A year ago today I was hiking through the snow in an amazing fall/winter landscape in Glacier National Park, just days away from completing my thru-hike of the CDT. These are the stories and photos from September 24, 2018 as I hiked 12 miles from the Ranger Station at Two Medicine, over Pitamakan Pass, breaking trail to Morning Star Lake.
I looked at the weather forecast and my mood plummeted: 3-5 days of rain were headed my way. The state of Washington has a reputation for rain, and it looked like it was going to try to live up to that reputation. The thought of being cold and wet for days on end was not even a little bit appealing. I’d been there, done that, and it wasn’t a lot of fun for me. Maybe I could figure out a way to take a vacation from my vacation. I was approaching Snoqualmie Pass, which is just a 40 minute drive from Seattle… Surely some of my friends from Seattle could come and rescue me from the rain. I furiously texted everyone I knew, but they already had plans.
Eventually, against my better judgment, I turned to the internet for help and posted to one of the Facebook groups, “Looks like nasty weather for this weekend… I’m trying to coordinate a place to stay with friends, but if that falls through does anyone know any trail angels near Snoqualmie?”
Almost immediately I got a response, “Cool weather and showers shouldn’t be considered “nasty weather.” Sounds like maybe your gear is inadequate, or maybe you’ve just been spoiled by the warm, dry summer we’re having this year…”
Oh internet, why do you have to be like that? I’d chosen to post in a closed forum, one that was usually relatively troll free, and I’d dared to hope that I would get helpful responses. Instead, I got the response that I should have expected from the internet, a response that really irritated me, pissed me off even. What I wanted to do was yell at the internet. Someone on the internet was wrong. I should correct them, right? I grumpily composed my rebuttal to the three inflammatory clauses:
1) “Cool weather and showers shouldn’t be considered ‘nasty weather.'” How, exactly do you define ‘nasty weather’? Do you think that maybe having a nice cozy house with four walls and a roof that you can retreat to anytime you want might modify your definition of ‘nasty weather’, or are you just thinking about the weather that you are going to get at home in Seattle (at 0-520 ft elev.)? Did you actually think about the weather on the trail itself, up in the mountains, and on top of the ridges (at 5000+ ft)? Up in those mountains is where I’m going to be, and the weather up near 5000 ft is the weather that I’m worried about.
Did you know that for every 1000ft of elevation you gain, the outside temperature drops between 3.3F and 5.5F depending on humidity? If the high in Seattle is going to be 61F, then 3000ft higher at Snoqualmie Pass the high will drop to 44F – 51F (a drop of 3*3.3F=9.9F in high humidity, or a drop of 3*5.5F=16.5F in low humidity). Up in the mountains at around 5000 ft the highs will drop to a balmy 33F – 44F (a drop of between 5*3.3F= 16.5F and 5*5.5F= 27.5F relative to Seattle)… Highs of 33-44F, that’s cold not cool, and we’re still talking about the high temperatures for the day, the peak afternoon temperatures, not the colder temperatures that will prevail for most of the day.
When they forecast a 90% chance of showers for the lowlands, take a peek at the radar maps and see what’s happening up in the mountains. Usually the clouds build up into a solid mass in the mountains so they can dump all of their excess rain there before getting to the much more arid eastern part of Washington. A lowland forecast of showers all day usually means a mountain forecast of rain all day… Just compare the annual rainfall for Seattle to the annual rainfall up in the mountains. Those mountains, they get very very wet. Not only is it colder and wetter in the mountains than it is at lower elevations, it also tends to be windier. So if you take the wind chill factor into consideration, the apparent temperatures up in the mountains are even colder.
