Thursday, August 3, 2000

A tent on a dark slope

Ready for the rain

This time twelve hours ago I had topped Forester Pass and was on my way back down to help Mom and play Sherpa for the top 2/3 of the mind-boggling ascent. It's 9:00 PM. The sky is crystal clear. A faint silvery glow traces the horizon and a fingernail moon sits on the shoulder of Vidette Peak. A perfect end to a...well, interesting day. Let's start at 3:45 AM... I awake to the distant sound of thunder. The flash of lightning. We'd gone to sleep beneath cloudy skies and, curious, I poked my head out of the tent to look. No more clouds. Stars in every corner of the sky. Except one. A great cloud hung over Whitney like a fungus. Pulling my head back inside the tent I counted the seconds between lightning flashes and the pursuing rolls of thunder. Seventeen seconds. Far away. Mom woke up at that time and we did a little vocal worrying about the weather. FLASH! I counted. Made it to thirteen one thousand. Closer. Then another flash. Ten one thousand. I poked my head back out of the tent. it was like something out of a movie. In just that scant ten minutes, the cloud-fungus had spread like a sheet across the sky. Lightning flashed. Six seconds later the thunder clattered across the bowl. This sucker was coming fast! We burrowed down in our sleeping bags. The wind came, and hit us hard. The tent shook. The plastic bag covering Mom's pack whipped about. And as I found out later, my own pack cover was lifted off my pack and carried a hundred yards up the slope. Lightning filled the sky. The tent lit up like a blue strobe. Thunder crashed right on top of us. And then came the rain. But then just like that, the storm was gone. It slammed through our part of the Sierra like a locomotive and sped north. Within minutes, everything was calm. The rain had stopped. The wind died. And all was well again.
3:15 PM: near Center Basin trail: We are sitting in the tent during yet another rain shower. Last night was wild. About 3 am, we woke up to a lot of lightning and thunder from afar. It came closer. The wind picked up a lot and it felt like the ground was shaking. Then the raincame. It blew over quickly, but there was no more sleep for us. Will got up about 5 and discovered his pack cover had blown off. So he went in search of it and found it up the hill. He suggested that we get going so I got up at 5:30 and we were ready to hike by 6:30. Only a little fruit for breakfast but we stopped later and I had granola. Up up up a barren lake-filled basin till we got to a wall. No clue where a trail was!
We got an early start, partly because we figured the weather would be best in the morning, but mostly because we had the highest pass on the JMT to scale. But as we were reminded, there's just no banking on the weather out there. And though the approach to the pass was sunny and calm, we could see the peaks across the canyon to the south. They were raked by lightning and cloud.

Forester Pass

Approaching the pass

A distant sunny divide

A spectacular vista


Chris and Will, eating

Will went on ahead so I could see where the trail was. It went toward the right, then doubled back up high. Incredible engineering. Will came back down halfway to get my pack (my birthday present!). I continued on. It was doable but still difficult. I crested the pass at 9 am with Irene and Greg High(2 other JMTers) and George, who had come up from the Kern yesterday.

I sped on ahead of Mom, intent on playing sherpa in the interest of time. Halfway up the steep set of switchbacks (which are invisible until you're practically on top of them) I saw a second storm, this one drenching Tyndall Creek and the area where we had dinner last night. Okay, I thought, we're next. The fear intensified. I calmed myself by remembering that for all the moments of intense euphoria and joy one encounters out here, there will always be those of terror and outright panic.

But we were spared. My fervent prayers to the weather gods were answered, and by 9:30, Mom and I stood on the top of the pass in fitful sunshine. We shared with three others: Irene and Greg (two fellow JMTers we met yesterday on the shoulder of Mt. Young) and another hiker named George.

Greg and Irene bring up the rear

Chris crossing the "notch" just below Forester Pass


We're a lot happier than we look

looking towards Tyndall Basin

Pursuing storms

The descent to the Bubbs Creek Basin was long and arduous. Rain and shine were intermittent, requiring frequent stops for me to either put on or take off my rain parka, each time with increased exasperation. We finally made camp in a little used but pleasant and secluded spot. Below us was the descent to Vidette Meadow. Above was the crown of Junction Peak. We pitched the tent just in time to wait out an intense rain and hail storm. The weather gods had finally made up their minds and worked us for a while.

Seated on a ridge

About a mile below Forester

To see a large composite of the two
photos above, click here

The sky was threatening on and off all day and our rain jackets were on, off, and on again. It was tough to figure out the clothing- what with the wacky weather. It's hailing now- good thing we got the tent pitched and are in it. Sheesh. We both need baths and clothes washings- but no chance today again. I'm doing pretty well with my stream crossings. Several today and a big one- Tyndall- yesterday. We ate crackers by the river earlier so I'm not starving. Took 2 aspirin, will rest a bit now.

A tree-sheltered campsite

Campsite photo

Will before the brightening sky

A peculiar burst of energy

Exhausted, I stayed in the tent until things brightened a bit (without actually getting better) and in a fit of energy, got up, washed clothes, took and actual shower and made some green tea (Miso for Mom) which we consumed in the tent whilst reading THE RAZOR'S EDGE and MARATHON MAN.
I got up and got water and was ready to take a cold shower when it started raining again so I packed my clothes up and went back into the tent. I read Marathon Man- then it rained more and hailed. Will got up later, washed clothes and took a shower. I was too cold. Will made me miso and had green tea. I felt better. It cleared up for a dinner of turkey tetrazzini and cheesecake. I took a bowl bath. Lights out about 9- later than usual.

Freeze-dried food today

Cookin' up some dinner