April 30, 2017

MOSQUITO-DISEASE

State Reports First West Nile Case of 2017, Kings County,
April 28, 2017.

 
California confirms first human West Nile Virus case of 2017,
Mercury News, April 29, 2017.

Skeeter News  

Health and Fitness

 

 

 

April 29

US Forest Service Issues
IDIOT ALERT
Hike around Lake Tahoe: Most backcountry trails still covered with ‘a lot of snow,
Tahoe Daily Tribune, April 29, 2017.

(Really? A lot of snow? I've had a backpacker alert up since April 1)

 

 

 

April 24

TWO FATALITIES

One>
Avalanche-Steep Snow Fall

Two>
Water Accident

Two deaths, one on Mt. Whitney, in Sequoia-Kings National Park,
Sierra Wave, April 24, 2017.

 

Two Fatalities in Sequoia National Park,
Sequoia National Park, April 23, 2017.

 

 

DISEASE WARNING

MONO COUNTY
Issues Hantavirus Warning

Be aware of hantavirus,
Sierra Wave, April 23, 2017.

Yosemite Outbreak

Yosemite Information

High Sierra Mountain Safety Log

 

 

 April 22

CalTrans Crews reports heavy snow movement in the mountains 

No Passing Lane on Tioga,
The Sheet, April 22, 2017.

 

 

March 6, 2017

Trees-Snags 
Woman Struck By Falling Tree Dies in Yosemite National Park,
Sierra News Online, March 6, 2017.

More in Sac Bee

Mountain Safety: Snags

 

 

Avalanches
Avalanches and road closures persist from major Sierra snowstorm,
SF Chron, March 6, 2017.

New avalanche and snow burial practice guidelines released by wilderness medical society
ELSEVIER HEALTH SCIENCES, March 2, 2017.

 

 

Animals 
Man kills mountain lion after attack at Mono Lake,
Sierra Wave, February 28, 2017.

 

 

Adversity 
What doesn't kill you makes you stronger
SANFORD-BURNHAM PREBYS MEDICAL DISCOVERY INSTITUTE, February 15, 2017.

 

 

Avalanches 
Men post selfie while trapped in avalanche on Highway 89
Sacbee, January 23, 2017.

As California goes from drought to deluge, a dangerous old foe returns: mudslides.
LaLa Times, January 22, 2017.

 

 

Flood 
Much of Ca Nailed by Flooding
AT LEAST 4 REPORTED DEAD IN CALIFORNIA STORMS,
AP, January 23, 2017.

 

 

Avalanches-Weather 
Sierra slammed: Avalanche warnings, 154-mph wind gust recorded,
SFCrate, January 22, 2017.

 

 

Drugs 
Do most Mount Everest climbers use medications, and should they? 
MARY ANN LIEBERT, INC./GENETIC ENGINEERING NEWS, December 14, 2016.

 

 

Statistics 
Survey: 1 in 4 vacations includes a trip to the ER,
MediaSource, November 21, 2016.

 

 

Altitude 
Andeans with altitude sickness produce massive amounts of red blood cells,
University of California - San Diego, November 7, 2016.

Adjusting to Altitude

 

 

Fire 
'Above average' wildfire activity is forecast through October,
LAT, August 3, 2016.

 

 

Fire-Smoke 
High Sierra Weather, Fire and Smoke ReportsDrought.

 

 

Animals 
Los Angeles mountain lions hunt closer to human settlements than expected
PLOS, July 27, 2016.

 

 

Personal Medical Emergency
HIKER DIES ON HIGH SIERRA TRAIL (WITH UPDATE),
Kaweah Commonwealth, May 27, 2016.

 

 

Stupid Human Tricks: 
Death by GPS 
Hilarious 
Why do we follow digital maps into dodgy places?
ArsTechnica, May 3, 2016.
Navigation Intro and Info

 

 

Stupid Human Tricks:
Animals

Half of the large carnivore attacks are due to the imprudence of human behavior,
Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), 2-8-16.

 

 

Two thirds of cattle attacks on people involve dogs, new study finds,
University of Liverpool, 2-1-16. 


Also See
When cows attack
and

I’m not a freeking cow, nor a cowboy.
A Mule, maybe…

 

 

American Stupidity:
 Quantified

Distracted walking: A serious issue for you, not me,

December 02, 2015, American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. 

