We did not hike on Day 6. We were stuck at Stoney Indian Lake in Glacier National Park, Montana. Here is the story.
We went to bed at Stoney Indian Lake around 10pm and that is when it began to rain. We could tell by looking at the sky that evening that something was brewing. But without any sort of communication or the ability to check on our iPhones, we didn’t know if/when it would come or how long it would last.
It poured all night long. And the temperature bottomed out around 45 degrees.
At around 7am I could tell that water was pooling outside of our three-man tent. Sure enough we set the tent up in somewhat of a depression where water would run and collect. There was probably an inch and a half of water around the tent. We quickly exited the tent and relocated it atop a large rock that drained quite well. Unfortunately during the relocation we got soaked and cold. We hopped into the tent fully clothed with boots and sat patiently waiting for the storm to pass.
But it didn’t. It continued to pour.
Fortunately for the guys in the other tent, they were on higher ground, which meant (for the time being) they were dry and content staying in their tent.
After a couple of hours sitting uncomfortably in my tent, I suggested to the other two guys that we should probably plan for an extended stay. So to that end, we began to clean the tent, set up our sleeping pads and sleeping bags, and organize our wet stuff. At least this way we would be able to lie in our sleeping bags and warm up, which we did.
When a person is enclosed in a tent for hours, wide-awake, there is plenty to talk about. And so we talked.
What is the plan? Do we pack up in the pouring rain and hike to our next destination? Do we stay put until it stops raining? Will it ever stop raining?
We surmised that the safest plan was to stay in the tent where we knew, at least, we were warm and dry.
Setting out to another destination on a cold, rainy day was a little risky. Sure, as a casual observer you may say, “Are you afraid of a little cold and a little rain?” And I can understand that perspective. But there were several factors that we consider before making our decision:
We had no way of checking to see how long the storm was going to last, so we continued to wait to see if it would finally break. As a result, we waited until mid-afternoon… and it was still pouring. At that point, if you begin to hike you will, no doubt get soaked, but also arrive at the next destination in the late evening when the temps have dropped again. Being that we were not allowed to build a fire in the backcountry, one has to consider how to get dry and warm in such a situation. All of our gear would likely be soaked from a four to five hour hike in the pouring rain even with waterproofing (yes, it was coming down that hard). In our minds it was too much of a gamble to risk hypothermia by attempting the hike. If one of us got hurt or exhibited the signs of hypothermia… how would we call for help? We couldn’t. We didn’t have any cellular signal and the closest emergency help was a 15 to 20 mile hike away (a 7.5 to 10 hour hike). For proper perspective, we were far in the backcountry close to the Canadian border in Montana. In our minds, the most logical and conservative decision was to stay another night at Stoney Indian Lake.
We discussed it with the guys in the other tent and they agreed. They had war-gamed the same scenario.
And it turned out to be the correct call. At about eight o’clock that night a hiker approached our tent and asked, “Do any of you know the signs of hypothermia?” We said that we did. He went on to tell us that his fellow hiker was coming down from the pass as we spoke and was potentially exhibiting the signs of hypothermia.
This is exactly why playing it safe is so important.
We went to sleep the next night hoping and praying that the rain would break during the night and that the sun would be nice and warm the next morning.
At 7am we looked outside of our tents and saw that it had indeed stopped raining. We quickly began breaking camp and packing up the wet gear as quickly as we could. When we were packed and just waiting on a couple of guys to finish a quick breakfast… it began to rain.
And so it rained and poured. From 8am until noon, we hiked to our Day 7 destination.
But as it would turn out, our incessant prayers were being answered. Not only did the rain stop when we reached the mountaintop… the sun began to break through the clouds and the wind began to blow. It was the perfect opportunity to lay out ALL of our gear to dry. As it turned out, Day 7 would be the most epic day of all.
Day 6 was a real challenge in many ways… but the biggest challenge was the loss of control. Many times when we go on our backcountry trips, we have researched and researched and planned and planned… so much so that there is very little we haven’t considered. In many ways we always feel as if we have everything in our control. When the temps dropped and it began to rain, I realized that I had very little control over the situation. The only thing we could really control was staying in the tent. At least there we could control staying warm and dry.
So what did we do for 33 hours in a tent? Sleep and talk and sleep. What would you do?
In the next post I will detail our hike from Stoney Indian Lake to Fifty Mountain.