Thunderstorms


Standing above treeline watching a line of thunderstorms coming can feel like standing between the rails of a freight train mainline. On my way to Mizpah I hiked the Crawford Path up to Mt. Pierce. Up on top the wind was getting gusty and the sky was black in the west. Bolts of lightning were walking east over the foothills. The few raindrops that fell were the size of marbles. I headed down into the trees and toward the hut.

Along the way I stopped briefly to admire the work of the AMC Trail Crew. Along the Webster Cliff Trail they have been replacing bog bridges, over 50 so far this month. Each plank weighs 75 pounds, and had to be carried to its bridge site from the nearest airlift zone. Bog bridges span mud pits, so setting the timbers is a muddier job than catching a wallowing pig that knows it might become bacon.

Just after I got into the hut the storms arrived. It rained so heavily that it was hard to hear the thunder over the roar of the water coming down. Tristan Williams and Heather Day burst back through the door from a day hike in the Dry River Wilderness looking like they had fallen out of a boat. Brian Quarrier arrived soon after looking dazed. He was on the ridge coming from Lakes when the lightning started striking. He sprinted across 3 miles of wet rocks and down the Webster Cliff Trail which was now flowing like a river.

My first summer in the huts I had a similar experience when a storm caught me above treeline on the Boott Spur Trail. I was carrying my skis back to Lakes so I could take advantage of the late snow in Oakes Gulf. Cowering in between some rocks I could smell the ozone from the lightning. I found for myself why foxholes and the upper slopes of mountains in electrical storms are rare places for atheists.

The storms passed Mizpah during dinner. After Dave Weston, the Hut Naturalist, gave a program on weather I headed down the trail. I was in flowing water to my ankles. Until this night I had never had a headlamp die on me in the backcountry. This night, maybe because of all the moisture, mine ceased working. It made the second half of the Crawford Path a slow walk. By staying in the water I was mostly able to stay on the trail. After 11pm I saw the lights of traffic passing through Crawford Notch. As I drove home along the swollen Saco River the stars were coming out.