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Re: Stranded Hikers Rescued From Tenaya Canyon

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Stranded Hikers Rescued From Tenaya Canyon
September 10, 2012 02:14PM
Stranded Hikers Rescued

August 30, 2012 Posted by: Yosemite Search and Rescue
On Tuesday, July 31, a father and his (adult) daughter arrived at Olmsted Point (on the Tioga Road, west of Tuolumne Meadows), intending to hike down to Yosemite Valley via the Snow Creek Trail. Neither hiker had been on this trail before, but according to their topographic map, it appeared to start near Olmsted Point. The Olmsted Point area features a network of confusing, braided, unofficial trails, created by hikers seeking a variety of scenic views. The pair set off from Olmsted Point, unwittingly following an unofficial trail, and soon noticed a sign that read, "To Yosemite Valley," with an arrow indicating a direction of travel that seemed correct for where they expected the Snow Creek Trail to be. Before long, however, the duo were bushwhacking downhill through thick brush, eventually arriving at the top of a drainage, east of Yasoo Dome, where they discovered a fixed rope tied to a tree, along with a climbing helmet.

When asked if seeing the fixed rope in the tree made him reconsider whether they were, in fact, on the Snow Creek Trail, the father explained the thoughts running through his mind at the time:

We need to keep going down to find the trail, because I can't find it up here [at the top of the drainage]. If we can get down to the bottom, to the waterway, that will lead us to the canyon, which will spit us out in the Valley. I'm not going to make my daughter go back uphill through that brush.

The pair used the rope to descend into the drainage. The father, recounting their journey later, said, "Neither of us has any rope experience at all. We used t-shirts to protect our hands and arms." Scrambling for hours down a steep slope covered with more dense patches of manzanita, the hikers followed the drainage to Tenaya Canyon. The terrain flattened out when the pair reached the floor of the canyon, making for much easier travelling. They hiked downhill, following Tenaya Creek, until the creek dropped over a waterfall with steep cliffs on either side, leaving them no means to descend farther. From this point in Tenaya Canyon, ropes and rappelling skills are essential for safe travel.

Exhausted and running low on water, the two hikers could not fathom retracing their route back uphill through the unforgiving brush. The daughter discovered that, fortunately (and remarkably), her cell phone had service, so they called 911. The father was put in direct contact with park rangers, who concluded that the pair had descended the gully east of Yasoo Dome. Two Yosemite search and rescue (YOSAR) teams were sent out that evening, one on the path that the pair had followed and the other down the standard Tenaya Canyon descent. Meanwhile, knowing that teams would come looking for them, the hikers built a fire and hunkered down for the night.

The next morning, one of the search teams found the two hikers. They still had plenty of food and were relatively warm, thanks to the fire, but were moderately dehydrated. The pair was guided back to Olmsted Point by a more common route that included third-class scrambling.

The most important lessons from this incident are these:

As soon as you realize you are no longer hiking on an established trail, and instead find yourself bushwhacking or scrambling on rugged terrain, stop. Do not keep going, thinking you're going to find the trail. Immediately backtrack until you find the correct route, even if that means hiking back uphill. The sooner you recognize your situation, the easier it will be to correct it.
If you're hiking off trail and you cannot see every step of the way to your goal, you cannot evaluate the terrain. In the case at hand, a single 100-foot waterfall blocked their way to the Valley.
Most wilderness areas in the park lack cell phone service. The father-daughter team was extremely fortunate to have service at the bottom of a canyon where both sides rise thousands of feet. The Yosemite Emergency Communications Center (ECC) was able to triangulate the 911 call, but only to within a three-mile radius with 90% accuracy. The coordinates put the pair on the near-vertical east slope of Yasoo Dome, nearly 2,000 feet above their actual location.
The two hikers were using a topographic map, but it did not have the necessary close-up view. Bringing and knowing how to read a 7.5-minute topographic quadrangle map, which is more detailed, could have prevented the confusion at Olmsted Point and warned them of the hazardous terrain ahead of them.
The father-daughter pair made at least three smart decisions:

