Hike Fail

Bandera to Mailbox

July 17, 2010

For a while now I have been wanting to do some off trail hiking and work on my route finding skills.  I had my eye on the ridge between Mt. Defiance and Mailbox Peak . This seems like a good place to start rather than doing the West to East traverse of the whole Alpine Lakes Wilderness like I want to do some day.

The plan was to ditch my road bike at the trail head for Mailbox, drive to exit 45 and up to the Talapus Lake trail head.  Then I would hike to Talapus Lake,  bushwhack up the east slope of Bandera, hike along Bandera ridge down to Mason Lake where I would then hike up trail 1009 to Mt. Defiance, picking up the ridge line there taking it all the way to Mailbox Peak.  Finally Id hike down Mailbox to my bike.  Id ride back to the car and just like that adventure  would be complete..

Talapus Lake

I should have known while at the car that this wasnt going to as planned when I realized I had forgotten my arm warmers and sun screen.  Minus these two items I started from Talapus Lake TH at 9:46 am.  I made it to the lake in record time.  The trail was fairly flat and made for easy walking.  I made my way along the western shore on an unmaintained trail to a boulder field.  This was where I went UP.  I saw my first Pika of the year about half way up the slide I was on.  The views were great as I went up.

When I hit the edge of the slide I was on I hit a wall of Alders.  I had hoped once I got up a bit Id be in pines but it just got steeper with slightly less cover.  Besides ripping up my legs and arms up the brush did serve a purpose, it was something to pull myself up the slope with.  It was impossible to use your poles in this stuff so I had to stash them on my pack.  The bushwhack took so much longer than I thought.  There was false summit after false summit.  I had to stop for lunch in the shade of some pines to get some energy back.  As I mention in my video I thought I was not too far from the summit at this point but I was wrong.  It was much further than I thought.

I made the summit around 1:30 pm and saw my first humans since the trail up to Talapus Lake .  As I passed the third group going up I bummed some sun screen off two ladies.  They were impressed with my under taking and asked my name in case I didnt make it so they could report my position to the authorities.  Awful thoughtful of them and little did I know possibly needed.

The descent down Bandera was beautiful with the entire mountain side full of wild flowers.  The amount of people was impressive too.  Its nice to see people getting out in the woods.  I made my way to Mason Lake where I filled up on water before my next ridge line.  I knew Id be without water the rest of the way.  I ate some apricots as I waited for my Aqua Mira to activate.  A group of younger kids went by and later when I had passed them they were getting ready to go in the lake.  Further up the trail I heard screams from the lake.  I could only imagine how cold it was!

The climb up Mt. Defiance was mellow at first but got steep in the second third.  The

Scramble Up Bandera

last third wasnt bad as it started to traverse the slope.  Just before the turn off for the summit trail my Scat Sense told me I was being watched.  I stopped and turned up slope.  What did I see but a big old bear!  He/she was on their rear legs standing up looking right at me.  Id say it was 150 or more away.  I dropped my Clifbar as I got my camera out.  By now it had dropped to all fours but continued to stare at me.  It was a blonde black bear.  I was amazed how light its coat was.  We stared each other down for a bit as I spoke to it and then it ran up slope, took a few more looks at me and then it was off in to the trees for him/her.  I was ecstatic after that.  It was my first bear since northern California on the PCT in 2007.

Before I saw the bear I was already thinking how much farther I had to go.  I could see the ridge line strung out in front of me and it was a long way.  My feet were already tired from the bushwhack and all the side hilling I had done.  I lost the trail within a few tenths of a mile from the summit trail to Mt. Defiance summit.  Snow was the issue now.  Lucky for me someone else had gone that way before, though I still lost their trail and had to do some searching to pick it up again.  Once out of the snow it was more bushwhacking along the ridge.  After a short time between West Defiance Peak and Defiance I started to think I might not make it to Mailbox.  Around this time I saw three hikers on to of West Defiance .  This was about the same time I decided I didnt need to follow the ridge line to the summit of West Defiance since that wasnt my goal.  I started to side hill towards the three hikers descending.  By the time I got to the ridge they were on they were out of sight down near the tree line.

