By the time summer officially begins in the Bay Area, the wet season’s long gone and the local streams are starting to dry up. It’s nigh onto impossible to think of rain at this time of year, which is my excuse for taking my mesh tent minus the rain fly (you know, to save unnecessary weight) for an overnighter in the Sierra Nevada. I knew I’d need protection from bugs, and although I’ve heard the stories about summer storms at higher elevations I figured, heck, I’ll only be camping at just under 7,000 feet, so that’s not high enough for a High Country deluge.
By the time I got to the lake we were camping beside, great big ol’ cumulonimbus clouds were beginning to tower above the nearby valleys to the east of us. One of the guys I was camping with noted the ground where he was setting up his tent was a bit damp, which meant rain in the past 24 hours.
That was my first, “damn, and me without my rainfly” moment.
Around our lake, the wind kept blowing in from the west like it always does, giving us the false hope that the rain wasn’t headed our way, but as midafternoon matured into dinner time, large banks of dark, rainy clouds were coming over the ridge in our direction. Thunder rolled in from the distance and sheets of rain were clearly falling on somebody. Just not us.
I wasn’t worried about keeping myself dry — heck, it was 90 degrees out there in the sun; a little rain might not feel so bad. But I didn’t want to sleep in a wet tent, so I took mine down, repacked it with all my other gear and stowed it under my tent’s footprint, staking the corners to keep it from blowing away.
When the rain did come, it fell in jumbo drops that splashed home hard. As luck would have it, though, we were just barely on the storm’s rim and the rain stopped after about 15 minutes. All my stuff stayed dry.
Another guy camping with us was in the same jam. Rather than take his tent down, he turned it upside down and let the rain drain off the ground side of the tent’s floor. Worked in a pinch, but if the wind kicked up he might’ve had trouble on his hands.
I went out mildly unprepared and my luck held, but I can’t help thinking what might have happened to any day hikers out for an all-day trek carrying nothing but a fanny pack, powerbars and a couple water bottles. Having lived in Tampa, Fla., for five years, I have strong memories of hot days producing afternoon thunderstorms with explosive lightning strikes that make people thank their lucky stars they’re indoors.
My hunch, though, is you only need to get caught in one nasty mountain storm to learn your lesson.