I was a Cub Scout as a boy, but not a Boy Scout. Still, I’ve lived long enough to know the value of preparation. Yesterday, I was not prepared for outdoor conditions. The Heart Lake Trail from Castle Lake to Heart Lake is not a horribly difficult trail, but there is a reason all the guide books and websites call it a seasonal trail, with May to October as the primary season. It’s not intended to be a winter trail. And I found that out. And even though the trail is almost a thousand feet lower than Mono Lake, the two terrains and climates are very different. I was plenty warm, but with a starting temp of 18F at Castle Lake and an altitude temp of 13, I did not prep adequately. Here are several of the things I did wrong:
1. Wrong pants. Jeans are fine as an outer layer if they have adquate movement, and you’re not going to expose them to too much moisture. The snow I encountered was usually frozen enough to walk on but not always. Occasionally, I fell through and, because I had also worn the wrong jeans—straight leg instead of flare—snow got into my boots.
2. I wore good boots (Salomon), but there was enough ice on the trai where crampons would have been a good option to carry, especially returning downhill.
3. My trail guide was inadequate. I had a reasonable idea of the trail, but it’s not well-marked , and where the occasional footprints of others helped, they were not adequate. Again, winter is not the ideal time to try out a new trail some.
4. I did not bring hiking poles, forgot to wear my knee braces, and carried insufficient water. I found a sturdy branch to use as a single stick. My pack has a slot for a water bladder, but I opted for a water bottle. When it fell out without me noticing, I was dry for the last hour of the climb.
5. I carried too much equipment for a first time on the trail. Four lenses, a medium format body, two digital backs, and sufficient large filters were too much.
Lesson learned. Maybe.