Friday, May 27, 2016

Day 13: The Day of the Raging Storm

September 23: During the night, the wind picked up dramatically, at one point blowing open the windows our of little shelter. I got up and closed both the shutters and windows and went back to sleep, glad we were in a cinder-block building and protected from the worst of it.

The sunrise over the Mediterranean Sea was gorgeous!

By morning, the winds had died down again, but there was a light sprinkle which would come and go throughout the sunrise. The wet dampened our moods, but even that didn't diminish the spectacular sunrise. A thick layer of clouds stretched out well above our location allowing pretty good visibility.

We were in no rush to get out. The rain would start and stop and we hoped it would let up completely before we headed back out. Karolina took the time to sew an increasingly large hole in her pocket.

Eventually, though, we had to get in our miles and we headed back up the side trail and returned to the main trail to continue our trek. The rain seemed to have stopped--for the time being, at least--so we figured it was time to make a run for it.

We weren't out for more than a half hour before we took another side trail to another small, abandoned building where our guidebook said we could get water, but alas, there was no water. I still had some water--far more than I actually needed, so I split it with Karolina who was pretty much out.

As we were leaving, the rain started up again. I pulled out my umbrella. The good times had come to an end.

A few minutes later, Karolina noticed a salamander on a rock which we both admired. Neither of us had ever seen a salamander in the wild so it was a novelty for both of us. And he was conveniently still giving us plenty of time to take photos and check it out.

The trail continued upwards, finally cresting an exposed ridgeline where the wind completely knocked us over. POW! I closed my umbrella--it was worse than useless in such a strong wind. Visibility dropped dramatically as well as we were now deep in the clouds that had previously been above us.

Karolina take a photo of the sunrise through a broken window of the refuge.

It wasn't more than about five minutes when we first reached the ridge that I started having serious concerns about our safety. The wind wasn't just strong--it was crazy strong. Easily comparable to the worst wind storms I'd ever experienced in the White Mountains, and the wind chill was truly frightening. It wasn't raining... not exactly.... but the mist of the clouds pelted us like a sideways rain and soaked us completely through. The only break from the wind, wet and cold was hiding behind large boulders, but even that wasn't complete protection. I did stop long enough to add an extra layer of clothes and pull out my gloves.

Karolina and I pretty much stopped talking--we had to shout at the top of our lungs to be heard over the roaring winds even when we were standing right next to each other. Resting was out of the question. We'd die of hypothermia very quickly if we stopped.

We fell into a pattern where I'd hide behind a boulder for some protection, then Karolina would scramble ahead along the trail while I watched and made sure she made it okay. Then I'd quickly follow behind her. I would have preferred not stopping at all--I shivered uncontrollably when I did--but I was able to hike at a much faster pace than Karolina and I figured it was better for me to stop behind boulders than to walk slowly right behind her.

Eventually, I stopped taking photos. I couldn't take photos, fumbling with my camera using numb and perhaps frostbitten fingers. I would shove my hands deep in my pockets in an attempt to keep them warm while hiding behind the boulders. They ached with cold, but I figured the fact that they hurt from the cold was actually a good sign. They couldn't be too frostbitten if I could still feel pain in them. But it didn't feel good either!

An hour into this madness, we reached an open stretch of bare rock in which the wind knocked me over completely. I landed hard on my side, a bit dazed, but picked myself up quickly and continued on. Another gust of wind came up behind me and pushed me forward, and I ran forward trying not to face plant. I cursed. Jesus Christ! This was getting dangerous! I looked ahead for Karolina, wondering how she was doing, but I lost sight of her briefly when the trail dipped down into a crevice. She was such a tiny, lightweight thing. I was struggling in the wind--how was she moving at all?!

We're about to enter the clouds!

She'd taken a quick break in the crevice, and I soon caught up again. The exact thought going through my head was, "I really hope we don't die out here." What I shouted over the wind to her was, "Ready to keep going?!" Frankly, we had no other options. At this point, I figured the next refuge was probably closer than the one we had just left, and we desperately needed a real refuge. Stopping was not an option.

Karolina nodded and moved out. I followed about 20 seconds later and a powerful wind gust knocked me into a small boulder.

Jesus Christ!

I pushed off the rock with my arms, leaned forward and took a step... or rather, I tried to. My foot didn't move. I couldn't move my leg against the wind. I looked around and realized the trail was passing through a narrow gap and the gap was acting like a wind tunnel. The already strong winds were amplified as they funneled through the gap in the rocks. $#!^!

I crouched lower, trying to make myself an even smaller target for the wind, and leaned forward in what felt like a near horizontal position. It's official, I thought. This is the strongest wind I've ever been in. Ever! @#$!!

I slowly inched forward, walking almost gorilla-like with my arms ahead of me to catch me from face-planting into the rock if the strong wind suddenly slowed unexpectedly or turned and pushed me from behind. Each step was agonizingly slow and difficult. Eventually I made it across the gap, catching up with Karolina. Our situation was bad. Very bad. We needed to get the hell off this mountain. I hoped there weren't any other gaps acting as wind tunnels ahead, but I feared there would be more. The wind was bad. The wind tunnels could turn deadly.


We continued onward, picking our way through the rocks. Occasionally we had trouble finding the next trail marker through the fog, but the trail followed the very top of the ridgeline for the most part and we'd quickly find it. I thought about trying to go off-trail, downhill from the ridgeline where there was more protection from the wind, but navigation would be more difficult without trail markers to follow and if one of us did get injured, it would be much more difficult for potential rescuers to find us if we were off the trail.

