John Muir Trail Day 18: A Big Storm at Palisade Lake

Thursday, 9/9  5:34 PM  DAY 18 7.46 miles   📍Lower Palisade Lake

Journal entry: I’ve been sheltering myself from this storm for a few hours now. The long climb up to Palisade Lake didn’t make it to Upper before the thunder. Long day. Just no energy today. Really think it was because I didn’t snack. So hey! I just saw 3 guys hiking SOBO lol I thought I heard a voice, so I peeked my head out and 3 men covered in plastic lol hiking with full packs! I peeked my head out, one saw me and I was like- “I haven’t seen anyone in 2 days!” Of course, it’s raining, so they weren’t stopped for long. But damn, they had to hike up in that storm?! F that!

That climb was stupid. Not even Mather Pass. Which was somewhat a goal today- and would have been if this storm didn’t blow in at 1 PM. Crazy, I’m sure I’ve said this before but just seeing other people out there, this time (conditions, closures, etc.) really lifts your spirits. Idk those men, but I feel comfortable knowing they are around. The only other people I saw today, were at camp this morning. Thomas + his mom are from Montreal. We chatted a bit about the closures, they have to re-route, but I mentioned my concerns with O.V resupply. Long story short- they gave me some of their extra food. Epic Bars, RX bars, and trail mix, to avoid having to get off trail, possible “ruin” my trip” because of lack of food/resupply. They were headed to MTR so I didn’t feel so bad. Anyways, this storm seems to have lifted a bit, still early, but I’m already bundled up. PRAYING for clear skies in the AM to get over Mather! Have a feeling it’s going to be a long night.

Story: I don’t quite remember what time I woke up this morning, but it was near 9 AM when I was hiking out of camp, and it was already pretty warm. A few other backpackers hiked in yesterday evening, and after briefly chatting with them about forest closures and their plans for their next resupply, I mentioned being a little worried about not having enough food if I did in fact skip my next resupply. They were almost certain that I would not be able to get back on trail if I did exit to resupply, so they gave me a lot of extra food.

They were headed NOBO, and straight for Muir Trail Ranch that morning. Thinking back at all that downhill yesterday, I figured I’d be doing them a favor making their packs lighter for the climb up to MTR; but really, in reality- they were saving me and my JMT trip. Half a dozen RX Bars, Epic Bars, and trail mix- they really hooked me up, and I was SO grateful. They said that it would really suck for me to have to exit the trail because of lack of food.

Mather Pass is the goal today, and I would definitely feel more accomplished if I make it there. Kings Canyon is absolutely beautiful. More gate crossings and I think I’ve learned how to properly open them. Only took 10 days. The climb up to Palisade Lakes is long and hot. I’m taking my time, and will probably stop there today. New goal: Upper Palisade Lake. That way, I can knock out Mather Pass early in the morning.

I didn’t know this on the trail, but the climb up to Palisade Lake is known as the Golden Staircase. And a damn staircase it surely felt. I took my time though, checking out the views and I climbed higher and higher. I could see the clouds rolling in, definitely the most clouds today than any other day on trail, but views of Kings Canyon look amazing from up here. I have no energy, and I’m pretty sure that’s because I haven’t eaten much today. I guess you could say I’m rationing my food, but I can really tell the difference in my energy levels.

With the dark clouds lingering above, I checked my Garmin for the weather and it said there was a 10% chance of rain at 1 PM. At 1:21 PM it started raining. I didn’t think to pack any rain gear on this trip…well because it’s summer. I should have known better. I knew better. I was hiking into the later part of the season, as my sister said- I should have at the very least- packed a rain jacket…

The rain was nice until it wasn’t. I love the smell, especially out in nature but when there’s no chance of keeping your stuff dry- it kinda sucks. I has just reached Lower Palisade Lake when it started raining hard. I was on my way to Upper Palisade Lake before I heard thunder, and immediately turned around and started heading back towards a campsite I previously saw, right after I saw a lightning strike nearby the lake. I knew at this time I was not going to hike Mather Pass today, and the best thing to do would be to set up camp and let the rainstorm pass.

Little did I know what type of storm I’d get caught in, but it was the scariest day for me on the trail. I backtracked a quarter-mile, dropped my pack, and never set up camp so quickly. Thunder roaring, rain pouring, and everything getting all wet. I tossed my poles because I didn’t want to get struck having them nearby. The rain never stopped, it only got stronger. I pulled out my Garmin and texted my sister. I asked for tips for surviving a lighting storm; I had no idea. I knew of a few random things like, sit on top of your pad, and crouch low to the ground- but I had a feeling there was a lot more I didn’t know. I immediately knew the site I chose to set up camp, was probably not the best spot to set up in a storm- very exposed, near a lake..but I had no other choice.

She went on to tell me to count (by Mississippi’s) from the moment I hear thunder to the moment I see lightning, and that will tell me how close the storm is. I counted two Mississippi’s before realizing that I was in the middle of this damn storm, and it didn’t sound like it was going to let up anytime soon. “The storm is supposed to last until tomorrow afternoon. Hang in there sis.”

I couldn’t. I was emotional from passing the memorial site from the hiker who got struck by lightning earlier this summer near the JMT. I was an absolute mess. There was no way I could just hang out until this storm passed without getting struck. But there was literally nothing else that I could have done. The storm let up about an hour later the sun started illuminating my tent. Like as if nothing happened, the sun came out. It almost felt like a completely new day, and I was happy to have survived.

The storm came back, and by this time, I was already set to camp the night and wait it out. It wouldn’t be smart to pack up and head further into unknown territory. For a minute there, I wanted off-trail. I wanted so badly to backtrack to Le Conte Ranger station and exit trail; but to do that- I’d still have to climb Bishop Pass, which didn’t seem safe either. I heard someone from my tent and was excited when I saw 3 guys passing me in the storm. They were covered in plastic bags and charging through the storm. Where the heck they were headed? I had no clue but only prayed that they weren’t going for Mather Pass in that storm.

I felt comfortable knowing there were people nearby, no matter how close or far they decided to camp. It was a long night. Lighting lit up the night sky, making it very difficult to fall asleep.

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