Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Whiling Away the Hours of a Backcountry Rain Delay

“Rain rain go away, Come again another day.”

Most likely, every backcountry enthusiast has uttered this popular nursery rhyme at one time or another when an unanticipated rainfall altered their hiking or backpacking plans. This is especially true for the Adirondacks, where pop-up showers are the norm during the summertime, even a dry one like this year. These storms can lead to flooded trails, difficult stream-crossings and possibly even assemblies of paired animals. Most importantly, they can result in a hiking rain-delay.

If the storms are heavy enough and last for hours, rain delays can pose quite the conundrum for those trapped in a tent, lean-to or other shelter. How does one spend their time when in a confined place for a considerable length of time, while waiting out a wet day?

Old-school outdoor enthusiasts may scoff at the whole idea of a downpour trapping anyone in a shelter. Pull on the rain jacket and pants (or, if truly an old-school type, the poncho) and get out there and enjoy the rain, they might argue. In many cases I might even agree with them (does this make me an old-schooler?), but with steady rain or a deluge, conditions can become particularly unsafe, especially while bushwhacking off-trail.

Although it can be hazardous hiking trails in the rain, bushwhacking within a steady rain can be down-right dangerous. Slipping is a constant hazard when logs, rocks, leaves and vegetation are soaking wet. This is especially true in places with beaver activity, where one slip could leave one impaled on a beaver spikes, or worse. There are no proctologists conveniently nearby in the Adirondack backcountry either.

Seeing can be difficult during any rain event, but especially so during a torrential downpour. Where trail hikers may find this annoying, bushwhackers wearing safety glasses (which I advise for anyone valuing their eyesight), maintaining vision with water running down the front of the glasses, and fog obscuring the insides, is extremely hazardous. Reading maps, compasses, etc. in wet conditions poses additional challenges.

Instead of risking an incident, some downtime due to a rain delay can be very beneficial, but this contingency requires some planning ahead of time. Put away the modern day notion of instant gratification though, this is going to require more patience than high tech gadgetry.

The simplest activity to while away the hours on a rainy day in the backcountry, requiring no additional equipment other than a brain (which should accompany one on every trip), is to spend some time thinking. In our modern society, with many people in a constantly distracted state of mind, surrounded by instant information from smart phones, computers, televisions and the Internet, it may seem a radical idea to suggest taking a break just to think. Thinking goes well together with hanging out in the backcountry, as both harken back to a time long ago, when people spent more of their time in nature, amusing themselves as best they could.

Sleeping is by far one of my favorite backcountry rain-day activities. Long days, odd sleeping conditions, hard surfaces, early morning avian wake-up calls and the constant whine of mosquitoes are only a few of the reasons why it is difficult to get an adequate amount of sleep while in the Adirondack backcountry. Take a few hours and nap away, without any reservations about wasting time better spent on the trail or experiencing the backcountry. You are not going anywhere for a while anyways.

Reading a book is another excellent way to spend a dreary and damp day in the woods. Unfortunately, this requires carrying a book when you enter the backcountry. Select a short book, preferably a paperback, to save weight; leave the beefy books such as the family Bible, the dictionary and large coffee table books at home. This should be especially appealing to backpacking bookworms like myself.

Map reading is an alternative to book reading. Maps and trip planning are typically favorite pastimes of most backcountry explorers; otherwise, the chance of experiencing a rain delay is unlikely. There is no need to carry any additional maps, spending time investigating possible future trips by pouring over the map at hand can provide hours of entertainment.

Rainy days can be an excellent opportunity to catch up on note taking too. This is a perfect day to put procrastination aside and get cracking finishing (or starting) the notes for the current trip (or a previous trip for chronic cases of procrastination). And, if note taking is not usually your thing, this can be a great time to start. Depending on the level of effort required this could take a significant amount of the day.

Playing cards is an interesting way to spend some time as the rain continues to fall. It helps if there is more than a single player, but even several games of Solitaire can be enjoyable when all other avenues no longer hold much appeal. If playing with others, consider upping the odds to make it more interesting. Play for some trail snacks, or to decide who carries all the garbage the next day. Small decks of playing cards for backpackers are available for purchase; stuffing one in the backpack for such an occasion can be worth the extra weight.

Listening to a radio is another way to spend time as rain pours down. This activity depends on the reception of the radio at your current location. Getting caught up on the news, listening to the weather (hopefully, not hearing that rain is continuing for several more days) or just listening to another person’s voice after days spent alone can be reassuring when the rain continues to fall from the sky. Avoid listening for a lengthy period though, unless there are plenty of batteries available.

Rain delays are an inevitable part of exploring the backcountry. In the Adirondacks, rain delays may happen at any time, so backcountry enthusiasts, whether they are trail hikers or off-trail bushwhackers, need to prepare for such an eventuality. That is, unless you prefer to sleep or think your day away instead.

Although these are some of the possible ways to spend a rain delay in the backcountry, there are probably many more. What is your favorite way to spend a rainy day in the backcountry? Are there any other good strategies for spending time as the rain falls?

Photo: Unnamed beaver pond in southern Five Ponds Wilderness by Dan Crane.

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Dan Crane writes regularly about bushwhacking and backcountry camping, including providing insights on equipment and his observations as a veteran backcountry explorer. He has been visiting the Adirondacks since childhood and actively exploring its backcountry for almost two decades. He is also life-long naturalist with a Master of Science in Ecology from SUNY ESF and 10+ seasons working as a field biologist, five inside the Blue Line.

Dan has hiked the Northville-Placid Trail twice and climbed all 46 High Peaks but currently spends his backpacking time exploring the northwestern portion of the Adirondacks. He is also the creator of the blog Bushwhacking Fool where he details his bushwhacking adventures.

One Response

  1. Matt says:

    I’d add bring a tarp, it’s easier to set up than a tent and breaks down easy, in case you can’t find a nearby lean-to. Kayak and canoe portages in the rain are no picnic either. Once under a shelter, I’d also review my gear to make sure there are no leaks in drybags and compression drybags, and any other essential gear that needs to stay dry. Knowing the weather forecast for the area is also part of the prep work in trip planning, but surprise storms can even catch weathermen off-guard. Be ready for anything in the backcountry.

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