Soaked! Soggy takeaways from a rainy AT prep hike
As the calendar turns to March 2022, my mid-April AT start date seems very close! How will I handle that wet spring weather on the AT? Well let me tell you about my “rain trip” in July 2021. I’d experienced showers and light bands of rain in my first AT prep hikes, but this was a whole different level of … learning, yeah.
Four sunny hours over three days
Two weeks following a buoyant overnight hike in Vermont, I decided to again tackle very aggressive New Hampshire terrain. (All of that great VT beer I took home skewed my judgement in hike planning, I guess!) I forged plans to do a 30+ mile figure eight loop on both sides of Crawford Notch, covering sections of the AT.
The weather forecast was “iffy”. Do you know that non-committal kind of verbal shuffle that weather people sometimes give us for crappy forecasts? You know, the song and dance about “it’s hard to tell” and “there might be some breaks”? Yeah, I got all of that prior to taking off on a Friday morning and KNEW I WAS IN FOR IT. It was going to rain and rain … but I needed to see how my gear and I would handle it.
Rain gear goes on early
I hiked three very pleasant miles up the Crawford Path before the murkiness set in. One moment I had a clear view to Mt Eisenhower, my planned lunch stop, next I was enshrouded in a rainy cloud bank. About five minutes after donning my Marmot rain jacket, I was battling sideways-slashing water in dense fog.
I’d end up bypassing the Mt Eisenhower summit, instead traversing the now-soaked, rocky AT as the Crawford Path circled the peak’s base. About an hour later I’d drop off the ridge and leave the worst of the wind behind me. But the rain would continue. Not just on day one, but for most of day two, with a closing all-night-and-next-day flourish that would soak everything for the trip out!
Grading out my gear and my preparation
So how did I fare in the wet and wild? As detailed below, the results were mixed:
- My new boots rocked! I’d just purchased the mid-cut version of the brand new Hoka Anacapa boots and they did not disappoint. The boots were comfortable, dry, and showed amazing traction on wet rocks and roots. I’d found my AT trail boots!
- I discovered the joys of a bigger, more secure hammock tarp. My decision to order the 12-foot version of a new Dyneema tarp paid off immediately. Staying dry all night was wonderful, but having room under cover to make morning coffee and oatmeal was an unexpected bonus!
- My pack’s main gear compartment stayed dry and functional. I’d heeded sage advice to use a trash compactor bag as a liner. (Many thanks to my former boss Phil Werner for writing that article!) That thin plastic layer, plus the stuff sacks for my down gear, kept everything dry there.
- All of my other pack compartments were sopping wet! Why had I not even considered that I needed similar rain protection for my top, bottom, and belt compartments? Gear was literally swimming in several inches of water in those spaces. The most embarrassing moment that weekend was slowly peeling apart drenched dollar bills to pay my shelter fee at Ethan Pond!
- Making wet hiking clothes wetter. For some reason, I also thought that hanging my wet and sweaty shirt and shorts on a rope clothesline in the rain was a good idea. Not so! The water added about three pounds in pack weight and I’d need to wear my long pants on the final day.
- Cell challenges! Who knew that a cell phone could get so wet in a pocket that even entering an unlock code could take minutes? Not me! After a ten minute battle to bang out an “I’m OK” message to my wife I realized I’d have to better care for my cell in wet weather.
The adjustments going forward
My drenched gear eventually dried out, but I knew I needed to make adjustments for next time!
- Step 1 was to line the inside of my pack’s lower compartment. Amazingly I discovered that the rugged plastic bags from nationwide retailer Total Wine & More fit perfectly into this smaller space. Trim the handles off the top to avoid snagging.
- Step 2 was to use three different sizes of Ziploc bags to enclose all of the previously floating items (pun intended) in my pack. Rope, snacks, multi-tool, money clip, eyeglasses and spare batteries would be bagged in the future.
- Step 3 was purchasing a Gossamer Gear cellphone holder to get my phone out of my soaked clothing. Hopefully next time it rains, it’ll be dry enough to use on first try!
Ready for the shakedown!
In addition to the learnings above, I also had crushed 30+ miles of tough terrain in soaking conditions. (Those of you who’ve scaled Mt. Willey out of Crawford Notch know I’m dealing in truths!) Now I felt much closer to being AT-ready.
I’d go on to complete two more overnight prep hikes over AT terrain in August: over Mt. Greylock in Massachusetts, and up to the Mahoosuc Range outside Gorham, New Hampshire. At times during these hikes I could really start to feel a great rhythm. I got into the flow, and my mind was bursting with “I was meant to do this” as I crushed the miles. By September I was ready for a full shakedown hike – as I’ll describe for you next time.
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