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Fire safety on the trail?

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  • Calley Ordoyne
    Hi all - I m not starting the JMT for another few weeks, but these fire reports are making me realize I fire safety is a topic I haven t heard much discussion
    Message 1 of 14 , Jul 28, 2014
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      Hi all - 

      I'm not starting the JMT for another few weeks, but these fire reports are making me realize I fire safety is a topic I haven't heard much discussion about.  I assume the basic guidance is, if you know there's a fire in the vicinity don't go, and if a fire starts when you're on the trail, get out of there.  But can we get a little more specific than that?  e.g. you don't want to be within 50km of a fire?  5 km of a fire?  Any good way to tell whether you're upwind or downwind of a fire?  I'm asking both for myself and the folks at home - I'll be carrying an InReach, so they'll have my coordinates and if they can look at some online web map and get a sense for themselves of whether I'm a safe distance away, this would be enormously helpful.  I found the CAL FIRE website, but it's lacking some data on extent of the fire.  The MODIS fire maps seem to get you partway there as well, but neither seems completely satisfactory.  I also assume the high-altitude areas are a little less fire prone what with the general lack of trees, but seems like dry tundra grasses could burn too.

      Any suggestions either for hikers or for their home support team would be most welcome!

      Thanks,
      Calley
    • longritchie
      Calley, in the vast majority of cases the problem for someone walking the JMT would be one of access rather than safety. They would close the area and get
      Message 2 of 14 , Jul 28, 2014
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        Calley, in the vast majority of cases the problem for someone walking the JMT would be one of access rather than safety. They would close the area and get everybody out well in advance.

        Size matters. I walked within about 100 yards of a fire next to the JMT this past weekend. It was a small lightning caused fire that they were monitoring and letting burn. It posed very little threat. It's always fun to watch helicopters fly and land in the high mountains.

        I hope we don't have a really huge one this year but conditions are primed for that. Even without closure or safety issues the smoke itself really ruins the fun. Can you imagine the Evolution Basin with pea soup smoke? One of the best parts of the John Muir Trail but in those conditions it sucks.

        I wonder about the El Portal fire in Yosemite. It's awfully close to Hwy 140.
      • Kim Fishburn
        Fire isn t much of an issue after you reach Sunrise High Sierra Camp. Too much rock and not enough trees. I even hiked through a fire once in Simpson Meadow in
        Message 3 of 14 , Jul 28, 2014
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          Fire isn't much of an issue after you reach Sunrise High Sierra Camp. Too much rock and not enough trees. I even hiked through a fire once in Simpson Meadow in Kings Canyon. Rangers were there to keep an eye on it but were sleeping when we went through. I've talked to others that hiked through a fire north of Hetch Hetchy before.


          On Mon, Jul 28, 2014 at 9:05 PM, longritchie <no_reply@yahoogroups.com> wrote:
           

          Calley, in the vast majority of cases the problem for someone walking the JMT would be one of access rather than safety. They would close the area and get everybody out well in advance.

          Size matters. I walked within about 100 yards of a fire next to the JMT this past weekend. It was a small lightning caused fire that they were monitoring and letting burn. It posed very little threat. It's always fun to watch helicopters fly and land in the high mountains.

          I hope we don't have a really huge one this year but conditions are primed for that. Even without closure or safety issues the smoke itself really ruins the fun. Can you imagine the Evolution Basin with pea soup smoke? One of the best parts of the John Muir Trail but in those conditions it sucks.

          I wonder about the El Portal fire in Yosemite. It's awfully close to Hwy 140.


        • eric moss
          There may be no general answer, but say you get up to some pass on the JMT, and see nasty looking smoke in the upcoming valley. Is there an SOP or a rule of
          Message 4 of 14 , Jul 28, 2014
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            There may be no general answer, but say you get up to some pass on the JMT, and see nasty looking smoke in the upcoming valley.  Is there an SOP or a rule of thumb as to waiting it out up high or hiking back or trying to find a trail out that's above the tree/smoke line?


