It was not my plan today to hike through a hailstorm with thunder and lightning at 11,500 feet, but, I guess I can check that off my bucket list now.
Only planning for a short 12 mile day, with a stop at Chicken Spring Lake for lunch, I got off to a late start. It was cloudy, but I didn’t really take too much notice of it until I saw a dark cloud hovering over Trail Peak, the mountain I was currently hiking around.
A snow-capped Mount Whitney continued to loom in the distance, drawing ever closer.
There was some snow along the trail, and only a little bit directly on the trail. In a few places, it looked like it had snowed recently — probably last night.
One of the only people I met on the trail today was Flowers, whose pack was even larger than mine: he left Kennedy Meadows with 14 days of food, aiming to skip getting off the trail at Kearsarge Pass to Independence or Bishop. Instead, he plans to hike all the way to Mammoth Lakes, roughly 200 miles from Kennedy Meadows. (In contrast to Independence and Bishop, which are quite a distance from the trail, Mammoth Lakes is relatively nearby.)
At Cottonwood Pass, one of the access points to go into Lone Pine, a US Forest Service ranger checked my PCT permit, the first time anyone’s asked to see my permit so far. After I left, I kicked myself for not asking the ranger what the weather report was, as the sky in the direction I was hiking filled with a grey cloud.
I continued to Chicken Spring Lake, an alpine lake that, until recently, had been frozen over. I doubt anyone’s going for a swim there anytime soon. Since it was still a bit cold out, rather than hiking up to the lake itself, I collected water from its outlet and got ready to cook dinner after crossing the stream. Not long after I had everything unpacked and started to filter water, it started to hail.
I continued to filter water; I was going to need it whether or not the hail stopped. It seemed to let up after a few minutes, so I hoped I’d be able to eat where I was. While I was waiting, Ninja Fabric hiked down from the lake. I hadn’t seen her in a while; I thought she was further ahead, but she had to go into Lone Pine to get some equipment.
Shortly after, Flowers hiked past, and the hail showed no sign of stopping. When it started thundering, I knew I wouldn’t be cooking dinner at the stream, and so I packed everything up and hiked on. It seemed like I’d be hiking in the direction the storm was blowing in from, so at least it would be more likely to be over sooner than if I just stayed in place.
The trail from Chicken Spring Lake went uphill; it was a bit unnerving to be hiking upwards into a thunderstorm, but the uphill didn’t last too long, and it was mostly downhill after that. Which was good, because the thunder was really close, and occasionally, very loud, reverberating off the mountains.
It didn’t take too long for the trail to be completely covered in hail pellets, though the trail was rarely hard to follow. For the next few hours, it would continue to hail tiny pebbles of ice.
For some reason, while it was snowing, I didn't put my pack cover over my pack. I think I reasoned that because it was snow, it would just lay on my pack and not get it wet. Which, of course, is silly. I wound up collecting a fair amount of snow on top of my pack, which then fell into my rain jacket's hood.
Thanks to the snow, I hiked past the campsite I had planned to stay at. It was covered in hail, and since it was still falling, I saw no good reason to stop. Actually, I didn’t even see the campsite, I only knew I had hiked past it when I checked to see where I was. Inclement weather can be a powerful motivator: keep moving, because the alternative is worse.
As I descended the mountain and it gradually grew warmer, the hail turned to snow, and then to a very light rain, occasionally with some hail pellets falling every now and then. For a few miles approaching Rock Creek, there wasn’t any significant accumulation on the ground.
I stopped at Rock Creek, about five miles longer than I had planned for the day. It’s a nicely flowing creek with a fairly large area for tentsites, and a bear box. The creek, for now, looks like it would require getting wet; it’s just a little too high to use the stones that cross the creek where it intersects the trail.
There was still a light drizzle when I started to set up my tent, but once it was up, it didn’t take the rain too long to stop.
Ninja Fabric and Flowers arrived and set up camp. Flowers, who has a hammock, also had a gigantic tarp set up around it that gave him a pretty large dry space underneath.
I cooked dinner with the water I collected back at Chicken Spring Lake. I probably should have dumped it for weight once it became clear I was going to wind up at a campsite with water, but it seemed wasteful to dump clean water, and I’d just have had to collect and filter water again.
Tomorrow: 6.5 miles to the trail junction with the John Muir Trail, and then a mile along the JMT to Crabtree Meadows, from where I’ll stage my hike to Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states.