The first was to stop when they did; through the years, hikers who were unprepared for vertical terrain yet continued descending farther into the canyon have been stranded and even killed.
The father-daughter team brought a lighter, which allowed them to build a fire so they could stay warm through the night.
Also important was the father's decision to give two different parties in the Tuolumne Meadows Campground their hiking itinerary; he explained where they were starting, where they were ending, and what trail they planned to take. He told his fellow campers that he and his daughter should return by Wednesday night, and instructed the campers to notify someone if their truck wasn't back in the campground by Thursday morning at the latest. Had the daughter's cell phone not had service, the itinerary given to their fellow campers would have proven crucial for their rescue.
A few days after the rescue, the father was asked what he would have done if rescuers hadn't been there, and the father answered, "I don't know. That question keeps running through my brain. I've already called REI and asked, 'Do you offer map and compass training?'"
Re: Stranded Hikers Rescued From Tenaya Canyon
September 10, 2012 02:25PM
I was guessing the route the rescuers brought the pair back up was Airplane Gully--"The pair was guided back to Olmsted Point by a more common route that included third-class scrambling."

But I can't quite figure out where they went down and how far down they got. Where did they find a sign that said "Yosemite Valley"? About 24 hours after my Mt. Whitney debacle, my father and I descened into the granite bowl after the "No Hiking" sign. I had missed the sign on last years Tenaya Canyon trek. Later at Olmsted Point, I was wondering where exactly the Snow Creek Trail was, and trying to remember the route from Airplane Gully.

Besides the big mistakes of heavy bushwhacking and going down the fixed rope, I can understand how these two got off track. I wish this article, under lessons learned, would have emphasized that it is much better to drink unfiltered water than to allow yourself to become dehydrated.
Re: Stranded Hikers Rescued From Tenaya Canyon
September 10, 2012 03:18PM
Snow Creek trail isn't particularly well marked & can be difficult to find from Olmsted Point, even if you've been on the trail (& started from there) before. If you hike in the west direction, parallel to Tioga Rd, even if off-trail, you will eventually hit it. Not sure about how difficult it would be to find the trail from Airplane Gully though. Doesn't seem particularly straightforward.

You made many good points in your analysis and recommendations. For the maintained trails that appear on maps, there's rarely a need for any bushwhacking. If you're doing even a tiny bit of it, you should realize you'll off-trail. A GPS unit would be helpful too, but I'm not sure this would have been in this particular case because they didn't seem to know where the trail was to begin with. But at least they would know roughly where they are in comparison to where the trail is on the paper map. I know the 60-CSX has good satellite reception even in canyons/areas such as that.

Lucky for them their cell phone worked. Glad they are okay.
Re: Stranded Hikers Rescued From Tenaya Canyon
September 10, 2012 03:51PM
Well I guess I am pretty confident that Airplane Gully never does hit Snow Creek Trail as we covered everything from the bottom of Pywiack Cascade, up Airplane Gully, and finishing at Olmsted Point last year and we never hit a trail. At that point in the trip, right before dark, it was as if Olmsted magically appeared!

That is what makes me curious about the route down this pair made it down. I guess I am assuming they made it to or past the bottom of the Cascades and reached one of the waterfalls that required a rappel.
Re: Stranded Hikers Rescued From Tenaya Canyon
September 10, 2012 04:13PM
In which direction do you go from Olmsted Point to reach the Airplane Gully? Is it south along a creek that's normally dried out during the times it's safe to go? In any event, I don't see how this gully route comes close to hitting the Snow Creek trail, which eventually turns towards the SW away from Tioga Rd.

Is Yasoo Dome the name of the east/side buttress that's attached to Watkins? I'm also curious about the sign this pair saw, the one that says "To Yosemite Valley." Have you seen that before during your Tenaya adventures?
Re: Stranded Hikers Rescued From Tenaya Canyon
September 10, 2012 04:41PM
Quote
Ohnivy-Drak
In which direction do you go from Olmsted Point to reach the Airplane Gully? Is it south along a creek that's normally dried out during the times it's safe to go? In any event, I don't see how this gully route comes close to hitting the Snow Creek trail, which eventually turns towards the SW away from Tioga Rd.

Is Yasoo Dome the name of the east/side buttress that's attached to Watkins? I'm also curious about the sign this pair saw, the one that says "To Yosemite Valley." Have you seen that before during your Tenaya adventures?

The water that runs down from Olmstead Point goes directly into Airplane Gully. Except, of course, that you take the talus-filled crack at the top of the gully, and don't follow the stream into the adjacent crack and waterfall. They join up a bit farther down. Yes, it is normally dry at this time of year.

