Taking the pain from rain

We were the lucky ones. We had arrived with our overnight hiking gear to join our intrepid friends on the very last leg—practically last toe—of their 93-mile circumnavigation of Mt. Rainier (aka The Wonderland Trail). The ground was wet at Mowich Lake Campground but we were not getting pelted with rain, only a slight mist. The deluge had ceased earlier that morning.

It was the eleventh day on the trail for our three friends. One of them had phoned me from her cell the night before to convey that they were on target for meeting us at South Mowich River, where we had planned to spend a gratuitous night camping with them and then share their final 3.5 miles to the Mowich Lake Campground.

So, off we ambeled, southward toward the South Mowich camp where we were to arrive well in advance of our Wonderland trio.

I was in the lead when no more than two minutes after we started down the trail I saw a poncho-clad figure approaching beneath the dank canopy of conifers. As he drew closer his visage became familiar to me. “Christian? Is that you?” What the …? What are you doing here this soon? Where are the other two?” The answer was already clear to me as the question rolled off my tongue. He was drenched; his eyebrows were even dripping. Like jumping onto a lifeboat from a sinking ship he had high-tailed it up the trail in advance of his two hiking mates, whose lifeboat was evidently a bit slower. He then gave us the scoop: “Change of plans. We are hiking through. Everything is just too wet to camp another night.”

He strongly recommended we just stay overnight at Mowich Lake as the North Fork of the Mowich River would be a very wet crossing for us on the way to South Mowich, even though it was in the middle of the Northwest’s “dry” month—September.

When the other two did arrive, about an hour later, they were even wetter than their quicker-paced partner. They had gotten dumped on at Golden Lakes late the prior evening and continued in the rain during the wee hours, past South Mowich camp and toward Mowich Lake.

Months before the three had started out on their Wonderland adventure, I was quite miffed and envious. Their trip was scheduled to intersect too precariously with my magazine deadline, so I had to bow out. When I saw my longtime hiking buddy, Steve, slog into the clearing of the campground that dreary final day of their journey, all envy drained from every dry bone in my body. I was just grateful I wasn’t in his boots at that moment.

The whole affair that day brought back soggy memories. I remembered vividly waking up in a puddle at Goat Lake, due to an overcrowded camp that left me without a flat surface on which to pitch my tent. I then remembered the vegetation being so wet from rain on the final throes of a Schaeffer Lake trip that I decided to just march through the Chiwawa River without removing the bottom leggings of my hiking pants or discarding my hiking boots and socks.

Wetness is a terrible memory. With that in mind, let’s look at some ways in which to mitigate our region’s meteorological tendencies and minimize those memories.

One good way to begin taking measures against rain is to coil up in a dry, warm place and open the pages of a book, Everyday Wisdom: 1001 Expert Tips for Hikers, by Karen Berger (The Mountaineers Books). The author offers ten tips below (with some augmentation and paraphrasing on my part) to help stay dry on a day hike or backpack.

Perhaps the No. 1 tip that prefaces these is to maintain a positive attitude. Remember why you set out in the first place and know that you are prepared to at least stay as dry as you can. And know that any moisture misery is only ephemeral. To wit: Once my friends got home to recount their wonderful adventure on the Wonderland, nary a word was spoken about their final night.

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Tips:

1)    Use waterproof stuff sacks for your gear, especially clothing. Use them in different colors to indicate what type of gear is in each.

2)    As most of us do, use self-locking plastic bags to keep such items as matches, food, camera, first aid kit, books, maps, journal, tea bags and sweeteners (I like Stevia) dry.

3)    If it is very warm and raining, remember that you can become cold from the moisture when hiking at a brisk pace. Gear up a bit and keep a steady, slow-to-moderate pace.

4)    Be a quick-change artist (our weather most certainly is) and keep an extra layer of dry clothing made very accessible.

5)    If you are hiking in intermittent rain, make sure your stops for water or snacks are during the dry moments on the trail.

6)    Take advantage of your “pit zips” and other ventilation devices in your rain clothing. Open and close them to either cool off or warm up.

7)    To keep your feet dry, put on your rain pants. These direct the flow of water down and over the waterproof exterior of your boots. If it’s too warm, gaiters will keep your feet dry for a while, but won’t keep the rain from dribbling through the tops of your boots.

8)    Be a speed eater. Keep snacks handy in your larger exterior pockets, a waste pouch or somewhere that you don’t have to take off your rain coat to open your pack and expose your gear to the weather. Be inventive.

9)    As I learned in my Schaeffer Lake episode, just the vegetation, after a prominent rain, can make you as wet as a river otter. And, of course, trees will drip for quite a while after heavy rains. So when the sun comes out, initially keep your rain gear and pack cover on.

10) At the end of the hiking day, wring out your socks if they become wet and hang them up in your tent where your body heat can help them dry a little. (Better yet, stuff them inside your sleeping bag while you snooze.) If the next day is drier and sunnier, hang the wet socks up to dry outside. Then put them back on your feet for hiking if they’re not too wet, and save your dry backup socks for the end of the day as you enjoy camp with a warm beverage and some dinner in your stomach.

Adapted from http://www.mountaineersbooks.org/productdetails.cfm?SKU=5239 Everyday Wisdom: 1001 Expert Tips for Hikers by Karen Berger (The Mountaineers Books, $16.95, paperback).

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After the Rain
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