I saw a storm coming in as I drove home from school. It would be a shame to let a good opportunity go to waste. With the clouds starting to block out the sun, I drove up to Green Canyon on the edge of town and parked as high on the side of the mountain as possible. I got out and opened the trunk. I found a hoody and pulled it on, then I shouldered my backpack, locked the car and took off up the nearest trail.
The sky was gray and to the north loomed a dark blue thunderhead, below it the landscape disappeared behind a curtain of rain. I climbed a trail that was damp from the last downpour, but not muddy. The breeze was cool and a few drops hit me now and again. The air was fresh and fragrant with wet sagebrush, mules ear, and earth. I definitely need to go backpacking more often.
The trail led to a large boulder which was familiar to me because DJ and I had found a geocache here before. I figured this was high enough and I looked for a natural shield from the wind and rain. I took refuge just off the side of a ridge-line, just above a thicket of scraggly maple and scrub oak. On this slope I settled down and opened my pack to see what luck had afforded me. In the main compartments I found a change of clothes, mess kit, first aid kit, small survival kit, and several packages of emergency rations. The side pockets were empty, which is just as well because I can never find anything when I distribute stuff throughout the various pockets. I had expected to find at least a poncho, but I guess that got taken out in case I wouldn’t need it.
A pocket within the main compartment contained a plastic ground cloth from the previous decade, complete with duck-tape patches. Seriously, I remember using it when I was a boy scout. It wasn’t much, but after all, a tarp in the bush is worth ten ponchos at home. I pulled it out and looked it over. It was about 3 x 5, so not too big. The corners had little loops of string leftover from previous usage. These I attached to branches around me to make a canopy about three feet or so off the ground.
It was hard to sit on a slope so I put my pack under my legs and sat on it, facing away from the hill. My feet kept the bag from sliding downhill and the bag gave me a seat. This posture wasn’t exactly relaxing, but at least I didn’t have to crouch or kneel in the dirt. I chose this spot because it was the least likely to get me wet, or blown away, or struck by lightning, discomfort being the lesser of two evils.
Soon the sprinkles turned to droves of rain. My canopy flapped just a little, though the wind was strong. My strategic position was very effective in that sense. Every once and again a bunch of water would spill off one end of the tarp. My head held up the center so the water couldn’t gather there. So far so good. Then it started to hail.
The hail wasn’t much different except that where the rain would just stay where it landed, the hail liked to roll and bounce in from the uphill side. My seat was liable to create a little reservoir if this kept up. Then I noticed the increase in weight on my head. The hail stuck to the plastic and formed a slush that didn’t roll off like the rain did. No problem, I just patted the tarp every so often to keep it moving. Water shoots over the edge. Slush likes to stick around and throw water underneath the tarp. I was getting slightly soggy. I considered unhooking the tarp and using it as a poncho. That way it might keep more water out and also serve as a wind breaker. All the heat in my hands had been sucked out by the moisture and the wind.
I didn’t know how long this was going to last. As exciting as it was with lightning flashing and thunder pounding terribly, I got a little bored and started messaging DJ. It occurred to me that if something were to happen to me it might be a long time before anyone noticed I was missing, and even longer before my general location was found, let alone my body. DJ was the only one who would know what I was talking about if I had to describe my location. If he needed to, he could give rescuers my exact coordinates since I was within a few yards of a geocache.
I wasn’t too far into the boonies and still had service. I told DJ what was going down. I said that if I went missing, he would know where I was.
“Just so you know. If I turn up missing, I’m up by Green Canyon, sitting out a storm.” I said.
“If you do go missing, can I have your stuff?”
“Not unless a body is found.”
“That can be arranged.”
It’s comforting to know someone has your back.
It got so wet under the tarp that I had to put on the pack and stand up. The water certainly came off better, but even though I was well out-of-the-way, my head felt very prominent. I didn’t like that position at all.
Occasionally I looked out at the valley and finally I saw light on the other side of the watery veil. The end of the storm was near. When the rain ended it did so quite suddenly. I came out and marveled at how clear it was and how glorious the sunshine was over the valley. To the south the storm continued to cast shadow and gloom over the city. I looked up the mountain. The trail was clear until it reached a ceiling of mist near the peak. There’s nothing like a good storm to refresh one’s perspective.
Cold and clammy, I wrapped up my tarp and shimmied down the trail to my car. The purpose of doing this (besides randomness and lunacy) was to find out how I would fare in such a situation with only what I had in my pack, while still able to opt-out. I found that my tarp was OK in a pinch, but I would rather it be bigger so that I could set it up and have more than one foot square of dry ground underneath. I would set up the tarp with at least one side on the ground to block the wind better, and again, to keep more moisture out. The material is an important factor. I need something durable, yet lightweight. Maybe I can pack a large tent fly. They are much more durable than the piece I had, and I could probably find one that is twice the size and still be lighter. A bonus is that tent flies generally have elastic cords on each corner that would make set-up fast and easy.
More level ground would be ideal, but it is hard to find level ground that isn’t likely to get struck by lightning or flooded by run-off. Still, I think I could manage to find a better spot to set up camp. If I had to stay the night I would have been in trouble, not only because sleep would be impossible, but moving once the storm had started would be fruitless. Everywhere else would now be soaked, plus there is the danger of traveling under such conditions.
Gloves would make the experience much more comfortable. I had them, but I didn’t want to get them soaked. Waterproof gloves, that’s the way to go. Or maybe I could just apply a coat of wax or sealant to the leather. Along those lines; after a rain, the grass and bushes are covered in water. Walking through them is like wading through a river. Waterproof pants or even gators would be handy to keep your pants and shoes drier. Extra socks are a must anyway, but keeping your shoes relatively dry would make a change of socks worth it.
After everything else, it would be great to have some kind of diversion. I would have liked to have a book, or a notepad with me. It’s possible there won’t be service in the emergency situation, hence the need for a pack in the first place. I guess I have games on my phone, but I would rather save the batteries for more crucial purposes.
The storm sit, wasn’t a bad experience, but a few modifications could make future occasions more comfortable, and leave me in better shape to continue.