Monday, February 22, 2016

Day 147: Lightning! Thunder! Hail!

August 1: I had a wonderful night cowboy camping, but got an early 6:00 AM start to the day in the hopes of beating rain that was forecasted later in the afternoon. It was hard to believe it could possibly rain, however. The sky was absolutely gorgeous!



The trail made a long drop towards Maine Highway 24, passing the 2,000-mile mark of the trail about a mile before it crossing the highway 5 miles east of Stratton--then steadily climbed back up to Horns Pond. I took a 0.2-mile off-trail detour to check out Cranberry Pond, but otherwise went straight through. It was non-eventful. Rugged, but with few views to enjoy. I hadn't even completed 10 miles yet, but passing the 2,000-mile mark of the trail was still a big milestone! =)

By the time I arrived at the Horns Pond Shelter just before noon, ugly clouds were rolling in, and they looked angry. I was ready for a quick lunch break and stopped to snack, not really wanting to call it quits for the day, but wondering if it was a good idea to continue ahead to the exposed peaks and ridges of the Bigelow Range immediately ahead. Despite the angry-looking clouds fast approaching, I could still see quite a bit of sun and blue skies as well.

About a half-hour later, I heard it: thunder. I was just about to keep going, but the sound of thunder rolling around in the shelter gave me pause. I knew the trail ahead was extremely exposed, above treeline, at the top of 4,000-foot peaks. It's not exactly an ideal place to be during a thunderstorm! I wasn't willing to call it quits for the day... not yet, at least. But I decided it might be prudent to wait a bit longer and see what happened.

Another half hour slowly dripped away as the thunder continued to get louder and closer. Eventually I could see the flashes of light--which was pretty remarkable for being the middle of the day. Then the hail came down--a deafening roar against the metal-roofed shelter. Even rain can be loud on a metal roof, but hail! OMG! It sounded like I had my head next to a jackhammer!

As the hail ramped up, the temperature seemed to plummet by 10 degrees in a matter of seconds. I quickly put on my fleece jacket, earplugs and decided to call it a day. 

I was very, very glad I was in the shelter and not being pounded by hail and lightning on the exposed ridges of the Bigelows. I knew that there must have been hikers ahead of me on that ridge right now, and I pitied them. They would not be having a good time right now!

The storm lasted about 20 minutes before dying down again. The hail stopped, the rain stopped, the lightning and thunder gradually faded away. The angry-looking clouds were still out there, although temperatures did warm up again and the sun was working its way back through.


After another hour or two, the skies were almost completely clear. You'd never have known such a wicked storm had blown through. I was tempted to re-pack all of my gear and keep hiking. It was still relatively early in the afternoon! But at the same time, I wasn't sure I could get to the next shelter before dark anymore.

I decided to take a short walk around the Pond Loop Trail instead. The Horns Pond Shelter was located near (hold onto your hat!) Horns Pond, a scenic pond that couldn't actually be seen from the shelter so I hadn't really enjoyed it much. Now that the weather had improved dramatically, I could take a short loop trail by the pond and just explore the area instead of hiking the AT. It'll give me something to do, nice views and I'll just come back to the shelter for the night.

The Pond Loop Trail, oddly, looped around absolutely nothing. It branched off from the Appalachian Trail, at first following near the shoreline of Horns Pond, then diving into the woods away from the pond, meandering through the forest before reconnecting back on itself near the pond again. I couldn't figure out the purpose of the loop. It takes you, quite literally, nowhere. No views, no pretty meadow, no pretty lakes or ponds. Absolutely nothing but trees that looked like every other tree I'd seen in Maine. If I was going to develop loop trail, I'd have looped it around Horn Pond! Although from the topography that I could see, it would have likely been a difficult trail to build.

Most of the day I saw absolutely nobody. I passed three hikers heading southbound before the storm hit, and nobody going northbound. There's a caretaker for this area and after the storm passed through, I bumped into her doing her rounds, but the day was largely a lonely one.

