It’s a trap! (PCT Day 67)

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“It’s a trap!” Admiral Ackbar’s famous quote from Return of Jedi ran through my head as the dark gray, almost black clouds descended upon me from every direction. I was still in a pocket of sunshine but it was only a matter of time… the clouds (and rain) were coming for me.

Maybe this was why it had been so easy to get the Yosemite backcountry and half dome permits? I vaguely remembered the weather report from the info board at the ranger station that morning… Chance of thunderstorms 1pm to 9pm. I hadn’t worried much about it. I was in the mountains in the summertime, isn’t there always a chance of afternoon thunderstorms?

It was 3pm, so I tried to consider myself lucky… At least the thunderstorms hadn’t rolled in at 1pm. I eyed the sky again… I’m still getting used to California weather patterns, but this seemed pretty obvious… Thunderstorms were coming.

As if to emphasize my point I heard the distant rumbling of thunder. I was in Yosemite national park, above 9000ft, and hiking through a meadow… Not where I wanted to be in a thunderstorm… And even more annoyingly I’d just reached the turnoff for clouds rest. My plan had been to take this turn, climb clouds rest, and then cowboy camp at it’s summit. I’d envisioned laying there in my sleeping bag as I watched the sunset over half dome that night… The perfect prelude to the following mornings climb.

The trail to clouds rest would lead me up to higher elevations and even more exposed terrain. Even though I expected that the thunderstorms would pass before my dream sunset, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to be able to avoid getting caught in the storm. The only choice I had was where the storm was going to catch me. I sighed and pulled out my map. At least it wasn’t raining… Yet.

Sure enough, the trail to clouds rest went up an exposed ridge… Definitely not the place to be in a thunderstorm. Alternatively, the JMT (John muir trail) continued to drop in elevation and descended towards Yosemite Valley and the trail for half dome. I sighed again and let go of my beautiful plan to climb clouds rest and watch the sunset. I couldn’t responsibly take that trail in this kind of weather.

For that matter, the spot Where
I was standing, in the meadow, the tallest thing around, wasn’t where I wanted to be in a thunderstorm either. I put the map away and hurried down the JMT figuring that as I descended I’d find more places where I could reasonably take cover from the oncoming storm.

Vacation, I was on vacation… And technically I was on vacation from my vacation. I wasn’t on the PCT, my trip into Yosemite Valley and to Half Dome was a side trip. I decided that this vacation idea meant that I definitely did not have to hike in the rain today.

As the remaining rays of sun were evicted from the sky and the only remaining colors were shades of gray, I started looking for a place to pitch my tent. I would wait out the storm in my nice, dry tent… Maybe I’d even take a nap… That seemed like a good vacationy thing to do. If the storm didn’t last long, I could always keep hiking again later, but I didn’t have to. I was on vacation.

As the thunder grew louder I found a spot that would have been ok, but decided against it… It was too close to the trail, so I hurried on… I got another 50 feet down the trail and heard a loud thundering crack. I wasn’t getting rained on yet, but I got the message loud and clear… The storm was here.

No more excuses, the next suitable spot and I was going to stop and hunker down… Besides, I didn’t want to risk the trail dumping me out into another meadow.

At 3:15 I stopped, put up my tent, and crawled inside. By 3:30 it was pouring and not long after the thunder became deafening. I listened to it reverberate off of the granite cliff faces around me. I was sad to miss my idyllic sunset atop clouds rest, but felt somewhat vindicated, at least I’d been right about the weather.

I curled up, happy to be warm and dry there inside my tent, and tried to take a nap. The rhythmic drumming of the rain on my tent lulled me to sleep… The thunder so constant that it stopped being startling. I woke up at around five to the sound of silence. No more rain, no more wind, no more sleet, no more thunder… Just complete silence. I listened for a few minutes… It certainly sounded like the storm had passed.

I popped my head out of the tent… The sky was a universally soft gray… I wasn’t sure wether or not it would rain again, but the thunderstorm was certainly done and over with, so I decided to pack up and keep on hiking… I wanted to be a bit closer to half dome if I could manage it.

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As I continued my hike, the skies cleared and I got my first glimpses of Yosemite Valley. It was already impressive and I hadn’t gotten within sight of any of the famous landmarks yet! I was definitely glad that I’d decided to take the two day detour into Yosemite valley.

About a mile from the side trail up to Half Dome I found the perfect campsite. It was on top of a little granite bald and had views of half dome and some other peaks whose names I don’t know. I hadn’t seen any other hikers since before the 3 o’clock thunderstorm so it felt like I had all of Yosemite to myself… It was a very nice feeling.

As I sat by my tent watching the sun go down and the stars come up I fell in love with my life all over again… I wasn’t sure what tomorrow and half dome would bring, but this moment… This moment was perfect.

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