Dan's Outside

I go, I see, I do, I walk, I think, I like…

What? It’s Raining!

Last weekend I decided to do one of my favorite Tuolumne Meadows area hikes – the Mono Pass trail. This trail starts below Tioga Pass, just inside the park, and goes out the Sierra crest near Mount Gibb, passing through forest and beautiful alpine meadows on the way.

As I loaded up my pack – filling with a lot of photography equipment – it was a beautiful, clear morning. The previous day I had hiked out toward North Dome and carried what turned out to be too much extra clothing. Since I usually tend to over-prepare for the weather, and was perhaps more aware of this than usual having done so only 24 hours earlier, I decided to just take what I was wearing. That’s right, no rain gear.

Is there a better way to ensure that it will rain?

About an hour into the hike, near the junction with the trail to Spillway Lake, I was pleased to see some white, fluffy clouds appear – they relieved the uniform blue sky and occasionally produced a welcome bit of shade. I began to consider how I would incorporate them in photographs near the pass.

I reached the area of the pass at about 1:00 and wandered over to the historic mine site that sits on the pass. (I had visited the mine remnants before, but this time I found out a bit more about it. The site is older than I had thought, first being used in the 1860s and abandoned in about 1890.)

I sat down on a comfortable rock to drink some water, have a snack, and look around for photographic subjects. I noticed that the fluffy white clouds had morphed into something much darker and a bit menacing to my south, in the direction of Parker Pass. I figured this meant that there might be some thunder and perhaps a few showers by late afternoon when I returned to my car. No worries!

Not five minutes later it started to sprinkle. I thought “that’s a bit surprising, but it will stop in couple of minutes.” It didn’t stop. The drops became larger. I began to think about my lack of rain gear. As I sat there munching on my snack there was a sudden clap of thunder right overhead – what I call “flash bang” thunder because it is so close that there is almost no delay between the flash of lightning and the bang of thunder. A few minutes later another clap of thunder exploded right overhead.

OK, time to leave! By the time I had the pack reloaded and on my back, the light rain was becoming steady. Two thoughts became prominent in my mind. One, I had left my tent windows open back in Tuolumne Meadows – I hoped the rain didn’t head that way! Two, I was either going to get lucky and watch the showers move on, or I was about to get very wet on the nearly two-hour walk back out.

I got lucky. Although the trail was wet all the way down, there was constant thunder, and I could see rain coming down all around… it barely sprinkled on me until I got to my car. As I loaded the car it began to come down in earnest.

My tent was not so lucky. Back in Tuolumne it had rained, and hard.

Lessons learned and relearned. Never leave camp without closing everything up and putting all of my gear away. And, what the heck, toss that lightweight parka in the pack!


July 26, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. The one, and only I’ll have to say, time I got my ex to go backpacking was to Pt Reyes back in the mid 1980s. We planned to go to Coast Camp for the weekend. Since I wanted her to have a good experience, I took much more of the weight so she’d have a lite pack. That included the ~9 lb Kmart tent we had at the time for camping. Since my pack was very heavy, and it was a beautiful sunny day, I decided to leave the rain fly in the car – it probably weighed a pound by itself.

    All was going well until shortly after dinner just as the sun was setting…into a bunch of dark clouds. It started to rain…heavy, big drops. At first we tried to stick it out…until we noticed puddles forming inside our tent…rain proof it was NOT without the rain fly.

    With a now unhappy, wet, cold, and miserable wife, we chose the only survivable option (and the survivability likelyhood was was not due to the weather conditions), we packed up the now soaking wet gear, and hiked back out to the car, followed by a very quick, silent trip home…

    I’ll add one other don’t leave home without it – your tent’s rain fly (if it has one)!

    Comment by Ernie | July 26, 2010

    • Two comments, Ernie:

      First, I think I know why this was the one and only pack trip with the ex… :-)

      Second, my “no fly in the rain” story. I was in Alaska with a group of high school and middle school kids, including my oldest son and my daughter. We were there to backpack the Chilkoot Trail which starts near Skagway and ends up in Canada. (The trail was originally constructed by turn-of-the-century prospectors who used it to sledge huge amounts of equipment that the Canadians required all miners to carry.) I found out – the hard way – that Alaska weather is nothing at all like typical California weather. On the final trail night of the trip we camped at alovely lake. As the sun set at around 11:30 or 11:00 p.m. (!) the sky was beautiful and clear. Being an experienced Sierra Nevada backpacker, when my son and his tent-mate asked if they should set up their tents, given the fine weather, I said to go ahead and set the tent up for bug protection, but to not bother with the fly because it couldn’t possibly rain.

      In the middle of the night I began to have strange dreams about wind and some odd tapping sounds. I snuggled down more deeply into my sleeping bag and worked on sleeping. Finally, near dawn, I awoke to find that the inside of my tent was awash and that my down sleeping bag had soaked up a good amount of the water. The “dream” had been provoked by the sound of steady rain! It was too late to do anything but put on rain gear and pack up. As I did so, I looked over at my son’s tent and noticed that they had added a rain fly in the middle of the night. I asked why they hadn’t awakened me to tell me about the rain – and the reply was more or less, “We figured you knew what you were doing and we didn’t the wake you.”

      They have since come to understand that sometimes waking me is a very good thing…

      Comment by gdanmitchell | July 26, 2010

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