Friday, August 2, 2019

Day 25: Evacuate! Evacuate!

Originally, I was going to write about today's hike. But we never ended up hiking today. Today would be a zero day, and Karolina and I had agreed that she would write about our zero days--so suddenly, she was responsible for writing about today. =)

Although I've added a little of my own commentary where I could flesh out details that she might not have known about. So the following account is mostly Karolina's....

The calm before the storm

March 25: I woke up in the middle of the night and started listening for rain. It wasn’t raining yet. I knew it would eventually – the forecasts called for rain early in the morning and during the day. I lay in my sleeping bag, eyes closed, trying to fall back into sleep.

Before too long, I heard the first raindrops hitting my tent – you know how rain always sounds louder when you are inside a tent. The rain started light but soon it turned into a heavy downpour. I could feel the floor in my tent getting wet – there were holes in it and water entered through them. Not too much, there weren’t any puddles forming – fortunately – but the floor and the bottom of my sleeping pad were definitely wet. I scooped my sleeping bag so that it remained entirely on the pad to prevent the down from getting wet and becoming useless.

Soon the thunder and lightning started. I was counting the seconds between them to estimate how far away the lightning was – not more than a few kilometers. They were frequent and strong – I could feel the ground under me shake, which was a little scary. I started wondering whether we were safe enough in our campsite – wasn’t the main tent propped on tall metal posts?!

Suddenly I started seeing headlamp lights moving all around the campsite. It seemed they were heading towards the main tent. Later I found out that Lama ran around the campsite shouting out that whoever got too wet in their tent is welcome to move under the main tent. I missed all of that, the voices were muffled by the sound of rain and thunder.

(Ryan here—I was close enough to hear Lama call out that if anyone’s tent was leaking badly, they were welcome to move up to the main tent. And I remember thinking, “Wow! Lama is running around in a torrential downpour just to make sure everyone was okay. Glad I don’t have that job right now!” If things were really bad, I’d have moved into the main tent without any prompting. It seemed unnecessary for her to run around in the storm like that, but I was immensely impressed that she did so anyhow.)

I did hear four loud blows on a whistle some time later. It must have been Lama, I thought, with some announcement – I opened the tent to hear her better. She was now running around the tents again, this time yelling “Excuse me guys! Listen up! We’re evacuating the camp! Pack your stuff up and wait inside your tent. In 20 minutes a bus will come to pick us up!”

This storm had some real teeth to it!

Ryan here again. I don’t think Karolina believed what she had heard, because I remember her yelling toward my tent, “What did Lama say?” So I shouted back over the pounding rain that she said we were evacuating camp, to pack up all our stuff, and wait in our tents until a bus arrived to pick us up in 20 minutes. And a couple of other nearby hikers expressed their surprise. “What?!” Because they didn’t hear the original announcement clearly. And I remember thinking: This is stupid! Yeah, the rain is bad and the inside of my tent is a little wet, but evacuating camp at 2:30 in the morning because a thunderstorm? That seems like overkill. Maybe if lightning actually struck our campsite, but it hadn’t.

So I was a little dismayed about the evacuation. I was nice and warm in my sleeping bag, and now I had to ditch camp completely in the middle of the night in the thunderstorm? How could that possibly be a good idea?!

It was maybe 10 minutes later when I heard Thomas shout out to Lama that he was packed up and that he wanted to wait up at the main tent for the buses and Lama replied saying that the main tent had collapsed—there was no main tent anymore!

And I thought:  Ahhhh, now the evacuation makes sense, and now I understand why she wanted for us to wait for the buses in our own tents.

But again, over the pounding rain, most of the other hikers camped near me couldn’t hear the conversation and started shouting out, asking what was happening.

“The main tent collapsed!” I shouted back.

Presumably, everybody who was sleeping under the main tent was okay since Lama was standing out in the rain talking to us rather than trying to rescue any hapless victims caught under the heavy canvas tent.

As I continued packing, the rain died down. I finally finished packing and decided to go up to the main tent to check out the collapse and get some photos. We needed to document this!

