Signal Ridge to... 2/23/08
Sawyer River and Mount Tremont as seen from Sawyer River Road
Signal Ridge to... the first water crossing. Yep, that's as far as we got. We drove 125 miles, hiked 2 miles along the Sawyer River Road dodging snowmobiles, started along the Signal Ridge Trail through 3 or 4 inches of unconsolidated powder thinking "This is great!", then the first brook... The conditions today were perfect for climbing Carrigain. The sun came out, it was warm, around thirty degrees, no wind down low. The road was well packed and the going was easy. As we went the snowmobile traffic began to pick up, but most were courteous and slowed down and gave us plenty of room. After the steady, gentle climb along the road we came to the kiosk at the start of the Signal Ridge Trail. The trail was obvious even though it was covered in new snow. "Wow, no one's been here yet, this will be awesome!" We got in about a quarter mile, shaking powdered sugar from the trees as we went so as not to get soaked while we passed, then we came to the first brook crossing. The brook was obviously still swollen from the rain and melting over the past week. The snowshoe track we were following started again on the far side. I looked around to see if there was another, better place to cross, but saw no track in any direction. I decided to step down with one foot and see if it held me. If it would hold me, it would hold Jude and Emma together. It held. I began across, Emma bounded past me towards the other side. About halfway across the ice began to sink. It felt as though there was a layer of soft ice over older, more solid ice. I took another step. It let go, in I went up to my knees. Emma had almost made it, but the ice behind her gave way and her rear legs went in. She was hanging on by her front paws. Her rear paws couldn't reach bottom, so she couldn't push off to pull herself up. In two steps I was there and pulled her up and out. There was no real danger of being washed away as this was a pool we were in and the flow was nothing of note, but now we were wet and on the other side. Jude was still on the far side. I started looking for a better place to cross back, but Emma's herding instincts kicked in. This was not good to her, we were on one side, momma was on the other. Back she went the way we came, with the same results. Halfway across, in she went and was now in the same predicament, front paws trying to pull herself up and not touching bottom with her rear. Again, there was no chance of her washing away down stream, but she was stuck. At this point my concern was not for her, but for Jude, "Stay where you are, I'm already wet, I'll get her!", I shouted. Back into the brook I went, not even trying to find a way across, just splashing through the water. Surprisingly in a situation like this, you just react to do what you have to do and don't feel the cold water. Honestly, the water feels colder in August when your body temp feels like 200 from the heat and humidity and the water feels like 1 degree colder and it would be ice. Much more a shock on your system. So, here I am, water up to my knees, pull the dog up and off she goes up the bank and out of harm's way. Now I crunch through the rest of the ice and up onto the bank. Jude managed to get one boot into the water, but her foot didn't get wet. Gaiter kept the water out of her super-insulated winter hikers from Lowa. My A-solo plastic mountaineering boots were, however, filled with water. I immediately sat down on my pack and got them off, pouring the water out. I pulled the soaked wool socks off and wrung them out. Jude gave me Emma's polartec jacket from her pack and I dried my feet and soaked what water I could from my boots. Problem was now, I had no dry socks. Jude had some, but I couldn't get them on. I wrung out my socks again and pulled them back on and put my wet boots back on.
This was amazingly fortunate in many ways.
1) It was not cold enough for my socks to freeze.
2)My mittens were wet from pulling Emma out of the water, but again, it wasn't cold enough for my hands to freeze.
3)We were only 2 miles in, and it was an easy, downhill road walk back to the car.
4) Emma shook off and her wet fur didn't freeze and clump. Her wet feet were fine on the hike back out. She regularly jumps in streams on our hikes, even in the coldest temps, so I wasn't worried about this. We do our best to keep her out because we know that people use them as water sources. Always take water from upstream of a crossing. You should be filtering or boiling it anyway.
5) It screwed up a hike on a "perfect" condition day, but when I think about how badly wrong it could have gone, I think we were very fortunate.
Many years ago, I learned in the Air Force why there should be redundant safety systems. If one fails, you can count on another. I should have had dry socks with me, maybe even dry pants, but the thing is, my gaiters were soaked and starting to freeze, and even if I had dry socks, I would have had to put them into wet boots. If I had been way out on a cold day, I could have been in a real bad circumstance. Now, dry socks, no excuse, but who carries dry boots or gaiters? I'm not sure what I could have done differently, outside of find a better place to cross, and I'm not sure I would have found one, anyway.
