Monday, June 9, 2008

The weekend that was... rainy.

It's been a while since I posted, and the last time I did I mentioned a Florida trip. Christina and I had a great time there hanging out with my parents. Jenny was psyched when we got back.

This most recent weekend Christina, Jenny and I drove up to Wheeler's Saturday morning. I met up with Todd, and he and I embarked on what was to be our dress rehearsal for out trip out west. The plan was to hike in mountaineering boots and 35lb packs from Parfrey's Glen, to Devils Lake, down the CCC trail, up Potholes, down Balanced Rock, around the south end of the lake, up the West Bluff, down the West Bluff, around the north end of the lake, up the East Bluff and back to Parfrey's Glen (~18-20 miles).

Conditions were, to say the least, not optimal.

We left the parking lot at Parfrey's around 9:50 in the morning and marched into what felt like the jungle. It was sunny, with temps in the high-70s to low-80s, and extremely high humidity. The mosquitoes and black flies were out in force and my practice of ignoring them was working just fine until Todd pointed out that I had, " six mosquitoes on each leg and four on each arm..." This comment of course turned me into a fly-swatting machine unable to simply ignore the mosquitoes.

As we made our way from Parfrey's over to Devil's Lake, blues skies became partly cloudy, became mostly cloudy, became gray skies. About the time we crossed into the park I started texting Christina for a weather forecast. By the time she got back to me with word of the tornado watch we were almost to the CCC. We pressed on because the sky wasn't looking that bad. We went down the CCC, and then up the Potholes. That's when word of the Tornado warning came from Christina, accompanied by ever more ominous skies to the west.

We booked it over to the Balanced Rock trail and started down. We were shocked by the large number of totally unprepared people wandering up the trail oblivious to impending doom gathering in the skies overhead. I even told Todd that it was almost a certainty that there would be a rescue later in the day. We continued to hurry down the trail sidestepping tourists on their way up.

At the south shore we sat outside on a picnic table near the beach. We took off our boots, had a snack and watched the approaching weather. I gave Todd a quick tutorial on weather patterns (specifically why all that upper level wind out of the south was really bad with the giant blackness off to the west -- for more see "Low Pressure System" here), as the skies to the northwest turned an evil shade of green. The rangers were driving around announcing the tornado warning over a loudspeaker, and we decided to move closer to the shelter as the wind picked up and the aforementioned blackness started to roll over the west bluff.

I have never seen weather like that at the Devils Lake. It was ferocious, no tornado, but straight line winds that I had to lean into in order to remain standing. People at the shelter were freaking out. Children were crying and their parents were trying to reassure them, but lack of confidence in those parental voices was pretty obvious. It was scary, especially since the "shelter" we chose was fitted with giant picture windows overlooking the lake, and as a result offered little in the way of actual protection had there been a storm of any significance. We sat by the windows (I know it was dumb) and I taped up the gaping blister that had popped on my left heel, leaving the unpopped blister on my right heel for a later date.

After the storm subsided we put our boots back on and headed around the south end of the lake toward the West Bluff. On our way we ran into my old friend/boss Paul, who was on his way out after having ridden the storm out on the West Bluff with some friends. While we were chatting another ranger drove by announcing that there was another tornado warning. Paul and I both thought that this warning would prove to be fruitless. So after some discussion Todd and I continued toward the West Bluff trail.

About 200 yards up the trail it became obvious that things were going to get much worse before they got better (now we were the idiots going up the trail despite the impending doom gathering overhead, but at least we were prepared and I had an intimate knowledge of the area). I decided it would be best to haul ass to Misery Rocks and hang out in the cave under the Pillow (where the "5" is in the picture). The rain, lightning and wind were heinous, this storm was at least as bad as the one that had preceeded it. So we waited, and finally the storm let up.

We headed back up the Misery gulley, and back to the trail. We continued on our way to the north shore and started to discuss the idea of bailing. It seemed like we had made a valiant effort, and that with the highly uncertain weather this was the best option, but we left that decision for the north shore. The remainder of the way up the west bluff was otherworldly. It felt like a rain forest. At the top of the trail above Great Chimney and Lost Face we could scarcely see the east bluff through the fog. Perhaps the coolest thing we saw was the water running off from the west bluff. The trail was more stream than trail in some places, with water as deep as six inches. It was an amazing sight to behold.

We got down to the north shore and decided to bail -- which was good, because the storms didn't let up, and we would have been miserable hiking back into Parfrey's Glen after dark. We went back to the camper and made brats and had beers in the rain.

Sunday wasn't any better and we bailed early.

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