Surviving the Storm in Oregon
We had hiked 32 miles that day, my biggest mileage day on trail yet. Exhausted I got into camp by 8.30, found a pitch, cooked and got into my sleeping bag. I felt quite proud of my pitch because it was completely flat without any stones or routes digging into my foam pad and therefore my back, furthermore the forest floor was made of deteriorated bark which was super soft. I was certain I would sleep well!
Around 9pm lightning flashes were visible as rain begins to drip into camp. I knew it was going to rain so I had made sure my tent was put up in “storm mode”, that is tighter guy ropes to ensure the fly is taught to avoid splashback into my mesh inner. The rain becomes much heavier and wakes me up because the rain is splashing into my tent after all! Then the thunder starts rolling in, getting louder and louder with the lightning strikes sometimes being triple bolts lighting up my tent as the floor grumbles from the vibrations of the storm.
The sound of thunder is terrifying as I realised it was directly above us cracking in unison with the lightning. I was feeling exposed and vulnerable in my tent on a forested mountain ridge. There are long loud bangs that ripple above me, it sounded as though the storm was tearing open the sky. The recent forest fires had been caused by lightning so I was very aware that there may be grounded lightning strikes nearby causing fires or even potential for me and my friends to be struck.
The bottom of my tent inner starts to float and it felt like a water bed beneath me, I could see that outside my tent was flooded with 4 inches of water putting my bathtub inner to the test! What I had thought was a perfect flat pitch was actually really dry ground that wasn’t absorbing the rainfall. I rushed to put my sleeping bag away into it’s dry bag while it is still dry. I shout to my friend Lizard King to check if his tent is flooded, he said no. I can hear my other friend Dirt Magnet shouting but cannot hear what she is saying through the sounds of the storm.
I decided to put my dank sweaty day hiking clothes back on and put away all my dry sleeping clothes. I found my waterproof trousers and socks, dragged my shoes in from floating away and manage to scramble outside into the flood. My rucksack seems to be quite dry but floating ontop of the water, wrapped up in my poncho tarp. Having left my tent I had immediately submerged my entire feet in water making my waterproof socks void (they don’t do best at being waterproof if being completely submerged). Dirt Magnet had set up her tarp as an A-frame shelter which meant that night the rain water was flowing through her shelter like a river. All of her possessions were floating in the water. Her sleeping bag, clothes, electronic items were all submerged in the flood. It was also pitch black and Dirt Magnet does not have a head torch. We decide to put all her soaked items back in her backpack and find somewhere to stow the bag that is not in 4 inch deep water.
Going back to my tent, I weighed the inside down with my backpack to stop my tent floating away incase it collapsed. I am too exhausted and running on adrenaline to make any decisions about how to handle my items or the situation. All I know is that I had dry clothes that will stay dry for when this ordeal would eventually be over. The clothes that I was wearing were soaked through. Lizard King invited us into his 1 man tent which had not yet begun flooding. We sat in there wet and shivering while the thunder, lightning and rain continued over us. Dirt Magnet and I admited how scared we were and sat in silence shivering.
We decided to pack up our things as soon as the storm moved away and to hike in the dark for the next 15 miles into civilisation (Mazama Village near Crater Lake). It’s 1am by the time the thunder and lightening seems to be a few miles away and it is still raining. My tent had collapsed by this point and the inside was also completely flooded. I packed everything up as my raynauds condition began to settle in on my hands causing them to be numb and painful from the cold and rain. We all put wet waterproof layers on over wet clothes in an attempt to keep ourselves warmer.
It’s 2am as we left camp into the complete darkness of the night, walking in single file with Dirt Magnet who has no headlamp in the middle. We passed several tents in the first 5 miles that seemingly are unaffected by the storms. As we continued walking it becomes apparent that we are on our own walking through a previously burnt forest on a ridge line. There has been some sedimentary landslides over the trail with the rainfall, making it very hard to stay on track in the dark particularly as our phones’ touchscreens are difficult to use in the rain, we had limited navigation.
The exposed terrain with black burnt tree silhouettes gave me an textremely eerie feeling. Burnt forests give smoky aromas, even if they were burnt to the ground a year ago. We experienced this smell as we wondered in the dark not knowing if it was a smell we should be concerned about. We saw countless blowdown trees over the trail, unsure if these has been caused by the storm that night and with limited visibility we didn’t have time to think much more than trying to keep on the trail. At some point in the night we saw a tree alight in the distance, we have since not been able to agree how far away the tree was but a clear flame was visible, presumably on another ridge line. Feeling anxious about our decision to leave camp we take a snack break and try to be rational with our thoughts. We had no option but to keep hiking on the only trail we knew about; the PCT.
We count down the miles and the hours until we would be walking in daylight again. Finally we make it into Crater Lake National Park as the sun is rising. Along the way we saw more tents, presumably inhabited by unaffected sleeping hikers. Making it to Mazama Village in time for a coffee as the small shop opened felt exhausting but I was relieved to be out of the forest and the nights’ events. However, we still had to think of where we could go to get dry and sleep as there were no available local options within our budget. This is how we ended up at the logging town of Chemult in a very budget motel eating some really great Mexican food. Dirt Magnets sleeping bag took 12 hours to dry in a dryer and I think we also slept for a well earned 12 hours…
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