Saturday, August 24, 2013

Part 177 - Frank, Made of the Right Stuff

There was so much water on the ground that I had serious concerns the flowing water and associated mud and forest debris would flood into my tent, and then what would I do?  Which would be worse, to stay in my tent with mud and water flowing into it, or pack up and head out into the storm and search for a different camping spot.  I simply cannot imagine myself being forced outside in such a ferocious storm, and then I remember I had Giardia, a serious form of violent diarrhea. 

I prayed with fervent intent that I would be spared the necessity of having to exit my tent and attend to nature’s calling; my prayers were answered in the affirmative.

Eventually the thunder and lightning portion of the storm moved down the valley and out of the area, but the rain continued throughout the night.  Never, ever in my life have I experienced such a violent storm, and I was grateful beyond measure that I was able to remain in my tent throughout the duration of the deluge.

But Frank, the hiker who passed me yesterday just before dusk, was forced to experience everything I have described and hoped I would never have to endure.  When I caught up with him later in the day, he gave me this account of his terrifying night, wandering about during the height of the storm.

I don't know where he camped last night, but it could not have been an ideal spot.  He said it was dark when he set his tent up and he hadn’t noticed there was a slight incline that sloped towards his tent. After the tent was up and he was settled inside, he prepared a few items for dinner, and then settled in for the night.

As the rain increased in intensity, it began flowing down the slope, flooding the inside of his tent.  He said there was water, mud, pine needles, and tree bark floating about inside the tent, and more kept coming.  His sleeping bag was thoroughly soaked as were all clothing items not inside his pack.  It was useless to remain in his tent as it no longer provided him with any shelter. With great reluctance and apprehension, he exited his tent, put on his down jacket, which by now was also soaked through, and his rain jacket, took the tent down, and as hurriedly as possible, stuffed everything in his pack and set off up the trail.

The rain was unrelenting, the thunder and lightning deafening, and he only had the weak beam of his headlamp to see the trail.  Where was he going, he wasn’t sure.  He had a vague notion, derived from reading his maps, that there was a shelter located on a spur trail leading to Big Crow Basin somewhere up ahead.

The trail continued to contour around the steep slope of the mountain where it crossed a scree slope; the trail in many places had been washed away.  One slip and he’d be down the mountain.  Frank is sopping wet and cold and he knows hypothermia is setting in.  He stumbles through the night hoping to find a trail sign that will give him an indication of his location.  After several hours of walking, he finds a trail sign that reads Big Crow Basin, and out of desperation follows it, hoping it will lead him to shelter.

Not far along the trail, Frank comes across a hiker’s tent.  He calls out to its occupants, asking them if they know of a shelter in the area.  Inside the tent were Samba and Tallywa; they said they didn’t know, and Frank stumbles on.  He’s becoming delirious and confused.  He knows his body and mind is shutting down, but he doesn’t know what to do.  The rain continues; the thunder and lightning have abated somewhat, and Frank is becoming desperate.

The trail opens up into a clearing, in which stands a hunter’s canvas wall tent.  Without hesitation, Frank opens the flaps of the tent and steps inside, only to be met with a rifle pointed at his chest.  There were several hunters inside the tent and the one with the rifle demands to know what he’s doing here.

With great difficulty because he can’t talk due to the numbness of his body, Frank explains his situation to the men staring at him.  The hunter with the rifle lowers the gun, and sensing that Frank is in desperate need of help, leads him to another wall tent that has a spare cot and sleeping bag, and puts him to bed.

The next morning, the hunters feed Frank, and as they all sit around the campfire conversing and enjoying breakfast and hot coffee, a coyote wanders into the clearing and is promptly shot.  The hunters cut the tail off the coyote and present it to Frank who attaches it to his ball cap.  They tell him that in all the years they’ve been hunting in this area, this is undoubtedly the worst thunderstorm they’ve ever encountered.

After hearing Frank’s story, I seriously don’t know what I would have done had I been in his shoes. The rain was so incredibly cold and miserable and to have to walk through the night seeking shelter of any type would have been unthinkable.  Besides that, my headlamp had quit working.  I have great admiration for Frank and his perseverance to carry on under the most trying of circumstances.  In my estimation, Frank is made of the ‘right stuff.’

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