It was here that I sat down and took stock of where I was at.  It wasnt the ridge I thought and I still had a long way to go!  I was tired, I was behind schedule and I didnt feel safe any more.  Mentally I didnt want to quit but I just knew that if I had kept on going it was going to turn epic very quickly.  I had the food and water to go on but knew the smart choice was to head down and find an alternative way back to the car.

After a few phone calls to tell Suzie about the change of plans to be safe I started down the old trail in front of me.  My thought process was that if the three hikers I saw went down this way, they must have come up the same way.  Forgetting I saw foot prints in the snow.  Even if they didnt they must know where this faint trail I was following went.  Bandera parking lot was just about a mile and a half to the SE of my position.  I followed their tracks in the soil the best I could and kept loosing their trail.  I could feel the anxiety starting to build inside my gut.  The trail was hard to follow and I was starting to worry.  What would I do if I couldnt find it?  Would I go back up and go back the way I came?  No, way!  It was too far to back track.  Bull headed, I push on down the mountain.  Now the tree line was coming up fast.  I thought, what happens when you get there and youre not on the actually trail Scatman?  Then what?  My gut was turning now with thoughts of hours in the woods lost!


This whole time I was forgetting the highway was right in front of me and all I had to do was walk downhill and Id run into it.  I was so focused on finding the trail I forgot about just how easy it would be to find my way out.  This does not make up for the fact that I didnt have any bailout plans for this hike.  A lesson I learned by the fear I felt on this descent to the tree line.  It amazed me how quickly I started to unravel.  Thousands of miles of hiking on a trail does not prepare you for when youre not on a trail.

I was about 75 from the edge of the tree line when I heard a womans voice, or was a hearing what I wanted to hear?  Nope there it was again.  I couldnt believe it, the people who were ten minutes in front of me were right there!  I sped up and quickly caught them.  I yelled out, I hope you know where youre going because I have no clue!  They appeared to be bushwhacking aimlessly as I thought I would have to do when I reached the woods.  The leader of the group, John said hed been this was before a long time ago. We would hit a trail that was so obvious no one could miss it as long as we kept going down.  We thought we were on it at least twice before we finally hit it.

Johns wife Aries (sp?) and Kent their friend didnt seem to have Johns confidence that they were on the right track.  Me, I was just along for the ride.  I figured I could get lost alone or with three other people.  Between my map, Johns altimeter and old memories we finally found the obvious trail and it was just a short way back to Ira Spring and the parking lot for Bandera.  They offered me a ride back to the car which saved me a long dusty road walk back up to Talapus Lake TH.

The hike was a good one with lots of lesson even for me, a seasoned backpacker.  I’d like to thank the ladies who gave me sun screen and John, Aries, and Kent for showing me the way.

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Get out there!


  1. Aron says:

    That’s awesome… “What’s your name so we can add it to the ‘Wall of Lost Hikers’ memorial”

    Sounds like you had fun

  2. matt arnold says:

    Man, this was crazy cool. I stumbled on the video when looking at a trip report for Defiance on the WTA site to see what shape the trail is in. I’ve done alot of bushwacking in my days, but you put me to shame.

    I cannot figure out what the heck camera apparatus you are using. I take it you were solo; It seems like some kind of encirculing appartus.

    Over the last year, I’ve been bringing a video camera along on hikes and making video. Less instructional than yours, more just visual w/ tunes. I’ve done Muir, Melakwa, Mailbox, Bandeira, Sedona, Glacier NP. Check them out. Go to Youtube and put in MrGraniteMountain. I bet you’d appreciate them.

    I’ll delve thru your website. I’m assuming there are more videos. I loved this one….m

  3. Scatman says:

    The device I use is called The StickPic. It’s a great piece of gear indeed. I’ll be doing a review on it soon. http://thestickpic.com/ is the site. Tell Ron I sent you.

  4. Scatman says:

    Technically I was never lost Aron. I might have lost my cool but I knew where I was. Some might call it Dumb Luck, I call it Shit Luck.

  5. Squiggy says:

    dude, this is better than survivorman… really good video quality, and entertaining commentary