 

 

 A 1000 year flood per decade

After historic flooding, Death Valley gears up for 'a long, hard recovery,'
Nov 9, 2015, LAT. Also see original report, and note this is the second "1000 year" flood DV has seen in the last decade.

 

 

Insects-Disease
General
 
Aggressive nonnative mosquitoes spreading across state carry disease risk,
Oct 24, 2015, LAT.

Mosquito Information for Hikers

Mosquito News & Information

 

 

PLAGUE
Plague Persists

Squirrel Tests Positive for Plague in South Lake Tahoe Area
El Dorado National Forest, September 4, 2015.
Also See: Plague Persists, August 19, 2015. 

 

 

Insects 
‘Killer bees’ found in the Bay Area for the first time,
SF Gate, Sep 28, 2015.
 We are going to have to develop "killer-bee safety plans" that address potentially dangerous interactions with "killer bees" on the trail. It's just a matter of time and more heating.

 

 

Insects-Disease
West Nile
 
The Bugs are Coming... The Bugs are Coming 
First West Nile virus death reported in Los Angeles County,
LAT, September 15, 2015. 

Mosquito Information for Hikers

Mosquito News & Information

 

 

 

DONT EVER FEED THE ANIMALS
Aggressive mountain goats close down Idaho hiking trail

Mashable, September 14, 2015.

 

 

Weather 
Expect the Unexpected
Grey Swans: Rare but predictable storms could pose big hazards
Princeton, August 31, 2015. 

 

 

Lost 
Folsom hiker found alive after 9 days in Sierra National Forest,
Sac Bee, August 29, 2015.

 

 

PLAGUE
Insects-Disease
Plague Persists 
Second Yosemite tourist diagnosed with plague,
SF Chron, August 19, 2015. 
Also See: 
Yosemite Plage earlier this year

Mono Country and Sierra Plague Warnings

Plague Index of Information and News

 

 

 

PLAGUE
Insects-Disease
Plague Persists  
Tuolumne Meadows Campground Closing 
 Plague Threat Expands 
AUGUST 14 2015
By my recokening plague rolls through the Sierra every few years, judging by the rise and fall of the craziness of the small and large mammals over a couple of decades. Seasonal weather changes have expanded species suseptibility to infection, increasing human risk and exposure. In my opinion.

And, making the small mammals crazy almost every other year...

That bodes well.

Yosemite’s Tuolumne Meadows Campground to Be Closed After 2 Squirrels Found Dead From Plague, KTLA,  August 14, 2015.
(Closed from noon on August 17 to noon on August 21)

Yosemite National Park Plague Information

Mountain Safety, High Sierra Plague Warning.

Tuolumne Meadows, National Park Service
(Closed from noon on August 17 to noon on August 21) 

 See Recent and Historical Plague Warnings.

Also See:
Mountain Safety, High Sierra Plague Warning.

Plague Index of Information and News

 

Food Fight
Animals-Bear
No such thing as a free meal... when the food fights back:
Man fights off bear near Yosemite National Park, drives himself to hospital,
LAT,  August 14, 2015.

 

Snags

Tree limb falls on tent in Yosemite, killing 2 minors,
CNN,  August 14, 2015.

Also See
Mountain Safety, Snags.

 

 

Insects-Disease

General 
Mono County offers smorgasbord of diseases,
The Sheet, August 14, 2015.

Mosquito Information for Hikers

Mosquito News & Information

 

Insects-Disease
Plague

L.A. County child treated for human plague after visiting Yosemite National Park, Stanislaus National Forest,
OC Register, August 6, 2015.

Also See
Mountain Safety, High Sierra Plague Warning.

Plague Index of Information and News

 

ACCIDENT

Hiker Gregg Hein of Clovis recalls six days in high Sierra with badly injured leg (video),
Fresno Bee, July 15, 2015.

 

 

Water Hazard: Potable 

Watch Out for the Green Water 
Toxic blue-green algae pose increasing threat to nation's drinking, recreational water,
OSU,  August 12, 2015. 

Watch out for the Green Water

 

 

WATER HAZARD: Physical

HIKER RESCUED AT POTWISHA,
Kaweah Commonwealth, May 18, 2015.