I crawled out of the tent and was surprised to see, at first glance, what appeared to be snow piled up next to my tent. Taking a closer look, I could see individual balls of ice. Hail. It had hailed—and quite a bit! Maybe the rain wasn’t as heavy as I thought it was—maybe it was actually hail I heard hitting the tent.

I hadn't realized it hailed until I left my tent and found piles of it against my tent.
I stood up and started heading toward the main tent, and Lama told me not to—that the main tent had collapsed.

“I know, I said, and someone needs to document it!” I replied, pointing to my camera.

She nodded with understanding. “Ah, okay.”

So I headed up to the main tent and took a few photos. The main tent had, indeed, collapsed, and it was a total collapse. It wasn’t as if part of it collapsed—every last pole and support was down. It was like a giant blanket had been thrown across the ground, with large lumps under it where gear had been set. Pockets of hail had collected in the folds of the tent. I took photos, but realized that I couldn’t adequately get the entire scene in. The darkness made visibility bad and the tent was massive—I couldn’t find a place where I could get the entire tent in my photos.

But I took a few photos then returned to my own tent. The rain and hail had stopped (for the time being, at least) and several hikers who had finished packing their bags were now clustered together chatting. When it started to sprinkle again, everyone headed back inside their tents. Karolina joined me in mine as I shared the destruction I saw and the photos I had taken, waiting until the buses finally arrived.

And now we’ll return to the rest of Karolina’s blog post…..

Karolina and I waited for the bus in my tent, sharing photos and videos that we had taken of the storm and tent collapse.

As it turned out, the main tent collapsed – probably under the weight of hail which fell down in large amounts during the thunderstorm. I was quite surprised to see the ground covered in white snow and ice – closed inside my tent I had no idea that it wasn’t just rain falling from the sky.

Qussai poses with the collapsed tent. The white stuff on the tent is hail.
By the time the bus arrived, the thunderstorm had passed. To reach the road where the bus was waiting, we walked through ankle-deep mud, hauling our bags, everyone wearing headlamps, JTA crew running around and coordinating the evacuation.

They look a little happy for people who are being evacuated. And I'm not sure why Ernie is laughing.... his weather forecast before we went to sleep included nothing except "light rain" during the night.

The bus took us back to the Falcon Rock Hotel in Karak where we had spent the previous night. It was around 3:00 – 4:00 am by the time we arrived there. The support crew told us to go to our rooms and rest – we certainly weren’t going anywhere today due to really bad weather forecasts.

We arrive at the hotel back in Karak--the same one we left less than 24 hours before!
Indeed, the weather that day was awful. It rained cats and dogs the entire day.

Ryan and I tried to go out for a walk in the afternoon – and got soaked through within ten minutes. Walking around Karak wasn’t much of an option, and all hikers remained in the hotel, relaxing, drinking coffee or beer, reading, playing cards or surfing the internet.

I used the opportunity to run some important errands – ever since the first days on the Jordan Trail I had toyed with the idea of extending my hike and becoming a thru-hiker – I so much enjoyed the entire Jordan Trail experience, meeting all the interesting people and hearing their inspiring stories.

At first, I thought maybe I’d change my mind as we progress along the trail but that didn’t happen. According to my current schedule, I was supposed to leave in about a week and I felt very sad about it… So being in a hotel with Wi-Fi, I contacted my work asking for permission to extend my holidays by two weeks. Luckily, this was possible, so I went ahead and checked the conditions of rescheduling my flight, which looked good. Then I asked George whether an extension was possible – he had to check with the JTA office but did not foresee any problems. Yay! If everything went well with the JTA and the flight tickets in a few more days, I was going to become a Jordan Trail thru-hiker!

The hotel had hot tea waiting for everyone upon our arrival.
Ryan here again. I’d like to mention that I was absolutely amazed at how well the evacuation went. They really did an amazing and professional job handling a difficult situation! I don’t know how much of their evacuation plan was planned in advance and how much they had to make up on the fly, but it extremely well executed and efficiently run. From the tent collapse in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night to our arrival at the hotel was less than two hours. It usually takes longer than that to get our group hiking in the morning! So two enthusiastic thumbs up from me!

Lightning and thunder, oh my!
This is some of the film footage we took while carrying our bags to the buses.

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