Feeling Small (April 26-27)

On this afternoon, I got back to the trail from a southern California town (where I’d gone to have foot pain evaluated) via Uber (similar to a taxi service). I felt so ready to start hiking again, even if it was more slowly and with care.

As we drove up toward the summit of Mt. Laguna, the fog thickened and turned to light rain.  The Uber driver looked confused, and looking at me, asked, “You hike in this?”  I had to laugh a little.  When he dropped me off, near where I had gotten off the trail, some other hikers were walking by.  I joined their line, all of us with our rain gear on, and many with water-resistant pack covers in place.

On the way to the trail, we passed the post office and general store, with a convenient wide porch and overhanging roof.  Many hikers made their way to that porch to get out of the rain for a bit.  I was feeling self-satisfied, continuing my walk to the trail and thinking of all the rains I had walked through on the Appalachian Trail, and how I knew now that rainy hiking was just a part of the trip, to be accepted.  I remembered how strange that felt at first to me, back then, like, “Wow, you can hike through rain all day, maybe even longer than that, out here, and survive it!”

Anyway, at first, hiking up and over Mt. Laguna, the light rain came and went, and I thought it was pretty neat to hike over and around different hills and see places where the fog seemed to concentrate.  I kept thinking the rain would pass soon, true to my ideas of typical desert climate, but instead, everything intensified.  The wind grew much stronger and sometimes rain and even snow pelted my face and hands, so that I had to stop and turn to put my back against the wind.  One other hiker came up behind me and passed me, and I was amazed to see someone else out there.  She did not stick around to chat, muttering something about hurrying to a sheltered site!

I passed a tent nestled in a small grove of trees and decided to set up among some manzanita shrubs nearby.  It always comforts me to sleep near other hikers.  I saw no activity from outside that tent, and could easily imagine those hikers huddled inside (2 person tent), trying to make the best of it.  Even though it was only 5 pm at this time 🙂

It was a real ordeal to set up camp- so windy that I had to make sure that nothing blew away while I set up, and I had to stake down all the tent corners first, so the tent wouldn’t blow away before I attached the poles to give it shape.  Another unforeseen challenge was that dirt had frozen in my tent clips, in such a way that I couldn’t attach the tent fly to the body as securely as usual.  I did my best to just stake the fly to the ground, over the tent.

Inside, everything was a little damp but dry enough to keep me warm.  It was early evening, so I took a short nap and tried to ignore the wind.  I had never camped in wind this powerful before- it seemed it was only getting worse, and it was already howling and buffeting my tent every which way.  I looked up at the ceiling and poles swaying from side to side and fervently hoped that nothing would snap.  It was really amazing to me how far the poles were able to bend without breaking!

A few times I wondered if this was a particularly terrible campsite and if it would help if I hiked further to a more protected site.  Truth be told, I was pretty high up on the mountain yet, and it seemed the wind just glided up and over this particular area, hitting my tent hard, quite frequently.

I zipped open the door to re-evaluate and was amazed by the view.  I could see surrounding mountains and all the way down to the desert floor, and it seemed that though I was experiencing stormy conditions, and could see some rain hitting surrounding mountainsides, I could see miles of sunny land down below me.  That was really something, one of the more fascinating views I’ve ever seen, in spite of the circumstances.  I thought ruefully about how nice it was to see some sunshine hitting the earth somewhere.  It didn’t do a whole lot to solve my current issues though- I was viewing the desert floor from roughly 5500 feet of elevation, and the trail ahead took miles to descend, so it wasn’t as easy as just stepping down off the mountain into the sunshine.  Unfortunately.

Looking down from stormy conditions at a higher elevation, to a sunny desert floor below.

Another photo of the stormy weather, yet sunlight shining on the desert floor below.

A rainstorm that passed nearby but did not rain on my particular mountain.

More pretty desert scenery.

An example of how vast the views have been!

A view of the trail, cutting into the hillside.

(Please know that you can click on these photos to get an enlarged view.)

I tried to nap again, hoping to just rest the best I could until morning time, but I was awoken abruptly by the snap of my tent fly flying off half of the tent.  That was alarming.  I felt like that was the answer I had been waiting for, so though I hate hiking in the dark, I packed everything up, put my damp rain clothes back on, hiked 10 minutes down the trail to the first dip I could find, and set everything up again.  I was amazed that my damp clothes still somehow warmed me, along with all the adrenaline I was feeling, ha.

Mostly on the trip so far I had been having the time of my life, but these particular moments, I thought, this is really the pits!

At least the little gully I found did not seem quite so unprotected as my previous spot.  I set everything up again, and this time kept my coat and raincoat on, and even my rain pants, inside my sleeping bag.

Once again, not all my tent clips worked, so I did some jerry-rigging with extra rope I had to tie the fly to the tent body.  The tent bucked and swayed all night.  I clipped the front vestibule (part of the fly) to my clothing bag, and pulled it inside the tent with me, as much as I could.  I hoped it wouldn’t blow off again!

Different times the wind seemed to die, then picked up again with terrible force.  I dozed.  Gradually my clothing seemed to dry on my body.  I wondered if I was in a hurricane or something.  I wondered if I should hike up to a nearby highway (Sunrise Highway) and head back to the Mt Laguna General Store, but that seemed like a pretty miserable idea too.

Eventually, morning came, and it was still cold and windy but at least not raining or sleeting.  I packed up my gear and put my frozen pack on, and started walking down the trail again.  There were really beautiful views all around, but often I was hit by chilly gusts of wind, and I thought again that this was kind of the pits.  I really hate when my hands are icy cold, as they were this morning, and my mittens had gotten wet in the evening, so now they were frozen!