Yasoo Dome is what I usually call the northeast summit of Mt. Watkins. There is a minor dip between it and the true summit.

Hiking west from the top of Airplane Gully, there are several small watercourses that descend into the canyon. I've never been very tempted to check them out, because the brush down there looks ferocious. But you can traverse along the rim and then beat your way up to the Watkins saddle. However, there is a perfectly reasonable trail that runs much higher and goes directly from Olmstead Point to the Watkins saddle. It hardly descends at all near Olmstead Point, so if you start down the gully you have lost it.

From the saddle, the trail descends west to Snow Creek and a bridge to the main trail.

Airplane Gully: http://yosemitenews.info/forum/read.php?3,57381

Mt. Watkins hike: http://yosemitenews.info/forum/read.php?3,57351,57351
Re: Stranded Hikers Rescued From Tenaya Canyon
September 10, 2012 04:51PM
Hmm, so now I am not so sure I was interpreting the article correctly. Wherever, where do you think the article is referring to when it referenced the "more common route that included third-class scrambling"? Did the pair make it all the way to the bottom of Pywiack or somewhere near the top of it and stop there? If they were at the top of Pywiack, near Lone Boulder, they had a relatively easy hike back to Sunrise trailhead.

And the sign? Anyone know anything? Sounds like they need a sign like the other "No Hiking, Turn Back sign", that in my opinion is not placed very well. The easiest, least scrambling way to get into the canyon is on the opposite side of the canyon.
Re: Stranded Hikers Rescued From Tenaya Canyon
September 10, 2012 05:25PM
My two cents:

The sign is certainly not there to encourage people to hike down into the Valley via Tenaya Canyon. It's there to direct hikers to the Snow Creek trail. But it's placed in a bad spot, and the trail isn't easy to follow from Olmsted. Even the ducks can be misleading, and it wouldn't take much to lose the trail (or not even see it). If the sign points SW towards the Valley, I can see how someone would continue in that direction. However the official trail turns NW for a bit & follows Tioga Rd for 0.25-0.50 mile, moving the trail away from the steep sections.

In any event, instinct should have told them that bushwhacking = wrong way & off-trail. It's quite fortunate things turned out the way they did, thank goodness.
Re: Stranded Hikers Rescued From Tenaya Canyon
September 10, 2012 06:25PM
Quote
chicagocwright
Hmm, so now I am not so sure I was interpreting the article correctly. Wherever, where do you think the article is referring to when it referenced the "more common route that included third-class scrambling"? Did the pair make it all the way to the bottom of Pywiack or somewhere near the top of it and stop there? If they were at the top of Pywiack, near Lone Boulder, they had a relatively easy hike back to Sunrise trailhead.

And the sign? Anyone know anything? Sounds like they need a sign like the other "No Hiking, Turn Back sign", that in my opinion is not placed very well. The easiest, least scrambling way to get into the canyon is on the opposite side of the canyon.

Well you can never be certain without a map, but the report seems to indicate that they went down well southwest of Airplane Gully, over towards the flank of the north side of Mt. Watkins (or Yasoo Dome, if you want to call it that). It looks feasible, mostly. There is a photo on-line that calls it the Yasoo approach:
http://www.tuolumnemeadows.org/images/tenaya_canyon.jpg



In the photo, you can see Pywiack Cascade way in the back. Airplane Gully is around the corner to the left. It comes down directly to the pool at the base of the cascade. The arrow labeled "to Olmstead Point" is pointing towards Airplane Gully.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/10/2012 06:27PM by wherever.
Re: Stranded Hikers Rescued From Tenaya Canyon
September 11, 2012 12:22PM
The Yasoo approach - sounds like the route the Italian guy took (not Secor). I don't know if you recall the short conversation we had in another thread (a Watkins one).

http://yosemitenews.info/forum/read.php?3,57351,57441#msg-57441

He went up Watkins (Yasoo?), down Watkins pinnacles back into Tenaya.

