unplanned bivy stories

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Chip Down
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unplanned bivy stories

Post by Chip Down » February 9th, 2019, 6:53 pm

A recent tale of hardship in the gorge has inspired me to finally launch a topic I've been thinking about for a while: Tell us a story of an unplanned night of misery.

I've never really had to endure that, but my "almost" stories fall into two categories:

West Rib on Mt Jeff. There's that common illusion when climbing a ridge: You look up at a spot where the slope becomes less steep, and perspective makes it look as if there's actually a drop, but when you get up to that point you realize it's still steep up, just less steep than before. If you climb, you probably know what I mean. Time after time, this illusion tricked me, until finally it was late enough that I had no choice but to hunker down at the base of a rock that protruded from the snow. There was a semi-moat, a fringe of rotten snow that I stomped down to form a hopefully-firm platform to sleep on. Rockfall littered my sleeping spot, so I slept with my pack over my head, my best hope to prevent a smashed skull. This was a planned bivy; it was just that the exact location was miserable.

I've come scary close to spending a night out. The main culprit, over and over, is losing my route on a spur ridge. If you've descended ridges, you probably know what I mean. A ridge to the side might be so obviously off-route on the map, but in person it can trick you. Another problem has been my tendency to go on loop hikes, where you can get 80% through the hike and realize you're screwed, and there's not enough time to get back the way you came. Of course, this all pertains to off-trail hikes. Trail hiking has never posed problems.

In spite of close calls, I've never had to endure a night without a sleeping bag. But there have been mornings where I've woken in my bed and thought "damn, that would have been a tough night out there". Especially this time of year, when the nights are so long.

Got any stories to share? Close calls?

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Re: unplanned bivy stories

Post by BigBear » February 11th, 2019, 9:36 am

After 29,900 miles of hiking (getting close to 30K), I have zero unplanned bivy trips. Yes, you read that right: zero. I start early enough, plan my route and when I take a wrong turn I stop and reassess (not continue on and hope I pick up some other trail later int he day)...and I have been blessed by nothing more serious than a bee sting or sprain to hamper my ability to return to the trailhead. Lucks, skill or simply good planning.

My closest to a bivy was due to hot weather back in the mid-90s (that was both the year and the mid-morning temperature). Following the 17-mile trail through the Soda Mountain Wilderness (as it came to be known) was not a navigational issue, but finding water was. The PCT maps listed Cabin 69 as being 2 miles north of Soda Mtn but it was 2 miles south and we stumbled upon it completely by accident...literally. The well here is the only source of water in July (dry by August) and I found the spigot int he tall grass by tripping over it. Even at this time, the cabin roof was laying flat on the ground and not marked by any signage. Continuing in the hot sun without water was not an option. Fortunately, as we swung north, leaving the hot air of the California grasslands behind, the temperature did not rise any higher.

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Re: unplanned bivy stories

Post by Aardvark » February 11th, 2019, 8:33 pm

Quite a few years ago, a buddy and I planned a gung-ho, Tanner Butte/Eagle Creek day hike loop. We knew it was going to be long, but after losing the trail in snow near the top of Eagle-Tanner cutoff, and with darkness descending, we ended up spending a dreary night by the Thrush Pond. No water filter so very glad we had at least some kool-aid to mix with the Thrush Pond soup. It was early Spring, probably dropped into the upper 40's - wrapped up in all our wool and slept very little. My only unplanned night out (so far)in 40 years of hiking.
Joy in the universe, and keen curiosity about it all - that has been my religion.
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Re: unplanned bivy stories

Post by teachpdx » February 12th, 2019, 9:02 am

My cousin and I spent an unplanned night on Mt. St. Helens back in late September 2004 (I was in high school at the time).

We planned to do a night climb and hit the summit for sunrise; however, the weather had a different plan. We prepped for a forecast of 40 degrees and partly cloudy, but at around 7200' the weather closed in with dense fog and a rain/snow mix.

We had gear for moderate cold but not for wet/snowy weather.

At this point we turned back but it was too foggy to follow the posts back down, and we soon lost the footpath. So instead of continuing and potentially getting lost, we hunkered down under a large boulder for the remainder of the night.

Once it started getting light, we spotted a nearby post (only about 50' away) and made our way down the mountain. We were cold and wet but made it out okay.

MSH came back to life the following week.

That was my one hard lesson, and I've hiked thousands of miles since and haven't had an issue.
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Re: unplanned bivy stories

Post by drm » February 14th, 2019, 7:33 am

I've had three unplanned bivies, all decades ago after long rock climbs, not hiking trips. One in the High Sierra and two in Yosemite. Probably the most interesting is that we went to climb the bottom part of a moderate climb when we were neophytes, not planning to top out on the 2000 foot ascent (Royal Arches, 5.6). Others on the route said to go for it, it was easy and the downclimb was fast. Which was a lie. After attaining the top, we started down - the wrong way - after descending quite a ways, we reached a bright orange sign that said we were going the wrong way and there was a thousand foot cliff ahead. Obviously we weren't the first to make this wrong turn. By the time we got back to the top, it was dark. We found a flat spot to spend a thirsty night. We burned our guidebook to stay warm the first half of the night (and I think a manzanita bush) and shivered the rest. In the morning we found ourselves on the very top of a formation called Washington's Column, with 2000 foot dropoffs all around us on three sides that we had not been able to see the night before. Maybe it's a good thing we were out of water, so we didn't wander around looking for a place to relieve ourselves. At first light we found our way down fairly directly and found a ranger who was looking for us, my partner's wife having reported us missing. The first thing they do after being reported missing on a climb is go to the bottom and listen for yells of help. Instead we walked up to him.

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