www.MountainHiker.org

Hiking Stats as of 11/21/2018
Total Trips:
Total Distance:
Total Elevation Gain:
 325
 3,891.68 miles
 1,060,050 feet

Sep 27, 2014 - Jobs Peak

 

Partners: (None)

Distance: 14.60 miles

Elevation Gain: 3,867 feet

Trip Time: 6:55

Maps and Stats:
In the days leading up to the last weekend of September the weather forecast was calling for an early season snowstorm in the Sierra. The storm was forecast to arrive Friday night, with snow lasting through at least mid day Sunday. With snow levels generally forecast to be around 7000+ feet, getting to the mountains would not be too much trouble via Echo Summit over Highway 50. But what to climb? I've never gone out in a snow event before, other than having a stray snow shower or two surprise me. But this would be different. I really wanted to do this one because I figured there would never be better hiking conditions for such an attempt. In winter you have shorter days, generally colder temperatures, and most importantly the built up snowpack makes travel more difficult. With this being the first snow of the year, I would only have to navigate through what fell between Friday night and the time I got to the mountain - generally forecast to be around 6-8 inches.

By Friday I was really excited for this trip, having decided on either Pyramid Peak off Highway 50 (starting at 5800 feet and rising to 9900) or Jobs Peak south of Lake Tahoe, starting at 7500 feet and rising to 10,600 feet. Since I had already done Pyramid twice before, both times in winter, I decided to go for Jobs Peak. Jobs Peak is on the OGUL list, and would be my 38th different peak on my quest to complete the list of 63.

I woke up early on Saturday, no doubt due to my excitement for today's plan. I wanted to wait until I could pull up some CalTrans webcams of the area before leaving just in case there were travel restrictions. Everything looked good, and I left at 7:30 AM. Heading over Highway 50 the beauty of winter conditions in the Sierra was evident, with snow covered peaks and low clouds making for the type of scenery you would expect to see in a painting. The snow line seemed to be around 7,000 feet, just above Twin Bridges but blanketing the Echo Summit area. Down in Tahoe the snow did not reach the ground, but as I turned onto Highway 89 towards Luther Pass and the start of my hike the fantastic winter scenery was in all its glory.

The Forest Service Road providing access to Jobs Peak is not signed, and I drove at a slow pace so as to not miss it. It was shortly after Luther Pass that I saw the road, and was very lucky in finding that there was a turnout directly across the highway from the road where I was able to park. The forest service road is not paved after the first hundred feet, and it not passable by my car even in dry summer conditions so there was never any thought to trying to drive any of it. Instead, at around 10:40 I set out in my winter gear, with gloves and a balaclava in my pack just in case. It was not snowing at the start, just overcast and cold - 35 degrees at the start. Before I even crossed the highway, 2 trucks turned on the road heading up to the snow themselves. From my research I knew the road would run for 4 miles, up to 8,500 feet from which point I would have to go cross country the final 3+ miles to the summit at 10,600 feet. Traveling on the road was no more difficult that it sounds, as I was able to walk in the areas cleared by vehicles that cleared the way for me. The first mile was the steepest of the 4 road miles, and so I quickly had amazing winter views all around me. After that first mile it began to snow and would not let up for the rest of the day. I followed the obvious tire tracks, even as they began to become more faint. A couple of trucks came down as I continued up, but there would be no more trucks heading up (or at least none passed me up) on my ascent. Around noon, as the snowfall increased, I was nearing my exit point from the forest service road where the more difficult cross country portion of the trip would begin.

When hiking I always bring a handheld GPS with preloaded maps and a pre-drawn route that I intend to follow. This obviously becomes much more important when going cross country, but becomes critical when in adverse weather and when visibility is reduced. The peaks above could not be seen and with no points of reference precautions for safe travel is critical. With all of these factors in play, I was constantly referring to my GPS throughout the cross country ascent to ensure I was headed in the right direction. As I left the road the snowfall increased steadily, seemingly in proportion to my elevation. The travel was not too difficult for the first mile, with maybe 4-6 inches of snow on the ground and an gentle uphill grade. Things got a lot more challenging at around 9,000 feet, when the grade steepened significantly. I was intentionally leaving deep and obvious tracks in the snow, hoping that on descent I would be able to easily just follow the tracks down rather than having to use the GPS. This steep section gained 1,000 feet in just 2/3 of a mile, and was somewhat tiring, although I believe a lot of the terrain is sandy when there is no snow which would have probably been just as difficult anyway. When I got to the top of the steep slope at 10,000 feet things became much more blusterly, as the winds picked up and the snow was often times flying more horizontally than vertically.

