My last night on John Muir Trail in 2013 was a night to remember.
That day I had awakened a little later than normal, at my campsite near Wright Creek. I had slept late for a couple of reasons: first, I didn’t have far to go this day. My hike would be less than nine miles to Guitar Lake. Second, the day before had been a difficult one. After climbing the highest of all the passes on the John Muir Trail, the 13,200 foot Forester Pass, I had gotten caught about a third of the way across the Bighorn Plateau when the thunder and lightning began. My jog-a-hundred-steps-then-walk-a-hundred-steps approach to getting off the high ground quickly had been successful, but it had been stressful and tiring. Also, thanks to a problem with a packer, I was in severe calorie deficit.
The hike to Guitar Lake went as planned and I arrived a little after noon. By 12:20 p.m. I had found a suitable site to spend my last night on the trail. By 1:00 p.m. my tent was up, my water topped off, and everything that needed to stay dry was protected.
At about 1:20 p.m. I was in my tent when the sky opened up in a big way. It began with heavy rain and wind. My Big Agnes Seedhouse 1 seemed hopelessly fragile and inadequate against the deluge, but, to my delight, not a drop of water intruded. After about of hour of this it was time for the hail.
It wasn’t particularly large hail – I’d say larger than a pea but smaller than a marble – but it was coming down hard and there was a lot of it! I started watching the seams of my tent, assuming that if it was going to start coming apart, it would begin there. Again, I was happily surprised. My little tent was providing all the refuge I needed against this raging storm, at an exposed campsite, well over 11,000 feet elevation.
By mid-afternoon I was rather enjoying myself. The storm, with all its fury, was providing nothing more than background music in my snug sanctuary. Time for supper!
I eased open the downwind flap of my tent to provide a little ventilation and put together my Jet Boil. I had three things left to eat: two energy bars (for breakfast and lunch the following day) and a complete Mountain House fettuccine alfredo! Soon I was pouring boiling water into the pouch and the aroma of pasta and cheese was filling the small space. Fifteen minutes later I was warm in my sleeping bag, reading my lightweight e-reader, and enjoying a hot meal.
There are moments on the trail that are so perfect that they leave memories that endure for as long as one lives. This was one for me. Later, the storm turned quiet as the rain and hail turned to snow, although less than an inch accumulated. The next day wasn’t clear, but it was dry. The next night was spent on a mattress between clean sheets after a great meal at a Lone Pine restaurant. I’m sure it was far more comfortable, but I don’t remember a thing about it. There’s a lesson there, somewhere.
Good hiking, Ray
Great story Ray – certainly demonstrates being prepared with the right gear!
Thanks, Steve! It certainly held up well.
Fantastic story Ray! You’re right.. that makes for one memorable evening! I can’t say enough about these Big Agnes tents. I’ve used the both the SL1 and the FC1 in heavy rain and in all cases stayed dry and toasty like a bug in a rug! I’ve never encountered that kind of weather at Guitar Lake though!
Thanks, for the comment, Larry. I’ve never experienced that much weather anywhere else in the Sierra. It was quite the afternoon.
Enjoyed your story. Similar to my 2014 experience, though I managed a dip in chilly Guitar Lake before the storm hit. (We have a place on the Oregon Coast, and Guitar Lake seemed every bit as cold as the Pacific Ocean.) In my last-day weariness, I made the rookie mistake of setting up my tent with the opening facing into the wind. Bad idea. The thing ballooned up like a parachute but I was too tired to turn it around and, after the wind and rain stopped, I enjoyed six hours of sleep before a 2 a.m. departure for the top of Whitney, which we made just as the sun rose.
I’ve never put a toe into Guitar Lake, but I’ll take your word for it. It looks cold to me! Thanks for the comment, Bob.
Great story, Ray! My goodness, the adventures never cease. Hope to get back there one day. Thanks for sharing your wonderful memories!
Thanks for the comment, Diane. The adventure is what it is all about for me!
I’m fascinated that you can eat in your tent. Living and camping for the last 20 years in Alaska, it’s a no-brainer; you never, ever eat inside your tent. Unless you’re suicidal. Is that what most people do on the JMT – dine inside? And that doesn’t attract the black bears or other animals? Even when I’ve been in a complete downpour, I won’t eat anything aromatic in the tent – maybe sneak a granola bar or something, but not a cooked meal.
Planning a JMT trip 2 years from now and I’m enjoying living vicariously in the meantime on your blog and others. It will be a very different kind of backpacking!
Thanks for the comment, Karen. Once I was done with the meal the remains went back into my canister, outside and well away from my tent. Considering that there has never been a fatal bear attack on the John Muir Trial, it would be an extremely poor approach to suicide. Sierra Nevada black bears just aren’t as aggressive as Alaskan grizzlies.
Always enjoyable to read your write ups Ray. What memories,aye!
My son and I had a very similar experience in 2012. We had a short day from Wright’s Creek to Guitar. Just before Guitar lake all hell broke loose with lightning and thunder storms. We had dinner in the tent (also a Big Agnes that held up well). Then, the sun came out and as I opened the flap of the tent there was a gorgeous rainbow providing a dramatic last evening view before our hike up Whitney!
The rainbow is a couple of minutes before the end of the youtube video I posted. If interested simply Google search;”John Muir Trail Boisvert”
Thanks for the comment, Mike, and what a great video. Man, does that bring back memories. I can’t wait to get back out there!
Have a great trip Ray, I’m jealous! Look forward to hearing about it.
Ray, thanks for the write up. Doing the JMT is such and awesome experience it’s really cool to read someone else’s memorable moment. I agree, Guitar Lake is and unbelievalbe place and the final night on the JMT is something to remember for a lifetime. I also want to let you know I enjoy reading your blogs and “re-living” my own JMT hike.
Thanks for the kind words, Mick. Appreciate the comment!
If I would have known you were so low on food that night, I would have given you some for the next day. You’re right — it’s a great feeling being warm and snug while the hail and rain pelts the tent. Summer 2014 had quite a few days where a lot of us were hiking during hailstorms with only our clothes or a few spindly branches as shelter! But those are sweet memories too.
For those readers who peruse the comments, Fred was camped less than thirty yards from me on the same night. Thanks for the comment, Fred! Trust me, I had some “reserves” to call upon in the calorie department.
I have your ebook and are using it quite extensively for planning our JMT hike this coming July!
I would like to buy another copy for a friend. How can do this and send it to his email?
Any predictions on water availability/snowpack for this coming summer, based on California being in an official drought now?
I “think” I sent a free copy to your buddy, Rick. Did it go through?