Monday, June 20, 2022

Day 108: Holy Giant Hail Balls!

August 6: When I had gone to sleep, the sky was clear and the Milky Way stretched across the sky. It was gorgeous. But at around midnight, things had changed dramatically. The first hint of trouble were the flashes of light on the horizon: lightning. I was camped on the shore of a lake with absolutely zero trees nearby to set up my tarp. It was a terrible location for setting up a tarp.


So I simply threw my tarp over myself like a blanket and hoped to wait it out. Before long, the storm was directly overhead. Lightning! Thunder! And heavy, heavy rain. It poured buckets, and all I could do was lay miserably under my tarp wondering how long it would take the storm to pass.

The rain had stopped by sunrise, but the damage was done. I was soaked through. And for the second time in a week, no less! I really needed to stop making a habit of this. *grumbling*

To say the sun rose was somewhat of an understatement. It was much too cloudy to see any sun, but the sky did brighten a bit by sunrise.

Because everything was sopping wet, it took me a bit longer to pack up camp and get moving and I wasn't on the trail until about 7:00am. Foxy and Little Red Riding Hood were still in camp. Foxy reported a leak in her tent, but I have a feeling that she came out in the morning considerably drier than I did. Little Red Riding Hood used a bivy sack and seemed none the worse for wear. 

I had tried using one before really wanting something super light for bad weather conditions and a way to keep mosquitoes off of me when they were an issue, but I found them far too constrained and claustrophobic and returned it to REI the first chance I got. On a clear night, it wasn't so bad when I could leave the head end open, but then it wouldn't work for bad weather or bugs which were the main reasons I wanted it! She was actually the first hiker I ever remember meeting who actually used a bivy bag, though. Definitely an ultra-light option!

Knowing it had rained so much during the night and that the trail was sopping wet, I decided to wear my waterproof socks today. It turned out to be a good decision. The water on the grass along the trail would soak through my shoes almost immediately. As it turned out, there were also a couple of creeks that needed to be forded as well and I was extra glad when I already had the special socks on. =)

Anyhow, I said goodbye to them then headed down the trail on my own once again.

Drying out gear during my lunch break!

The trail continued onward, up and down and around. It was scenic but nothing particularly noteworthy. By around 1:00pm, there was a small sun break and I took the opportunity to stop for lunch and spread out gear and clothes to dry out.

Foxy hiked by during my break, and I had figured that Little Red Riding Hood would probably pass by me as well, but I never did see her again. She was just out for a couple of weeks, though, not thru-hiking nor on a thru-hiker schedule and was taking her time.

I had been stopped for about an hour when I heard thunder in the distance coming from some dark, ugly clouds on the horizon. Drying out my gear would have to be delayed.... Most of my gear had dried by this point, but my sleeping bag was still a bit damp.

While packing up, a few light drops fell. I figured the storm would pass quickly, however, and decided to duck under a small cluster of nearby trees to wait it out. Overall, it seemed like a good place to wait out a thunderstorm. I went ahead and pulled out my umbrella as well, ready to shed whatever rain made it through the pine trees to my position.

And then the storm struck. BOOM! Thunder echoed throughout the mountains and even in the daylight, I could see the flashes from the lightning among the dark clouds. Then it started hailing. At first the hail was pretty normal, small pellets of ice bouncing off the ground. But as the seconds ticked by, I noticed the hail growing larger and larger. I hadn't really been watching for it, but I noticed when they became about the size of a penny. It was the largest chucks of hail I'd ever seen! Wow!

But the hail continued to grow ever bigger and bigger, with some chucks eventually growing to the size of quarters. I couldn't believe my eyes! Holy crap! I was so happy that I wasn't caught out on an exposed section of trail. Chucks of hail that large could seriously hurt! I've heard of large hail that could dent cars and break windshields, but I'd never before experienced anything like that and definitely hadn't expected to see it today.

Holy giant balls of ice!

Fortunately for me, however, I was never in any danger from it. I was well-protected under some trees that blunted their impact, and most of them bounced off around the tree rather than under it where I was located. And the few that did get under the tree were blocked by my umbrella. So I just admired the this amazing work of nature, and also feeling sorry for anyone stuck out in an exposed area..

Eventually the storm finally passed, and I continued hiking. The trail was covered with such a thick layer of hail, it looked like it had snowed. The hail blocked water from draining off the trails so there were lots of puddles and I was happy that I still had the waterproof socks on.

The dark clouds never went away, however, and more storms looked imminent. It was tempting just to set up camp and stop for the day, but tomorrow was Saturday and I had planned to get into Pinedale, and I really wanted to get into town before the post office closed at 11:00am, which meant I needed to camp close enough to the trailhead to finish early in the morning. Nope, I had to keep hiking, weather be damned!

I still had a couple of passes to get over, though. I made it up and over the first one without any problems, but I was maybe 100 feet from the top of the next pass--perhaps just 15 seconds before reaching the top--when I saw a thick lightning bolt flash from the cloud to a distant mountaintop. Damn!

Definitely not a good day for weather!

