Day 2: July 10

Booming thunderstorms and torrents of rain came shortly after I crawled into my tent last night.

I wasn’t able to get a good satellite signal with the iSavi, since Sylvan’s north face was blocking the space view, so I lied in bed thinking about potential exit routes if one of the lightning bolts ignited a tree near our camp. It wasn’t lost on me that we were camped in a tinderbox filled with piles of dead fuel accumulated during decades of forest ecology at work.

Unable to craft an acceptable outcome for such an emergency, I put in earplugs and went to sleep.

I woke up in a pool of water.

I think the wind blew the lip of my ground cloth out under the edge of my shelter, creating a convenient irrigation system that delivered quite a lot of water into my wilderness bedroom.

Thankfully I was sleeping atop a two and a half inch thick mattress and stayed mostly dry. I wrung out what I could from the edges of my 19 oz down quilt, and started packing up. We’ll see if this “water resistant down” is worth anything…

The “storm” hadn’t arrived yet but the temperature was dropping.

By the time we left camp this morning, we were dressed in rain gear and took our first steps in thunder, lightning, and hail larger than any peas I’ve ever eaten.

The route to our target pass was off-trail through forest brush. Eventually we emerged to subalpine fir, tundra, talus, and even some wobbly tussocks with ice water channels flowing between them.

By the time we reached the pass, the rain had turned a bit white and the high wind was causing it to sting our faces.

At this moment I recall thinking that this was one of the most hostile trekking days I’ve had in a few years. To keep morale up, we practiced foreign accents and non-indigenous expletives (“Bloody stinging hail! ‘Tis a bugger!”)

We dropped down to the Mary Lake basin and huddled in the scrub trees to eat and drink. A break in the storm gave us a reprieve and boosted morale with a few rays of sun.

After a jarring descent (back on trail now) to the valley, we rested once again and chatted with Ranger Jenny for a bit. She grilled the younger ones with LNT questions and they all passed. She was shocked, and maybe impressed, that we were heading into the Big Storm as part of a 12 day trek. She and her partner were heading home.

More cold and wet trekking took us a little ways farther up the valley of the West Fork of Rock Creek. Tired, cold, and hungry, we decided to camp around 4 pm. We are again in the trees, with the river nearby and gigantic cliffs flanking our camp. They rise more than 2,500 feet from their base to their top.

After setting up shelters we all changed into dry clothes and napped while the rain pounded down outside. I was wearing all of my clothing to stay warm.

Then, silence: a break in the storm.

We managed to build a fire and cook a quick meal before the storm returned. With temperatures dropping constantly, and the wind picking up, we were now being basted by sideways blowing snow.

Clean dinner, tie up the Ursacks, retreat to the shelters, get warm.

Time to settle in for what promises to be a cold night.


Follow this live expedition blog as Backpacking Light’s Ryan Jordan, Eric Vann, and five others weave their way through glacial cirques, tundra meadows, and talus fields in Montana’s Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness July 9-20. Dispatches will be posted to the Backpacking Light Facebook page, Instagram feed, and the home page.