A West Rim Trail Adventure…through a Storm

Written by Shane Ayers; avid hiker, backpacker, and outdoor enthusiast. Volunteer for the Mid State Trail

Friday was the day! We had been packing and unpacking for weeks, going through gear, seeing what worked and what didn’t, what did we need and what should be left behind. I got home from work and caught a little sleep before departing for Tioga State Forest. We arrived at Pine Creek Outfitters around 4 pm, paid for our vehicle shuttle and headed for the trail head.
Immediately, we experienced gear failure. Jenni’s gaiters required some good old fashioned paracord rigging. Finally, at roughly 4:50 pm we reached our first register box, signed in and began the trek. As we hiked on our first day we met a couple who was almost finished, camping next to the site I had when I first completed the WRT. We passed one more couple camped for the night about a quarter mile from where we decided to set up.
At mile 6 we found a nice little site next to the stream to set up our camp. Everything was going smoothly and the evening was quite relaxing. After dinner and some hot cocoa it was time to hang the bear bag. Probably should have done this before dark! We looked and we looked but, could not find a proper tree. I saw one and said “screw it!” I made several attempts to hang the bag but, had a lot of trouble doing so. On the last attempt I managed to get my line caught, wrapped around the original tree and a neighboring one. This was not cool. After a lot of pulling and almost killing myself with the rock bag, it finally broke loose. Found another tree, and easily hung the bag. As we walked back towards our camp we gazed up at the billions of stars that shown so beautifully through the unpolluted sky. Just like that, a shooting star! It was a good omen. Time for bed.
Saturday morning was peaceful, the breakfast was hot and the coffee hotter. Everything was packed away and by 8 am, we were making our climb to Barbour Rock. The climb was an intense first thing in the morning workout but, was not to go without reward. We passed a NOBO couple, I startled the woman and we all had a little laugh. The hike has been nice, so far.
The views at Barbour Rock were nothing short of breathtaking! We spent a good amount of time marveling over the canyon and I reminisced about my previous time on the trail. Keep going!
Around 1pm we arrived at Bradley Wales picnic area and settled down for a late lunch. A family that was enjoying a nice little picnic had us envying their ice cold soda. I asked for a weather report from a woman, as I saw previous to our hike that we were to expect thunderstorms, she gave us an updated time of 5 pm for the showers to begin. Perfect! We have a few more hours to cover ground. We finished lunch and continued.
At roughly 4pm we could hear the rumble in the far distance. The big goal after lunch was to make the 1 mile climb from mile 20 to mile 21 so we didn’t have to make it the last day.
As if Zeus himself was chasing behind us screaming, “You better run!” and “I’m going to get you!” with deep roaring laughter, we pressed on desperate to find the campsite a quarter mile after the climb.
We reached the campsite which had ample room for two or three tents with logs around the fire ring for a group gathering. Only one problem with this site . . . we are hammock campers! At this point the storm was above us. Maybe the very top of the mountain wasn’t the place to be in a lightening storm. I quickly realized there was no time to properly set up camp. We quickly threw up a makeshift shelter using two Kelty Noah’s tarps. We huddled together like two terrified rabbits! This was the most intense storm I had ever been caught in! The lightening lit the black sky and the thunder came at a deafening roar! The wind picked up and the rain poured down. I’ve never been caught on the top of a mountain in a thunderstorm let alone one this extreme! You could feel the electricity in the air. The canyon amplified the volume of the thunder. The lightening cracked close and in a very fast succession. We held tight but the only thing I could think of was “great, I’m going to die hungry.”
The storm lasted 30-45 minutes and passed in a calming way. We had read we would have scattered thunderstorms for the next few hours so we decided to hike another mile to get off the top of the mountain. Our feet quickly became soaked. I looked at the map and realized we were only 6 miles from our car so I asked Jenni what she wanted to do. We both agreed we could do it and decided to go for it. The hike from about 6pm to about 8pm was foggy and mystical. Our mood improved.
We began to feel very fatigued and hungry after about three miles but, continued to press on. A little after 8pm the lights went off in the forest. Still feeling intent on finishing we lit up the headlamps and pushed our bodies into auto-walk.
Bohen trail was lined with reflective markers and tape for a 100 mile run that a group was orchestrating. This made the walk out much easier. We made our slow climb on Bohen and eventually landed in Blackwell where Jenni ran to her car and gave it a big hug.
I am so proud of Jenni and how hard she worked for this hike. A minimum of complaining was where my pride really grew. She is one tough cookie and she must really love me to follow me on a crazy journey like that.
Murphy’s law tally:
1 hat
1 trekking pool failure
1 “seat”
Late start
Major thunderstorm
Makeshift shelter
8 extra miles more hiked than planned for day

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