Midstate Trail: Thru-Hiker Trip Report

Midstate Trail: Thru-Hiker Trip Report

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Sunrise at the summit of Mt. Watatic on the Massachusetts Midstate Trail

“You should do the Midstate Trail,” my brother suggested. I’d been stewing about where to take my week-long backpacking vacation with my freshly (hopefully) healed sprained ankle. As a thru-hiker, I’ve been interested in backpacking the long-distance trails in my home state of Massachusetts, and I figured that a week would be just about the right amount of time for me to hike the 95-mile Midstate Trail.

“I could do that,” I nodded and before I knew it, the decision was made. My brother handed me his Midstate Trail Guidebook, showed me the pictures from his end-to-end hike of the Midstate Trail (April 2004) and I began to plan.

Midstate Trail South

Massachusetts Midstate Trail (MST): Trip Report Overview

  • Distance: 95 miles from the NH border to the RI border
  • Official Guidebook: Available for $15 at midstatetrail.org (Proceeds go to the MST)
  • Activity: Backpacking; Southbound (SOBO) on the MST
  • Dates: July 10 – July 16, 2019 (took one rest day in the middle)
  • Hazards: Poison Ivy!! Bugs (Mosquitoes, Gnats, Blister Beetles, Ticks et al) & Bears
  • Cell Phone App: Gaia GPS (“Outdoors” layer has the Midstate Trail)
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Poison ivy growing up the tree and over the trail marker (yellow triangle) of the Midstate Trail.

Planning:

Although a lot of good resources exist for people looking to day-hike or section-hike the Midstate Trail (The Midstate Trail Guidebook, the Section-Hiker Guide, and the Google Maps Tracks), I only found one resource for Thru-hiking the Midstate Trail, and the information in it seemed fairly sparse.  This is because the Midstate Trail is designed as a hiking trail and NOT a backpacking trail. As a result, planning a long-distance backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail in Massachusetts, or on the Long Trail in Vermont is easier than planning a long-distance backpacking trip on the Midstate Trail.

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A lot of the MST is shared-use trails. In many sections horses seemed to be the primary users (lots of hoof prints and NO footprints). Other trail users are our allies in conserving public lands, please treat them with respect.

As an experienced thru-hiker, I decided to take on the challenge of a Midstate Trail thru-hike anyway. I ended up using Gaia GPS (web & cell phone app) in conjunction with the Midstate Trail Guidebook to figure out the logistics of my trip, plan my route, and estimate my daily mileage.

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I didn’t need water at the time, but I stopped and recorded the location of this stream to add it to my Thru-Hikers Cheat Sheet (2 miles South of Convenience Store in North Rutland).

Since the Thru-Hikers Cheat Sheet for the Midstate Trail that I wanted didn’t exist, I decided to take a little extra time during (and after) my hike to create it. For this project, I used Gaia GPS to record notes, waypoints, and photos along my route, and then compiled it all into a color-coded 2-page table of mileage, amenities (water, food, lodging), and landmarks along the Midstate Trail. There were things that I missed, and probably mislabeled because the bugs were driving me absolutely crazy and I didn’t stop long enough to enter the data, but it may help you get a better sense of things when used in conjunction with the official Guidebook:

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Muddy Pond Shelter (3-sided) on the MST in Westminster State Forest is situated on the shore of Muddy Pond in an area frequented by both day-hikers and backpackers.

