A cautionary tale

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nunns
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A cautionary tale

Post by nunns »

This is a cautionary tale from my experience Saturday & Sunday. I went with my daughter to attempt the Crestone group. In the early afternoon on Saturday, it was raining in Westcliffe, and the forecast was for a high likelihood of rain for at least the next 48 hours. By 5pm, it was not raining at the lower SCL trailhead, and it looked as though there was no rain between us and the 14ers in front of us. We opted to begin our hike to South Colony Lakes, confident in the knowledge that we had nominal raingear and a tent. Our thought was that we could get to the lakes and get our tent set up, and perhaps catch a break in the rain the next day and summit at least one mountain.
About halfway up (6:30pm) it began to rain lightly. As this point we decided to continue on up. The rain increased as we got closer to the lakes. By the time we reached the lakes, it was raining fairly hard and the sun was beginning to set. By this point, my "raingear" (a thin outer shell) was basically soaked through. After removing it I realized I was soaked and began to shiver fairly violently and not thinking very clearly. Recognizing this as an early stage of hypothermia, my daughter and I quickly (and as it turned out, haphazardly) put up our tent, unrolled our sleeping bags, and climbed inside. I was fortunate to have one long sleeved tech shirt in my backpack that was dry to change into. I was soon in my sleeping bag and thinking I would be OK.
Unfortunately our tent was set up in water, our rainfly was inadequate, put on wrong, or both, and water got into our tent, quickly soaking the floor of our tent and the entirety of our sleeping bags. We spent the next 9 hours trying to sleep but never succeeding. I could never stop shivering long enough to fall asleep. At 6am light, we got up, put a few items in our backpacks, and by the grace of God were able to descend safely 6 miles to our vehicle. It was the worst, and probably the scariest experience of my life.
At the risk of sounding like your mom, please remember the following:
1. Even in summer, hypothermia can be a real threat, especially if you get soaked and can't get dry. It doesn't have to be supercold.
2. A tent can function well for you in one situation and utterly fail you in another slightly different situation.
3. Raingear isn't much good unless it can keep you truly dry even in a hard rain.
4. You need to have a plan for exactly what to do if you get cold and wet. In retrospect, we had emergency bivy sacs with us. Had we stuffed each sleeping bag inside of our (waterproof) bivy sacs before crawling inside them, we probably would have stayed mostly dry instead of getting completely soaked. In the early stages of hypothermia, I didn't think of this.
5. Remember that it is easier to get up than it is to get down. In retrospect we probably should have simply turned around at the lakes and gone straight back to our vehicle. We had headlamps. But we were afraid of falling and getting hurt badly enough to not be able to get down the rest of the way.

I hope others can avoid our mistakes so that they aren't repeated. By the protection of God we made it back safely. Had it been 10 degrees colder and/or not stopped raining at 1am, that might not be the case. Please be careful out there.

PS. We left a tent at the South Colony Lakes camping area. I apologize to the climbing community for doing this. I know this violates LNT, but we were in a bad way at the time and not sure we could get down with all of our gear on our backs.
If anyone is up there in next few weeks when it is drier and would like to take the tent and/or its contents, feel free.

Sean Nunn
Last edited by nunns on Mon Aug 02, 2021 10:29 pm, edited 2 times in total.
"Thy righteousness is like the great mountains." --Psalms 36:6
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SkaredShtles
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Re: A cautionary tale

Post by SkaredShtles »

Crikey... glad of the positive outcome.
derekpetrie
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Re: A cautionary tale

Post by derekpetrie »

Glad you are okay, and thank you for sharing the lesson!

It may be worth contacting the local ranger station, they often patrol SCL and might have retrieved it or wondered who left it.

Also, may be doing Humboldt myself this weekend if you want to PM a description of the tent and location - ya know so I don’t grab someone else’s - I’ll gladly pack it out for you.
brousseau
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Re: A cautionary tale

Post by brousseau »

Sean,

I'm glad you and your daughter are ok. As I move from car camping to being out in the elements, I will keep your tale in mind.
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Rollie Free
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Re: A cautionary tale

Post by Rollie Free »

Good to hear you survived that Sean. Was there about a month ago. Was a little worried as rain was a concern but except for the obligatory taps on the tent at night we made out well. After a few days of climbing we headed back down and at some point the heavens opened up with rain and hail. Typical Colorado squall I thought, it'll pass. It rained heavy and hailed on us all the way back down. I was soaked. Good timing depending on how you look at it. Guess you weren't so lucky.
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climbingcue
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Re: A cautionary tale

Post by climbingcue »

Sean,

The weather this last weekend is why we cancelled our Chicago Basin trip. I did not want to risk hiking in 16 miles in the rain to setup our tent in the rain with everything soaked. We changed our plans and had a great weekend. Colorado you change your plans depending on the weather, I have been doing that sometime last minute for the last almost 5 years I have been out here. The state is big enough that most of the time you can get to an area with better weather. Happy to hear you both are safe.
Consecutive months with at least one 14er, 43 months and counting...
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quinnwolf
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Re: A cautionary tale

Post by quinnwolf »

Very glad to hear that you are ok.

