Monday, August 13, 2018

Day 18: Biblical Flooding

June 17: Just after midnight, I heard the first distant rumbling of thunder, and within a half hour, the sky let loose a rain of biblical proportions. The weather forecast had called for heavy rains, but the sheer intensity of the downpour still shocked me.

I turned on my headlamp to check out the situation--my biggest concern was water intrusion. The tarp I used I sewed about 10 years ago so it was old and leaked a bit at times, but that wasn't as concerning to me so much as the very saturated ground. The rivers of water flowing off my tarp flowed onto the ground and started spreading out under my tarp. Due to the slope of the ground, most of the water flowed downhill in the direction of my feet, but quite a bit of it was encroaching under my tarp.

The trails would definitely be muddy and VERY wet in the morning!

I pulled out a stake and carved a small trench to redirect water around my groundsheet. I don't usually have to do this at all, but it's been useful in the past during heavy rainfalls to keep the water intrusion at bay. So I carved out a shallow trench, about 1/4" to 1/2" deep, starting near my head, curving around my groundsheet and down each side of my groundsheet towards my feet.

The system worked great, but it wasn't enough for this storm. The rain pounded the ground at an unprecedented level and my defensive fortification was quickly overrun. The trench couldn't hold back the huge volume of water that was coming down.

I didn't have a lot of options to work with. It's not like I could just move my tarp somewhere else where less water might flow under it--not in this storm! And anyhow, I already knew that there wasn't a better location nearby. I had been the first person in camp and set up my tarp at what I felt was the best location for a heavy rain. No, there was only one thing I could do: Built more fortifications.

I pulled in my groundsheet a bit to create a smaller area that needed to be defended and worked quickly to carve a second, parallel line of defensive trenches around my camp.

The water intrusion diminished, but it was still coming at me. I cursed. How could this be happening? How was it even possible? Both trenches were working--small rivers of water flowed rapidly down them and around my campsite, but it wasn't enough. They were overwhelmed by the sheer volume of water coming down!

I pulled in my groundsheet further and started working on a third line of defenses. This one took me a bit longer to do because by now, I was also trying to maintain the first two line of defenses at the same time. The first one, particularly, was already clogging up with leaves, mud and... worms! Quite a large number of worms. People tend to think that worms come out when it rains because they like the cool, moist weather, but the truth is that they breath oxygen and will drown when the ground becomes saturated with water, and the worms in the ground were drowning and fleeing to the surface in huge numbers.

So I cleared the trenches of, among other things, lots of live, squirming worms. After another ten minutes of work, I finally got up my third line of defenses, and this time, the defenses were holding. For now....

The trail was bad and I felt half mad but I swore I would not give in!
(That's a line from the Cremation of Sam McGee, but it seemed appropriate today.)

I stopped and listened to the thunder and pounding rain against my tarp. I counted three separate creeks running off my tarp. Seriously--creeks! I had seen named creeks that didn't have this much water flowing down them, which suddenly gave me the idea that I needed to name the creeks.

And given the biblical flooding taking place, I named them after the biblical characters Moses, Rebecca (Becky for short) and--of course--the largest one I named Noah.

I turned off my headlamp and now was only illuminated by the occasional flash of lightening, but I could see a couple of lights on from the other people camped nearby. I wondered how Blueberry was doing. I had absolutely no doubt that his tarp had collapsed given how poorly it had been set up earlier. Even before the rain had started, the stakes holding his ridgeline in place were already pulling out. I also knew he didn't have a headlamp or flashlight--only the light from his smartphone, at best.

Looking in that direction, I thought I might have seen Blueberry moving around, perhaps trying to set up his tarp again, but it was hard to tell exactly what was happening in the darkness. At least it was a fairly warm rain, though. On a hot, summer day, it might even feel nice walking through a rain like this. If it was an ice cold rain, I'd have been a lot more concerned about Blueberry surviving the night, although hypothermia wasn't out of the question either. I laughed a little to myself. Assuming he did survive the night and everything would be fine, he was going to have one hell of a story to tell in the morning.

I laid around for another 20 minutes or so, listening to the torrential downpour and occasional crash of thunder, trying to time the flashes of light with the thunder to get a sense of how far away it was. The nearest strike, I figured was probably a half-mile to a mile away.

I turned on my headlamp again to check my defenses, which were still holding up well. I cleared the trenches in a few places which had clogged with worms and debris, then turned off my light and tried to get some sleep.

For the next few hours, I mostly slept. Occasionally I woke up, and when I did I would turn on my light long enough to check my defensive perimeter and clear any areas that had clogged, then go back to sleep.

Hark! Is that some blue sky I spy?!

The bulk of the storm had passed by after a few hours, and wound down to a light drizzle before stopping completely. And a couple of hours after that, the sky started brightening and a new day was beginning.