Camping:

One of the biggest challenges associated with backpacking the Midstate Trail is the paucity of officially sanctioned campsites and shelters and their uneven dispersal along the route. These options can be supplemented with stays at private campgrounds and Inns (call for availability). Even still, distances between options occasionally exceeds 20 miles:

  • 8.4 miles: Watatic Parking Lot to Muddy Pond Shelter
  • 24.5 miles: Muddy Pond Shelter to Trout & Pout Campground (+1 mile detour)
  • 11.7 miles: Trout & Pout Campground (+1 mile detour) to Long Pond Shelter
  • 7.4 miles: Long Pond Shelter to Buck Hill Shelter
  • 2.8 miles: Buck Hill Shelter to Moose Hill Shelter
  • 2.9 miles: Moose Hill Shelter to Leicester Country Inn (0.1 mile detour)
  • 1.4 miles: Leicester Country Inn (0.1 mile detour) to Sibley Tent Sites (0.1 detour)
  • 21.5 miles: Sibley Tent Sites (0.1 detour) to Sutton Falls Campground (+1 mile detour)
  • 11.2 miles: Sutton Falls Campground (+1 mile detour) to Douglas Shelter (0.5 from terminus)

As a result, many thru-hikers end up “stealth camping” or “stealthing” in undeveloped wooded areas at unofficial and/or unsanctioned sites along the route. If you are going to camp at an unofficial site, you should contact the landowners for permission. Although Massachusetts doesn’t offer guidelines for how backpackers should go about figuring out who owns what land and how to ask permission, they do provide this information for hunters, and much of it applies to hikers as well (see the land user pledge to the land owners found on the Land User/Land Owner Agreement Cards and resources for figuring out land ownership at the Massgis Oliver site)

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An abandoned factory on the MST that is riddled with bullet holes, full of graffiti (some of the most racist I’ve seen). It also has a fire ring in the middle, empty beer bottles lying around, and other evidence of people camping/partying. Some land owners may think that this is what people “camping” on their land without their permission looks like.

If you decide to stealth, please, please, PLEASE respect posted signs and private property, and be mindful of fragile habitats by camping in previously impacted areas. The existence of the Midstate Trail depends on maintaining the goodwill of the landowners along the route. Poor attempts at stealth camping that disrespect landowners and/or damage fragile environments put the existence of the Midstate Trail at risk. If you are stealth camping, be stealthy:

  • SKIP THE CAMPFIRE
  • Wait until dusk to pitch your tent
  • Take your tent down at dawn
  • Leave NO trace (use previously impacted sites)
  • Dig your cat holes twice as deep and cover them up twice as well

If you are stealth camping and people see you camping, or can tell where you camped, you are doing it wrong!

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The beavers have flooded the MST at Sacrarrappa Pond in Oxford, MA (shown here) and in many other locations on the MST.

Water

The Midstate Trail could easily be renamed as the Massachusetts Wetlands Trail, and there is water almost everywhere. For backpacking, assume all water is contaminated unless it is tap water. Almost every single water source on the Midstate Trail can be traced upstream to a beaver dam (except where the beaver dam is the trail, or is on the trail). It’s a safe bet that all the water on the Midstate Trail is contaminated with Giardia. Luckily most filters and purification methods when used correctly provide protection from giardia. However, many backcountry water sources on the Midstate Trail contain run-off from roads, commercial areas, and suburban neighborhoods. This runoff may contain chemical contaminants that your filters and purification methods do not protect. Runoff contamination is worst within 3 days of heavy rains and may contain raw sewage.

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At the North End of the Barre Falls Dam backpackers can fill their water bottles from the spigot on the front of the building by the 2nd door (as approached from the North). Backpackers can use the spigot during the spring, summer, and fall.

I choose my water sources carefully and carry both Aquamira (chemical purification) and a Sawyer Mini Squeeze filter. Potential water sources are listed in the Cheat Sheet without consideration of potential contamination concerns; use at your own risk and think before you drink.

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A gorgeous dragonfly gracefully perched in the middle of the MST in the Burncoat Pond Wildlife Sanctuary (Audobon Society).

Bugs

The bugs are another challenge for hikers and backpackers on the MST. The MST crosses through a lot of wetlands where the mosquitoes, gnats, and black flies can be incredibly ferocious. Bug spray, bug nets, and permethrin-treated gear are all highly recommended.