At least until dusk when it seemed like everyone and their mother started arriving at the shelter. Mostly section hikers, and they told of wild stories of being caught high in the Bigelow Mountains during the storm. "Yeah, I was in this shelter when that hit," I bragged. "My goodness, it was deafening in here!" =)


I was a bit concerned about three young men and a dog who arrived very late in the day, still planning to head up to the South Horn. They had gotten lost, which is how they ended up at the shelter (which was a short ways off the trail). They had no backpacking gear--they were only out for a day hike. And it was late in the day--it took them all day to get up here--and they weren't turning back yet? All of us in the shelter told them to turn around and go back. It was too late in the day to be summiting mountains and getting back to their car. And they didn't even have flashlights! (They did have the flashlight app on their phone, however, which they liked to point out.)

OMG... they're going to die out here. I was sure of it.

They were insistent that they planned to continue to the top of South Horn, however, and we told them how to get back to the trail then turn right and follow the white blazes. The white blazes, they did not realize, marked the Appalachian Trail. "Just follow the white blazes," we told them. "Both on the way up, and on the way down." How did they make it this far without knowing about the white blazes?!

About 15 minutes later, the three young men returned again, apparently disoriented and lost. Again.

This time, I walked them back to the Appalachian Trail and pointed down it. "This is the direction you're trying to go," I said. "Follow the white blazes." I pointed to one of the white blazes on a nearby tree.

"When you're ready to turn around and go back to your car turn around and follow them in this other direction," I said, pointing in the opposite direction where the trail meandered out of view into the distance.

Snake! Snake! RUN!!!!

They all nodded, thanked me for the help, and started walking north on the trail. In seconds, they veered off onto a blue-blazed trail that led to the water source.

"The WHITE blazes!" I called out to them. "You're going the wrong away again! Follow the WHITE blazes!"

Jesus Christ! These people were going to die out here!

Well, maybe not die. The weather didn't look bad anymore. But very possibly a cold and miserable night shivering and just wishing they were dead. I figured there would be a pretty good chance they might actually try calling 911 late in the night after they got hopelessly lost. Assuming that they didn't wear out the batteries on their smartphones using the flashlight app, of course.

Later, back at the shelter, the caretaker dropped in again to say hi and make sure everything was okay. I warned her about the three young men with the dog--I was a little concerned about their obvious lack of common sense and that they were still headed up to South Horn despite the lateness of the day and that they might very well need rescuing later. She joked about turning off the radio she uses so if they did call 911, she won't be bothered with it in the middle of night. =) She shared some other stories of hikers she's met who were clearly in way over their heads. Not surprisingly, it wasn't the first time this sort of thing has happened.

Then it finally got dark and we all went to sleep. =)

Of those three young men with the dog.... I never saw or heard about them ever again. Which I hope means that they did manage to make it out alive without needing any rescuing.


Although I had passed where Inchworm had last been seen, the trailheads still had these signs asking for help.



Another hiker... bites the dust?
TWO THOUSAND MILES!!! WOO-WHOO!!!!!!

I was a little amused at the sign warning not to camp here because giardia is present. What's it going to do? Jump out of the water and attack campers?! =) It kind of feels to me like an excuse to discourage people from camping near the lake. If the only problem was contaminated water, they'd have posted signs warning hikers not to drink the water rather than not to camp! (I had no plans to camp here, though, and definitely no intention of drinking that water!)
They call it Cranberry Lake, but in reality, it's a festering cesspool of super-giardia able to jump out and attack campers and is probably better named Giardia Lake.... assuming that warning sign is correct. =)
Near the end of the day's hike, the trail became a lot more rugged and difficult!


That's Horn Pond down below, and South Horn peak immediately behind it.
The clouds started getting darker, but there was still a lot of sun and blue skies too!
Hail! Hail! Hail!


The Horn Pond Shelter--my refuge during the hail storm!
Horn Pond, after the storm had passed.

The sun was so bright and warm next to the lake, I put a wet handkerchief over my head to keep from baking. =)

3 comments:

lou p otter said...

was it the 12 mile loop trail I saw on a map?

Ryan said...

I'm not sure what the 12-mile loop trail is. The loop trail I took might have been a half-mile at best! Definitely nowhere near 12 miles!

Mary Mac said...

Beautiful photos - and video! I loved the mushroom! It looks like something the Disney people would create. It didn't look real.