Trails in Northern California

Trails in Northern California

Leave No Trace!

Visit for more information about Desolation Wilderness. Visit or call 1- 877-444-6777 to make park reservations. Visit Campfire Permits to get a permit online. More about Leave No Trace principles.

February 24, 2011

Crooked Lakes Trail Survivor Night; current conditions

***  UPDATE:  My grandson and I just got back from Carr-Feeley Campground as our basecamp for the Crooked Lakes Trail, and what a shock!  Unlike the solitude I am accustomed to in that area, the parking lot was FULL.  There were two large groups of backpackers, fishermen, dayhikers, and outdoors enthusiasts!  Along the lakes and trails were a practical stream of people and some well-behaved dogs.
The campground wasn't being used except for us and a family at the other end.  They were expecting to use the road you see on maps that goes to the Feeley Lake Dam.  They brought kayaks for fishing but had not planned on having to carry them and all of their car camping gear back in.  The gate is always locked and used only by personnel, so you pack your gear in. 

I had a knee injury and really was not supposed to be doing anything serious on my feet....Mistake 1.

We loaded the truck with food and gear for an over-niter, but planned about a 3 hour hike. Since we had a limit in mind, we opted to leave almost everything we packed in the back of the truck.
Mistake 2.

The day was brisk and at times, overcast.

I had layers with me and we had our bladders full. Ken brought some granola he snacked on. Our cameras were part of our gear for this day hike, too. Views were beckoning; I had cabin fever and there was more to see than would be possible in a week! We chose to drive above Emigrant Gap area (Bowman Lake, and many small lakes) which we had not hiked before, so we were on a discovery hike.
Oh surprise!  It was deer hunting season!  At least I had a bear bell and reflector on my pack. (Are you wondering if this was sane?  We do too.) Mistake 3.
We viewed lake after lake and the trails were mostly easy for even me with the knee injury! Tantalizing!

Our schedule for what we endearingly refer to as our "3 Hour Tour" was being monitored by my dear Data Man, who tried to stop the soul of an explorer set free. In an hour and a half, he tried to turn us around but I had seen a sign for a glacier lake ahead....with a tall rock outcropping to the right.

I think I childishly begged, "Let's just go to the top and see if we can see the lake"....then, "Just around the bend."  No view and no lake. P.S. I had no business climbing the outcropping and paid the price in pain. Mistake  4.

We agreed the sky was getting dark early and we were running late so we turned back toward the truck. So many photo ops there, we "had to stop" periodically and that set us back, too. Mistake 5....when running late...DON'T dawdle!

We trekked along while the sun was fading and the storm was brewing.  Much of the trail had been easy to follow, but we had bushwhacked too, and now with little light, and my knee hurting, our hike was becoming more difficult.
Finally we saw snow flurries. We were hungry, tired, anxious, and unprepared for this. No headlamps or flashlights. (Well, they were back at the truck.) Mistake 6.
Finally we agreed we would have to stop for safety because though there was a full moon,  a thick blanket of storm clouds had grown to cover it. I could not see DM's (Data Man's) boots, much less the trail. We thought we may even have lost our way. We looked for a safe place to ride out the stormy night. While trying to make a plan, we discovered we had no means to start a fire easily! Mistake 7.

Building our shelter:
  • We built away from the water and from a large boulder outcropping. 
  • There were no "widow makers" near our chosen site. 
  • Another concern was for no animal trail to the lake to come close to our shelter. 
  • We sought a place we would not encounter water runoff, should that become a storm issue for us. 
  • DM had a knife and he hacked out a shelter in a willow bush in our carefully chosen space.
  • I dug up arm loads of pine needles which DM used to arrange a nice thick layer in the shelter to keep us off the ground for warmth and dryness. 
  • He used his backpack for a pillow and occasionally brought it out to shelter his freezing back. The temperatures dropped into the very low 30's. DM was wearing shorts, so I shared some of the layers I packed since (thank goodness) I am easily chilled and packed accordingly. 
  • I had also carried a space blanket which we put over us and then piled pine boughs over that in an effort to insulate ourselves more. 
Jokes among friends later flew though the truth was that we weren't a couple, but we were fantastic hiking companions.  Frankly, our night was miserable.  We were both in pain.  To move or rearrange, we had to remove the boughs, rearrange, replace the boughs and try to be still again to avoid tearing the space blanket really sized for one person.  We shivered and suffered.  Spending the night in a willow shelter, perhaps lost, facing the possibility of sleeping in a snow storm without any gear, huddled together for warmth, and were uncomfortable, despite our experiences of sharing a tent on many occasions backpacking and camping. There is nothing like building trust that way!!! Laughable, but workable!
Imagine waking up covered in rotting pine needles and mm.  No toothpaste or gum.  No deodorant!  Hungry, weak, sick, and in pain. Ha Ha.  You must laugh like crazy to endure the humiliation of a short hike gone bad!  I still laugh!

We were not carrying a map or compass. Mistake 8. For such a short hike, we just figured that was unnecessary.

Yes, we HAD to climb back down this to get back, and I was weak and in pain, dreading falling to another injury!  It turned out to be a safe descent, but less than fun.

My water bladder was essentially empty in an area known for giardia. No water purifier of any kind.  Mistake 10.

I am proud to say we were both level headed about our self-inflicted miserable challenge, and neither of us got emotional or irrational. We comforted ourselves and each other. In the morning, we hiked uphill on loose rock to a high point to orient ourselves...very hard on my knee. We found a large lake we had never seen before and we were more oriented directionally, but still unsure of the easiest way to the truck. Down the loose rock we scrambled, past our overnight camp, and hiked onward. We had missed a turn in the nighttime hiking, and at that place had only been a bushwhacking mile or so from the truck, food, safety, warmth!
I will humble myself and add we had no first aid kit either Mistake 11, which could have been an extreme issue, but fortunately wasn't.

A MUST DO list!
1. Follow your doctor's orders!
2. Carry items for "in the event of emergencies". You never know!
3. Stick to your plan! Watch the clock.
4. If you get held up somehow, make up for the lost time by moving on and avoiding unnecessary pauses.
5. Carry batteries, flashlights and preferably headlamps.
6. Waterproof fire starters are always necessary for safety.

8. Carry medication you take regularly just in case.
9. Carry a means to purify water.
10. First aid kits should never be left behind.
11. Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back. Not mentioned above, but we had not decided we were going to a specific area and who knows when someone would have noticed we were missing. Mistake 12

The end of the story was that we got to the truck exhausted, miserable and hungry. The drive home was quiet, not from hard feelings; we were just pain ridden, hungry, and sleep deprived! We drove all the way home instead of stopping to eat! We found it a challenge, a huge learning and humbling experience. It did validate our confidence in survival skills, but not without a price.

My comfort in the woods has come from a lifetime of being in the woods alone, but eventually resulted in laziness and over-confidence! Nature is bigger than me and I vow to love and respect it forever!

Peachy Hiker's Table of Contents