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Thunderstorm Camping Trip
Tuesday, 8/12 to Thursday, 8/15/2014
[cabin photo] at bottom of article ↓
From: Richard Truax [email@example.com]
Sent: Friday, August 15, 2014 12:55 PM
Subject: Thunderstorms and Camping
Over the years in Seattle Iíve become a bit of a cynic when it comes to
Thunderstorms. We get few of them and they mostly are a couple good claps
of thunder and thatís about it. My years in South Florida and summers on
the Continental Divide of Eastern Idaho have my mind set on a totally different
connotation when it comes to storms. In all my time hiking and camping
here, Iíve only heard distant thunder a couple times and for brief periods.
On Tuesday I set out on what was to be a four day solo backpack with Penny. Despite it being the middle of the driest month of the year, forecast was for a chance of showers and thunderstorms the next couple days. Day started out with great weather. Hike was up a bit of a butt kicker at 8 miles and about 3,500 vertical feet, most of that elevation coming in the last three miles. In all, it took six hours and a lot of sweat. For about the last half hour I started hearing the faint sounds of thunder rolling around. It then began to drizzle. Soon, I arrived at the first of the lakes in a valley called ďNecklace ValleyĒ, Jade Lake. I was pumped. Put my pack down to take a break and have a well earned beer. While there, the thunder grew louder and ever closer and soon enough was very intense with light bulb flashes going off. At least it was still drizzling. I had to cross a couple hundred yards of open terrain along the lake to get to the inlet and back in some trees. My destination was the next lake, Emerald which was just a quarter mile along. Decided to hang out as I expected it to all be over in a few minutes. I didnít know what was about to hit me.
The thunder and lightning grew ever more intense and then it started pouring. Like cats and dogs flash flood pouring. I was still in shorts and t-shirt but did have on my jacket. It quickly got cold and was raining ever harder. At least the wind was reasonable. Realized I couldnít just sit there or Iíd freeze. So, decided to make the dash across the open space. As we did, the pouring rain turned to hail while the light and sound show continued unabated. I was expecting to get zapped at any second as I had a load of aluminum poles on my side and was holding one in my hand. I was also grumbling to myself as I was late leaving the house by an hour. If not for that start, Iíd have a shelter set up already. What I didnít know at the time is it wouldnít have done any good.
What was a dry landscape quickly turned into a water world. The trails became creeks. I passed a camp spot at the inlet of Jade and it was totally flooded. The inlet creek was flooding. We slogged up the trail as the storm pounded. Penny was even freaked and nearly under my feet. As we wound our way up I caught the glimpse of an old cabin/shelter out of my eye. My head was focused on the ground and trail/creek and I didnít think much of it. Turns out we missed the turn to the lake. I soon realized we were going downhill fast. I stopped and tried to get out my map and read it. Even under an old Mountain Hemlock it was still pouring. I had to pull out my headlamp to read the map. Sure enough, we were heading to another lake. So, we turned around. At this point, I was about as nervous and stressed as Iíve ever been hiking alone. I wasnít sure how Iíd even get the tent up in this storm and it showed no signs of abating. I was even less sure I wanted to be in a tent with aluminum poles in such an electric storm.
We soon hit the intersection with the cabin and could see Emerald Lake just beyond and down the hill. I was about to blow by the cabin as I usually shun such things in the wilderness but with all the lightning the idea of being under a roof sounded good. Never dawned on me it would be dry. I ducked inside and sure enough it was dry. It had shelves, elevated wooden beds and hooks to hang stuff on. I was in a bit of shock. I was like holy #$%$ I just found a cabin in the woods in the middle of the worst storm of my camping life. I got Penny fed and on her dry bed and had another beer standing there staring out at the scene in front of me. The storm went on for another hour. It then stormed on and off all night. I eventually set up the tent in the shelter as a bug net. Penny and I had a great night enjoying my favorite tent all warm and dry while chaos ruled just a few feet away. At the moment I didnít realize I was down to just one more night in it.
The next day we laid around camp and then took off on an afternoon jaunt exploring the shore of Emerald Lake and then up the Valley towards my goal the next day, LaBohn Gap or Tank Lakes. Timing was good as it turned out to be clear. Fun afternoon. Sauntered back to camp. Upon entering the meadow with the cabin, I was aghast. Despite being in a huge glacial valley with numerous lakes and camps around and not a soul but me, two guys had come in a plopped down 20 yards from the cabin. I spent the next half hour moving to a nice camp down by the lake with a view up the valley and far away from them.
By doing so, I took a couple related risks. One, I assumed it had rained enough and was over. If I was wrong, I was going to find out if the tent still leaked. It had leaked badly on Sally and I over Memorial Day. Did some seam sealing and thought it was good. Beautiful evening, but just after going to bed it started raining again. I fretted and kept looking for leakage. None to start. I fell asleep for a spell. When I awoke there was a small shower in my tent. My repair job didnít work. I quickly scrambled outside to put plastic bags on top. That stemmed the flow and then it eventually quit raining. The next morning I decided to bag it as the weather looked no better and felt Iíd already stretched my luck. Sure enough, as I was taking a break at Jade Lake on the way out, it started raining again and did so on and off all the six hours hiking out.
My favorite tent is now dead with a shot rain fly. Nice part, Sally or Emilia didnít have to discover that with me a second time. I did have the magic of that shelter and I managed to wear out my dog over the trip. This is a first in eight years. This morning she didnítí want to go for a walk and has all but ignored the squirrels in the front. Iíd think she was ill but she has managed her usual rounds of the kitchen floor.
Rained more last night here. Seattle set a record for rain on Tuesday night. More rain fell in 12 hours than we average for all of July and August combined. The mountains got even more.