I didn’t have much desire to stop to sit or eat snacks in that wind, so I hiked steadily all morning.  I kept looking back at Mount Laguna, and as I got further from those peaks, I kept thinking how glad I was to be hiking away.  The highest peak looked white and frosted all morning.  Pretty conifers up there, but all frosted over and terribly cold looking!

After a few hours, I stopped at a picnic table to snack and enjoy the sunlight.  It was still windy and cold, but not nearly as bad as it was up higher on Mt. Laguna.  I kept thinking how glad I was that the trail was descending all day.  I thought how nice it would be to get out of the constant wind.

I walked on and met three thru hikers who I got to know better later in the day.  They told me how terrible their night had been, how their tent stakes came out or their tents even collapsed in the wind,  how they tried to set up tents as close to the bushes as possible for extra protection, and I felt relieved and more than happy to commiserate.  I was glad I wasn’t the only one who had been out there, though sorry they had such a tough time of it.

Throughout the day, the trail very gradually descended to lower elevations and warmer temperatures.  I thought it was pretty neat to be hiking through a different kind of desert on this day- a greener desert than previously.  I’ve really appreciated how each day has brought totally different views.  Also, I’ve been loving the fact that you can often see the path cut into the mountainside on mountains to come and mountains behind…the views are so much more open here, with no large trees obscuring the view.  It’s a neat feeling to look wat ahead to where you’ll go, and way back at where you came from earlier in the day.

Amazingly, to me, I hiked on my coat all day and was comfortable, and never sweaty.  That dry desert air.

Throughout the day, I hiked some with those three hikers who had also weathered the winds.  In hindsight, I believe it was a stormy day and night, worsened by the high elevation. Not a hurricane, just a bad storm to be tenting in.

In the afternoon the trail brought us to more incredibly open views- such that you could see surrounding mountains and valleys for miles and miles, and even rainstorms here and there, pouring down on mountains far away.  I put my rain gear back on, just in case!

I was feeling so small by the end of that day!  The vast views were absolutely beautiful, but also overwhelming to me by the end of the day.  You see this small path ahead, winding out into all that vastness, cutting up and down mountains… I was ready to crawl into my tent and just look at my bland tent ceiling for a while.  Certainly not like walking through the “green tunnel” as many call the Appalachian Trail.

I found a few nice-looking sites protected among shrubbery and decided to stop there.  I was relieved when another hiker also stopped to camp in that area.  He set up his tent and then walked over to my spot among the shrubs and introduced himself.  It was a quiet evening after that, with each of us eating dinner and setting things up at our separate sites.

I was so relieved to be out of the wind, with only occasional desert gusts!  As the evening light faded, you could hear multiple coyotes howling together from a mountain ridge.  It sounded pretty far away, so I thought it was more wildly beautiful than frightening.

I settled into my sleeping bag and closed my eyes, then all of a sudden, in the nearby darkness, I heard a loud and agitated-sounding, “Eeeee, eeeee, eeeee!”  It was quite loud and terrifying, especially when it was repeated a few times, each time getting closer to our tents, and then again very quickly but further away as if the animal crying out could move so fast as lightning up the hillside.  My heart sank when the call returned, closer to our tents again.  It sounded like a large animal, and I couldn’t think of anything that large other than a mountain lion.

My mouth instantly became dry as cotton, to the point that when I tried to swallow much later, it was a loud and raspy swallow.  I was trying to breathe as shallowly as I could, and I could hear my heartbeat in my ears.  The animal called five times over the course of 15 minutes and then was silent.

I was so uncomfortable, with my feet elevated on my backpack at the bottom of the tent, but I didn’t have the courage to move anything for a very long time.  About 20 minutes after the final call, I heard the other hiker shifting in his tent, on his inflatable pad, and a few minutes later I dared to at least grab my pepper spray, pocket knife, and phone from my backpack, and burrow down in my sleeping bag.

Inside there, fortunately with phone service, I internet searched “Help, mountain lion outside my tent.”  Haha.  I read that mountain lion attacks on humans are rare, but whatever you do, don’t run from one.  Or, if you’re in a tent, that’s good because they are unlikely to attack something they can’t clearly see.

That reassured me a tiny bit, though needless to say, every rattle, shake or scurry I heard in the brush throughout the night set my heart racing all over again.

Fortunately, the rest of the night truly was uneventful.  In the morning I went over to the other hiker’s tent and exclaimed, “We’re alive!  We made it!” and he just looked at me in confusion.  I told him about the sound I had heard, how it was so close, and how terrifying it sounded to me, and he seemed surprised and said he hadn’t heard it.  He sympathized, but apparently hadn’t had the same night of terror I had!  I sure am glad he was there that night though- overhearing him sneezing and turning throughout the night, and not being attacked for his movements, had given me hope that I might survive the night.

Later I checked out comments for our campsite (from an app that hikers can feed trail information into) and saw that a hiker the day before had commented about a mountain lion walking by her tent, as she was making dinner.  My hunch is that a mountain lion lives in that area, but I can’t say for sure.  Potentially hearing one was enough!

Between the windy night and threatening animal noises, I sure have felt like I’m out in a whole new type of wild, lately.  Like when Dorothy told Toto, “we’re not in Kansas anymore!”, I definitely feel like I’m not in the woods of the eastern states anymore!

I continue to feel fortunate to be out here, seeing and experiencing some very new things, in spite of some uncomfortable times.  Fortunately, writing from a few weeks later, I have not camped through any other wind storms or threatening wildlife sounds 🙂  I remain thankful for those adventures and what I learned from them.

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