I was a bit uneasy at this point, although after I put on my gloves and balaclava I was not in any discomfort. It was more the remoteness of the location and the inability to see anything more than a few hundred feet away. And the unknown of whether conditions would worsen and not wanting to wait too long to turn around if I needed to get out. This was a situation where I told myself to just reach little milestones, reassess, and then continue on if warranted. So I kept going, turning left at the top of the ridge towards the visible hill ahead. I could tell on my GPS that this hill was a subsidiary high point, and should not be climbed because I would just have to climb back down, so I went around the left side of the hill. Once past that bump, the peak was showing up as being straight ahead and not too far away, and I thought I could see something in the distance through the blowing snow ahead. By 2:10 I was getting closer to what looked like the summit, although my GPS showed it being beyond the visible rocks. I figured I should get myself up to the ridgeline and so I started climbing up the rocks which was a mistake.

I didn't fully realize it at the time, but these rocks were not going to take me to the summit. But being unable to see anything else and with the summit being close by, I figured it didn't really matter too much if I went this way. Well, when I went to check my GPS, as I had been doing every 5-10 minutes since starting off cross county, much to my horror my pocket was empty. I had been keeping the GPS in my jacket pocket - my snow jacket that I hadn't worn in 6 months. Well, as best I can figure as I climbed up the rocks, which would be class 2 in dry conditions but were near class 3 in this weather, the more difficult maneuvers resulted in the GPS being dislodged from my pocket and falling somewhere in the snow or rocks. Although I was only 300 vertical feet below the summit and perhaps a third of a mile away, I immediately turned around and started looking for the GPS. At this point not only was the snow falling and blowing around, but the cloud cover blanketed everything making visibility terrible. I certainly did not want to try to descend without the GPS. I went back down the rocks and found nothing. Well, maybe it was in the snow before the rocks? I kept going back down, noticing that I could follow my steps okay, although the snow here was not as deep due to the wind. My first thought was to get down now, but I changed my mind, and turning around, decided to look around the rocks one more time for the GPS. I went back up the rocks, following my previous tracks and found nothing again. Damn.

So now I had no GPS, but I knew I could probably bag the summit in short order and then should be able get the heck out of dodge. So I made the decision to go as fast as I could for the summit, which without the GPS and with terrible visibility was not as obvious as I had hoped. I headed for a little bump on the far edge of the ridge, but was not certain that this was right, taking a picture of what looked to be something higher to my right as I ascended. Once I got to the top of the bump I felt like it was maybe 25/75 that I was on the summit, so I took a few shots. But in looking back towards that point that looked higher on my way over I was convinced that I was not on the summit. There surely wasn't anything higher the other direction (I remembered my GPS showing the summit had to be right around here), so I backtracked to the higher rocks and climbed up about 20-25 feet of what seemed to be class 3 rock, although again in dry conditions maybe it isn't so hard. From the top of this I looked back at the previous bump and I was clearly higher. So this had to be the summit. I was extremely nervous about getting down safely without my GPS in these conditions, and I spent all of 15 seconds up here, taking another shot towards where Freel Peak would normally be visible, but instead could only see clouds and blowing snow. This was eerie and the conditions seemed to be getting worse. Time to go.

I left the summit at 2:40, and was able to backtrack down to those rocks where I lost the GPS, and put in another desperate attempt to locate the device as the snowfall picked up again. Nothing to be found anywhere. Okay, no reason to worry, just take care to follow my tracks down. This was easier said than done, as the tracks were faint in the best places and all but gone in sections more exposed to the wind and snow. Because the visibility was so poor I could not just look ahead and see where they resumed. Each time they would disappear my anxiety level rose. This happened a few times, each time I would get worried but after several steps I would see a crack in the snow indicating that I had been there before. I felt all I really had to do was get off this ridgeline, and if I could get myself back to the 10,000 foot level the wind should die down and my tracks should be much easier to follow. Eventually I lost the tracks completely. Visibility was non-existent, and this was disorienting. I approached a low point in the ridge and felt that this must be a logical crossing point for the descent, but could find no tracks anywhere to verify this. I went down perhaps 20 feet on the other side of the ridge thinking I would see my tracks (the snow was much deeper once off the ridgeline so tracks should be preserved). Nothing. I didn't like this at all, not knowing if this was the correct descent line and so I went back up to the other side of the ridgeline and searched some more for my lost tracks from the ascent. I found nothing. At this point I had to calm down and start thinking. Making matters worse all this walking around was potentially going to result in me leaving false tracks. I sat on a rock, looking around for anything that would spur a memory from the ascent but everything looked the same and I couldn't see anything beyond perhaps 150 feet.