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The bugs and poison ivy were driving me crazy, the heat was unbearable and inescapable, and I was generally feeling miserable when I discovered the cleanest, coolest, most awesome composting toilet ever at Sibley Tent Sites. I may or may not have refused to leave the awesomeness of it’s bug-free world for almost an hour.

Thru-hiking in July after a slew of big storms passed through meant that I was constantly inundated with Mosquitoes and gnats constantly buzzing around me. My permethrin treated pants and shirt mostly kept them at bay, but those dang gnats would fly into my eyes, up my nose, and into my throat given the tiniest of chances.

The MST also crosses through a lot of fields and grassy meadows which are prime tick habitat and where hiking through the tall grasses is 100% unavoidable. On my July thru-hike I didn’t have any trouble with ticks. This may have been due to my head-to-toe permethrin-treated outfit, but was likely also because the ticks are less ferocious on hot summer days than cool spring and fall days.

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A big fluid-filled blister caused by a beetle that got crushed between my pants and my gaitors.

On the MST, crossing through the fields in Sutton, I had an unpleasant encounter with a new-to-me type of bug: a blister beetle. Blister beetles cluster around the edges of hay fields from July to early September. Blister beetles are full of a chemical called cantharidin, and if they get crushed against your skin it causes massive blisters to form #learningthehardway.

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Northern Terminus of the Midstate Trail at the Massachusetts/New Hampshire Border

Northern Terminus

Parking: Parking at the Northern Terminus is at the Mt. Watatic Parking Lot on Rt. 119, about 1.4 miles West of the intersection of 119 and 101 in Ashburnham, MA. This lot is relatively large, and on holidays and weekends fills quickly with day-hikers. The Ashburnham police note that you should leave your car locked and valuables out of sight. For those with Verizon, cell service at this parking lot is iffy. Leave your pack in your car while you do the ~3.6 mile loop to the Northern Terminus of the Midstate Trail and the summit of Watatic (either SOBO or NOBO).

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Best Day Hike: 3.6 Mile loop to the Northern Terminus of the Midstate Trail and the summit of Mt. Watatic. Note that in addition to the Midstate Trail Monument at the border, there are two additional monuments along the stone wall marking the Massachusetts/New Hampshire Line: the A & A Monument from 1894 marking the MA/NH line and the Borden Geological Survey Monument from 1834 marking the NH border as well as the border between the towns of Ashby and Ashburnham.

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Early morning at the Overlook on Mt. Watatic (500 foot detour from Midstate Trail)

Best Overnight: Watatic Parking Lot to Mount Hunger to Muddy Pond Shelter (great views of pond); include Northern Terminus Day Hike Loop if time and energy allow.

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Muddy Pond Shelter (3-sided) on the MST in Westminster State Forest is situated on the shore of Muddy Pond in an area frequented by both day-hikers and backpackers.

Southern Terminus

Rhode Island (RI) Parking & MA/RI Terminus Access: Parking at the Southern Terminus (RI-side) is on the shoulder of the road near 445 Buck Hill Road, Burrillville, RI. I would not want to leave my car here for very long. The section hiker guide suggests parking directly opposite Buck Hill Tower (I didn’t check out this option). Bring your pack. The Southern Terminus of the Midstate Trail can be accessed from Rhode Island via an ~3.8 mile stretch of the 78-mile North-South Trail that extends from the border of Massachusetts to the Ocean. There is a cute pond and cool rock ledges in this section. For those that are backpacking and setting off on a NOBO thru-hike of the Midstate trail, let me warn you that this stretch is quite rocky; if I was NOBO I would try to access the Southern terminus from the MA side. (Bring your pack with you)

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Southern terminus of the Massachusetts Midstate Trail and Northern Terminus of the Rhode Island North-South Trail.