 

 

Calculated Risks

LAT on Grahanm Hunt's Death with Dean,
LAT, May 18, 2015. 

Extreme athlete Dean Potter hailed as 'a visionary' by fellow climbers and friends,
Guardian, May 14, 2015.

 

 

The Sun-EXPOSURE 
Shining a light on the damage that daily sun exposure can cause: Study highlights need for better sunscreens,
U Michigan Health System, 12-4-2013.

 

 

Rodent Droppings-Disease
Hantavirus
Outbreak of Hantavirus Infection in Yosemite National Park,
CDC, November 1, 2012.

Hantavirus in Yosemite,
NPS. 

Death at Yosemite: The Story Behind Last Summer's Hantavirus Outbreak,
Outside, December 18, 2012.

 

 

Rescue Log & Events

Greatest
Physical Threats

In my opinion fording rivers and lightening present the greatest dangers in the Sierra Nevada during Spring and Summer, respectively. Fording during the Spring Thaw and high water, and lightening during Summer Thunderstorms. After fording and lightening, I figure that injury from falls is next, closely followed by soft-tissue injuries caused by poor physical preparation, previous injury, and overuse injuries. Then exhaustion. Exhaustion is the rogue skirting around the edge of camp, looking for a way in.

Fording
Fording is exceptionally dangerous once the Spring Thaw begins in earnest. At certain times and flows fording will be impossible. At other times it will present a range of conditions from "dangerous" to passive.

You must be able to judge conditions sufficiently to identify the level of danger each ford involves, and if it is within your capabilities. I have a few tips for when conditions permit safe fording.

First, I always carry a set of light tennis shoes that double as camp, fording, and emergency shoes. My boots are secured to my pack, and I cross in fording shoes. Second, I employ a stick to use as a "tripod" leg. Third, I face upstream as I maintain two points of stability as I re-situate one leg, or the "tripod stick" towards the opposite shore.

I have a careful plan for what I am going to do if I go down crossing. I figure on floating for a bit as I'm ejecting the pack, then observing it as I swim for where I figure my efforts and the power of the current will naturally push me.
 Then I have a plan for how long I can search for my pack before circumstances force me to begin my self-rescue, forcing me to jog down mountain towards warmth as quickly as circumstances permit.

My "dangerous fording" butpack always has a couple of power bars in it.

Well, that's the general outline of how I approach fording, and even for crossing a downed tree over a surging river.

What happens if I slip off? That is always The Question.

I have a plan!

Discussion on fording and lightening.

Two fording-cold water articles above.

On the Weather Page
Full High Sierra Backpacking Lightening Information,
Including Current Lightening Probability Charts, Lightening Safety Information, Including Case Studes.

 

Article

Hit by Lightening

 

Lightening Forecast Probabilities

 

Lightening Story 

 A few years ago I was hiking with my buddies Dave and Bubba. Dave and Bubba are from Walker, Ca, which sits just about 14 miles North of the junction with Highway 108 on Highway 395. Walker literally sits in the shadows of the Eastern Flank of the  Sierras. It's a fine place with some classic folks.

We entered the Sierras through the Eastern flank and were passing down to a junction of the Silver King Creek with a major tributary. We were taking a break at a large juniper tree when very troubling thunderheads formed above us. We were in a very dangerous situation. 

Then a massive bolt of lightening struck the crest of the ridge above us, brilliant in its flash. Holey-Moley!
I automatically "count the flash," and the thunderclap sounded before my count reached "1," which meant it was time to run like the dickens.

I advised the boys to saddle up, and prepare to begin a spaced trot down the trail as quickly as possible. The first hiker would begin trotting down the trail, and the next hiker would begin when the first got about 50 yards down the trail, and the third would follow 50  yards later,They frkn skoffed at me, thinking me crazy. That got me excited, and I began to berate them as I saddled up to run down the mountain, and get my ass the hell out of the danger zone.
 

  I had observed the formation occurring, I had communicated  the potential of impending danger to my buddies, and they laughed. I then inspired them to movement by the force of my personality, (I got damn mad, and was as scared as mad...and my anger and fear apparently convinced them to move, but they moved quite slowly) but they did not move with conviction until the second lightening bolt almost smoked us.  

