Wednesday, August 31, 2022

2022 Mt. Whitney Day 4B: Colby Pass To Junction Meadow

 Distance: 10.96 Miles/17.64 Km

Time: 9.5 hours

Elevation Gain: 1665 ft/507.5 m

When we last left our heroes, we had just arrived at Colby Pass after some amount of physical effort and sweat.  But one thing one learns in hiking:  what goes up, has to come down.  And so, back down we went.

Perhaps not surprising given the ascent, the descent was not a great deal better:  treacherous rocks, big steps, sliding, and in parts the path was not very evident.  One of my great fears is losing the path, especially if I cannot see anyone else - or I am being trailed by others counting on me to find the right one.

Sadly, my records do not specifically record what we had for lunch in the meadow where we stopped.  My guess is it was something easy and quick, but (apparently) not very memorable.

Just after lunch came the rain.

Rain was listed as a potential outcome in the list, but not something I had experienced before.   Apparently the packing guide recommended bringing at least a plastic garbage bag to cover the pack, or a pack cover itself - and a rain jacket.  

Guess who had none of these things.

D The Guide intervened (probably, honestly, saving my life) by lending me a rain poncho/pack cover he had.  It was an extra large and I am small guy and the poncho draped down over me with the strings almost causing me to trip, but it worked.  I looked for all the world like a turtle on the march.

The latter part of this hike become one long, sort of wet nightmare.  The rain became that sort of drizzle that most of us know is best for reading books from living rooms and drinking tea, not marching through the wilderness.  On again and off again, drizzle and then none.  We slogged our way up and bit and back down, before hitting the last challenge of the day: Chocolate Ridge.

Chocolate Ridge (no pictures, it was raining) was a steep ascent of about 100 feet or so with steps at least 1.5 to 2 feet tall in places.  Add to it a drizzle and wind, and what was at best a challenging hike became a true challenge of weather and endurance and "I sure hope I do not blow over in this".

At the top of ridge, we started down - which was its own adventure.

The path down largely followed a streambed (lots of these trails did; not a problem in Summer overall but probably quite problematic in Winter).  In this case the streambed went through brush, sometimes low and sometimes almost chest high to me - brush that had spent the previous hours getting soaked by a grey mantle of rain.

It was awful all the way around.  I was soaked, my pants were soaked, the thin material that constituted my poncho was soaked.  In some ways I was lucky:  those with backpack covers and rain jackets got the full force of the wet on their jackets and pants.  We were at least an hour in the dreary, misty trail of rain-tears and tearing brush before we bottomed out in the Kern Valley by the Kern River.

Our campsite for the evening, Junction Meadow, was only some 100's of feet (and three stream crossings) beyond our exit point.  The rain let up enough that we could set up in relatively dry conditions - everyone was carefully looking at the ground under trees for where they had blocked the rain.  We were all soaked and tired, but soon had some soup and a fire blazing away to warm us (and dry shoes).  

Dinner that night was soup - I have failed to mention it, but we had soup every night and it became a welcome first course - followed by broccoli beef with gravy and mashed potatoes - and tortillas.  We commiserated about the rain, watch the fire blazed - and then magically disappeared when the rain started falling again.

Never before have I heard rain on a tent at night.  It was a magical sound.


  1. Nylon123:21 AM

    Yah, don't have an item you need and you'll remember to have it next time out. Can remember listening to rain hit the tent back when the family went camping when I was young. Since the car carried the equipment and supplies, we had cots to sleep on. Photos today do emphasize "slogging" TB.

    1. Oh Nylon12, it will never be an issue every again. It is being rectified as we speak.

      Of all the days, slogging most applied on this day.

  2. Anonymous4:17 AM

    My own hikes in wet conditions pretty much mirror yours. Ponchos breath better than rain suits (much less condensation) but can billow around in the wind and catch on nearby brush. Rain suits work well, but if you have any items hanging on you like a belt canteen, holstered handgun or belt pouch, restrict access to them by quite a bit.