Massachusetts Parking and MA/RI Terminus Access Trail: Parking for the Southern Terminus (MA-side) is a choose your own adventure out-and-back. I would opt for the pull off/parking option for the trunkline trail at the corner of Southwest Main St and Gore Rd in Douglas, MA (near the Connecticut border; Note Gore Rd is called High St in CT).  From there hike ~0.4 miles West (past the Trunkline trail) to the Midstate trail and then ~1 mile South on the Midstate Trail to the southern terminus for a total of 1.4 miles each way. This is a much easier trail than the North-South Trail in Rhode Island. NOTE: I accessed the trail from RI so did not check out this parking option.

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Midstate Trail monument at the Southern Terminus on the Massachusetts/Rhode Island border.

Best Family Vacation: Douglas State Park has lots of opportunities for hiking, biking, boating, and swimming making it a great place to explore for a family vacation with additional recreation options available in RI in the Buck Hill Management Area.

  • Coffee House Loop Trail, Douglas State Park Day Hike; follow the Coffeehouse Loop Trail West 0.6 miles to the intersection with the Midstate Trail, follow Midstate Trail 1.4 miles South to Southern Terminus, return 1.4 miles to Coffeehouse Loop Trail,
  • Cedar Swamp Nature Trail, on my thru-hike I took the 0.5 mile detour East to hike the Atlantic White Cedar Swamp nature trail (0.5 mile) since it is a rare and unusual habitat in Massachusetts and wasn’t a huge detour. I enjoyed it, and would add it to any Douglas State Park Hiking Plan.
  • Douglas State Park Backpacking: The southernmost ~8 miles of the Midstate Trail are I Douglas State Park as is one of the officially sanctioned shelters. The park is beautiful and backpacking within the park is something I would happily do again. However, North of the park there is a lot of road walking, so it may not be ideal for casual backpacking.
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Taking a break at the Parking Pullout near the Reservoir in Leicester on the MST to dry out my sopping wet gear (from overnight thunderstorms) and to cook dinner on my alcohol stove (each bottle contains enough fuel/HEET to boil water for one dinner).

Cheat Sheet Images:

I recommend downloading the pdf (click here), but I’ve included screenshots for convenience below:

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Links

Long-Distance Hiking Trails in Massachusetts

  • the Appalachian Trail (2013 Thru-hike)
  • the New England Trail aka Metacomet – Monadnock Trail (Sections 2014)
  • the Midstate Trail (July 2019)
  • the Mahican – Mohawk Trail
  • the Taconic Crest Trail
  • the Warner Trail
  • the Bay Circuit Trail
  • the Mass Central Rail Trail.

Doggone Cold! Winter Gear List for Dogs

Winter on Mary's Rock

Here’s a list of the winter hiking and backpacking gear that M’s Seeing Eye Dog Edge used on our winter Appalachian Trail adventure in Virginia for New Year’s. This list includes the gear he used for climbing up to Mary’s Rock with wind-chills of -15℉, as well as the gear he used for his first winter overnight (with a record-breaking low of -2℉).

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Real Kayakers Wear Skirts! (Part 1: The Calm Before the Storm)

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Sunrise over Abol Bridge Campground and Mt. Katahdin, ME


 Knowing what I know now, I would have made different decisions… I may be an expert hiker, but when it comes to kayaking I’m still a novice and I know it. There’s absolutely no way that I would have knowingly chosen to kayak through class IV (advanced) rapids in my origami kayak (Oru Kayak), never mind doing it alone, and without a spray skirt!! No way! So how is it that I ended up in way over my head on the West Branch of the Penobscot River, swimming through Big Ambejackmockamus Falls?

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Camping on broken glass (PCT Days 126-130)

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All week people had been telling me about how amazing Obsidian Falls was… “Absolutely gorgeous,” they’d say, “but you’re not allowed to camp there.” No problem, I’d thought… I understand the need to protect the unique and fragile areas of the wilderness, especially the ones that see heavy use, I don’t need to camp there.

