Wednesday, July 3, 2013
Day 78, July 3 - Adventures with Storms
Mile 1,000 to Sonora Pass, Mile 1018 Today was intense. I'm happy it's over, and I'm happy to be alive. Even happier to see friends! We left camp at 7, but it was a rough day from the start. Brett received a text from his Mom that he'd overdrawn his checking account due to a check that wasn't cashed that he'd forgotten about - not the best way to start the day, especially when you're living in a world where you forget about the everyday concerns of normal life (i.e. $$$!) The day was gorgeous, and we got to the start of one of our last major Sierra climbs early and I felt great. I motored up the switchbacks while Brett readjusted some electronics, and as a rare treat (or maybe he just wanted me to think I was flying), Brett didn't catch up to me until the end of the climb. I felt like I ran up the whole mountain! We decided to jam up the side of the very end for a better view, and stupidly skipped the trail to hike straight up...which meant that we missed a turn off for the PCT and wound up on a different trail for a bit before realizing we'd made a wrong turn. We had to cross country back to the PCT, and before long noticed that clouds were building from the South. KingStreet's guide had quite explicitly stated that "the top of the climb towards Sonora Pass is NOT a place you want to find yourself during a thunderstorm", so we hurried along as fast as possible as we were hiking pretty solidly above the tree line. Unfortunately, we had over 5 miles of exposed terrain to hustle across before heading back down to safety, and run as we might, those clouds were building, and building, and building. Brett seemed pretty nervous about the impending storm which in turn terrified me - he doesn't worry unnecessarily, so I knew we were in a bit of a tight spot if the clouds opened up on us and electricity started striking. Most of the hiking was across scree and some leftover snow patches, and the only trees in sight were thousands of miles down the mtn - a POSSIBLE last minute evacuation, but certainly not ideal, as even those were short little stumps that wouldn't provide much cover in the event of an electrical storm. Clouds continued to build and surround us, and I had a minor panic attack, something along the lines of "I DON'T WANT TO DIE HERE!" while hysterically crying (for reals - I swear I'm not usually so dramatic). When the storm finally opened up on us, we had made it within a QUARTER MILE of the descent (and safety!) Unfortunately, not close enough to continue hiking and finish our day. Fortunately, close enough to some low hanging shrubs and trees as to provide a bit of shelter in an electric storm in the Sierra. We were only a mile from our meeting point with friends, but had to literally sprint down the side of the mountain to take cover after the entire sky seemed to light up with the first strikes of lightning, and the ground shook from the rumbling thunder. We may as well have been 100 miles from the Sonora Pass PCT junction at HWY 108. The storm started out tame enough, but soon enough it began hailing all over - the hail got to be the size of golf balls, and it hurt. We were huddled under these tiny little trees trying to stay warm, sitting on our sleeping pads (the foam doesn't conduct electricity) waiting out the storm. Usually, afternoon Sierra storms last an hour, maybe two at the most. After 4 hours, we were both getting very cold, and worrying this thing might not let up. We realized it might not just "blow over" and Brett suggested just hiking down. The lightning was everywhere, and I questioned his logic - when he couldn't explain WHY this was a good idea, I knew he wasn't well - usually I'd take any of his backcountry advice, but he wasn't making sense. I went to check on him and saw his entire face was blue - his lips were particularly blue and I realized we were in trouble. Time to set up the tent. We didn't previously because we didn't want to set up a metal rod in the ground, but I realized it was time we warm up - the only way I wasn't shivering uncontrollably at that point was by singing songs to myself and remembering happy times and warm places. I pitched the tent and got Brett into warm clothes, and felt safer when I saw he was finally warming up. We hunkered down...a total of over 5 hours until this crazy storm ended. I thought we'd be there forever, and was so glad when it finally cleared up. It was a really scary experience, and it's definitely the closest I've faced mortality in my life. Too intense! I cried again when it was all over, but was glad to know that I can help make good decisions for our little team if needed. The end of the day was weird - the storm blew over and we packed up and headed down the hill the last mile. We expected our friends to have been waiting around all day for us, but they arrived literally 2 minutes after us! Perfect timing, and I've never been so happy to see friendly faces. We spent the night at the trailhead as everyone arrived with great fanfare, and everyone looked forward to our long weekend together!