    Rainy hikes can be hilarious though. I recall one time, when my Brother and Cousin and I were caught out in the rain with no protection whatsoever. Very small amount of tree cover - we had no choice but to continue our hike. My Brothers shoe had a hole in the toe, and water would geyser out like a whale exhalation. Part of the hike was having to cross a barbed wire fence. My cousin climbed through halfway between the strands but became hooked by a pants leg on the low strand. He tried to extract himself but his.shirt became hooked on the upper strand between the shoulder blades. He was immobilized, unable to move. This was when the rain became a downpour.

    He started laughing, then my Brother and I joined in. Three idiots caught out in the rain laughing ourselves silly - must have been quite a sight. This occurred about 35 -38 years ago and I still remember the hike very well. Adversity makes memories.

    1. Anonymous - That explains it exactly. No-one had a formal rain suit, just jackets - which completely left the lower half exposed so we were all equally damp. The Poncho kept me dry enough, except there was a sort of dampness all over me.

      Your story is indeed hilarious, and at times all you can do is laugh. We had many a good complaint that evening around the fire about scrub brush and trail builders.

  3. I hate getting rained on. Not sure why, but I hate it. It's miserable. Maybe it's the working while soaked feeling I don't like. I'll gut it out, but I need to laugh to get through it.

    I was standing in a ditch, in the rain, digging to run a conduit through a rocky yard. The journeyman electrician was in front of me with a pickaxe, busting the rocks so we could get deeper. A thought passed through my mind, "Do I want to be his age still doing this? I made the deans list at Texas Tech." Several months later, there wasn't enough work to keep us busy (during the bust of the late 80's). I went back to college and finished up.

    1. STxAR, I find the there at least a difference between being in the warm rain, which is a pain and inconvenient, versus being in the cold rain, which is miserable and life threatening given enough time. That said, working wet is no fun at all.

      I had a similar sort of experience getting my undergraduate degree, when during my junior college years I worked for someone that had a heating and cooling business. Climbing under houses and over roofs was not my thing. It certainly spurred me on.

  4. I'd sewn a large shower cap for each of our packs from lightweight siliconized ripstop nylon, and when we upgraded out packs we chose a pack that included a rain cover. (we called the home built version a pack condom)

    Our raingear when we were out west was a gore-tex jacket and gore-tex rain pants.
    Both bought on sale at Cabelas.
    But bringing everything you might need just isn't possible.
    When hiking locally, we bring fairly lightweight ponchos that are cut large in the back to cover a pack.

    The online and YouTube hiking communities spend a lot of time talking about rain and hiking.
    But it loops back to how much stuff can you reasonably carry.

    As you said, a soaking all day rain is best viewed through your window.

    1. John, rain covers for my pack (my personal one anyway) are pretty reasonable $25 or so and one will be procured shortly.

      A rain jacket is also in the works - rain pants maybe not so much, because as indicated by you, you cannot bring everything (and my guess is they would have been pulled at pack check anyway).

      It was a very good wake up call on the need to be more fully prepared.

  5. I've spent many an afternoon napping and reading in a tent with rain pattering on the fly. It is a magical experience... at least until is starts soaking up through the floor.

    1. True Ed. Fortunately we had enough tree cover and not enough rain to truly make that a reality this day.

  6. No pictures of Chocolate Ridge?!? I guess because it was raining. I'll forgive you, but I'll have you know I got extremely excited and completely let down - all in a matter of seconds. Hiking in the rain does sound pretty miserable, but you got some beautiful pictures. And what a lovely experience reading to raindrops on tent tops sounds.

    1. That is exactly the reason why Becki - at that point it was too windy and wet to get anything meaningful (and with the wind, a bit of risk to life and limb).

      The sound of raindrops was very nice - although the concern is what to do with the wet tent the following morning.


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