The weather report for Saturday looked grim. Grim as in rain. Rain, rain and more rain. And COLD. The temperatures were dropping. I received this news unfazed. When is it not raining in the Pacific Northwest, really? I expected as much. I was prepared. I borrowed a rain fly for my backpack and sealed all my clothing and supplies in zip-loc baggies. I wore the froggy-green Marmot jacket that looked invincible.
Rain? Bring it.
It rained all night before I left. It rained all morning. It rained during the 45 minute drive east. It was raining when I turned up the first switchback.
Who cares about rain.
The first 3 miles went straight up. Switchback after switchback. My pack is a hand-me-down and just a little too big. I could tell. This is the part where gear is really, really important. If you’re walking up the side of a hill over root-strewn dirt paths with 30 pounds worth of gear on your back then you need everything to be dialed. Shoes, socks, jacket, pack. I had everything in place except the pack, and I was feeling it.
I pressed on.
At 1.5 miles I came around a switchback and uttered the only words that I spoke out loud all day long: “Holy shit. You are fucking kidding me.”
I looked behind me, back down the hill: no snow. I looked ahead again: snow, leading into more snow.
I knew that I still had a lot of ascending to do. I knew there would only be more snow. I kept going and promised myself that if it became so much that I lost track of the trail I would turn around and go back. Drive home. Call it.
The snow remained but the trail was still well defined. There had been other people on it earlier in the day. It was still pissing rain, falling sideways, and the snow was melting and turning the trail into a creek. It trickled down and I kept moving forward up the hills. It was cold and I’d forgotten gloves. My hands were getting cold so I stuffed them into unlined pockets. It helped some, but not much.
At Devil’s Rest the trail finally began to flatten and drop. I kept going, headed for Angel’s Rest where, on a good day, you are rewarded with sweeping views in all directions. I knew that there would be no such view today but I was going to go there anyway, just to see what I could find.
At five miles I found it. A rocky bluff with ripping winds. Winds so high I couldn’t complete the scramble out to the lookout point, even after removing my pack (which I set on the ground in the pouring rain because I wagered it was already soaked through so what the hell). I retreated down from the rocks, retrieved my pack and headed towards the creekside campsite that was my final destination for the day.
By the time I got there I pulled my hands out of my pockets to discover that I actually had no hands at all. Well, none that I could feel anyway. I pressed my hands against the pack and got nothing. Not a single sensation in return. I could not even figure out how to open the clips on my pack to get to my tent. I tried using one hand to make the other hand function with little success. I blew and blew and blew on my hands and finally, agonizingly, managed to get to my tent.
What followed was enough to break me. Setting up a tent, even the easiest of tents, with non-functioning hands, is an exercise in frustration. Doing it in the pouring rain while every extra minute means your sleeping quarters are getting all the more wet is even worse. I literally almost gave up. I almost threw the tent back in my bag and kept going. I even almost cried.
And then finally, miraculously, I had the tent up, the rain fly on, and my pack inside. I was soaked to the bone and my body temperature was plummeting. I stripped down, dried as best I could and put on dry clothes from the zip-loc baggies. The sleeping bag offered little warmth so I laid there, rocking, until I felt warm enough to move to the door of the tent, fire up the stove, and make some hot chocolate and macaroni and cheese.
The warmth of food (and the fire of two shots of Southern Comfort) bolstered me a bit and I hunkered in, reading and writing and listening to the wind rip through the trees above me and the rain batter my tent. Night fell and I curled into my sleeping bag, shivering as the temperature dropped slowly.
30 minutes in I knew that I was screwed. I was too cold to recover, at least in the rain, with a partially damp tent and dropping night-time temperatures. If I’d had someone with me I might have had a shot but I knew that on my own there was no way I was going to get warm enough.
I had to move around. Move or die, move or die.
Probably I wouldn’t have died but I didn’t feel like finding out. So I packed up my camp by the light of my headlamp and set out on the trail, watching my step as I went, listening to the sounds of the black night around me. I hiked as fast as I safely could and covered my hands with a spare pair of capilene socks.
Luckily, at some point in my life I learned not to be afraid of the dark, unknown of the nighttime wilderness.
All I could think about was the car at the end of the trail. 2.5 miles away. An hour… maybe a few minutes more.
It was there waiting for me. Welcoming me. It was 10:00pm when I pulled out of the lot and steered the little CRV onto the historic highway… 45 minutes west and I was home. In bed. Near tears but for the joy of heat blowing magically up through vents. For down comforters. For furry cats.
Goddam but we are fragile little suckers, aren’t we?
Best trip ever.
I’d do it all again tomorrow but for the fat, swollenness of my left ankle which appears to have become somehow sprained during the entire fiasco.
Not to be underrated.