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Long Trails

PCT Week 11: Hail Hell

Our correspondent endures hail and treks through Yosemite on the latest leg of her hike.

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High Mountain Water

I can’t get enough of the mountains reflecting in crystal clear water.

Tiny Hikers

Ridge walks out of Yosemite were the perfect opportunity to see just how small humans are.

Huge Hail

After snow in Southern California, I should always be expecting anything. Even so, the golf ball sized hail was a surprise.

I am right in the middle of a hail storm, wondering what to do. I have my cheap rain pants and light rain shell on over my short shorts and ultralight t-shirt. Rain is literally running down my pant legs and plastering my jacket to my arms. I am shivering, teeth clenched against the uncontrollable chatters. Hypothermia is a real possibility.

The hail is the size of golf balls and I am surprised I don’t have small welts on my arms when I look at them later. It came for me out of the blue and now there is an inch of freezing rain on the trail. My feet are completely wet, white with cold.

What am I doing?

Eventually I decide to get out my food bag. I get my stove, screw it on the fuel container and try to use the lighter. My thumb won’t work. The rain is seeping into the lighter, the stove, my food, stopping everything.

I finally give up and work on setting up my bivvy. I am walking with a kind man from the Netherlands, Me Thinks, and he lets me put my face under his fly — no Tyvek face tent for me tonight!

I am so very soaked that when I finally find myself under my quilt in my bivvy, I still can’t stop shaking. I have dry clothes on my wet body, and although my hands still won’t work, I know it will get better.

And it does.

The hail stops as suddenly as it started. My fingers come back to life and I make a warm meal. My head is inside my new friend’s tent and we talk and talk and talk. It feels just like some kind of deranged sleepover. It feels wonderful.

And even the hail wasn’t all bad. As I was slipping up and down hills thick with mud and hail, there was a marvelous smell. We sniffed and sniffed, until it finally came to us that we were smelling wild mint, leaves broken by the hail. The horrible weather had released a beautiful cloud of home, the smell reminding me of Seattle and mint tea and Netflix and my overactive heater that keeps my tiny apartment at 80 degrees all winter long.

Even hail hell has a silver lining, it would seem.

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