            On Mon, Jul 28, 2014 at 10:10 PM, Kim Fishburn animalfarm99@... [johnmuirtrail] <johnmuirtrail@yahoogroups.com> wrote:
             

            Fire isn't much of an issue after you reach Sunrise High Sierra Camp. Too much rock and not enough trees. I even hiked through a fire once in Simpson Meadow in Kings Canyon. Rangers were there to keep an eye on it but were sleeping when we went through. I've talked to others that hiked through a fire north of Hetch Hetchy before.


            On Mon, Jul 28, 2014 at 9:05 PM, longritchie <no_reply@yahoogroups.com> wrote:
             

            Calley, in the vast majority of cases the problem for someone walking the JMT would be one of access rather than safety. They would close the area and get everybody out well in advance.

            Size matters. I walked within about 100 yards of a fire next to the JMT this past weekend. It was a small lightning caused fire that they were monitoring and letting burn. It posed very little threat. It's always fun to watch helicopters fly and land in the high mountains.

            I hope we don't have a really huge one this year but conditions are primed for that. Even without closure or safety issues the smoke itself really ruins the fun. Can you imagine the Evolution Basin with pea soup smoke? One of the best parts of the John Muir Trail but in those conditions it sucks.

            I wonder about the El Portal fire in Yosemite. It's awfully close to Hwy 140.



          • longritchie
            Is that right? I seem to recall a fair amount of walking in the forest on the JMT. Too much of it for my liking. But I would think those areas aren t in the
            Message 5 of 14 , Jul 28, 2014
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              Is that right? I seem to recall a fair amount of walking in the forest on the JMT. Too much of it for my liking. But I would think those areas aren't in the same risk category as what's currently burning near Foresta.

              Has there been a closure of a section of the JMT due to fire in the last 20 years?

              --------
              "Fire isn't much of an issue after you reach Sunrise High Sierra Camp. Too much rock and not enough trees. I even hiked through a fire once in Simpson Meadow in Kings Canyon. Rangers were there to keep an eye on it but were sleeping when we went through. I've talked to others that hiked through a fire north of Hetch Hetchy before."
            • Peter Hirst
              Calley: The reason you haven t heard much about it is because, as severe and sometimes catastrophic as it is for those closest to fire, JMT hikers are
              Message 6 of 14 , Jul 28, 2014
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                Calley:  The reason you haven't heard much about it is because, as severe and sometimes catastrophic as it is for those closest to fire, JMT hikers are generally not among those.  You may have noticed, the main concern here is not with getting out, but with getting in.  Fire, even big fire, is a natural occurrence in the Sierra.  Some important species cannot survive without it.  It is very much like bears: a big pain in the ass around the access points, buts once on the trail, you'll be lucky to get near enough to smell one.  Sure you hear a lot of reports about people hiking in the area getting lost, having accidents,   maybe bear encounters with injury, lightning strikes, drowning, wildfire injury.  I am no encyclopedia on these things, but I am aware of several examples of each of these, and not one I can think of has occurred to a JMT throughhiker. 

                My advice to hiker and home support team would be the same .  Pay ordinary attention, otherwise, relax and have a great hike.



                On Jul 28, 2014, at 6:48 PM, Calley Ordoyne ordoynec@... [johnmuirtrail] wrote:

                 

                Hi all - 

                I'm not starting the JMT for another few weeks, but these fire reports are making me realize I fire safety is a topic I haven't heard much discussion about.  I assume the basic guidance is, if you know there's a fire in the vicinity don't go, and if a fire starts when you're on the trail, get out of there.  But can we get a little more specific than that?  e.g. you don't want to be within 50km of a fire?  5 km of a fire?  Any good way to tell whether you're upwind or downwind of a fire?  I'm asking both for myself and the folks at home - I'll be carrying an InReach, so they'll have my coordinates and if they can look at some online web map and get a sense for themselves of whether I'm a safe distance away, this would be enormously helpful.  I found the CAL FIRE website, but it's lacking some data on extent of the fire.  The MODIS fire maps seem to get you partway there as well, but neither seems completely satisfactory.  I also assume the high-altitude areas are a little less fire prone what with the general lack of trees, but seems like dry tundra grasses could burn too.