Sitting there for less than a minute I began to get cold, and I realized that the exertion required in hiking was generating the heat that I was now lacking. I moved to the downwind side of a large boulder where at least the wind was gentle and figured that maybe up this high I could use my iPhone to get a signal, and if that worked I could pull up a map. All I needed to know was the proper direction to descend. I didn't have to follow my exact tracks. I knew I needed to go in a southwest direction, but my only compass happened to be one of the apps in my GPS. To my relief the iPhone showed 3 bars (!), and I started up the maps app. Then the phone shut down, despite having 80% battery life (!!!!!!!). I've had the stupid thing shut down in cold weather before, but usually it went from 50% to off, not from 80%. Ahh, but I always have a back up, so I pulled out my battery pack and plugged it into the iPhone. 60 seconds later the phone was back up, showing 35% battery life but at least charging. But now it said "Searching" instead of having any bars, so I was not able to use the GPS. Strike 2. Now I couldn't even call for help if I became desperate. Despite all these failures, and although I was getting anxious, I knew I still had 2 bullets left. I've always carried multiple backups for emergencies, and although nothing was working so far, I knew my GPS watch had a "Trackback to Start" that I employed one time in the past when Kyle and I took a wrong turn (we didn't have a handheld GPS that day). I didn't want to try this, because navigating down from a winter storm on a 10,000 foot peak using a 1 inch square watch seemed a bit desperate. My final backup was that I always carry a personal beacon locator which I could activate if all else failed.

I started up the GPS trackback feature on my GPS, not really remembering how it worked from the previous time. It took perhaps 2 long minutes for the thing to finally finish thinking, but when it did it was a glorious sight. On screen was a line showing exactly where I had been, with an arrow showing me my current location and the direction I was going (as I moved of course). I figured out how to zoom in, and I was only about 80 feet away from the line I had come in on. I stared at my watch as I hiked further along the ridge, then over the ridge, with my arrow and the new line being drawn getting closer and closer to my line from the morning. I zoomed in further, and despite not seeing any tracks I trusted my direction from the watch. Precisely as the arrow (and my new line) intersected the morning line I saw my tracks in the deep snow. Okay, my Garmin 910XT is the greatest device ever, and having all these backups really paid off. Although I don't like feeling that I was close to running out of backups, in thinking more about it I carry a handheld GPS, a watch GPS, a cell phone and a personal beacon locater. And I carry backup power for all these devices. But maybe I should be doing more. I might start carrying a second handheld GPS in my bag as a backup to the backup.

Anyway, I soon realized I had not taken any pictures since leaving the summit, and now that I was back on track I resumed my normal routine. It was pretty easy to follow my tracks, but I didn't turn off my trackback feature just in case. The only times it became difficult to find the tracks were near trees, which dropped large amounts of snow effectively burying the tracks. But my watch would beep at me whenever I needed to change direction (!). With the watch and my good tracks I was able to navigate down the steep slope, where the wind was basically gone and the snow now fell down instead of sideways. I got down to the last mile of the gentle terrain before the 4 mile road back out, and everything seemed peaceful once again. I was back on the road around 4:30. Now that I knew there were zero navigational concerns, I sat down under a large tree, and enjoyed a snack and rested for a few minutes. I still had 4 miles left, but they would be easy. About 15 minutes after starting down the road a truck became visible driving up toward me. I must have been a sight, walking down in the snowfall. They stopped and asked if I was okay. I said yes, but that I was pretty tired after a difficult day of hiking. I asked if they would give me a ride down if they saw me on their way down, and they said of course. I sort of hoped that they would decide to drive me down and then drive back up to whatever they were going to do, but they didn't offer that so I got going. As I descended the heavy snow was replaced by light snow, then a frozen mix, then rain. This melted some of the snow at the lower levels, and alleviated my worry that perhaps my car might be covered in snow when I got down to the bottom. No reason for worry here, as there was no snow as I got back to my car a few minutes after 5:30. I t turned out that it was 37 degrees down here at the start. I never saw the truck occupants and got started on the drive home. On the return the beauty of the winter Sierra, more comfortably viewed from a car with heated seats, was in full glory once more. So if I do find a place in South Lake Tahoe it will have an abundance of fireplaces for these cold winter days. And this is only September!

