Day Five – Using Survival Skills

Hiking in rain.

Hiking in rain.

On Tuesday, July 23, I awoke at mid-night to heavy downpours and wind. Not good, I thought. We had hung our sweaty hiking clothes and socks outside to air out for the evening. For the next few hours I tried very hard to sleep. I couldn’t. The rain continued to come down hard and the sides of our tent were blowing in and touching our sleeping bags. If this kept up all night, I feared we were in trouble.

After several hours of listening to rain pound on our tent, I realized both of our sleeping bags were getting wet. The two person ultra-light back packing tent I had purchased to save us 1.3 pounds was really tight for two people. Because of this, it was hard to keep our sleeping bags from the tents sidewalls. The toe area was only 42” wide and the combination of both of our air mattresses was 40”.  The head area was 52” — providing only 6” beyond our mattresses. This was a tight fit. When I was tent shopping my focus was to save weight. Maybe that wasn’t the best strategy.

The combination of a tight fitting tent with blowing wind and heavy rain meant we were doomed to get wet. I allowed Carl to sleep through the night by pulling him close in a nice bear hug to keep us both centered in the tent.

At 6 am the heavy rain was still coming down!  All night, as I listened to the rain I strategized on how we could quickly pack-up and get hiking in the morning. I finally decided it was time to wake Carl. He immediately noticed his sleeping bag was saturated — so was mine. The driving rain had splashed 2 feet up under the fly, on to the tent walls and our sleeping bags wicked up the water. We also noticed our air mattresses were almost floating in the water on the floor of our tent.

With out delay, I explained the plan to Carl:

  1. We hike in what we are sleeping in.
  2. Stuff our wet sleeping bags, then deflate and roll up our mattresses.
  3. Pull our backpacks in from the vestibule area and stuff in our gear.
  4. Put on our raincoats and then put on our hiking boots.
  5. Run together outside to gather our wet clothes and food bag.
  6. Put on our packs and take down the tent.
  7. Then run for the shelter where we’ll tie the wet tent to Carl’s pack, and food bag and wet clothes to mine.

The plan worked. Except we discovered the fly leaked over the vestibule area and soaked our backpacks and filled our boots with water! We stayed focused, drained our boots and continued with the plan. Carl actually started laughing and says “well this is going to be an interesting day”.

It literally took us 5 minutes to do everything. The run to the shelter was the most difficult challenge. The tent site area at Kid Gore is down a heavily rocky pathway from the shelter. This pathway had turned in to a mid-calf deep flowing stream of water! By the time we reached the dry shelter, we were completely drenched!

We made it to the shelter and found all the occupants snug and dry in their sleeping bags. How jealous we were. We looked and felt like drowned rats.

I started to tie the wet gear under our backpack when one of the AT hikers said the radar is showing a short break coming in a bit. I said “you have cell phone service?” and he said “yup”. I asked if ATT was their service provider and it was. Grrrrr, I have Verizon and was not pulling any signal.

He then asked if I’d like to make a call, and I did. I called Jonathan at 7:30 and told him about our predicament and that we would need to be picked-up at Kelly Stand Road around 3 pm so we could go home and dry out. Jonathan said flash flood watches were up in the area we were hiking and to be very careful.

Carl and I thanked for the use of the phone, said goodbye to everyone and started hiking. It was still torrential downpours.

We walked around the corner of the shelter and immediately started walking in ankle deep water that got deeper as we hiked toward the main trail. The shelters water source had risen from a trickling puddle to a mid-calf deep brook the filled the trail!

As we sloshed north on the LT, we walked in nothing but a narrow rushing streambed. The deeply grooved trail had become a flowing brook! I told Carl to stick close and that we would hike at a steady pace to keep warm.

We hiked about 300 yards and heard a loud roaring sound. We continued down an incline following the flow of water and took a hard left bend in the trail. Then we saw what was making the noise. A raging river 1’-2’ deep, about 75 feet wide was pouring off a 5’ cliff onto a 50’ long solid moss covered rock. The water was rushing extremely fast and the moss footing was not going to offer solid traction for a safe crossing. Carl looked at me and said “we can’t cross that, can we?”. I said “No, we can’t.”

Foggy and rainy day.

Foggy and rainy day.

We decided to ford below the stream to see if we could find a better crossing. There was no way to go up, it was a cliff. As we hiked downstream we soon discovered the water flowed deep and wide across a low area. I was sinking knee deep — this area was nothing but a huge wet sinkhole. Our only choice was to go back to the shelter.

Back at the shelter I informed the other hikers about the river crossing. They suggested holding out for a few hours. The radar showed the rain should be stopping soon. The experienced AT hikers said that they found if you waited a few hours after rain stopped, the high water levels on the trail would recede.

I had Carl put on his warm fleece and wrapped his bare legs in our micro towels to keep him warm. I put my fleece on and began to feel cozy and warmer. We needed to stay warm while we waited out the rain.

