If you spend time in the outdoors, eventually something will go wrong. It’s a law of nature. But if you survive, those epic failures become the best stories! We’ve all read about amazing accomplishments in the wild, but now it’s time to tell us about the not-so-great times and what you learned from them. Share your best #EpicTrailFail stories on your own page, include this paragraph as a header, and then provide a link in the comments here or here. We’ll curate and circulate the best stories in future posts. We can’t wait to read about what you’ve survived!
So, one weekend, I was off on another solo trip, this time with Avery the trail dog. The plan was from the Mutau Flats trailhead at about 5200 ft. down an 8.5 mile trail to Sespe Hot Springs, deep within the Sespe Wilderness. Another mile beyond that is my water resupply at Sespe River.
Two-thirds of the trip is on reasonably level ground. The other third is an incredibly steep route down Johnston Ridge.
The weather was going to be a factor. Because of the elevation, the hottest point at the bottom shouldn’t get over 90. If I do my hiking in the AM, it shouldn’t get much over the low 80s. As I gain elevation it will get cooler. The trailhead will probably never get beyond the upper 70s. (Figure 3-4 degree drop for every 1000 ft gained.
OTOH we are looking at some potential (and very welcome) rain. (20-30%) Maybe even a thunderstorm. Chances of rain are actually 10% higher at the trailhead than at the bottom. Should be a very interesting trip.
At first, the skies were just a kind of even light grey haze. Still pretty bright, temps in the 70s. A sky that says, yes there is some moisture coming in but I haven’t decided on whether I want to rain.
Then they started lowering and forming interesting turbulence patterns over the mountainous terrain. You can still almost see daylight off in the distance.
Finally, you can see the rain coming. Started to hear distant thunder so I got off the ridgeline and into a brushy flat area, not near anything tall. Also made sure I wasn’t in a drainage of some sort.
Well, that was the end of the photography.
It started raining before I got where I wanted to go so I put on my $1.99 Coughlans rain poncho and we sheltered in the lee of a big burned out stump. It really poured, sometimes almost horizontal. Which was kind of cool because that stump was facing in the perfect direction.
After that, we moved to a level place and put my bivy sac up in the corner of an L shaped by two fallen trees. Put the pack into a plastic trash bag. Shoved the air mattress, the sleeping bag, and the dog in, in that order and buttoned up.
The rain came again. Then the lightning got closer and closer. I had picked this particular bivy because I’d had it in a deluge before and I’d stayed dry. But this time I noticed it starting to leak. Not just at seams but the entire thing was letting tiny droplets of water in with every fat raindrop. Something had happened to the waterproof coating?
The rain kept coming harder and harder. Little rivulets began to run down the sidewalls and into the tent. This was not looking good. I did not care to spend the night in the mountains in a storm with a wet sleeping bag. I grabbed my SOL emergency bivvy and stuck my bag in it. At least the bag would stay dry even if everything else got soaked. Then I noticed another problem. The bottom of the bivvy was still waterproof and water was puddling up at the bottom end. Poked a few holes to let it drain. Wrapped Avery up as best I could with the poncho. The rain kept pounding for two hours. Lighting was hitting within a couple thousand feet of me and Avery was terrified. I’d never seen a summer deluge like this in Cali before.
Then the rain let up to a sprinkle. The sky cleared a little and lightning moved several miles to the north. Hunkering down thru another storm like the last one was a losing proposition. I decided I was not going to spend the next 16 hours hiding in a watery cocoon and Avery was showing signs of being cold. So we packed it up and slogged back up the hill. Texted my wife (via SPOT) we were coming home early. The trail was a quagmire so I walked on either side in the vegetation whenever I could. In the really bad spots I had Avery pull me up, otherwise, I would be stepping 2 ft ahead and sliding 1.9 feet back. Finally got back to the car at 8:30 pm, 8 hours after I had left it.
The fun wasn’t over yet. The dirt road I’d come out on alternated between solid and hard and slick as inches deep snot. I locked the Suzuki into 4WD and proceeded at the astonishing pace of 5-10 miles an hour. Then the road crossed a river which had grown quite broad. Fortunately, I knew the road here and while the water was quite fast, it was only a few inches deep and the bottom was rocky. I had ample clearance. Then there were a few more miles of snot slick roads and finally, I got to pavement. Home free!!!!
Not quite. A mudslide had taken out several miles of Frazier Park Road from Frazier Park to Lockwood Valley. The alternate routes I could use were about a hundred miles out of my way with no guarantee they wouldn’t be blocked. I got there about ten. Road crews finally cut a dirt track parallel to the road to let the traffic thru at 3 am Sunday. Got home about 4 am. Learned later they’d gotten two inches of rain, mostly in two hours. It had set an all time record for Frazier Park in November.
Pretty impressive for 30% chance of rain and a slight chance of thundershowers. They have since changed their forecast and have just now issued flash flood warnings.