                Any suggestions eithee closest to it, r for hikers or for their home support team would be most welcome!

                Thanks,
                Calley


              • john_friend
                One thing I would suggest is to know where all the ranger stations are along or near the JMT (there are a lot of them). Then, use them as a resource to gather
                Message 7 of 14 , Jul 28, 2014
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                  One thing I would suggest is to know where all the ranger stations are along or near the JMT (there are a lot of them).  Then, use them as a resource to gather information if you're concerned about a fire or possibility of a fire ahead.  In the southern half of the JMT, here's a list of ranger stations (all of which were also marked on my Tom Harrison maps):

                  Ranger Stations

                  McClure Meadow - about 12 mi south of MTR on the trail

                  LeConte Canyon - 8 mi south of Muir Pass on the trail

                  Bench Lake - 6.5 mi south of Mather Pass, on the lake (a bit off the trail)

                  Rae Lakes - 13 mi south of Pinchot Pass on the trail

                  Charlotte Lake - 2mi south of Glen Pass

                  Tyndall Creek - 4.9 mi south of Forester Pass (about 0.3 mi west of trail (opposite Shepherd Pass trail)

                  Crabtree Meadow - 0.8 mi after JMT turns east from PCT to head to Whitney


                  And, another reason to bring with you a list of all the exit routes off the JMT (both eastbound and westbound) and enough of a map that you could even take one of the lesser traveled routes.  Here is my list of exit routes:

                  JMT Trail Exits

                  (xxx = not recommended - take easier route before/after)


                  Tenaya Lake - from Sunrise, 6.1 mi to Tenaya Lake.


                  Tuolumne Meadows


                  Rush Creek Trail - 3.5 mi south of Donahue Pass. 9.6 mi to Silver Lake Resort on June Lake Loop Road. Goes by Waugh Lake, Billy Lake, Gem Lake, Agnew Lake to Silver Lake.


                  Shadow Lake Trail - 6.0 mi south of PCT High Trail junction at Shadow Lake. 3.3 mi to Agnew Meadows campground or Devils Postpile Road where you catch a shuttle into Mammoth.


                  Devils Postpile - Several places to read the road and catch a shuttle.


                  Mammoth Pass Trail from Upper Crater Meadow - 4.0 mi south of Reds Meadow. At either Upper Crater Meadow or Lower Crater Meadow, take trail over Mammoth Pass to McCloud Lake, then on to trailhead at Horseshoe Lake and the road - about 4.0 mi total.


                  Duck Pass Trail - 11.5 mi south of Reds Meadow. 6.0 miles over Duck Pass to Coldwater Canyon Trailhead.


                  xxx McGee Pass Trail - 6.3 mi south of Duck Pass Trail. 15.5 miles over McGee Pass (11,909') to McGee Creek Trailhead (not covered by our JMT maps). Takes two days.


                  xxx Mono Pass Trail - 4.3 mi south of Silver Pass, 1.4 mi before turn off to Vermillion. 15.1 miles up Mono Creek and over Mono Pass (12,000') to Mosquito Flat Trailhead (not covered by our JMT maps).


                  Vermillion Resort - 1.4 mi south of Mono Creek Trail. 6.2 mi hike to Vermillion Resort around northern shore of Lake Edison or 1.4 mi hike to twice daily ferry.


                  Bear Ridge Trail - 4.6 mi south of westbound Mono Creek Trail. 5 miles to Lake Edison dam and Vermillion Resort.


                  xxx Bear Creek Trail - 1.6 mi south of Bear Ridge Trail. 9 miles down Bear Creek - last 2.5 mi on an OHV road. Not sure what the destination is (not covered by our JMT maps). Better to take previous two options.