I lounged around under my tarp, not at all anxious to get out of my toasty warm sleeping bag, as everyone else in camp started getting up and packing up. Hiking Viking asked me how I had fared--she still seemed skeptical that a tarp could work to keep someone dry. And to be fair, I wasn't dry exactly. When it rains long enough and hard enough, you're going to get wet, and I was definitely wet. Even though I stayed mostly dry under my tarp, the water is pervasive. It saturated the ground, which saturated my ground sheet, which left everything feeling wet and clammy. My sleeping bag felt clammy as well, just from absorbing the moisture in the air. I doubt the people in a tent were any drier than I was. In a storm of that size, everyone gets wet.

Hiking Viking also told me that Blueberry's tarp had failed during the night--no surprise there--and he had tried to set it up again in the darkness, half naked and without a light. I couldn't help but giggle a little. Not that I wished him ill or anything, but the imagery of him trying to set up a tarp while half naked and in the dark was funny!

But Blueberry did survive the night, and continued the story that Hiking Viking started saying that setting up the tarp turned out to be fool's errand and eventually he just gave up and it sounded like he wound up using his tarp more as a blanket--a horrible, awful blanket. He was soaked to the skin and freezing cold and got up to start hiking early just to warm up.

I started making some mental calculations, thinking about the stunning amount of water that my tarp had shed during the night. I bet it was over a ton of water. A literal ton of water. I thought of the three named creeks coming off my tarp. I have filled up my 1-liter water bottle in creeks of that size and they could fill up the whole bottle in a mere 10 seconds, and that wasn't even capturing all of the water in the creek! So I figured I could have easily have filled three 1-liter water bottles in less than 10 seconds flat, maybe capturing half the water in each of the creeks. Which didn't even count the rest of the water flowing off my tarp--which was substantial!--that wasn't enough for me to bother to name. I didn't think it was at all unreasonable to estimate that 10 liters of water was flowing off my tarp every 10 seconds during the height of the storm.

That's one liter of water every single second. For maybe three hours. 1 liter x 60 seconds/minute x 60 minutes/hour x 3 hours = 10,800 liters. Since water weighs 2.2 pounds per liter (if you have to carry water in a heavy pack every day, you know stuff like this), that would be over 20,000 pounds of water! More than ten tons of water! That's a hell of a lot of water. And I was pretty sure those were conservative estimates. *shaking head* Kind of amazing that a little sheet of fabric could hold off an onslaught like that.

I started getting up myself, and found a few worms on my groundsheet that I flicked off. No! Bad worms! But the real surprise came when I pulled up my groundsheet to put away and found several dozen seemingly dead worms under my groundsheet. It was a worm graveyard! Presumably, they tried to crawl out of the ground for oxygen, but hit my groundsheet and couldn't get out from under it and died. I'd been sleeping on the corpses of several dozen worms! Ooooh, yuck!

Everyone in camp got remarkably early starts to the day's hike, and I was actually the last of the nine people to leave camp--and I left at 8:00 which wasn't an especially late start.

The trail, of course, was awful. It was flooded and extraordinarily muddy, but that was to be expected after a night like we had. Occasionally there were patches of blue skies--a glimmer of hope that it would clear up during the day. Temperatures weren't especially hot but the humidity was definitely high and I sweated profusely as a result.

I caught up with Blueberry and Hiking Viking at the Oberg Mountain trailhead. Blueberry had laid out his poncho next to the outhouse and they were sitting on it, taking a break. Blueberry spread out most of his gear trying to dry it out in the occasional patches of sun, and I joined the party.

"So, Blueberry!" I said, "Pray tell... why, when you have this giant, almost empty parking lot to take a break, did you set up right next to the outhouse?"

Hiking Viking laughed at that, wondering the same thing. Blueberry didn't seem to have a good answer for it. It was almost as if he didn't notice the outhouse right next to him. "Oh, that?"

I threw out some of my own gear in the increasingly growing sun to dry out as well. Particularly my tarp and the groundsheet, both of which were quite wet.

The three of us lounged around chatting for a while, during which time the sun finally burst forth and brightened the day.

Crossing the Onion River.

Eventually we packed up and continued on. I split off from Blueberry and Hiking Viking to do an extra 1.8 mile loop on a side trail around Oberg Mountain which, according to my guidebook, included 8 scenic viewpoints in pretty much every direction.

At an overlook of Lake Superior, I pulled out of my phone to check if I could get an Internet connection there, which I finally could and I checked for an updated weather forecast. The last forecast I saw--while still in Tofte the day before--was that it was supposed to be overcast all day but it wouldn't rain again until evening. That was what I was banking on, but I wanted to get an update and a more precise time for when the rain might start.

So I was disheartened to see that rain was expected to start again--in about ONE HOUR! $#!%! This changes everything! How could that be? It was so SUNNY out right now!

