Monday, November 13, 2017

Day 14: The Calm Before the Storm

September 7: As was becoming habit, I woke up to a bright and sunny day! The trail climbed up a steep slope over a thousand feet before a long, gradual descent--nearly 3,000 feet down--to Silver Creek. The trail was practically empty of people. Mountain bikers were once again out on a detour, this time to get around the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness. Dayhikers didn't exist so far from trailheads. And three groups with four backpackers in each group. It seemed odd that only groups of four were hiking in the woods, but the only people I ever saw were groups of four. There was still a lot of smoke in the air, but it didn't seem quite as bad as the day before. To the east, the smoke looked bad, but to the west, the visibility was normal.

By noon, I was approaching Silver Creek when  dark and ominous clouds started rolling in--and with it, high winds and rain clearly visible in the distance. Now, approaching a trailhead, I met a couple huddled together near a cliff, trying to take protection from the oncoming storm. We had to shout to be heard over the blowing wind. The guy said that he had gotten a weak signal on his phone and was able to look at the weather. There was a big storm cell blowing through--the leading edge of which was now hitting us--and a smaller a bit further back that may or may not hit us. But that was it, and the couple hoped to reach Harvard Lakes without getting to wet. The rest of the satellite images appeared storm free!

It was a boost to my moral, but looking at the ominous clouds rolling in, they seemed endless. But if his information was correct, the storm would be limited. I hoped he was right.

I continued onward, taking a short break by Silver Creek. I set up my tarp in case the spit of rain increased into something much worse, but that never arrived. I only rested for about 20 minutes, at the end of which the ominous clouds blew away and the sun was shining again and a gentle breeze drifted through the trees. A few spits of rain, but no real rain to speak of which I was grateful for. All-in-all, not half as bad as the storm had looked!

Then I started the long, steep, 2,500-foot ascent to Mount Yale Saddle immediately followed by the long, steep, 2,500-foot descent to Avalanche Trailhead. This section would be the hardest part of the day today. Neither direction was fast or easy.

Halfway to the top, as I sweat bullets climbing the steep terrain, the second storm cell the dayhiker mention had arrived. Once again, the sun winked out and ominous clouds filled the sky as the wind picked up. I minimized my breaks, hoping to make it to camp before the rain let loose.

At the Mount Yale Saddle was a wonderful little campsite with commanding views of the area, but I pushed onward. It was far too exposed for the strong winds whipping through, and I didn't really have enough water for both dinner and breakfast the next morning. Although if it rained hard enough, I could certainly harvest water from my tarp--but it hadn't started raining yet and there was no guarantee that it would do so.

So I pressed onward, back down the other side to Avalanche Trailhead.

Near the trailhead, I found two painted rocks--which I took photos of but decided not to take because they're rocks! I didn't need the unnecessary weight in my pack! And, as the dayhiker earlier predicted, the sun came out again. Just a small storm cell that passed through.

I reached the parking lot of the trailhead, which was offset from the main road by a small road. The rather large parking lot didn't have a single car in it--which didn't surprise me given the lack of hikers I met on the trail leading up to it. I was pleasantly surprised to discover an outhouse there, however. I didn't need it at the moment, but I would come morning and it would be a heck of a lot more convenient to use than the woods. I was making poop plans for the next morning!

But then it occurred to me, after finding all of those locked outhouses by the Twin Lakes Reservoir, that I should make sure the door wasn't locked for the season. I walked over and opened the door without any trouble. Good--no problem there! I did note, however, that it was out of toilet paper. Not a problem since I carried my own, but I'd have to make sure that was at the top of my pack the next morning. Better to find out now than later!

I set up camp in the woods, barely in sight of the parking lot. Maybe a half hour later, ominous clouds started rolling in. Again. The dayhiker didn't say anything about a third storm cell rolling in. I was in uncharted territory now. I had no idea what the weather was going to do.

When I felt the first spit of rain, I set up my tarp. Better safe than sorry!

And a half hour after that, the torrential downpour began. A heavy, pounding rain as thunder rolled loudly through the canyon and flashes of light lit up the sky. When I first set up camp, I didn't expect it to rain at all and hadn't really set up in an ideal location, but I noticed the rail rolling off the side of the tarp started to form a puddle on the ground which was growing in my direction. I used a stake to dig a trench around the perimeter of my tarp to drain the fast-growing pond, diverting it around my campsite.

The spatter of rain against my tarp turned into thumps, and I looked out to see that it had now turned to hail. BOOM! Another crash of thunder. BOOM!

The rain didn't let up for several hours, but I stayed safe and dry under my tarp. I cooked up dinner, washed my dishes, and brushed my teeth. Then I wrote in my journal and read my Kindle until long after dark finally falling asleep to the pounding of rain on my tarp. It was my first night on the trail that I needed the tarp up. It was a brutal storm!

Still a lot of smoke and haze in the air, but not nearly as bad as it was yesterday.
This delicate arrangement of rocks looks so fragile! But these are giant boulders probably weighing several tons--they weren't arranged like this by passing hikers!
Frenchman Creek

Here I threw down my pack and pulled out my fancy camera with the zoom lens so I could take this next photo....
He was very shy and wouldn't let me get any closer!
Three Elks Creek
Love the aspen changing colors!
Harvard Lakes
Harvard Lakes

It's a storm rolling in! I can even see the rain pounding the mountains just a few miles away! Fortunately, the bulk of the rain largely missed me. =)
Birds of prey might ATTACK me?! *rolling eyes*
I take a break, waiting for any rain storms to pass.

Silver Creek

Looking down towards Rainbow Lake and Avalanche Trailhead
It's a painted rock! Although I have to admit, I'm not 100% certain I know what it is. A watermelon? Perhaps?
Okay, this other painted rock is definitely a strawberry! I'd have liked to keep it, except that I didn't want to carry it on my back for a hundred or more miles....
After a night of torrential rain and hail, my tarp held up and kept me dry. =)

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