The phone was automatically handed to me, so I called Jonathan to describe our new predicament and let him know we were back at Kid Gore shelter to wait out the rain.

I let Jonathan know that if we couldn’t get back on the trail today that we had enough food for the night, we could dry our sleeping bags in the shelter and that we’d stay in the shelter.  Obviously, he was very worried. I said if he didn’t get another call from us to stick with the 3 pm pick-up on Kelly Stand Road.

Finally, the rain stopped at 8:45 am. We waited until 10:30 am to make a second attempt of the water crossing. Both Carl and I were a bit chilled. After all we had been soaked since 6:30 am. We had to take off our fleeces to keep them dry in our packs for later. I remembered I had packed us each a set of sun sleeves that go on your arms almost up to our shoulders. We put these on to provide a warm layer next to our raincoat. This helped take away our chills.

Four of the AT hikers said they would leave in about 30 minutes and be trail sweepers to help us if we got in trouble. This was the extra security we needed. Hikers really look out for each other.  We all become a big family who keep an eye on and support each other. We left in just a slight drizzle.

The rain did stop and we hiked steadily to get to Story Spring shelter

The rain did stop and we hiked steadily to get to Story Spring shelter

The raging river had reduced by half its size and we were able to cross! Phew, we were closer to our dry beds at home. With huge smiles on our faces we hiked our special hikers dance as we steadily pounced along the sopping trail toward Story Spring shelter.

The guidebook estimated the hiking time to Story Spring shelter to be 3 hours. With the amount of water on the trail, we questioned our ability to make it in that amount of time. We were going to try — we must get there!

We were very wet and our steady hiking speed warmed us up and we were making good time. Then we heard a familiar loud noise. We stopped and looked at each other. Carl gasps “I think I know what that is.” And I said “ I do, too”.

As we approached the noise we saw that the first section of the South Alder Brook had widened to three times its width, was deep and raging. It was time to loosen our shoulder straps and undo the rest of our pack straps to safely cross this high water crossing.

I went first. There were very few rocks to step on above the water line. With the fast moving water I was worried I’d slip. My trekking poles were very handy and I was able to securely plant them in the water for stability.

Half way across I looked back to confirm with Carl that he’d safely be able to cross. When I looked, I was happy to see an AT hiker standing behind Carl. He says“ I didn’t dare to say anything, you are doing a good job crossing”. Having another adult between Carl and me offered security that allowed me to breath easier. If Carl fell between the AT hiker and myself, we’d be able to get Carl out of the water. But of course, my nimble little boy made it across with out any hesitation or slip. I thanked the AT hiker for waiting and he moved on.

Not more than 10 minutes later did we have the other branch of the South Alder Brook to cross. We knew the drill, loosen our shoulder straps, undo the hip and sternum straps and carefully navigate on rocks we could see and use our trekking poles to stabilize us. Another successful crossing! Carl was very proud of his accomplishments! So was I.

Resting at Story Spring Shelter. Sunshine is wringing the water from her socks.

Resting at Story Spring Shelter. Sunshine is wringing the water from her socks.

To our astonishment, we safely made it to the Story Spring shelter in the guidebooks average time of 3 hours. Wow! We did what we call our high-one clicking of our trekking poles together (much like a high-five except clicking trekking poles together). This was our fastest hiking time yet. It looked like we would make Kelley Stand Road destination by 3:30 pm for our rendezvous with our ride home to dry out.

After eating peanut butter on bagels and dried apricots for lunch, we said goodbye to our AT hiker friends (our present trail family) and thanked them all for their help and support. “Who knows” they said, “we might all hike together again in a few days”. They were all headed to take a few zero days in Manchester, VT for food, messages and relaxation.

Eating lunch at Story Spring shelter.

Eating lunch at Story Spring shelter.

Carl and I did make it to Kelley Stand Road by 3:30. We soon discovered Kelly Stand Road was not passable from the Arlington side — a bridge had been destroyed by Irene, and Jonathan didn’t know. I had forgotten to look at the Green Mountain Clubs website for trail and road closings. Big oops on my part. This caused Jonathan a long detour around. He picked us up at 5:30.

We were so happy to go home for a few of our own zero days off the trail. We had quite an adventurous day and Carl was thrilled that we used survival skills in the woods. We were very excited to write about todays thrilling hike to our journals.

The worst is behind us. Carl still has plenty of energy to make it to Kelley Stand Road.

The worst is behind us. Carl still has plenty of energy to make it to Kelley Stand Road.

Carl never showed any fear today. I definitely swallow my stomach more than once. I really wondered how Carl felt. When we got home, I asked Carl if he still wanted to finish hiking the LT. His adrenaline was so high from the undertaking of todays hike in the rain that he said “So when do we get back on? We can’t take much time off — the trail just conditioned us so we must keep going”.

Our motto continues “We must get there — the Canadian Border!”

See how we enjoy hiking the Long Trail in the rain:

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