103 forum posts
This past weekend I had a harrowing experience on Mt. Massive and Im not quite sure how I feel about it. I would like your opinions if you have the time.
For the past 40 days I was on the road touring the southern rockies. As some of you know I have been doing this suff most of my life and have been "around the block". I have studied wilderness medicine in the past and my outdoor leadership style is noted by an emphasis on preventative behavior over reactive and stress safety as the primary objective.
The Rockies have a very stable weather pattern this time of year. In the morning the sun heats up the dry desert air and as it rises it hits the mountains, condenses and makes the afternoon rain storms. By night fall the suns energy has been removed from the system and the clouds disperse. This was the case for every night of my trip. Every night I watched the milky way come out and the summer triangle progress across the sky so I got in the habit of just sleeping out in my bag without a tent. Bivvied.
I was on Mt. Massive at 11,600' bivied out for a summit attempt in the early morning hours. In the alpine I had my tarp, 0degree down bag, and my closed cell foam z lite sol mattress. The afternoon progressed like above. The storms stopped and the stars came out and I fell asleep in the alpine. At 1am, however, I awoke to a flash of light. From over the ridge on Mt Oklahoma to the west a storm was coming in, but at night. The rain out in the rockies is rather light. It never hits too hard, so I figured I could just wrap up in my tarp and keep the bag dry. The lightning picked up and I realized that being exposed in the alpine was not a good idea. I remembered that where I had dinner that evening was in the tree line and well protected. It was the only clear location i knew of. The wind and rain start and I realize that my headlamp is dead ( I rarely used it on the trip considering sunrise lit the sky by 530am and you could still see at 10pm), so in the dark as I am rushing to get all my gear together. (Being bivied out a good bit of it was out of the pack and just strewn around. basically I had a huge bundle of gear in my arms) I start to make it to the tree line guided by flashes of lightning. It starts to pour, harder than any of the storms I had experienced out there yet.I should have put my rain jacket on but I had already used it to help protect my down sleeping bag in conjunction with the tarp. The rain hit, probably, at a rate of over 1in/hr and for a few moments it was hailing, pea size. Trying to keep my down bag wrapped up in my tarp and with out light to guide my way Im slipping and falling on rocks going on the steep down hill grade. By the time I fumble into the tree line and find my dinner site, I am soaked, and the temps are dropping and wind is picking up. I realize that somewhere on the hike down I lost my rain jacket in the dark. IM shivering and I can't think of what to do next. Being unable to think actually makes me think about something ingrained in my memory from my "training", that im entering into hypothermia. (loss of mental faculties is a symptom of Hypothermia)
My down bag is soaked, my clothes are soaked (synthetics and wool base layers) and I can't see. I always carry in my cargo pocket of my hiking pants an emergency blanket. I pull it out and wrap myself. This was an overnight bid so the only extra "dry" clothes I had was a set of wool leggings and a pair of socks. The down jacket I had fell into the grass out of my stuff sack and got soaked also. I then realize that I am underneath my bear bag so I try to untie the knot on the tree but I have no dexterity due to my progressing hypothermia and I cant see it the knot. I cut through the para chord with a rock dropping my food sack. In there I carry solid fuel cubes for my solid fuel stove. They work excellent as fires starters and I use them to make me a small fire in the rain (not that easy even with waterproof fires starters) I start to heat up cups of water and snack on food. Before I got the fire started I had quit shivering and was having trouble with mobility. This is stage 2 hypothermia and the point where it gets very very serious. By stage 3 your are unconscious and your body temp has dropped to only 90-92.
I stay huddled like I am and notice that the thermal liner in my sleeping bag is completely dry so I put that over me and wait until I can see the slightest bit of light in the sky. When I can make out the ground I start pacing in circles until the sun rises over the ridge at 8am. I dry out my sleeping bag in 2 hours and try to nap (no humidity at 11,600'). When I get up I am in full blown flu symptoms. Nasal drip, sore throat, sinus headache, nausea and later I would get double ear infections and body soreness.
I don't know how I feel about it. Was I stupid for not bringing my tent and trying to do a "fast and light bivy"? even though I was aware of the stable weather patterns? I would later find out that the storm was a low pressure system moving though, hence its unique qualities. Being that I was out in the wilderness for the past 35 days I had no idea this was coming and there was no indication in the clouds that day (that I saw). I am mad at myself for not immediately realizing it was a serious situation and shrugging it off for a few min. I wasted precious time there and if I had immediately went into "safety mode" instead of being "it will be fine go back to sleep" I would have never got soaked and probably kept my bag dry by making it to the tree line before the big down pour. BUT conversely I feel I did a great job at saving my life. Had I not taken the proper treatment steps, that I have gone over and over in practice, I very well could have been dead.
thoughts? am I a dumb a** or did the mountains just throw me a curve ball? I can't help but feel I should have been more prepared. Maybe it was complacence. I had got so used to the predictable weather pastern it never hit me that "the mountains still have inclement weather".