2019 Sierra Hike

Copper Creek to Grouse Lake

2019 hike 008
Off trail on the way to Grouse Lake, looking back


I planned a full hiking season for 2019. Heavy snow meant that I could not get over backcountry passes until later in the summer. So my first hike was in August. Hiking was also delayed because of a couple of minor surgeries. Important here is the interocular lens replacement surgery (cataract surgery).

Day 1

I started out quite early on Tuesday Aug 6. I needed to get through the morning Los Angeles traffic so my first two hours of driving were in the pre-dawn darkness. It was unconfortable. My last eye operation was in July, and my YAG was yet to be done, so the tailights were not as focused as I would have liked. I was happy to see the sunrise.

I got to the Ranger Kiosk at Trails End in Cedar Grove about Noon and started hiking at about 1PM. I had been up the Copper Creek trail three times before, in 2002 with Dale, in 2011 with Marin and Jon, and in 2012 with Wally. The trail is over a south-facing slope. It never had seemed so hot. I'm sure it was 90 (32 C). And the heat radiating up from the baked sand drove it higher. I stopped often and stayed hydrated. I was glad to finally get to Lower Tent Meadow, my first campsite.

Day 2, Off Trail!

"Oh, I hope I didn't break my ankle!"

I was following the initial part of the Sierra High Route. It starts off-trail near Grouse Lake. The views on the way are always magnificent. I always stop to take several pictures near Upper Tent Meadow

2019 aug 009
Morning view from Upper Tent Meadow is always stunning

It clouded up in the afternoon with some sprinkles and a light hail as I approached the pass to the Granite Lake basin around 5PM. I could see my next campsite down on the other side of the pass, a 200 foot descent and a 100 foot climb. First, I had to get off the ridge. It is a bit cliffy there. The last time with Wally it took a while to find an easy way, so I was very pleased when I soon found a crack that I could easily slip down.

Half way down the crack it got steeper. I could just touch the landing area with my long (5ft) hiking pole. But, I slipped on my next step. I saw that my landing area was too rocky. So, as I teetered, I veered to a flat area. It added another foot to the drop. The full weight of my backpack added to the stress. I heard a pop. "Oh, I hope I didn't break my ankle"! I did. But, I wasn't sure at the time. It could have been a bad sprain. Nevertheless, I soon realized that I could not hike any more; that I would need assistance getting off the mountain. I would have to use my InReach satellite communicator to call for help.

I messaged Kay first with 'sprain'; I didn't want her to get an emergency notification about me from out of the blue. I had prepared her well. We rehearsed reading messages, lat-long positions, and who to call first, second, and third. Fortunately, her first call got through to ranger Ryan Thomas based in Cedar Grove. He immediately started the rescue process. Because of the hour, I was stuck at the pass for the night. It gave me a challenging site to try my homemade Nylon Tent

2019 aug 022
Overnight here about 20 feet (6 m) from where I landed and broke my ankle.

Day 3 Rescue!

(First Helicopter Ride)

I was up in the night to P. I found that I could walk as long as the ground was level. I was still hoping for a sprain. The rescue rangers arrived in the afternoon. They noted that the orange tent made it easy to find me. I managed to hobble over to a landing area where the helicopter could pick me up. We landed at the helicopter pad in Cedar Grove about 4PM in the afternoon, I was ushered to an ambulance. We had a long talk. They wanted me to get to a hospital; I just wanted to get home. I thanked everyone with a genuine appreciation for their help; then drove to Visalia where I stayed overnight.

View from rescue helicopter as we headed back to Cedar Grove

Day 4 Broken Ankle

I got home about 2PM on Friday afternoon August 9th. Not a good time to get in to see a doctor. Kay took one look at my ankle and called to schedule an immediate appointment with an orthepedic surgeon. I was getting X-Rays just after 3PM. The tech handed me a printout. Even an amateur could see a clean break in the fibula. Kay also pointed out a problem with the end of the tibia (medial malleolus).

Ankle Before and After

2019 Broken
Hiking Accident: Broken Ankle
2019 ankle repair
Repair with 12 screws and a plate

After Words

Good News

The bones healed quickly: six weeks in a cast/splint. But, I was shocked when the cast finally came off at how much the muscles and tendons had deteriorated. Seven months of continuous exercise brought be up to hiking level as measured by hiking and jogging times around my standard courses.


It has been difficult for me to accept that I made a bad decision. I have always been quite proud of my deliberate caution when confronted with a questionable hiking activity. So, what happened in this case?

I think one answer is that I did not think the drop was as far as it actually was. For sure, if it were ten feet instead of five I would have seen clearly that it was too dangerous. But, this was the first time I had been hiking without glasses. The cataract surgery substituted lenses that had the effect of magnifying objects relative to what they had been with glasses. Objects seemed closer. I noticed this effect when driving: I found myself turning away from cars in the next lane because they appeard too close. I have had to readjust my driving habits. In this hiking case, the view over the cliff did not seem as bad as it actually was. The magnified view made things look closer. I will have to adjust my hiking habits.

© 2020 Tom Judd.
Carlsbad, CA