July 29, 2010

JMT Day 4

Lake Virginia

Date: Saturday, July 17
Miles: ~17.5
Cumulative Miles: 85
Camp: Rock slabs above the switchbacks that drop down to Mono Creek

We woke up having absolutely no idea that a flash flood warning had been issued for our region of the Sierras. The previous afternoon we heard account from other hikers who had been chased off Silver Pass by lightning and rain, but thought the chances of that happening two days in a row was slim to none in this area. We would end up being terribly wrong.

The beginning of the hike was great, and we passed by two incredible lakes (Purple and Virginia). The climb up and over Silver Pass was easy (and beautiful!), and we were entertaining thoughts of going all the way to Bear Ridge and making that climb in the early evening. However, after we had dropped a mile or so down Silver Pass, clouds started to build. Andrea suggested that we put on our rain jackets and backpack covers. Within minutes of doing so, the skies absolutely opened up and it was a DOWNPOUR. We decided to keep moving and try to get to lower ground. The lightning kept getting closer and closer, and we were getting scared.

Finally we had to make a decision: seek shelter in the location we were at, or drop the switchbacks down to Mono Creek and seek shelter in the forest. The forest was obviously a safer bet, but the switchbacks would leave us exposed to the elements (mainly lightning) for a longer period of time than either of us would have liked. We made out way down a couple switchbacks when a lightning strike was WAYYYYY too close for comfort. We ditched our hiking poles and packs and took shelter under an uprooted tree. For the next 5-10 minutes the lightning was really close and we were getting scared. Once it settled down a bit, we attempted to keep moving forward, but our progress was stopped when we realized a cascading waterfall had overtaken the trail, and crossing it would not be safe by any means. Our only option was to climb back up the switchbacks, which were now being overrun by 6-8" of water! Since there is so much granite in the Sierras, the ground doesn't absorb any water, and major rainfalls = major flooding. We were in the midst of a MAJOR event (we later learned that 4" of rain fell in a 2 hour span!).

Back up on the rock slabs above the waterfall, we haphazardly setup the tent and waited out the rest of the storm. Once it subsided, the main goals were to 1) get warm (we were both freezing) and 2) dry our gear out. Even after putting on dry clothes, down jackets, hats & gloves, eating a hot meal, and drinking hot chocolate, it still took us a solid 3 hours to get our body temperatures back up! But, most importantly, we were safe and sound, although a little shaken from the storm. It was easily the scariest storm I have ever experienced!

We decided that we'd take a shot at the stream crossings in the morning, hoping the water levels would have dropped off a bit by then.

Early morning stream crossing on Duck Creek

Amazing views all morning

Purple Lake

Lake Virginia


Heading towards Silver Pass

The clouds didn't look too threatening at this point

Silver Pass area

Silver Pass

Strolling up towards the pass

Almost there

Great reflections

We really enjoyed the scenery on this climb

Andrea making her way up the final snowfield

Topping out on the pass

Silver Pass

Looking down

Heading south

Waiting out the storm!

Look at the amount of water running over the trail!

In the tent, safe from the lightning and happy for that!

Post-storm, beginning the "gear dry out" portion of the day

Everything was soaked

Trying to dry it all out

Cooking up some dinner

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