Finally the day came and I was within 10 miles of the famed Obsidian Falls… It was really a shame that we weren’t allowed to camp there because it was the perfect distance… It was the place that I would naturally end up if I kept up my usual pace and hiked until I normally did… Looking at the map I realized that I was going to have to stop hiking early, or push myself to hike further than usual in order to avoid the banned zone… That was ok. I could do that, but it was a shame… It would be the perfect place for me to camp that night.

As I continued to hike northwards I encountered wave after wave after wave of southbound section hikers. “Where did you camp last night,” I innocently asked one of the groups of four… I was hoping to get intel on a pretty spot, since I figured they probably started at around the mileage where I’d finish that day.

“Obsidian Falls,” they cheerily explained, and went on to describe how amazing and breathtakingly beautiful their spot had been.

“Oh, I thought we weren’t allowed to camp there.”

“Well, you’re not allowed to camp there,” they said, seeming rather smug to me. “You have to have a permit to camp there.”

“Cool,” I responded, “I have a PCT permit, so I should be all set.” Maybe I could camp in the mythical place after all, and not have to worry about cutting my day short or pushing it too long.

“No, your PCT permit doesn’t count for that,” they patiently explained to me… They had the right permit, so they could camp there, but I had the wrong permit, so I wasn’t allowed. Not only that, it sounded like there was no way that I, as a long distance hiker, would have been able to get the right kind of permit.

A wave of betrayal and indignation washed over me… It felt so unfair, I’d hiked ~2000 miles to get here, and once again the PCT was telling me that I couldn’t stay at the pretty place, because it was reserved for other people.

Was I experiencing the fabled sense of entitlement that I’ve heard thru-hikers are rumored to be full of? Up until that moment I didn’t think I suffered from that dread disease… Maybe I was just grumpy, and if I sat down and ate a snack the world would suddenly feel fair again.

As soon as the other hikers went by I sat down and I ate my snack… Did it suddenly feel fair that they could camp at Obsidian Falls and I couldn’t? Nope, it didn’t… Did I feel like I should be allowed to camp there if they were letting people camp there? Yes, I did.

Over the past four months the trail had become my home, and it felt like someone had come in, slammed my bedroom door in my face, and told me that I had to sleep on the couch that night because they were going to sleep in my bed. I contemplated shouldering my way in, and crawling into my proverbial bed anyway… Knowing that it would make it too crowded, and that I’d be sharing my bed with a bunch of strangers… Knowing that it would be even less comfortable than the couch…I was grumpy and I wanted to make a point!!

As I thought about my analogy, I realized how incredibly juvenile that kind of behavior was… I didn’t need to sleep at the falls, I could still see them and enjoy them without camping there. I would just hike my hike, the way I usually did, and pretend that nobody had told me about Obsidian Falls and what an amazing place for camping it was.

The area leading up to Obsidian Falls was gorgeous in its own right, with alpine meadows full of lupine, and impressive views of both South and Middle Sister… As evening approached, I did what I always do, I looked for a spot to camp with a sunset view… About 2 miles before the Obsidian limited use area I found it, the place I wanted to camp…

There was a lava flow cliff off to the left of the trail, with a full sunset view to the west, and the sisters behind it… It was the perfect spot!

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I settled in, ate my dinner, laid out my sleeping bag on the smooth rock surface, and watched the sunset with a heart full of awe and joy. There was absolutely no doubt, I was exactly where I was supposed to be!

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I awoke to an amazing sunrise the next morning and smiled as I ate my breakfast of skittles and Cheetos from the warmth of my sleeping bag… What an amazing spot this was, and I still had Obsidian Falls to look forward to!

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P.S. The huge deposits of obsidian by Obsidian Falls were really cool, but my campsite was much more awesome than anything I saw there… Besides, who wants to camp on a pile of broken glass anyway? :)

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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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Cowboy Camping (PCT Days 35-37)

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“Mreh,” I mumbled and swatted at whatever had just landed on my face. I was all curled up and cozily sleeping in my beloved zero degree sleeping bag under the stars. Even though I wasn’t quite awake yet my brain was turning its gears as another thing landed on my face. This time when I swatted at it my hand came back wet. I knew what this was! It was rain! Barely half awake, I rolled over and quickly stuffed everything into my backpack and three my pack cover over it.

