RAIN GETS A BAD RAP


I arrived home from the hardware store just in time for the rain.  Note: I didn’t say I just beat the rain home, but rather I arrived home in time to enjoy the rain.

Rain has a bad rap, and since I like rain, it means that once again I am on the wrong side of  conventional likes and dislikes in society.  I live in the city but love the wilderness, but I don’t fully belong in either.  I am an introvert in a society that extols extroverts.  I don’t like the idea that everything has to be set to music, which puts me at odds with conventional likes. The other day, I was sent a YouTube video of the Geminid meteor shower, which was a collage of pictures set to music.  I commented:  “Nice.  Nicer without music.”

I think summer is overrated, too.

I’ve felt this way most of my life about rain.  I enjoy being inside reading a book, while listening to the rain.  But lest one think that being indoors is somehow cheating, I love nothing better than being warm in my sleeping bag and listening to the rain on the roof of the tent.  Oh, I’m sure I will have to get up in the middle of the night and go out in it, but then it’s that enjoyable to be able to go back inside and hear it as I again get warm.

I led a hike to Heckletooth Mountain outside of Oakridge, Oregon, last October, when we had an atmospheric river hit us the night before.  An AR is a plume of moisture spreading from places like Hawai’i, Saipan, or Japan all the way in a continuous feed to the Northwest US.  Recipients can get several inches of rain.  I had some cancel that morning, calling me to say how they were staying home and not coming.  I initially envied them a little, but when we started hiking, the rain gear worked just fine (October hikes are great for testing rain gear), fall colors were beautiful, and while we were wet on the outside, we were warm.  Sure, we had to be careful about hypothermia, but hiking uphill helps warm one up, and so long as one hikes back down steadily, cold is not a problem.  Great hike.

Several of us hiked into to Kentucky Falls last January on what has been the wettest hike I’ve been on in Oregon.  We ate lunch standing up, in rain that managed to get to the forest floor through 600 year-old Douglas fir trees.  Hiking back out, we were totally soaked, and I loved it.  I knew I would dry off eventually, I wasn’t going to get hypothermia, and we were getting what we needed in winter—a long, cold rain.

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Part of the Kentucky Falls area

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Eating lunch by a 600 year-old Douglas fir

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Kentucky Falls, one branch.  I stayed so long that when I turned to leave, the rest of the group was long gone.  Rain makes for beautiful waterfalls.

I’ve backpacked during a 6 day rainy spell in Alaska’s ANWR when the temperature never went past 40, our boots were completely wet, our tents, too, but we stayed warm by hiking, then pitched those wet tents and got into our mostly dry clothes.  The cook tent we set up had enough shelter for eating.  We saw snow on Bathtub Ridge in Drain Creek in June.  Yes, I had to put on wet wool socks first thing, but it was only cold for a few minutes, then my feet were warm.

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Alaska’s North Slope, ANWR, shortly after being dropped off to hike south through the Brooks Range (2009).

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Hiking through fog.

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Brown bear rolling on ice, Drain Creek, ANWR.

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Snow on distant Bathtub Ridge, after climbing out over a pass.  The prior picture was taken far down the valley and to the right.  

Years ago in the Boundary Waters, out on the waters of Crooked Lake, just south of the Canadian border, I got packed up, while everything was dry, then on the lake got hit with a downpour  I had to pull ashore on an island to empty water from the canoe, and I was really wet, but since I was paddling and portaging the whole day I stayed warm enough.  Once I reached my campsite, I had a dry tent—at least briefly—and dry clothes awaited me.  I had a quick dinner and got into bed, staying warm, listening to the gentle, steady rain.

I remember rainy days on the trail better than sunny ones.  I remember the cold rain in Temegami, when rain gear wasn’t as good, but our young bodies were able to deal with cold. I wasn’t as happy with it back then.  A quarter century later, and ago, I remember the Fourth of July week on Basswood Lake with the Forest Service, where it rained every day, and I worked to have dry socks each morning.  The woods were empty that weekend, the lakes were beautiful, and we patrolled a vast wilderness alone. That was the weekend I learned how to stay fairly dry during days of rain.

I missed the rain when I lived in Arizona.  We had summer thunderstorms, and if I were lucky, we had at least one nighttime boomer, where I could watch the lightning, hear the thunder, and hope the desert would soak up the water.  I hate droughts, and the 22 year one in Arizona was something I complained about often.  The few times it did rain, I heard weathermen and newscasters say that it was a “bad day,” as if we could live our lives with no water at all.

Before I moved to Oregon, I was at a party talking to somebody who heard I was moving.  He began berating me about its climate.  “It rains all the time up there!” he said.

“Yeah,” I replied.  “Great, isn’t it?”

