Hiking In The Rain

Why Hike In The Rain?

When I am home, I never choose to hike in the rain. I certainly don’t start a hike in the rain. I have turned back before reaching the summit of Camel’s Hump and Mt Mansfield in Vermont, both over 4000 feet,  when it is raining. Why bother slipping on rocks while exposed to the elements above tree line, especially when there is no view?

It is logical when hiking from home to pick and choose when to hike. But on the AT, you wouldn’t get very far if you only hiked on fair weather days. So the choice comes down to a number of factors: how much rain is forecast, how many hours during the day and/or night, are you and your gear already wet, and can you tolerate another cold, wet night.

If the likelihood of rain is less than 50% and rain accumulation may only be 1/10 to a 1/4 inch, you may want to chance it. If it is going to rain all day, at night, and the following day, you may wish to get off the trail. While sleeping indoors at night, you could slack pack on a rainy day, which is what I did.

Advantages Of Slack Packing

Last Monday, rain was forecast from Tuesday night to Friday. (In fact, it didn’t begin until Wednesday morning). I had already spent portions of several days and a couple of nights in the rain. I had also experienced some evening temperatures in the low 30’s. I was ready to get off the trail, but I decided I could slack pack during the day.

Slack packing is when you only carry your necessities for the day. Your pack is light and you can hike faster than with a fully loaded backpack. A shuttler drops you off at the trailhead, and picks you up at a designated trailhead at the end of your hiking day.

While I was at Rocky Gap, I arranged for Patrice Price to pick me up at Wayah Gap and shuttle me to the Nantahala Outdoor Center (The NOC), which has lodging, and  where I had a resupply box waiting for me.

The next morning, Patrice returned me to Wayah Gap. It was a cold, rainy hike up to Wayah Bald, which has a beautiful stone structure on top. I reached the structure about the same time as J13, who had spent the night on the trail. He was so wet and cold that he contemplated putting up his tent and getting into his sleeping bag.

I wasn’t that cold. But I didn’t get to enjoy the location and there was no view. However, I knew Patrice was shuttling me from Tellico Gap back to The NOC. (I enjoyed our conversations very much, learning that she has a connection to VT. In the early 1970’s, she attended a sculling workshop at Craftsbury Outdoor Center and then worked there for two seasons). A restaurant dinner and a warm bed also awaited me. Below is a misty view from the  inside of the structure in Wayah Gap.

The next day, Patrice shuttled me to Tellico Gap and I had a relatively short, but very steep, hike down to The NOC in the rain.

Unfortunately, Mimi, whom I had met the day before slack packing from a hostel in Franklin, slid off the steep, muddy trail, and couldn’t hoist herself up without the help from a passing hiker. Thank goodness she wasn’t injured.

Challenges Of Back Packing  In The Rain

It was finally time to leave The NOC. I couldn’t slack pack when the sun was shining. But wait! After a couple hours of hiking, that small chance of rain turned into solid rain for several hours. The rain wore me down and I stopped sooner than planned at Locust Cove Gap. Thankfully it didn’t rain that night.

The next day started out sunny and clear. I had hopes if reaching Fontana Dam, about 17 miles away. But the descent of almost five thousand feet aggravated my left knee. When I arrived at Cable Creek Gap, I knew I needed to stop for the day. After setting up my tent and soaking my knee, I learned there would be heavy rain that night. Uh oh.

Thankfully, my tent held up during the night of  rain. The next morning, I ate breakfast and packed up in the shelter. Then I started out in the rain, which lasted most of the way down to Fontana Dam. Below is a photo of the misty trail.

Where To Stay In Fontana Dam?

While I stopped at the Fontana Dam Marina to resupply, I met two groups of people who had stayed at the Fontana Village Resort and another party who had stayed at a hostel. I had planned to camp at the Fontana Dam Shelter, known as the Hilton because it has USB ports, showers, and bathrooms. I decided my knee and I would prefer to relax in the luxury of the Resort. As I was checking in, Crane and Miller were just leaving for the shelter.

Tomorrow I enter the Smokies! The forecast is cold, but dry,  weather for the next several days. What a relief!

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Comments 7

  • Jill : May 1st

    Phyllis, wonderful post as always.
    Have never heard of slack packing, what a good idea. How nice people are there to help.
    Good luck on the trail and let me know if the rhododendrons are in bloom in the Smokies.

    • Phyllis Rubenstein : May 5th

      Thanks Jill! The rhododendrons are not yet in bloom! But there are beautiful wildflowers; so many that I don’t know where to begin to write about them.

      • Phyllis Rubenstein : May 5th

        I just looked through my photos. I have seen Flame Azalea, which is bright orange, and Mountain Laurel!

  • Bobby : May 1st

    way to go Phyllis! I am a native Floridian,but live in the NC Smokies . I have sectioned hiked the AT before and admire the through hikers very much. I have hiked the AT in the dead of winter in both rain and snow and snow is much better until it gets deep . I have summer hiked the AT in the rain for days on in but the summer is nicer because it’s relatively warm though it gets chilly at elevation. Keep up the good work and hike on….

    • Phyllis Rubenstein : May 5th

      Thanks Bobby. More rain is forecast. Ugh!

  • Jim T : May 2nd

    Great article and a huge moral boost for me and I’m sure others that dream about hiking the AT.

    Since I wear glasses it’s always tough hiking in the rain. It’s all about vision and if your glasses are fogged or rain soaked it can make the hike dangerous at times.

    Hiking in rain can be good for the soul as it reveals nature at its quietest. I quess it boils down to how hard it’s raining though.

    In addition to rain gear top and bottom I always pack rain mitts to cover up my gloves while hiking . I’ve got a pair from EE and from OR and like them both. Keeping your hands warm is a real game changer.

    Another item folks forget about is hand warmer packs. They put out insane amounts of heat and when you are lightly packed it can make the difference between suffering cold and moderate warmth. Stick one in your sleeping bag at night and feel that Ahhhh moment .

    During the day use a zip lock bag and put in your wet hiking socks from yesterday’s hike. They will be dry by that evening.

    The heat packs are in Wal Mart and every hardware store along the trail.

    When finished cut them open with knife and scatter contents on ground. The outer covering then can be used forFirestarter. Now nothing is wasted. A couple hand warmers in your pack weigh only a few grams and can make a real difference in your mental attitude. When cold finding some warmth any where really makes those cold nights bearable.

    Hope this helps.

    • Phyllis Rubenstein : May 5th

      Thanks for your suggestions Jim.


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