Friday, August 23, 2013

Sierra Storms: The Mountains Make Their Own Weather

Dale Matson

View East to Humphrey's Basin from Piute Pass

I was like a dog on a bone with the idea of crossing over Piute Pass. In three separate trips to the area, I had still not crossed over it. This week my wife Sharon and I traveled to the East side of the Sierras again and stayed overnight in Bishop, getting a walk in permit for the following day. We drove up to the trail head near North Lake (9,356’) and began climbing about 7:30am. We had backpacks for an overnight on the West side of the pass.

Muriel Peak

Once you climb above tree line, the sights are remarkable. Muriel Peak (12,937’) is to the South and Mt Emerson (13,204’) is to the North. Loch Leven and Piute lakes are great places to rest and take in the surrounding sights. We arrived at Piute Pass at 11:30am. We took the trail that skirts the North shore of Summit Lake and found a suitable place to pitch our tent and stow our gear while we “day hiked” to Desolation Lake (11,375').

All of this time, the sky showed signs of storm especially to our East. The “use” trail to Lower Desolation and Desolation Lakes headed Northwest off the Piute Creek trail. It was spotty at times but navigation was easy above tree line. As we climbed toward Desolation Lake, Mt. Humphreys (13,986’) was in full view directly East of us.

Desolation Lake with Pilot Knob left of center

Sharon looking toward the approaching storm

We reached Desolation Lake about 2:30pm and the name became obvious. There is only a large lake surrounded by granite. As we took a bit to rest before our hike back to where we had set up our tent, it began to rain. We had been hiking in a corridor of sun surrounded by rain and storm. Now, in order to get back to our tent, we would have to walk into the storm. We both had hooded rain shells but my rain pants were in the tent and Sharon didn’t want to put on her poncho that she had with her. As we continued back to the tent the thunder and lightning got closer together and closer to us. It poured off and on for the entire return trip to the tent. The pea sized hail hurt our bare hands. We saw three men standing under some scrub evergreens but decided our best course of action was to keep moving to keep warm. The temperature had dropped by at least 20 degrees.

Meanwhile, the skies in Bishop to the east and Fresno to the west were clear and cloudless. The mountains make their own weather. By the time we reached our tent, it was covered in hail. Sharon quickly climbed inside and handed me a down sweater to wear under my rain parka. I went down to Summit Lake for water and treated it after I got into the tent. I put on dry pants, light gloves and my balaclava. Thank God for bringing a 15 degree down bag to warm up my legs. It rained off and on with a weather window for cooking dinner outside the tent. We both slept warmly and broke camp after breakfast at about 6:30am. It still took about four hours to hike back to the trail head once we were at Piute Pass. Tired legs don’t go downhill any faster than fresh legs go uphill.

This is a cautionary tale about mountain hiking. Storms can come up with the hiker far from the trail head. Always have the proper gear including shelter if you are more than a day’s hike from the trail head and your car. Along with injuries and dehydration, avoiding hypothermia is a must. I always carry a Satellite phone also when hiking in the mountains.

Here is a link to the YouTube video of our hike.

No comments:

Post a Comment