Those boys jumped up, instantly got their packs on, and Bubba was running down mountain as quick as you could snap your fingers. I had to pause the rush to properly space our retreat down the ridge. Lightening was now striking constantly, and no thunderclap was more than 2 seconds behind the flash.

Retreating down the ridge quickly removed us out from under the active lightening storm, though I was not feeling safe until we finally entered the forest in the valley around the Silver King Creek. Lightening from a storm cell can strike Ten Miles from the orginating cell...

Afterthough on the lightening incident..

There was no immediate threat when we began our crossing of exposed terrain. A hot, wet air mass driving West out of the Southern Pacific Ocean had already brought days of light rainstorms with no lightening. Now the weather was changing on the departing tail of the Pacific Storm. Heat in the valley was being sucked up the tail end of this weak storm, the departing low pulling moist hot air up the Sierra in the wake of the Pacific Storm. Frkn weird weather...

The massive layer of stratus began to break up into a seres of messy but strong cell formations as big cells of Valley heat disrupted the tail end of the storm.

A cell formed directly above us as we were taking a break at the sole big tree in open terrain. We took our break under a stratus layer, and ran as a thunderhead formed around us!

Other Potential Options
At that point it may have been best to stash the packs away from us, get away from the tree, and flatten out on the hillside in widely separated positions. Or retreat off the trail down to the creek to our South down the mountain a short way.

But, there was no cover whatsoever anywhere near where we were. We were fully exposed. The lightening was hitting the high points. We had the ridgetop to our North attracting the strikes, and our tree was the next highest thing around.

I decided a spaced run down mountain was our best option. The kids were running down the trail seconds after the second lightening bolt struck, and it would have been more dangerous to try to stop them at that point to stand around and communicate our options as it was to run down to safety.

I advise you have a lightening policy for your group. There are two basic moves that I make, and that the group should be instructed to understand.

The first is to run. If you can see that an active electrical storm is approaching your exposed position, get the hell off of that position before the storm gets to you. The object is to get off of the exposed position before the cell catches you out.

I am thinking that storms are capable of  throwing lightening into us from 15 miles out, and we have a big target painted on our asses once they get within 7 miles of our position.

 A smart application of this tactic is to figure out our daily schedule, note which involve afternoon mountain crossings, and institute careful observation of evolving weather conditions on days we make late-afternoon exposed crossings.

If thunderstorm clouds are forming up we are going to try not to have any exposed terrain crossings happen after 2 pm in the afternoon. 2pm is typically when afternoon electric storms in the Sierra form-up.
I find that thunderstorms typically happen in patterns, or cycles. Observe the daily weather cycle. Thunderstorm cycles build when Summer heat waves are tormenting the Valley, and are generally inactive when the Summer heat is down in the Valley.

Thunderstorm conditions are transported to the Sierra Crest when the Valley is heating up to the high '90s and low 100s during the day, and there is a light onshore wind. This moisture and heat is transformed into epic thunderheads and fierce lightening storms as it approaches and crosses the Sierra Crest.

Our second potential move is the self-stash. Get at least 50 yards away from our pack. Make sure you remove your food from the pack. Don't let a bear drag your pack off when you are hiding from lightening. Flatten your self at the lowest point  of your nearby terrain as far away from elevated rock or trees as possible. Maintain your position until the cell passes or breaks up.

Summertime Tropical Downpour and Fierce Lightening Video.

Summertime Snow Video on YouTube.

 

Lightening Information on the Weather Page


Full High Sierra Backpacking Lightening Information,
Including Current Lightening Probability Charts, Lightening Safety Information, Including Case Studes.

 

Doc Boswell's Great Thunderstorm and Lightening Advice.

 

From the Sierra News,
An Article

 

Hit by Lightening


 

The Threat Within

Bad decision making is the basis of most of the safety issues cited above and which follow below. Bad decisions have a number of sources. Bad decisions can eminate from  improper or faulty information, a lack of experience, or the psychological stresses induced by the physical demands of the trail, which are magnified by emergency circumstances.

Bad decision making can put you at risk before you even leave home. If you improperly gear yourself for the conditions you encounter, independent of what you think you will encounter, things can go very wrong very quickly. An event like an unexpected snow storm, rather than being an intense delight,  and a trail-finding navigational challenge, will put your life at risk.

