Musings on backpacking, whitewater rafting, and other random stuff

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Stupid Hiking Story #2

Mid-1970s, winter in Southern California, dry, warm weather in the forecast, so I decide to spend a weekend backpacking alone in Mt San Jacinto State Park, without a tent. I take the Tram to the top, and chat with the ranger while picking up my permit. He sees my giant down sleeping bag, mentions the weather forecast, and says I'll probably be sweating tonight.


I hike over the top of the mountain to Little Round Valley campground – a few flat spaces to pitch a tent, and an outhouse. The campground is empty.

After a peaceful evening, I fall asleep under the stars.

And wake up a couple of hours later with light snow falling.

With no other options, I sleepily pull my poncho over my sleeping bag, and fall back to sleep.

And wake up an hour later, shivering. I'd left the poncho hood open, and the center of my down sleeping bag is wet with melted snow.

I close the poncho hood, but the damage is done. I toss and turn, too cold to sleep.

Eventually I have to get up and pee. I seriously consider trying to sleep standing up in the tiny outhouse.

After a miserable, long winter night, and only a few hours sleep, I get up early the next morning. Light snow continues falling – about 4 inches is on the ground. I decide to get out of there before the snow gets any deeper. I pack up without breakfast, and head up the mountain to return to the Tram.

Blowing snow ices up my eyeglasses, so I'm forced to take them off and squint.

What seems like hours later, after repeatedly losing the trail, backtracking, and feeling on the edge of panic, I stumble up to the summit cabin, hoping for enough shelter to make a hot breakfast and warm up.

I must look like the Abominable Snowman by now – covered with snow, including a frozen beard and mustache.

Unfortunately, another camper has the cabin reserved. After telling him my story, he starts lecturing me on how people like me become search and rescue statistics, how stupid could I be, yada yada.

I ignore him and work my way into the cabin. It takes me 15 minutes to light my stove. Eventually, I eat breakfast and warm up.

I hike out, past the now-closed ranger station. I take the tram back down to the desert floor, where it's sunny and the temperature is in the mid-70s. I look back, and the mountain summit is shrouded in clouds.

The next week, I buy a synthetic sleeping bag, and vow to never trust weather forecasts again.

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