                  Muir Trail Ranch - 13.2 mi south of Bear Creek Trail. 0.9 mi cut-off trail to MTR.


                  xxx Pine Creek Pass Trail / Piute Pass Trail - 3.3 mi south of MTR. 17.6 mi to Pine Creek Trailhead (not covered by JMT maps).


                  Bishop Pass Trail - 26.7 mi south of Pine Creek Pass Trail at LeConte Canyon Ranger Station. 11.6 mi through Dusy Basin and over Bishop Pass (11,972') to the South Lake Trailhead (trail only partly covered by JMT maps).


                  Taboose Pass Trail - 20.9 mi south of Bishop Pass Trail at Bench Lake Ranger Station. 10 mi over Taboose Pass (11,418') to Taboose Creek Trailhead (off JMT maps).


                  xxx Sawmill Pass Trail - 7.3 mi south of Taboose Pass Trail. 12.5mi to Sawmill Creek Roadend. Starts out on unmaintained trail, goes over Sawmill Pass (11,347'), past Sawmill Lakes, then descend. Not well maintained.


                  Woods Creek Trail - 3.8 mi south of Sawmill Pass Trail. 13.5 mi west through Paradise Valley to Roads End at Cedar Grove in Kings Canyon.


                  xxx Baxter Pass Trail - 4.1 mi south of Woods Creek Trail. 11 mi through Baster Lakes basin, over Baster Pass (12,320') to descend an unmaintained trail to the end of Oak Creek Road. Very difficult (off JMT maps).


                  Kearsarge Pass Trail - 7 mi south of Baxter Pass Trail. 7 miles over Kearsarge Pass (11,845') to Onion Valley Trailhead.


                  Bubbs Creek Trail - 4.7 mi south of Forester Pass. 12 miles west along Bubbs Creek to Roads End (Cedar Grove).


                  xxx Shepherd Pass Trail - 0.2 mi south of Bubbs Creek Trail. 12.5 mi over Shepherd pass (12,050') to Symmes Creek Trailhead. Trail in disrepair on east side.









                   


                • john_friend
                  If I m remembering last summer correctly, there were two occasions where JMT hikers on the trail were impacted by fire. In one case a reverse wind came in one
                  Message 8 of 14 , Jul 29, 2014
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                    If I'm remembering last summer correctly, there were two occasions where JMT hikers on the trail were impacted by fire.  In one case a reverse wind came in one day and filled Yosemite Valley with smoke from the Rim fire and a number of hikers going from Happy Isles to Tuolumne had to turn back because of the impact of the smoke on their breathing.  This issue lasted for a couple of days until the wind switched direction.

                    The second case was also smoke and a particular wind direction from the Aspen Fire on portions of the JMT near Muir Trail Ranch.  Hikers on a few particular days in a few particular locations were impacted by the smoke.  I don't recall for sure, but I think some hikers were forced to change/modify their plans because of the smoke.

                    When you're hiking the JMT, you certainly see a number of burn areas along the JMT that, if active, would have closed that section of the JMT.  For example, there's a huge burn area just south of Red's Meadow that was caused by the Aug 1992 Rainbow Fire.

                    Fortunately, the direct fire impact on the JMT seems relatively infrequent, though the impact of smoke from fires miles away from the JMT can easily happen multiple times a summer.

                    I'm not sure what you can do to prepare or plan for any of this.  If there's smoke from a fire miles away, you will have to use your own judgment on how much the smoke is impacting you and whether you should modify your plans.  If there's an actual fire touching the JMT or threatening to touch the JMT, the relevant park service will have probably already shut down that portion of the JMT as a precautionary measure.  

                    If you're somehow near ground zero where a fire starts, then its really going to be common sense for how you should best react and which direction is more likely to be safe to go.  Above about 11,000 feet there isn't much fuel for forest fires so that's always one option in the southern half of the JMT.  Using the many ranger stations for info or evacuation advice is another option.