Post Script-

If anyone is inspired to try to find my GPS, it should be in those rocks about 1/3 of a mile away from the summit or just below where those rocks start. Note that this is well above (to the right) of the defined trail that is visible in Google Earth. It is a Garmin Oregon 450. I plan on hiking back up here in a few weeks to look for it (if the snow melts) but in the meantime I will pay $75 for its safe return. Otherwise you will see a trip report next month of a Freel/Jobs Sister/Jobs hike detailing my search of the lost GPS...

Final Resolution-

Well, Kyle and I went up on 10/18/14 and we (he) found the GPS, lying underneath a rock and not visible from the trail. I'm amazed he saw it as I walked right by but somehow it caught his eye. Thanks to everyone who took time to look for it, and I'm happy to say the device survived the 3 weeks up on the mountain and sustained no damage.

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9 Comments

 

(4 years ago) Kerry said:

Found the GPS! My brother and I went back up today and he found the device nearly hidden from view under a rock...put in new batteries and the device still works!
360.hikr - Thanks for looking for the GPS - and I look forward to reading your reports, I enjoyed browsing your site!
Steve - I am about 95% sure my brother and I ran into you and Otter this morning on the way up to Jobs. You were coming down at around 9200 feet on the steep section while we were headed up. In looking at the register you and Otter probably have the record for most ascents of Jobs.


 

(4 years ago) 360.hikr.org said:

Was there yesterday for the Jobs Peak/Jobs Sister/Freel Peak trilogy and also tried to find your device for a while. Found nothing... However, looking at your track again now, I was probably searching too close to P. 10505.


 

(4 years ago) Kerry said:

Thanks for the update on the snow conditions Steve, my brother and I are planning on going back up next weekend for the Freel triple, and will look for the device then. We must have just missed each other, I summited at around 2:30. But with the visibility so poor and with the heavy snow its not surprising that there were no signs of anyone else in the area.


 

(4 years ago) Steve said:

I was up there (with dog) around 2PM on the same day, but went via Fay Luther Canyon from Carson Valley and descended the E Ridge back to Carson Valley. It was snowing fairly heavily and tracks filled in fast. I was back up there this past weekend and almost all of the snow is gone. Had I known then about your GPS I would have looked for it for you.


 

(4 years ago) petesthousandpeaks ptp said:

With as many scavengers that may be reading the Web for ops to take, if you were planning to go back, I wonder about how smart it is to post this information for the world to see. There are honest hikers, as once I dropped my cheap camera to have it put on a trail sign by someone maybe thinking then I'd see it and get it back. But that was way before Internet. They'll tear up parks and beaches looking for $100 or what, mindless self interest.

Donna, I used to go out overnight solo in the worst and deadliest storms to ever hit the Sierra, back then with highly deficient gear, but that's adventure. There is bad luck as those poor guys on Ritter in 1971 or so, but some of us are skilled and experienced mountaineers. While I'd pay for company, there is no one, and my old peak buddy says not even for a mil! Though he is past his years, but the old hiking club says NO to all of this, and I was about the only one to join people in their own little club peak adventures. Back when they would allow that!


 

(4 years ago) Kerry said:

Donna -
Yes, I did this one by myself, and although I now going with company more often I will take extra precautions for the times I am alone. I will be looking to do the safer hikes by myself and save the adventures for a larger group. Thanks for the reminder!


 

(4 years ago) Donna said:

What a great read! Did you really attempt this all by yourself? That should be a big NO NO!!!! Be safe Kerry!!!! Look forward to reading your next story!(with a friend)


 

(4 years ago) Kerry said:

I think you are right Pete - there is little hope of finding the device. My only reason for thinking there is a chance is that I was well off the trail when I lost the device and so hikers probably won't be on the rocks where I lost it. Those rocks are not a good way to get to the summit - the summit blocks were much further along.


 

(4 years ago) Petesthousandpeaks Ptp said:

Too bad your jacket side pockets didn't have zippers! Aside from electronic junk left in the wild for someone to run across someday, there's better now and probably with a Find my GPS app. The snow is due to melt and with all of the hikers, it may be doubtful that someone won't take it. Used to be that an expensive camera could be left right off the trail on a log, and be there all day with NO other hikers to see it or even go by, but last I did Jobs Peak, the register was pretty full with entries.