Link



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/11/2012 12:23PM by Ohnivy-Drak.
Re: Stranded Hikers Rescued From Tenaya Canyon
September 11, 2012 02:02PM
Besides the section where they descended the fixed rope, the story description makes it sound like there wasn't any exposure described other than "Scrambling for hours down a steep slope covered with more dense patches of manzanita". Before a couple years ago, I knew nothing of the rappels required. Even if they had heard of the "Bermuda Triangle" of Yosemite, it seems a though may have believed they were doing the hard part and it was almost over: "If we can get down to the bottom, to the waterway, that will lead us to the canyon, which will spit us out in the Valley".
Re: Stranded Hikers Rescued From Tenaya Canyon
September 11, 2012 02:41PM
Quote
Ohnivy-Drak
The Yasoo approach - sounds like the route the Italian guy took (not Secor). I don't know if you recall the short conversation we had in another thread (a Watkins one).

http://yosemitenews.info/forum/read.php?3,57351,57441#msg-57441

He went up Watkins (Yasoo?), down Watkins pinnacles back into Tenaya.

Link

If you look at the climbing sites, you will find two such access routes, neither of which is really suitable for hikers. They are on either side of the bump called Yasoo Dome. But the southern one could not have been the one that got those hikers into trouble, because to get to it they would first have had to go over (Yasoo?) Watkins saddle, which is right on the hiking trail. They got lost from the start, and never made it up the side of the Watkins domes. I think that the southern route is just called the Watkins Face approach. It looks nice at the top, but gets very steep down below.
avatar Re: Stranded Hikers Rescued From Tenaya Canyon
September 10, 2012 07:45PM
Quote
chicagocwright
Hmm, so now I am not so sure I was interpreting the article correctly. Wherever, where do you think the article is referring to when it referenced the "more common route that included third-class scrambling"? Did the pair make it all the way to the bottom of Pywiack or somewhere near the top of it and stop there? If they were at the top of Pywiack, near Lone Boulder, they had a relatively easy hike back to Sunrise trailhead.

And the sign? Anyone know anything? Sounds like they need a sign like the other "No Hiking, Turn Back sign", that in my opinion is not placed very well. The easiest, least scrambling way to get into the canyon is on the opposite side of the canyon.

From what the article says they got all the way down to the first rappel. Pretty clear in the article imho.
The sign (Yosemite Valley) is very very close to Olmsted Pt... pretty much where you can head either east toward Sunrise TH/Tenaya Lake
or west towards Snow Creek. I mentioned this sign in the past and was miffed as to why they changed the sign.
I figured b/c people couldn't figure out Snow Creek with an arrow was the way to Yosemite Valley.
(if you really want... I can show you the signs)
More than likely as the trail headed back north they screwed up and ended up South of Hidden Lake
and then things went horribly wrong.
The shrub to get to 7646 is not that terribly bad... but that's if you go the easiest way.
7646 was one of these things I spotted from near Watkins and ended up on my list o things to go sleep on.
smiling smiley

Glad to hear they made it out ok. (almost assuredly they came up Airplane)



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Re: Stranded Hikers Rescued From Tenaya Canyon
September 10, 2012 11:48PM
Okay this all makes sense. Thanks for the graphic. I just didn't know of another feasible entry into the Canyon.

Can one hike "up" the Pywiack Cascades slabs? (Maybe its easier than coming down. At least easier than the way we came down!
Re: Stranded Hikers Rescued From Tenaya Canyon
September 11, 2012 12:14PM
Quote
chicagocwright
Okay this all makes sense. Thanks for the graphic. I just didn't know of another feasible entry into the Canyon.

Can one hike "up" the Pywiack Cascades slabs? (Maybe its easier than coming down. At least easier than the way we came down!

I've only done it going down, but it would be easy enough going up. There is only one such place in that vicinity.

Most people don't do it in that direction, because coming up from Yosemite Valley you have to get past the three rappels. Which is an easy climb, but probably not a (ropeless) hike for a lot of people. The slabs going up towards the lone boulder would not involve a rope, if you do it in the usual spot.
avatar Re: Stranded Hikers Rescued From Tenaya Canyon
September 15, 2012 07:18AM
This inicident points out the importance of a decent trail map with elevations and contour lines such as that found on the 7.5 maps or Natl Geo Trails Illustrated maps. Using such maps would clearly indicate one had to follow the trail west along Tioga Road for half a mile before descending and crossing the creek from Snow Flat on the proper trail. One should realize there are no super steep descents on the Snow Creek trail until one is right across from Half Dome.