                  • longritchie
                    Fortunately, the direct fire impact on the JMT seems relatively infrequent, though the impact of smoke from fires miles away from the JMT can easily happen
                    Message 9 of 14 , Jul 29, 2014
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                      "Fortunately, the direct fire impact on the JMT seems relatively infrequent, though the impact of smoke from fires miles away from the JMT can easily happen multiple times a summer."

                      Smoke can certainly be an issue, especially if you have any sort of respiratory issue. A friend of mine with asthma almost bailed 6 or 8 years ago due to thick smoke in what is normally one of the best parts of the route.

                      But when was the last time that there was an actual fire closure on the JMT?
                    • Calley Ordoyne
                      This is all super helpful, thanks folks! Will pass on the key info to the support team. Now back to worrying about how long I ll have to go between water
                      Message 10 of 14 , Jul 29, 2014
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                        This is all super helpful, thanks folks!  Will pass on the key info to the support team.

                        Now back to worrying about how long I'll have to go between water sources in September... :P

                        Calley
                      • Inga Aksamit
                        Thanks so much for putting this list of ranger stations and exit routes together. I m copying certain files like this and crib sheet, etc into Evernote (app)
                        Message 11 of 14 , Jul 29, 2014
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                          Thanks so much for putting this list of ranger stations and exit routes together. I'm copying certain files like this and crib sheet, etc into Evernote (app) so I'll have them for reference on my phone. Also have card copy backup of certain essential files. 

                          Inga Aksamit 
                          Mobile: 415-470-1812
                          Email: Iaksamit@...
                          Twitter.com/IngaAksamit
                        • dj_ayers
                          As others have mentioned, smoke can motivate hikers to take detours. I ve run into that before including last year hiking on the JMT near Sally Keys Lakes
                          Message 12 of 14 , Jul 29, 2014
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                            As others have mentioned, smoke can motivate hikers to take detours.  I've run into that before including last year hiking on the JMT near Sally Keys Lakes when the Aspen Fire cropped up.

                            I suggest having a map set (or trail knowledge) that covers a wide enough swath to allow you to figure out a detour or a bail out option if it becomes necessary.
                          • pex_dave
                            Just as an FYI, I used Bear Creek Trail as a route to VVR on my 2012 NOBO JMT. Bear Creek is a beautiful creek and valley, lots of swimming holes, simply
                            Message 13 of 14 , Jul 29, 2014
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                              Just as an FYI, I used Bear Creek Trail as a route to VVR on my 2012 NOBO JMT.  Bear Creek is a beautiful creek and valley, lots of swimming holes, simply wonderful.  I understand that Bear Ridge Trail is rather a dry hike, while Bear Creek Trail has lots of water opportunities.  And the mileage is not excessive.  From the JMT junction with Bear Creek Trail, it is a total of 11.8 miles to VVR: about 5.8 miles down the creek to the "Bear Creek Cut-off" Trail, which takes about 3.3 miles to climb over a small ridge and drops down to Lake Edison, and about a 2.7-mile road walk to VVR (which you have either way with Bear Ridge or Bear Creek).  Overall, about 2.5 miles longer than Bear Ridge, but a lovely alternative.

                              Dave Pex
                            • pex_dave
                              Bear Creek Trail is a lovely alternate, 2.5 miles longer than Bear Ridge, but lots of water, water falls, and good swimming holes. 5.8 miles from JMT down to
                              Message 14 of 14 , Jul 29, 2014
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                                Bear Creek Trail is a lovely alternate, 2.5 miles longer than Bear Ridge, but lots of water, water falls, and good swimming holes. 5.8 miles from JMT down to "Bear Creek Cutoff" trail, 3.3 mile over a small ridge to Lake Edison, and than a 2.7-mile road walk (which you have with either Bear Ridge or Bear Creek) to VVR.  Beautiful route.
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