Considering I was in Southern California, in the Mojave desert, and the weather forecast said that there was a 0% chance of rain for each of the 10 days in the forecast I figured it was probably just one little cloud misting on me and would blow by quickly. I didn’t mind getting a little damp as long as all of my stuff (especially my electronics) was going to be safe, secure, and dry.

As I lay back down I looked up at the sky, the moon and some stars were still visible, but clouds were definitely moving in. Some bigger droplets fell on my face. I checked my watch, it was 2 am, and I was definitely starting to get rained on. Setting up my tent still seemed like a lot of work, so I just pulled out my tent fly and rolled myself up in it figuring that it would keep both me and my down sleeping bag plenty dry.

At that point I still didn’t believe that it was really going to rain. I’d started trusting southern California’s weather forecasts, had started to trust that the low humidity over the desert was a cloud killer. I had come to terms with the fact that a 20% chance of rain meant that I was going to get soaked, but 0% chance, that should mean that I’d stay dry!

As I lay curled up in my rain fly shroud the winds began gusting and moisture continued to drip from the sky. With temperatures in the low 40s or upper 30s I couldn’t afford to let my sleeping bag get wet. *sigh* This was not just one poor misguided cloud weeping at its desert fate, this was an actual storm!

Until that moment I’d been able to make all of my rain preparations without ever really waking up or getting out of my sleeping bag, but as soon as I came to the conclusion it was a storm and not a tiny misguided cloud I was out of my sleeping bag and setting up my tent.

As the winds whipped around me I quickly scooted my sleeping pad and sleeping bag into the tent before staking it out, erecting it, and throwing the rain fly up. It was so windy at that point that I put rocks over the stakes/bottom corners of the tent to help anchor it before quickly scooting into my tent to ensure that it wasn’t going to become a giant kite.

As I crawled back into my tent I could hear the wind howling around it and the rain slamming against it. I threw a bunch of heavy stuff into the bottom my tent to help anchor it down and put the rest of my stuff on the windward side to help buffer against the winds even more.

It had been less than five minutes between when the first drop of water hit my face and when I crawled back into my sleeping bag after getting my tent set up. I was impressed with my half asleep self, and I wondered if the tent was overkill… It was Southern California after all, And I was sure it wasn’t going to rain… At least not much.

The other person cowboy camping nearby heard the commotion I made, realized it was raining and set up their tent as well, so our little camping area was full of excitement at 2 am! As the night progressed the excitement didn’t end. Temperatures dropped, wind speeds increased, ice started mixing in with the rain, and people’s tents started blowing over.

Though my tent was getting whipped around by the wind and making lots of noise, it held it’s ground, and didn’t collapse or lose any stakes. Throughout the night, however, there was intermittent swearing as other people’s tents lost the battle against the wind and collapsed on top of their occupants.

****

It seems like a lot of people on the PCT cowboy camp (just sleeping out under the stars without a tent) most of the time since we are in the desert and the chance of precipitation is so low. As I started to get used to the desert I started to join the people cowboy camping.

For me the real appeal of cowboy camping is the night sky in the desert, which is absolutely phenomenal! Since the best time to view the stars seems to be well after hiker midnight (sunset), when I pitch my tent the only time I get to see the full night sky is when I get up in the middle of the night and inevitably have to make a bathroom run. When I cowboy camp every time I wake up I can just look up and stare at the stars. Since I often have insomnia this means that I get to look at the stars a lot, which I absolutely love…

Though getting rained on in the middle of the night is not awesome, I expect that the joy of star-gazing from my sleeping bag will eventually tempt me to continue cowboy camping! If I ever wake up with a rattlesnake curled up on my sleeping bag, however, I expect I will be permanently cured of my cowboy camping habits!

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