According to the CDC, hypothermia can occur at temperatures above 40F if a person is wet (from sweat or rain), so I consider prolonged rainy weather with temperatures in the 40s to be hypothermia weather, and while on extended backpacking treks, I consider that to be ‘nasty weather.’ I know that the weather could always be worse (I’ve certain been through much worse) but is there any reason that I shouldn’t consider hypothermia weather to be nasty weather? Go ahead, enlighten me…
2) “Sounds like maybe your gear is inadequate.” Really? Really? Somehow because my definition of ‘nasty weather’ and yours differ, you come to the conclusion that my gear is inadequate? Perhaps you should ask what I have for gear before making a judgment about whether or not it is adequate. Let me share with you a partial list of the gear I have for dealing with cold, wet weather:
- Rain Jacket –Women’s Helium II Jacket
- Wind Jacket – Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer
- Rain Pants –Montane Atomic Pants
- Down Jacket – Mont Bell Plasma 1000 Down Jacket
- Synthetic Jacket – Mont Bell UL Thermawrap Insulated Jacket
- Insulated Pants – Mont Bell UL Thermawrap Insulated Pants
- 2 Hats, 2 pair of gloves, and vinyl overgloves for waterproofing
- Big Anges Fly Creek UL2 Tent
- Tyvek ground cloth
- Marmot Lithium 0 Degree Sleeping Bag
- UL Waterproof Pack Cover & everything within my pack is in UL waterproof stuffsacks
Most PCT thru-hikers would consider many of the items I carry to be overkill, but I don’t like to be cold and I pack accordingly. I’ve also had a lot of experience backpacking in cold, wet conditions. I’ve been backpacking in New England, rain or shine, ever since I was a kid, and my 2013 thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail was one of the wettest on record (it rained 50/60 days, and kept raining until I was more than 1000 miles into the trail)… My gear is more than adequate, and I have a lot of experience using it… Even though I am prepared to deal with endless days of rain, snow, sleet, and hail, I’d prefer not to.
3) “Maybe you’ve just been spoiled by the warm, dry summer we’re having this year.” Spoiled?! Now I’m going to go out on a limb here, but if someone’s been spoiled by the weather this year, I’m guessing that it was you, not me. When you’ve been out backpacking for five months straight you get a real up close and personal feel for the weather, and though I’ve been lucky enough to have some nice, warm, dry days this summer, I’ve also had my fair share of cold, wet, miserable days. For instance, last week I got clobbered with torrential downpours and hail three days in a row (they’d predicted 10%, 20%, and 0% chance of rain on those days, respectively)… Is that the warm, dry weather that you think has spoiled me? In case you’re wondering just how often I’ve gotten wet on my PCT thru-hike so far, here’s the list of days that I’ve noted measurable precipitation:
- April- 1, 2, 4, 5, 11, 13, 18, 25.
- May- 7, 8, 9, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24.
- June- 2, 6, 14, 17, 25, 26.
- July- 8, 11, 21, 22, 23, 29.
- August – 10, 11, 12, 13, 19, 20, 23, 30, 31
- September – 1, 2, 3 so far…
Sometimes the cold, wet weather comes with an incredible beauty of its own… The sounds of the forest change, and it can feel like the only things that exists in the world are you, the rain, the trees, and the occasional salamander… It can be incredibly peaceful. That said, most of the storms lately have come with a side of thunder, lightening, hail, fire, and flooding… For many of us hiking this year, the weather has felt more apocalyptic than peaceful… Hiking through Oregon the storms would come and we’d get wet, we’d get hailed on, and then the fires would start… As we headed further north, we got more torrential rains, rains that caused flash-flooding and killed a hiker the day that we were at Mount Hood… If anything, I would say that the weather this summer has traumatized us, not spoiled us… The good weather has been amazing, but the bad weather, it’s often been downright scary.
Now that I’d written my rebuttal I felt a little better. I decided not to post it to the forum because it would just add fuel to the fire of crazy, and I was still hoping that someone might respond to my original question with something helpful. Starting a flame war wouldn’t be helpful, even if it did let me vent.
Eventually there were a couple more replies to my query, most of which were helpful and supportive. The next known trail angels were the Dinsmore’s. Unfortunately, they were too far away, I wouldn’t be able to get to them before the first set of storms hit. I looked at my maps and at Yogi’s guide and came up with a plan to deal with the upcoming storms. I decided that I would take a zero day (hike zero miles) and stay at the hotel in Snoqualmie Pass to wait out the first day of rain, and then the next day and I would hike out to Gold Myers Hot Springs in the rain… After that I hoped that the rain would let up, and I’d get at least one nice day before the rains set in again.
P.S. The weather ended up being cold and wet (as forecast), but the hot springs were absolutely amazing! I got there early in the day and had the entire hot spring to myself all afternoon… I relaxed in the hot water and enjoyed the company of the only other occupants of the cave, two bats. I watched them cuddling and grooming each other and decided that ‘bat TV’ was cute and highly entertaining… Eventually, when I got too hot, I’d dash through the cold rain and up to the little cool-off cabana (complete with a roof!! a very nice thing to have on a rainy day) where I’d eat a snack, drink some water, and watch the rain. ‘Rain TV’ wasn’t nearly as interesting as ‘bat TV,’ so when I got bored with the rain, or cooled off too much, I’d just head back into the hot springs in the cave… It was the perfect way to spend a rainy day (or two)!