All of these potential dangers are consolidated and accelerated by poor fitness and improper physical preparation. Getting your muscles and joints stretched out while breaking in a pair of boots before hitting the trail reveals potential problems where they can be addressed constructively.

Making sure that you and your gear work as anticipated requires testing your assumptions in a safe environment before deeply engaging with Nature.

I have written an introduction to the gear section that generally addresses the safety aspects of proper gearing.

Notes on Navigation

Navigation, Time, and Space Resources

 

Discussion on Unmaintained Trails
Basic Details of Unmaintained Trails

 

Discussion on Cross Country travel
Manzanita,  Constant Observation, and the Big View.


Animal Kingdom

Bears

Some of you may have noted that I did not include animals, specifically bears, as a safety issue in the Sierras. I have seen and experienced my share of bear havoc, and bear problems are almost always a function of bad decision making.

Bears are not a problem if you are not a problem. 

Two Very Important Things
  Never sleep with your food, and never store food in your pack in camp. I've seen this too many times, and seen too many backpackers running when the bear comes for the food they are sleeping with. Well, most are just scared-shitless, if not wounded.

 Storing food in your pack overnight means we will eventually have pack-stealing bears here in the Sierra at some point in time. That is unacceptable.

In a nutshell, the issue with Sierra bears is always about food. I'll eventually do a complete bear section in this safety section, (See Trail and Camp Skills) but the fact of the matter is there is no bear problem where there is secure food storage. It's a people problem. And I've got some good bear stories for you! I mean people stories...

Bear Technology

 

Mosquitoes

Also in the Animal Kingdom are our flying friends, the mosquitoes. These delightful devils were only a hassle, granted a major hassle, until about 15 years ago, when West Nile disease spread across the United States on the Wings of Rising Temperatures, bringing weird seasonal patterns, and accompanied by legions of bark beetles. Protection against the mosquitoes is no longer for comfort alone, but for protection against West Nile Disease.

 

Information about Sierra Mosquitoes

Hiking and Camp Strategies for Mosquitoes


 

"Mosquitoes and Seasonal Temperature Shifts: Backpacking the High Sierras"

 

Little guys

Don't mess with the squirrels, chipmunks, or other mammals. They carry fleas, and the fleas in the Sierras carry bubonic plague. Really.

But the damn things are hella cute!

 I was just dozing-off one Spring evening, laying on my pad, and wearing only my shell for protection, (not even a bag or tent) when a vast falling star startled me back to quasi-consiousness.
As I settled back to sleep, two tiny baby chipmunks ran onto my Left leg, and began to play. I rotated my head up to peer at them, which caused them to freeze, looking intently at me. I said, "what are you guys doing?" and they turned back to each other and continued to play.

I enjoyed their play for a few minutes, but as the fog of sleep parted, I remembered the plague, and sadly decided they had to go. I caught their attention, and firmly said, "you guys gotta go," which got me no respect at all. So I upped the pressure a notch, loudly repeating my invitation to leave,  accompanied by gently shaking my leg.

The little bastards thought I was playing with them, and dug their little claws into my North Face Shell lowers, and enjoyed the ride. I was exsaperated. I did not want to be mean, but they had to go. So I summed up my Voice of Authority, and told them in no uncertain terms that they were leaving NOW, and they did. Watching those little guys run up and down my leg is a fond memory. I hope they made the Spring Cut, and did not end up as a snack.


 

Typical Trailhead Plague Warning

 

2015  Plague Outbreak

 

 Marmots

Marmots are an issue if you improperly store food.  Oh, and store you pack properly as well. The Marmots and the rest of the Varnmits will chew the heck out of sweat-encrusted shoulder and hip straps.

If Marmots or even gophers are a threat I tuck the straps inside my pack's frame, placing the pack straps-side down on the ground, then secure it with a heavy rock.

 

 

See the
Backpacking is Dangerous!
 warning-disclaimer.

 

See the related
Backpacking Unmaintained Trails is Dangerous
warning-disclaimer.

 

 

Backpacking is Dangerous, The Legal Disclaimer: 
Terms and Conditions
of use for the Tahoe to Whitney trail guide and forum...

 

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Spider Forum

Trees

Mosquito News

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Anthropocene

 

Video Two: 
Snow falls in July on the Sierra Crest.

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