Monday, July 16, 2012

riding the storm out

We huddled in a small stand of sub-alpine fir. Hail pummeled the meadow and filtered in through the canopy, turning the ground a grainy white. The ragged skirts of clouds swirled around the hanging valley. Lightning, both terrible and beautiful, ripped the sky.

Moments before we had been setting up our tents in the meadow, keeping a wary eye on the darkening sky. The color of a new bruise, it deepened over the peak that dominated the view. It seemed impossible that we would escape the storm, but wind and rain are tricky here, pounding one drainage while another remains serenely sunny.

As I frantically rummaged through my backpack, a thought struck terror into my heart. I recalled pulling my loose tent out of the storage container and thinking, that's strange, where's the tent bag? In a hurry, I shrugged and shoved the tent into my pack without the bag. Now I knew: the bag was somewhere else, with the rain fly.

Because this is the anonymous virtual world, I could pretend to be someone I am not, someone who always keeps going, no matter what, someone strong and tough and brave. But I think if you are going to put yourself out there you need to show your true self and the truth is, I'm not always any of those things. Longtime readers of this blog know that in other backpacking trips, I have forgotten tent poles, the stove attachment, a sleeping bag, and on one memorable occasion, my hiking boots. I like to think that because I backpack more than most people, it really isn't that I forget things that often, it's just that the law of averages catches up.

It didn't really matter at this point, though. The Freak of Nature and I started brainstorming ways to stay dry. Her tent was a one person. Maybe, I thought, I could use the floor of the tent as the top. We rigged up a dicey looking parachute cord scheme. Then I thought, I could drape my raincoat, her emergency poncho and my pack cover over my sleeping bag. Typically I can count on finding a hunter tarp in the woods but this time there was none. It was typical of us that we only considered hiking out briefly. We are no strangers to adversity. Slinking home because of an equipment malfunction was not an option.

After an hour-long pounding, the rain stopped and the sun came out. We regrouped in the meadow, a place so ridiculously beautiful that a horde of mosquitoes, close to being the worst I have encountered since digging fireline and wearing a headnet near Fairbanks, could not disturb the scene. It seemed possible it might not rain anymore, so I dragged my wet mesh tent from the trees.

That night I lay in the tent watching clouds obscure the stars. Lightning flashed in distant canyons, a light show more spectacular than any fireworks. Occasionally rain pattered down from the sky and the Freak made me get in her tent. Turns out that if you are small, two people can fit. A good adventure companion is hard to find, and one that won't call you a dumb ass for forgetting the tent fly is even harder to discover.

The next morning dark clouds trailed over Eagle Cap Peak. We gazed nervously at each other. The prudent thing to do would be to bolt for lower ground, but the lake was only two miles away, an irresistible lure. In the end we went for it, picking our way over the snow. The lake was still partially frozen and completely silent. Although we still had miles to go and dozens of snow slides to cross, it was worth the effort. It always is.


  1. That's what checklists are for. ;-)

    I not only have a checklist for packing (color-coded for summer only, winter only, car camping, backpacking, etc.), but a chacklist for the final check in the car, to make sure something previously packed and checked off isn't left on the floor of my room.

    Even then there are glitches, such as when I put my headlamp in my pack, checked it off, took it out the night before I left, and the next morning checked the pack off the final car check, assuming everything I'd packed in it was still there.

  2. I know, I know, checklists. My excuse is that the tent was in a heap in the rubbermaid and I just grabbed it thinking it was all there. Didn't think to unroll it. Bright side, won't forget that item again.

  3. If anyone can be called "Mountain Woman", it's definately you Mary!

  4. We all forget things and have to adapt on the trail. Thanks for sharing this story.


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