Naturally, I was bummed out that the hike was over on such a perfect day. Actually, it was more like PO at being so stupid, but I convinced myself that there wasn't much I could have done to prevent it, short of staying home today. I then had to be thankful that things didn't turn out any worse. I had dry boots in the car. I stopped and got dry socks on the way home. I have nothing to complain about. Chances are the mountain will still be there when we return.
I would like to open this up for comment. What should I have done differently? Was there a way to lessen the amount of water that got in my boot? What do others do at questionable water crossings?
Honestly Kevin I don't think there really is anything you could have done different. You didn't know the ice was going to do what it did. I don't know anyone who carries extra boots. Sounds to me like you did everything you could. A mistake would have been to carry on.
I can see where you can imagine that it could have gotten a whole lot worse. Whenever I have thoughts like that I just try to let them go because I know if I don't it'll just drive me crazy.
Thanks, Billy! I guess that's pretty much how I feel. We've been incredibly fortunate considering how much hiking we've done, and today was no different.
What should I have done?
Of course, the answer to this is painfully obvious now, but sometimes I lack the ability to think ahead when caught up in the anticipation of the hike. On another forum I had the good fortune of catching the eye of Mohamed Ellozoy. If there is anyone who doesn't know who this is, he writes the accident reports for the AMC journal Appalachia. I have probably learned more about safety in the mountains from reading his reports than from actual experience. His comments were:
"Many accidents in winter are caused by the decision to "Go" when the wiser course would be "No Go". "No Go" does not mean stay home; it means hike elsewhere.
A few winters ago two AMC groups met at the Lafayette trailhead. Our group was planning just Lafayette, Ed Hawkins was planning a traverse. There was a strong wind, but the forecast called for it to drop by mid-morning.
Our group was not very interested in peakbagging, so we decided to bag Greenleaf Hut and, if the wind dropped as promised, go on to the summit. Ed's group wanted peaks, so they crossed under the parkway and bagged the Kinsmen. Both decisions were safe, both gave enjoyable hikes.
During this past week there were several postings on high water levels. You should have thought carefully what that meant for your plans. I believe that had you thought it out before the trip you would have figured out that the bushwhack would get you past the first, and worst, stream crossing. Or you might have decided to do a hike with no serious stream crossings.
Once you got there you should have given serious thought to the alternatives: turning round or finding a way round the stream (i.e. bushwhacking). Testing dubious ice, especially with a dog who may not wait for you to decide whether or not it is safe, is risky.
As for emergency gear, I carry a complete set of spare inner layer: polypro top and bottom as well as socks. Years ago I was taught how to keep fresh socks dry in a wet boot: two plastic shopping bags. Zero cost, zero weight
I will end my sermon by repeating something I find myself writing in almost every issue: "All plans are based on a set of assumptions; should those assumptions not hold the plan MUST be reconsidered." In most cases "reconsidered" does not mean stay home; it means do a safer hike.
Note that I have not answered your question: "How dumb was it?". Not because I don't want to hurt your feelings, but because I think it is an irrelevant question. The real question, and the reason I write those accident reports, is: "What can I do to avoid getting into that kind of situation?". I hope to have answered that question."
I've been guilty of forging ahead when I should have looked for an alternative on many occasion, I just wasn't lucky enough to get out of my poor decision this time. I hope everyone can take something out of this and learn to be more cautious than I was on this occasion.
I'm just really glad that you all made it back to the car safely. It sounds like it could have gone much worse.
This is probably why we'll never finish the winter 4K. I am a freak about the water crossings even during the other three seasons. Last June, hiking into Galehead, the river was high and running hard enough that it felt as if it were trying to push me right over. I obsessed about it all the way to the summit and back - just worried about having to cross again. I have a mental block now about doing that in winter. I'll probably hike 47 of them and won't be able to do Galehead.
Again, very glad everyone got back to the car safely. The mountains will always be there.
Glad you all made it out OK Kevin. Mohamed's advice is obviously good - but I'm not sure that I would have thought of all of this either. No matter how many times we're out there we always have more to learn. With your prolific hiking in so many conditions you have way more experience than most and you are obviously almost always prepared. I'm sure that next time you will be even better prepared. In my own case I am an undeniable coward and shy away for almost any significant risk. This generally keeps me out of trouble but also keeps me from some of the rewards that a little risk and appropriate caution can provide. Hopefully all of us continue to learn from our own experiences as well as those of others and stay out there for a long, long time...
Originally Posted by KD Talbot