We battled the cold, wet and wind for about two hours before the trail started descending towards the next refuge, the Refuge d'Usciolu. The intensity of the wind decreased with the drop to the refuge, although there were still plenty of big gusts, but our spirits had lifted. We heard a dog barking--a sure sign the shelter must be near!

And finally we arrived at the shelter, safe and sound. Cold and wet, but safe and sound. It wasn't even noon yet, but it felt like we had been out there for days. We both decided it was a good place to quit for the day. The weather was just too dangerous to keep going on. We were done. We'd covered less than 4 miles.

We also decided to do something we'd never done before--sleep in the refuge! It was a total splurge on our part. A bunk inside cost quite a bit more than to camp outside, but we were cold, wet and the weather outside was downright crazy. And frankly, our shelters would have probably been ripped to shreds in the wind.

I'm taking a photo of the salamander. (It's almost directly below that sign on the tree, but so small it's all but impossible to see in the photo. Looks more like a small twig on the rock!

We headed into the kitchen first--which is pretty much where all of the other hikers were hanging out. The room was also the official place to "dry stuff," so wet clothes were hanging all over the place. Karolina got out of her wet jacket and replaced it with dry clothes, but I actually kept my wet clothes on. I was cold and didn't like the wet, but I figured my body heat would dry my clothes faster than letting it hang in a cold but surprisingly humid room.

Karolina booked ourselves bunk beds, and we made ourselves comfortable. The bunkroom only had one other person in it when we first arrived--a Spaniard who didn't speak much English. I was tempted to try talking to him in Spanish--I suspected my Spanish was probably better than his English, but I kept with English so Karolina could participate in the conversation too. He'd been doing long days on the trail and, in fact, had done the exact same route we had done, but he'd done it in four days compared to our 13 days. But it muttered "muy peligroso!" and said he was stopping early today. Even Karolina understand that much Spanish. =)

Karolina had made one vital mistake packing up in the morning--she forgot to put her sleeping bag in a waterproof bag so it was quite wet. She could use her emergency blanket for added warmth, but there was no good way to dry her bag. She did hang up her sleeping bag in the kitchen near a heat source, but it wouldn't dry completely until her body heat would dry it during the night.

One fascinating aside about Wilson, our pinecone friend, was that we were expecting rain today and--after watching its transformation the first time it rained early in the trip--we took a photo of it early in the day. It was open and wide. By the end of the day, after the cold and wet, it was closed up solid. I took another photo so we could have before and after photos of the pinecone's transformation. It's fascinating!

We haven't even hit the bad stuff yet... and Karolina is already looking worried!

I spent most of the afternoon in the bunkroom, in my sleeping bag trying to stay warm and reading my Kindle. As more and more hikers arrived, the bunkroom filled completely up. I did leave back to the kitchen to cook dinner or off to the toilet for the occasional potty break, but I liked the bunkroom because it was less crowded than the kitchen and the warmest place I could be. =)

The caretaker dismissed the weather saying it wasn't that bad. Karolina seemed surprised at this--we both considered it very severe and outright dangerous--but I reminded Karolina that he hadn't been on the ridgetop. The caretaker was utterly clueless what the conditions up there was like. Although there were still strong wind gusts and plenty of cold and wet at the refuge, it was muted considerably from that exposed ridgeline. He probably thinks that this weather is what the whole ridgeline was like. Which was naive, but to be fair, I would never have guessed at how severe the weather at the top of the ridge would have been like had I not been up there and saw it first-hand.

I wish we had some way to measure the top windspeeds we had gone through, but we don't. I have little doubt that they easily topped 100 km/h (about 60 mph) since I had been in those kinds of winds before but these were far stronger. Hurricanes require a sustained wind speed of at least 118 km/h (74 mph)--I could totally believe some of our time was spent in such wind speeds which would make it the first "hurricane-force" winds I'd never hiked through. And--even better--we lived to tell the tale! =)

We also talked about tomorrow. What would we do if this storm continued through tomorrow? Neither of us wanted to battle it again--we'd rather take a zero day at the shelter than risk such severe weather. We didn't have a good weather forecast, though, so we crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.

This would be the last photo I'd take for the better part of an hour... until we were nearly at the next refuge.
Karolina roars with pride at having survived the storm and made it to the refuge!
Safe at last! Home, sweet home!
The kitchen and dining area was strung with wet and drying clothes.
Karolina looks... subdued. And tired. It was a tough day. *nodding* And still cold, despite being indoors.
Our bunks for the night! (Karolina got bunk #2 while I had bunk #3.) There were nearly 20 of us squeezed into this room for the night!
I cook a warm meal to help warm me up!
Wilson, in the morning before the rain and cold.
Wilson, at the end of the day after the rain and cold.


Jaxx said...

Pretty scary stuff there!

The Coz said...

What scary weather! I'm really enjoying your blog posts along with my walk on Walking4Fun. I must say I am fascinated with Wilson. I hope Karolina still has him.

Ryan said...

Karolina does, indeed, still have Wilson. According to her, he's doing well! =)

The Coz said...

Yay, I'm glad to hear it! :)

The Coz said...

My apologies, I referred to Wilson as a "him," but turns out Wilson is a female! I found this helpful article that explains why pinecones expand and contract.
I must say Karolina's Wilson is much more interesting than the Wilson in the movie.