April 3. I’ve found that most hikers spend much time reading weather predictions. We all notice and talk of any upcoming weather changes often, as weather directly affects us now. This is especially true of rain, especially for a beginner hiker! After a while I think the rain will become a part of life that we just walk with, but on day four it was still something to plan around.
I had heard of upcoming rain and chose to hike to Whitley Gap Shelter for the night, despite the fact that the shelter stands 1 mile off the trail! (As I hiked that steep mile descent a concerned mother day hiker even stopped me and said, “This shelter is down a very steep, tough hill! Are you sure you want to go there”? Made me wonder what I was getting into!) I pressed on, eager to sleep inside somewhere in case of rain.
The descent was long and steep, but a few other hikers trickled in and we spent a good evening together. When the sky darkened, we could see glowing embers from a forest fire a couple ridges over. Some of us were unnerved. One local man said, “They won’t let it get out of hand. If the fire gets too big they’ll dig a trench or block it… somehow…”. Later, after we had crawled back in our sleeping bags, he mumbled, “If the wind picks up… it does look kind of close… “. We crawled out of the shelter again to gaze at the embers and nervously joke about it.
Happily we didn’t burn up overnight. Instead we moved on to deliberating on whether to hike in the morning rain or stay dry in the shelter. I chose to hike on to the next shelter, which was only 5 miles away. All morning I hiked through an eerie (though also kind of pretty) mist. I enjoyed the changes the mist and rain brought to the trail- the soothing sound of rain, the smell of wet soil, the bright colors of plants in rain. I also started to feel uncomfortable as my clothes grew damp under my rain gear.
As I neared the shelter (Low Gap), I noticed at least a dozen tents set up on the hill around the shelter. My heart sank. At this point I was hoping to dry out somewhere, and I hadn’t predicted that so many other people would already be there. The shelter was completely full with at least 16 people sitting inside. Luckily they took pity on me and let me squeeze inside to sit a while.
It was a long afternoon of steady downpours and severe thunderstorm predictions, which kept me from wanting to hike on. The upside was that I got to chat with a lot of other thru hikers that day. It was relaxing to sit inside, eat lunch and watch the rain fall for a while.
After a while many of us felt restless. Fortunately the rain finally passed and I was able to start setting up my tent. I had just gotten out the rain fly when the rain fell again and a sudden strong wind started blowing! I felt so dejected as I rushed around staking the tent down, imagining a long night ahead. It was difficult to know where to put my bag and all my stuff. I just threw most of my gear in the tent as fast as I could and then crawled in myself, wet rain clothes and all! I took a nap on my muddy sleeping pad.
Shortly after I woke up, the skies finally did clear, and the sun shone bright. We were all grateful for the clear weather in a way we wouldn’t have been that morning! It felt like a miracle. Many people set their tents up on the hillside and hung wet things out to dry, chatting and laughing together in the fresh spring air.
This was my first day of rain, and we’re all still alive at the end of it. I feel fortunate to have a clear sky again and my first rain behind me. I can’t say that I would do anything differently, other than remember that the rain eventually passes and that there is even beauty in the rain.
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