I am curious why didn't you just go back to the car? If you are going to be soaked and cold, might as well be moving towards the car that is warm and dry. It's downhill and less than 6 miles (if you're at the lower trailhead), it probably wouldn't take more than 2 hours even in the dark. And when you are moving, you can try to warm yourself up. And lower elevation is warmer and might be less rainy.

I was in a similar situation a couple of weeks ago at Lake Como. My tent started to fail and was letting water in. Thankfully, it stopped raining very soon after, so I was fine, but my plan if I got wet was to just hike back to the car. If I was soaked and cold and couldn't sleep, summitting the next morning was out of the question anyway. Is there something I wasn't thinking of that would have made this a bad idea?
nunns
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Re: A cautionary tale

Post by nunns »

quinnwolf wrote: Tue Aug 03, 2021 6:41 am Very glad to hear that you are ok.

I am curious why didn't you just go back to the car? If you are going to be soaked and cold, might as well be moving towards the car that is warm and dry. It's downhill and less than 6 miles (if you're at the lower trailhead), it probably wouldn't take more than 2 hours even in the dark. And when you are moving, you can try to warm yourself up. And lower elevation is warmer and might be less rainy.

I was in a similar situation a couple of weeks ago at Lake Como. My tent started to fail and was letting water in. Thankfully, it stopped raining very soon after, so I was fine, but my plan if I got wet was to just hike back to the car. If I was soaked and cold and couldn't sleep, summitting the next morning was out of the question anyway. Is there something I wasn't thinking of that would have made this a bad idea?
In retrospect that would have been the best choice. At the time we were setting up the tent we didn't realize it would fail. I suppose that after a couple of hours of being soaked, we could have gotten up and descended, but by that time we were stable, albeit pretty miserable, and it just made more sense to ride it out until first light.

Sean Nunn
"Thy righteousness is like the great mountains." --Psalms 36:6
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painless4u2
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Re: A cautionary tale

Post by painless4u2 »

quinnwolf wrote: Tue Aug 03, 2021 6:41 am Very glad to hear that you are ok.

I am curious why didn't you just go back to the car? If you are going to be soaked and cold, might as well be moving towards the car that is warm and dry. It's downhill and less than 6 miles (if you're at the lower trailhead), it probably wouldn't take more than 2 hours even in the dark. And when you are moving, you can try to warm yourself up. And lower elevation is warmer and might be less rainy.

I was in a similar situation a couple of weeks ago at Lake Como. My tent started to fail and was letting water in. Thankfully, it stopped raining very soon after, so I was fine, but my plan if I got wet was to just hike back to the car. If I was soaked and cold and couldn't sleep, summitting the next morning was out of the question anyway. Is there something I wasn't thinking of that would have made this a bad idea?
5. Remember that it is easier to get up than it is to get down. In retrospect we probably should have simply turned around at the lakes and gone straight back to our vehicle. We had headlamps. But we were afraid of falling and getting hurt badly enough to not be able to get down the rest of the way.
Bad decisions often make good stories.

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In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps. Proverbs 16:9
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cottonmountaineering
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Re: A cautionary tale

Post by cottonmountaineering »

glad you made it out OK, if you post the details of your tent im sure someone will pack it out

for me personally i saw the most of the state had a flash flood warning and heavy precip expected and decided mountains were probably not a good idea that weekend
seano
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Re: A cautionary tale

Post by seano »

Glad you made it out okay. This is why two of my "three essentials" are a yard-size trash bag and a headlamp: plastic makes absolutely waterproof raingear (forget Goretex and friends), and you can keep walking toward the car at night with a headlamp.
rperth
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Re: A cautionary tale

Post by rperth »

Wow. Lots of warnings were not taken into consideration. A little surprised this happened to someone who posts on here quite a bit , and gives advise to a lot folks.
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