Hereís a pic of the cabin.
Richard, Sally and Emilia
Email exchange about tents in chronological order / oldest on top followed by response
From: Richard Truax [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Friday, August 15, 2014 3:44 PM
To: 'Truax, Tom'
Iím looking at tents. One I keep seeing is the North Face Four Pole Dome. Think it is called a VE-25. Same tent they have been making since the late 70ís. Gordon inherited one from his brother when he passed away a few years ago. I have in the back of my head you bought a nice North Face Dome tent way back when. Is that so and do you still have it?
From: Tom Truax [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Saturday, August 16, 2014 6:24 PM
To: 'Richard Truax'
Subject: RE: Tents.
Richard, good afternoon.
My kids go back to school in a week, so I suspect your summer break must be coming to a close.
I was cash poor while in school, but making a whopping 4 bucks an hour after graduation as a licensed aircraft mechanic, so money was no obstacle. I lived out of my first tent for 3 months in Tallahassee while commuting to work at the airport on my motorcycle. Iíd sometimes break camp every morning, but frequently stayed in the same place for 2 or 3 nights. My nomad tent was a North Face A-Frame, which offered the maximum floor space for the weight. Back then dome tent designs were newish, and a lot of the legacy purist were slow to buy into the benefits, but after my A-Frame was stolen, I opted for a free standing tent for a number of reasons. I replaced my A frame with a North Face VE-24. It was pretty similar to todayís VE-25. Todayís $600 price tag ($550 or less on sale) adjusted for inflation is much less than the $400 I paid in 1978. I donít think North Face sells the old A-Frame design anymore.
My VE-24 was a well made tent and lasted about 20 years with frequent use. I put it through the washing machine several times, but I think that degraded it. Iíd recommend only hand washing (sponging the inside, and maybe rinsing with a hose). The fabric finally started to smell and eventually I couldnít maintain the water proofing. I sent it back to North Face because it had a ďLife TimeĒ Warranty. North Faceís customer service explained that by ďLife TimeĒ they meant the life of the product, not my life time, and tentís arenít intended to last more than 20 years, however, Iíve read reviews of people claiming they got close to 30 years of regular use out of their VE-24s. I made some noise about being the original owner and misleading advertising, so they gave me new fly, but not a new tent. The new fly was for a VE-25 and it didnít fit quite right, and didnít solve the odor issue, which got worse, so I finally retired it. I still use the custom Cordura pad that I paid Terry McDonald (the rigger from my skydiving days) to make for me with stake holes that donít fit my current tent. I think I still have the VE-24 poles, but the rip-stop nylon went to the landfill.
I didnít really need a 4 season tent built for Mount Everest, but you on the other hand might need a structure strong enough to carry heavy snow loads. I currently have 2 Coleman tents, a 2 pole dome that fits 2 people (or 3 if at least one is a small child), and a larger 14 foot long tent with side wings. I paid about 40 or 50 dollars for my 2 pole Coleman and Iíve seen knockoffs on sale for 25. I have to chuckle when my friends borrow my tent because they could just buy one for 25 dollars. At that price I consider the tent disposable if necessary. I paid $89 for my larger tent that fits the whole family with room to spare.
Back in the 70s, North Face was the clear leader. I bought North Face sleeping bags and jackets also, which were all good products. Pam still has her North Face gore-tex jacket I bought for her 20 years ago. You might pay a premium for the North Face name, but less of a premium in todayís competitive market than I paid in the 70s when there was less competition. Iím sure there are plenty of good tents comparable to the VE-25 on the market today, but since you do so much snow camping, trying to save a hundred dollars shouldnít factor into the equation considering what you spend on camping over the life of the product. Simply get what you want. I read some current reviews on the VE-25 and it seems well suited to the type of winter camping you do. It is still considered the gold standard. Not sure if the vestibule is an optional extra or included, but you might want it for your longer winter trips with a lot of luggage, however, it does add weight to an already heavy tent. You might want to keep a $25 dollar tent to loan out to friends of your friends, but they arenít really suitable for the heavy snow.
I posted your recent article about the demise of your last tent at http://truax.org/8/8_activity/14/08_thunderstorm.htm
From: Richard Truax [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Monday, August 18, 2014 9:58 AM
To: 'Tom Truax'
Interesting interaction with North Face. Gordon inherited a VE-25 a couple years ago when his brother died. A pole was broken. He contacted North Face and they sent him a whole new set of poles for free, ďlifetime warrantyĒ.
Ironically, dome tents are now out. The VE-25 is about the only one left on the market. While A Frames are not real popular pitched tents with no poles are growing in popularity. Gordon made one for himself. Uses his hiking pole or a stick as a center pole. Then stakes out. Really cool set up and one that weighs just a pound but has a lot of room, especially head room for sitting up.
Tent market has gone lightweight. This can be nice as our family tent for four is just 7 pounds and I have a one person sausage tent that is 1.5 pounds but,,, they are not designed to last. Great if you camp a couple times a year or do the once in a life three month trek. My challenge is my old REI Dome went kaputz four for five years ago. It was a four pole four season tent I could use in winter. Iíve been using the tent that just died as a winter tent. While a three season tent on paper it was an old school two man tent. It weighed as much as our family tent but was much studier. A good winter tent really needs an inner wall. Iíve taken our light weight family tent camping with Emilia. Problem is your body vapor freezes on the roof over night and then the sun melts it during the day. If you hit the walls of the tent at night to get snow off, you get showered with ice crystals as the inner wall is just a mesh. During the day, it drips.
Amazing at the price range in tents as well. I still have a couple tents so not pressed but am looking at them.