After I moved, we were in a drought for 18 months.  I heard how it would rain all winter, but we got a third of what we needed.  When it was 80 in the mountains in January, an acquaintance told me how “spectacular” the weather was. I stayed quiet. I was told that March could be rainy, but it wasn’t, and that spring could be very wet, which it wasn’t, either. I was told that hot weather was not common, but that summer we broke the record for number of days over 90.  In October, my neighbor asked me how I was, and I replied, “nothing that 10 inches of rain can’t fix.”  In December, the “fix” came, not all at once, and never for 24 consecutive hours.

In November, a woman said on the radio that soon it would be cold, but it wouldn’t last long, and before we knew it March would be back, then spring, and then summer.  We had just gone through a summer with multiple days over 100, no rain for three months, wildfires that burned a quarter of the huge Three Sisters Wilderness and the Gorge, 20 days of bad air quality in Eugene, requiring special masks.  No thanks.  I can wait a long time for summer.  It’s overrated, at least in the American West, where it starts a month or two sooner than formerly, lasts a month or two longer, drier, and with more fires.  Arizona and southern California now have 12 month a year fire seasons.

I like rain.  I know it’s possible to get too much of it, but I have not had that experience in decades.  I had forgotten how many different shades of green there are in the Pacific Northwest.  In the desert, green is washed out by comparison.  I like flowing water, just to watch it, in the wild, not in some fountain.  I like the Sun when it comes out after a good long rain.  Then it is nice.  I enjoy it.

But only for a while.

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Storm coming in, Lake Insula, BWCA, 2009

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After the storm, next morning.

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2 Responses to “RAIN GETS A BAD RAP”

  1. tomzieber Says:

    Hi! I enjoyed the post. I can directly relate to the challenges regarding being an introvert in a world of extroverts. There is certainly something satisfying about being ensconced in a warm tent listening to the patter of the drops splashing the rain fly. But, honestly, rain sometimes brings a dread, when hiking, lest I should become wet and uncomfortable. Perhaps that is my own lack of confidence as generally the gear works fine. Still, I am always looking for advice about further enhancing my ability to repel moisture. Any thoughts?

    • Mike Says:

      Hi and thank you for the comment. The Heckletooth Mtn. hike I referred to was really wet. We summited, and the wind forced a hasty retreat. We stopped very briefly for lunch and just kept going. It was a 12 mile day hike, and we were all more comfortable with moving than not. Your outside is going to get soaked, no question. If you are sweating, and we were, the inside will be, too, so you keep going, which will keep you warm enough, until you get to the car. ONCE YOU STOP FOR A LONG TIME, YOU GET COLD FAST. So we don’t!! I learned a lot when I volunteered for the Forest Service in Minnesota doing multi-day trips. A good waterproof rain suit with light layers (no cotton if rain is a concern) underneath helped me a lot. Periodically at home re-apply the water repellent. Stand in a shower with your rain gear on if you need to. Or do a hike in a nearby place in the pouring rain and see how you do. All wool socks (be careful, because a lot of socks marketed “wool” have only 15-25%. Look on the label) really do stay warm when wet. Put on a pair of wet wool socks in the morning, and yes, they are cold, but not for long. Hopefully, you will always have a dry pair of socks. Canoeing and portaging keeps one warm without a lot of sweating, so one generally stays dry. Backpacking is another matter. A good pack cover is important to keep your gear dry, and a plastic bag liner is a second line of defense. Knowing that you have dry clothes (socks and camp shoes) with you helps. Alone, I go steadily to stay warm, and when I reach camp, I immediately eat some trail mix followed by getting the tent up. I want calories, and I want to get shelter established quickly. I may carry a “cook tent” on some trips, which we used in Alaska. It’s made by Black Diamond, a bit pricey ($260), but you lay out a square with eight tent stakes and a central pole. There is a zippered door, and the whole thing is up in 2-3 minutes. We had seven in it for lunch, crowded, but with hot soup I didn’t hear complaints. In any case, the sleeping tent goes up as fast as possible, then I put the gear in it. Once I’m satisfied I’m not going to need to be out in the rain any longer, I go inside and change. The other aspect of traveling in the rain is a good weather forecast before one heads out. If you know it’s going to rain in the afternoon, you travel hard in the morning, then get set up before it comes, if you have that option. If you know the rain is likely to stop in the afternoon, you can travel most of the day. I’m a weather geek, so I follow a lot of weather models, which often give me a good idea of what’s going to happen 5-6 days out. For non geeks, use an altimeter as a barometer to check the pressure. If the altimeter rises in camp overnight, a low pressure system is coming in. Watch the clouds for thunderstorms, which can build rapidly in mountains. Change in the wind is important, especially in the canoe country. A new strong south wind (SE and SW count) means a low pressure system is to your west (back to the wind, spread your arms out, and your left arm points to the direction of low pressure). I’ve long traveled where wind, barometric pressure, and clouds have been sufficient for me. Older, I’m often in an area where a weather radio (extra weight but useful) or my phone can give me forecasts. Finally, pitch a tent where there is decent drainage and no ponding. Hope that helped!

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