I was in a terrible place for a thunderstorm now: at the top of a very exposed pass. I quickly got over it and hiked as hard and fast as I could down the other side, racing the storm. I really wanted to get somewhere less exposed before the storm caught up with me, but the storm was on top of me about 5 minutes later. Crap! Crap! Crap! The wind had also picked up and tried ripping my hat from my head. I tightened the strap around my chin to make sure it was securely set, and I was practically running down the trail at this point. I didn't feel safe at all. I wasn't at the top of the pass anymore, so that was good, but it was still very exposed terrain and very high. It wasn't a good place to be in a lightning storm.

I finally reached a valley bottom along with several trees about a mile further down the trail at which point I felt relatively safe again. I stopped by a bush to break the wind and keep warm until the storm had passed, although by this point, the worst of the storm had already passed.

After sitting around for about 5 minutes, I decided that the storm was definitely on its way out and I continued walking.

A few minutes later, I spotted a mama moose with its baby moose. "Hey, guys!" I told them, waving. They just ignored me and continued to do their moose-like activities. They didn't seem at all bothered by the weather. Go figure.


Late in the afternoon, I reached the junction with the Pole Lakes Trail. My next resupply point was Pinedale. It wasn't a great resupply point, however, as it required hiking over 10 miles off trail to reach the trailhead at Elkhart Park, then the actual town was located another couple of dozen miles away down the road so I'd have to hitch a ride as well. It could easily take half a day just to do the off-trail hiking to reach the trailhead, but the alternative was to carry even more food and skip the town completely. I already skipped Lander, though, and skipping two trail towns was a bit of a stretch, so into town I would go. And to get into town early enough to pick up a maildrop in Pinedale, I wanted to camp within about 5 miles of the trailhead.

So I followed the Pole Lakes Trail toward the trailhead, and maybe a half hour later I caught up with Foxy crossing a creek. She was hopping from rock to rock, trying to cross the substantial river without getting her feet wet. I shouted out to her, "Hello!" which startled her, but not enough to fall into the river which was good since that hadn't meant to scare her at all.

She shouted out directions about how she was getting across so I could follow in her footsteps, but I wasn't worried about getting my feet wet. They were already wet from the previous creek crossings and the slushy hail on the trail, plus I was still wearing my waterproof socks. So I just stomped through the water to the other side then waited until Foxy caught up a few minutes later.

Foxy rock hops across the river

After that, we continued hiking together for the rest of the day. It was growing increasingly dark as sunset approached, but both of us wanted to make it to the post office before they closed tomorrow so we continued pushing onward much later than either of us would have normally preferred. I kind of figured we'd end up camping on our own. Eventually I would have to stop just because it was getting too dark for me to take photos, but Foxy seemed to prefer staying near me. She seemed a bit concerned about bears now that we were in grizzly territory. Northbound hikers were picking up bear spray and some of the hikers were quite nervous about the idea of grizzlies. There were a couple of hikers back in New Mexico who were already worried about grizzly country and hoping to go through as part of a larger convoy. Not that she seemed super worried, but she definitely wasn't excited about the idea of seeing bears and I suspect would have been happy to do the entire trail without seeing any.

I didn't have any bear spray. Not yet, at least, but Foxy did so she was better prepared for a grizzly attack than I was! =) I couldn't bring my bear spray from the PNT which was still in Seattle since I couldn't fly with it to the start of the trail, and I didn't want to carry it for 2000 miles just to get to this point and probably wouldn't need it anyhow. It couldn't be mailed to me on the trail either. I also didn't want to pay $50+ for a canister of bear spray. Nope, I had another plan: Now that we were passing south-bounders, I knew that they would be ditching their bear spray. I saw it happen on the PNT as well when hikers got out of grizzly country. Bear spray often collected in hiker boxes in the towns around that transition area, so my plan was to find one for free in a hiker box. =) And if I didn't.... well, that was okay. I probably didn't really need it. I never had a problem with grizzlies in the past despite all the hiking I'd done in their territory.

But I also think Foxy might have been a bit nervous at the idea of hitchhiking into Pinedale by herself as well, and wanted someone to hitchhike with. I didn't really care why she wanted to hang out with me, however--I just was happy for a little company after hiking alone for so much. And I've always been a big fan of hitchhiking with women. I figure it makes me look less threatening and probably improves my chances for a ride. =)

Of course, we compared notes about the giant hail storm. She too had ducked under some trees to protect herself from the massive hail stones, and even saw a baby moose careening through the forest, seemingly in a panic looking for mama. I could imagine how that might have freaked out the baby moose. It sounded like it happened several miles before I had seen a mama and baby moose, however, so it seemed unlikely that we had seen the same moose. Hopefully the baby moose and mother that Foxy had seen managed to get reunited eventually.

We finally found a place to camp at about 8:30pm--by far the latest time I had stopped hiking on the CDT, and I definitely had to stop because it was just getting too dark for for me to take photos. I set up my tarp--rain was definitely in the forecast! In fact, the air was thick with that fog-like rain already. Foxy set up her tent nearby, and thus ended another wild day on the trail.....

I took several photos of the hail as it continued to grow larger and larger!

By the time the hail finished, it looked like a light layer of snow had fallen.

Despite all the rain, hail and storm clouds, the skies were also still filled with smoke from wildfires which was obvious when you could see how red the sun looked in this reflection on the water. Most of the day I couldn't see the sun at all and hadn't realized how red it was until I noticed this reflection.

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