When the Road Opens before the Trails are Passable

July 06, 2017 Posted by: Yosemite Search and Rescue
On July 1, 2017 about an hour before sunset, a wilderness patrol ranger on a routine wilderness patrol encountered three separate parties, seven hikers total, all completely lost while facing darkness. They were in the Sunrise Pass area, which is south of Tenaya Lake (along Tioga Road).
 
Snowy/flooded area near Sunrise LakesAlthough Tioga Road opened two days earlier, many high country trails remained (and remain) snow covered, including trail signs. All three parties discovered how challenging route finding is on snow-covered trails and lost their way going to Clouds Rest and back. This trail is misperceived as an easier route and some of the hikers had been on this trail before. While lost, one party found another trail they could not identify, which led them away from their intended destination.
 
Through route finding efforts and cross-country travel, the ranger successfully led the hikers to their destination at 11 pm. By this time, one hiker was suffering from altitude sickness and another was asthmatic. None of the hikers was enjoying their experience.
 
Although the cross-country travel occurred after darkness, only two of the hikers had headlamps and the ranger had to loan out his spares.
 
It was fortuitous that a ranger in a vast wilderness happened across three lost parties. He was not looking for anyone specifically nor were there any reports of missing hikers (there is little to no cell service in this area). Otherwise, searches would not have started at least until the following day and this would have required a significant number of personnel, at least one miserable night outside for the hikers, and an uncertain outcome.
 
Lessons Learned:
  • Traveling over snow-covered trails requires route finding skills. This includes carrying—and knowing how to use—a detailed topographical map and compass. Navigation by GPS is also possible, but you must know how to navigate by map and compass in case your GPS can’t get a signal, the batteries die, or the GPS fails after falling, getting wet, etc.
  • Always, always, always, have the ability to retreat or return to where you have come from by the same route.  This requires you to remain aware of what’s behind you while hiking to your destination.
  • Hike prepared with the ten essentials. Few hikers intend to hike in the darkness. Each hiker should have a headlamp, preferably two, with spare batteries. We frequently respond to hikers who only need assistance because they didn’t finish their hike before dark and don’t have a light.
  • Against our advice, hikers sometimes place rock cairns for their own reference.  These are not official National Park Service markers and they are often inaccurate. Bottom line, follow someone else’s markers (or footprints) at your own risk.
  • When in doubt, hike on well-defined trails. Just because the trail is snow free at the trailhead doesn’t mean it will remain snow free for the entire hike. Be willing to turn around if conditions change.

News media contact: Jamie Richards - 209/372-0248

yosemite, yosemite national park, snow, SAR, search and rescue




6 Comments Comments icon

  1. Gene
    July 11, 2017 at 12:01
     

    The Ranger's report is a cautionary tale. Three separate groups with people who had . previously been on the trail. A one hundred percent failure rate! What were the odds that a ranger would fortuitously find them all and lead them to safety? Once again, be prepared! Mother Nature knows about you, but she doesn't care.

     
  2. Gene
    July 10, 2017 at 11:58
     

    The Ranger's report is a cautionary tale. Three separate groups with people who had . previously been on the trail. A one hundred percent failure rate! What were the odds that a ranger would fortuitously find them all and lead them to safety? Once again, be prepared! Mother Nature knows about you, but she doesn't care.

     
  3. Gene
    July 10, 2017 at 10:39
     

    When we step off the pavement, we live under a very different set of rules; learning those rules can be free or of nominal expense. Not learning them costs lives. First, people don't "get lost", they just don't pay attention. You must understand maps and compasses, have them with you, along with the remainder of the ten essentials; and study the map before you leave, not after you are "Lost". Pick out checkpoints along the trail and identify them as you walk. Never assume, no matter how nice the day, or short the walk, that conditions will favor a safe return. Only you can do that. If you do lose track of your location, STOP! If possible retrace your steps to a known point. Before proceeding you must know where you are. Otherwise, settle down and wait for help. You did tell several people about your plans and itinerary right? Everyone needs a whistle and the three international whistle codes: One blast = Where are you, Two blasts = Come here, Three blasts = I need help. If you are a group, assign partners and stay together; if slower walkers can't keep up, put them in front and let them set the pace, or a strong walker, who knows the way must stay with them. Large groups need to head count after each stop. GPS is very nice, especially in dark or bad weather, and fixing location if someone needs to go for help. Be aware. that there is nothing intuitive about using GPS. They require training and fresh batteries. Be aware: People who are under stress, or are injured, can regress to the level of demented chimps and even the best electronics cannot prevent that. Civilization is designed for people who are not prepared to exist in the natural world beyond cities, it cannot be carried in a pack. Be prepared!

     
  4. Gene
    July 10, 2017 at 10:39
     

    When we step off the pavement, we live under a very different set of rules; learning those rules can be free or of nominal expense. Not learning them costs lives. First, people don't "get lost", they just don't pay attention. You must understand maps and compasses, have them with you, along with the remainder of the ten essentials; and study the map before you leave, not after you are "Lost". Pick out checkpoints along the trail and identify them as you walk. Never assume, no matter how nice the day, or short the walk, that conditions will favor a safe return. Only you can do that. If you do lose track of your location, STOP! If possible retrace your steps to a known point. Before proceeding you must know where you are. Otherwise, settle down and wait for help. You did tell several people about your plans and itinerary right? Everyone needs a whistle and the three international whistle codes: One blast = Where are you, Two blasts = Come here, Three blasts = I need help. If you are a group, assign partners and stay together; if slower walkers can't keep up, put them in front and let them set the pace, or a strong walker, who knows the way must stay with them. Large groups need to head count after each stop. GPS is very nice, especially in dark or bad weather, and fixing location if someone needs to go for help. Be aware. that there is nothing intuitive about using GPS. They require training and fresh batteries. Be aware: People who are under stress, or are injured, can regress to the level of demented chimps and even the best electronics cannot prevent that. Civilization is designed for people who are not prepared to exist in the natural world beyond cities, it cannot be carried in a pack. Be prepared!

     
  5. Carlo
    July 07, 2017 at 02:05
     

    Excellent work by that ranger!

     
  6. Fred kraus
    July 06, 2017 at 09:40
     

    Have hiked C Rest 2X Was at Tenaya Lake TH on 6/2917 2 see the unique conditions. Never would have tried CR in these conditions. Anytime I hike I always take extra clothes 2 survive likely nighttime weather in case of problem. Rangers do a great job.

     
 
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Last updated: July 6, 2017

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