Day 27: sudden storms and a hypothermia situation

May 21
Mileage 23
Mile 651.5 to mile 674.5

The weather is perfect climbing out of walker pass. Cool, still, a handful of clouds gathered on the horizon. The sort of benign weather we’ve rarely seen this year. I feel great, climbing up and up and up, looking down on the flat desert way below. At lunchtime I sit at a little stream with Twinkle, Guthrie, and Big Sauce and we talk about how perfect the weather is.

“Today is almost too easy,” I say.

Do not. Ever say that. In the desert.

The desert is insane, and it wants only one thing- to drive you mad.

I thought I learned this lesson last year.

As we’re packing up to leave the stream it starts to sprinkle. No big deal, I think. A light, warm little shower. It’ll probably blow over in a few minutes. I begrudgingly put on my rain jacket and stuff everything into my trash bag pack liner as Twinkle puts on his wind shirt- he doesn’t have a real rain jacket. We set out, and Twinkle pulls ahead as I dilly-dally to do this or that. We’re climbing up the mountain, and as we climb the air grows colder. And then the rain begins to fall harder, full force now, and the air is colder still. The wind picks up, and blows the freezing rain into my face. My legs are soaked and stinging, my hands numb around my trekking poles. And worst of all, I have to shit- I’m out of toilet paper so I gather mules ears, dig a cathole right next to the steep trail, don’t even take off my pack. Well this is a first, I think. Shitting with my pack on. A few minutes later the rain turns to hail. I climb higher and the wind grows even colder. I’ve just got to get over this mountain, I think. Over this mountain and down the other side. I remember Washington last year, the lessons I learned. I remember what I’m capable of. I may not be able to use my hands to drink or eat but my core is warm, and if I hike fast I can keep it that way. If I can just get over this moutain and down, it’ll be a little warmer at lower elevations. But what of my shelter? The zipper is busted, it doesn’t keep out the rain so well.

Just then I see Twinkle’s big blue tarp, pitched in the gravel next to the trail. Freezing rain slants against it, gusts of wind puff it up.

“Get in here!” Says Twinkle.

“How did you even get that thing up?” I say. “I can’t even use my hands!”

Twinkle is having a rough time of it- the rain soaked through his windshirt when he was hiking and now he’s shaking uncontrolably, trying to get into his quilt. I help him and then use my teeth to open the buckles on my pack, as my hands are useless white stumps. I strip off my wet clothes and climb into my sleeping bag, shivering. We lay there for a few hours, shivering and waiting to be warm, as the freezing rain falls and the wind gusts.

“How do you think the others are?” I say. “I hope they’re ok.”

Around seven the rain stops and a still cold settles over the ridge. We’re no longer shivering but we’re deeply exhausted from the ordeal, and exiting out sleeping bags for any reason causes the shivering to return. I don’t eat any dinner, just lay in my bag in the fetal position, holding onto my precious envelope of warmth. I tell Twinkle stories of Washington in September last year, of the cabin I lived in in Southern Oregon and the roaring fires I would make in the woodstove. We talk of hot tubs, dry saunas, sunshine. The sun returns right at sunset, stretching cold and thin over the land. We sleep.

Photos on instagram.