Gnarly Wind in the Goat Rocks
This is a story I’ve been wanting to tell from a PCT section hike preparing for the big one.
A Smoky Foreshadowing
I was mid-way through a 5-day section hike through the Goat Rocks Wilderness in Washington state. Cispus Pass was unfortunately blanketed in wildfire smoke so I decided to stop early. I was also ahead of schedule and found a primo spot next to a creek and overlooking the smoky Cispus Basin. Beautiful.
I set up my tent next to some trees to try and get as much wind block that was available. There was only a slight breeze evident at the time. I saw the thru-hikers I was leapfrogging all day pass and continue on while I was eating dinner. The wind only got stronger from then on. I tried to get some sleep while the wind got increasingly heavy and started to bash the walls of my new ultra-light trekking pole shelter, a Tarptent StratoSpire Li, I reassured myself I tied the guylines tight enough and it would hold.
All of a sudden with my eyes closed, as I was trying to sleep, the shoe dropped and I was covered with my collapsed tent. I was able to get the tent back up and add guylines to keep it supported in the heavy wind. It was nearly 10 p.m.
Around midnight I decided the best course of action was to move camp. I was worried my tent would be shredded with the onslaught of wind. It already developed a hole near a tie-down point. I stuffed the tent in my bag and headed out down the trail in the dark with the wind constantly trying to push me over.
The first site I found had some tree cover but it was packed with tents already. I briefly considered trying to sleep in a narrow spot with no room for a tent. Surely there was something more protected from wind with room for a tent. There was another campsite up ahead.
The next site was OK. Good not great. Too windy to get the tent up, though, with the finicky trekking poles. I pressed on down the trail to the next possible campsite. Suddenly I am stopped in my tracks when I hear a crash in the dark down below in the basin. It sounded like an avalanche or ice calving off a glacier. I figured it was a tree falling in the forest below. A tree falling from the wind. The sound reinforced just how serious this wind was. It was a gnarly storm.
I found a site with some open spots even more protected from the wind. Again, I had trouble getting the trekking poles to stay up while I guyed the tent sides out. It was 3 am at this point. I had hiked down the trail about 3 miles. I caved and got out the emergency bivy. The bright orange space blanket that was neatly packed in the sack it came in. I never imagined I would actually use this, let alone be in a position to NEED it. Somehow I finally got some sporadic shut-eye while waking up to creaking trees above me, wondering if had to worry about trees falling on me. I was too tired to worry.
I woke up late and took stock of the situation. It was clear and calm. A beautiful day with the smoke gone; pushed out from the wind storm. I somehow got the bivy packed up in the stuff sack it came in and started moving; eating breakfast on the trail. I still had 2 days and 22 some-odd miles before I was done with this section hike to meet up with my ride back to Seattle. I also had the Knife Edge to look forward to that day.
What did I learn?
There wasn’t much I could do to prepare for the windstorm I didn’t see coming. Sometimes you are just going to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I probably should have broken camp before it got bad enough to collapse my tent, though. Figuring out how to quickly and efficiently set up the trekking pole tent will hopefully become second nature as I get more practice; it is a critical skill.
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