I quickly rushed through the rest of the loop, now regretting that I ever decided to do the extra 1.8 miles that weren't even on the trail. The views from the loop were fabulous--if it wasn't for the rain in the forecast, I'd have been very glad I took the detour and lingered a bit longer to enjoy the commanding views. If I knew it was supposed to rain this afternoon, I'd have done a few things differently. I would have left camp earlier in the morning. I wouldn't have stopped so long to chat with Hiking Viking and Blueberry next to the outhouse. And I definitely would not have hiked an extra 1.8 miles on a side trail that didn't get me any closer to Canada.

Oberg Mountain trailhead. The lump next to the outhouse is Blueberry and Hiking Viking, taking a break and trying to dry out gear. (But there wasn't much sun when I took this photo.)

I finished the loop and hiked rapidly, hoping the forecast was wrong about the timing of the rain and maybe I still had a chance to make it into camp for the night before the rain started.

But that didn't happen. Right as predicted, the rain started up about an hour later. It was a light but persistent sprinkle, and for the first time on this hike, I pulled out my umbrella and hiked in the rain.

The rain continued for a couple of hours before tapering off again, and I put my umbrella back in my pack. I still hurried rapidly down the trail trying to reach camp as quickly as possible before anymore rain started up.

I arrived at the East Poplar Creek campsite just as sprinkles started up again. Blueberry had already arrived in camp and had his tarp set up and was warm and cozy under it, reading his Kindle. I quickly set up my own tarp on a rough, uneven piece of ground nearby when I couldn't find anything better.

"This is it?" I asked Blueberry while setting up my tarp. "My guidebook says that there are 2 tent pads at this campsite. Where's the other one?"

But if it was there, we couldn't find it, so I set up on that rough, uneven piece of ground, then ducked under and out of the rain. My clothes had dried from the rain earlier in the afternoon, and while they were slightly damp from the current rain, it wasn't bad. But I still changed into my dry camp clothes, then into my sleeping bag mostly to help warm it up and dry it out from the night before.

Needing water but not wanting to go out in the rain, I set my water bottle under my tarp to catch the runoff, filling up my 1.5 liter bottle. It was a very light rain and the bottle filled up slowly, but I had filled it completely after about an hour.

And for the next couple of hours, I read my Kindle, wrote in my journal and generally relaxed.

Early in the evening, the rain stopped again, and I got out from my tarp to make dinner and stretch. The skies continued clearing throughout the evening and it didn't rain anymore for the rest of the day. Nobody else showed up at the campsite, so it was just Blueberry and myself for the night.

Everyone else--all of the other seven people at our campsite the night before and the five people who set up camp just outside of the campsite--every one of them had gotten off the trail. Most of them had been out for the weekend and had long planned to go home today, but even the other thru-hikers (Hiking Viking, Bear Claw and Houston) had a reservation somewhere to get off the trail for the night, take a shower and clean up.

So it was just Blueberry and I for a quiet and uneventful evening.

By the time we left the Oberg Mountain trailhead, it was actually quite sunny out and we were all in a good mood!
Hiking Viking checks out a boot cleaning station at the trailhead and Blueberry finds a bottle of bug repellent.

There are eight different scenic overlooks on the Obert Mountain Loop!
And the overlooks are quite nice! =)
Oberg Lake
This looks pretty recent. I wondered if maybe it crashed down during the storm last night?

It's official--the first day I've actually had to hike IN the rain while on this trail.

Poplar Creek
Video of Poplar Creek

Our camp at the East Poplar River Campsite. The green tarp on the left is mine while Blueberry is under the gray tarp on the right.
Hey, Blueberry! How's it going? =)


Bon Echo said...

Insane rain! We were along the north shore of Lake Michigan that evening (June 17th) when the rain came though, and it was intense! We had planned to camp, but could hardly even drive in the heavy downpours so we stayed in a hotel instead. The next day we travels through Ashland WI where we first saw Lake Superior (technically Chequamegon Bay) and the lake water was pink! All my life along the Great Lakes and I've never seen anything like that! The volume of iron-laden sediment that had washed into the bay actually turned it pinkish-red, for as far as we could see (which makes me think of another Bible story from Genesis, when the Nile is turned to blood). Just west of Ashland we had to detour off of US2 because the water had washed away one of the bridge. The road was still closed over 3 weeks later when when drove through on our way home. Considering the volume of rain (nice estimates by the way, so much easy when you use metric :) I'm glad to hear you and Blueberry came away unscathed.

Karolina said...

Aren’t you glad we never experienced a storm of this magnitude on the Kungsleden?

Ryan said...

Definitely! But if we did, it might have been a good idea to have found a hut and spent the night indoors. At least that's an option on the Kungsleden!