It still boggles my mind how some folks are actually incapable of reading a map. I personally know people (not hikers) who can not read a standard road map. Part of the problem is that the compass headings of North/South/East/West don't mean anything to them. The fact that the top of the page faces North is useless to people who are compass ignorant.

Another point here is that if there is a sign near Olmstead Point misleading hikers who fail proper use of a map, perhaps the Yosemite Conservancy could get something like that corrected under the guise of the trail maintenance they are so proud of.angry smiley
Re: Stranded Hikers Rescued From Tenaya Canyon
September 15, 2012 10:40AM
When I climbed Cloud's Rest in August, I only had the park's trail map which is good for general purposes but that's about it - The Cloud's Rest trail goes to the left from the Sunrise TrailHead - but there is another trail that goes to Snow Creek - I am probably wrong but my memory tells me that there wasn't a sign that specifically stated Clouds rest and the distance at the trail head - Anyway, I almost went down the wrong trail but after about 20 yards, I had a feeling I was going the wrong way - Fortunately, there was a park employee right at the trail head doing some work and I was able to ask him which direction - and took the right trail -

I think some of these trail signs and mile markers shouild be updated - Now that we have GPS, we should not only have clear ideas of what trail we are on but also accurate distances - I don't trust the old iron ones at all - and they seem inconsistent at times.
avatar Re: Stranded Hikers Rescued From Tenaya Canyon
September 17, 2012 08:30AM
The sign right at the trailhead says
"Yosemite Valley via Clouds Rest 15.9"
If you turned right right away... well... what can I say.
That sign says
"Yosemite Valley via Snow Creek Trail 11.3"

The metal signs are not SO inaccurate. So what if they are off a bit.
The trails have moved some in places, rerouted here and
there. But the signs themselves are pretty darn good imho.

(I mean, they correctly state the existence of Toulumne Meadows HIGH SIERRA Camp)
smiling smiley



Chick-on is looking at you!
Re: Stranded Hikers Rescued From Tenaya Canyon
September 17, 2012 09:43AM
I don't remember if I have a picture or not but are you guys talking about the junctions/signs you run into at the top of the Sunrise Trailhead (beginning at Tenaya Lake) on your way to Clouds Rest? I vaguely remember getting there, and being somewhat confused by the signs. I don't think one said "Clouds Rest" and one of the other signs said "Half Dome". But if you take the Half Dome sign road, you end up skipping Clouds Rest. I knew which way I needed to go but the signs were confusing. I think I did look at the Nat. Geo map just for a sanity check.
Re: Stranded Hikers Rescued From Tenaya Canyon
September 17, 2012 11:54AM
You must be right Chick-on - I trust your judgement for sure - but something did confuse me at the trailhead just like Chicago - Course, I'm gettin older - probably the most likely reason
Re: Stranded Hikers Rescued From Tenaya Canyon
September 17, 2012 12:15PM
Okay Chick-on I just realized you were talking about this sign at the trailhead. If you did make the right turn to Snow Creek, well, you would be totally lost:



But my problem with this sign is the 15.9 miles to Yosemite Valley via Clouds Rest. I was fairly certain that my hike last year was generally 7 miles to Clouds Rest, 7 miles to Half Dome, 7 miles to Yosemite Valley. Even if you subtracted the 4 miles covered on the Half Dome Trail, that still leaves 17 miles. I'm only asking again because I was always frustrated last year trying to calculate just how much ground I covered in that day hike. The maps, trail descriptions, and signs all led to different answers.



On a completely different note, I can't even remember where this sign was. It seems like it might be the Sunrise Junction but that doesn't match my description of what I remembered above:

Re: Stranded Hikers Rescued From Tenaya Canyon
September 17, 2012 12:59PM
This sign is right after the switchbacks a few miles into the trail - on the top of the ridge - The trail is pretty easy to Cloud's Rest after that.

Pretty sure that is the Sunrise junction by the way



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/17/2012 02:42PM by SoCalCPA.
avatar Re: Stranded Hikers Rescued From Tenaya Canyon
September 17, 2012 10:55PM
Ya. That's the Sunrise Lakes jct.

There is another sign at the Jct. that takes you around the south side of Tenaya Lake
and on to Tuolumne Meadows. That one has Clouds Rest specifically on it.
"Clouds Rest 7.1"

So... imho it's signed pretty well.



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