Monday-Tuesday, July 2-3, 2013. Pisgah National Forest. Black Balsam, through Graveyard Fields, to the Skinny-dip Falls Trailhead.
In Camp: Flood!
We could hear the waterfall noise adding to the ever-present stream rush when we came across a camp site. The kids sat down, Lee and S set their packs down. I was way behind at that point, and as I caught up asked if it was time for a rest? No, we’re camping here. S and Lee scouted further along the trail, to see if there was a better campsite close by. The kids and I found a way down to the water, decided where the tents would probably go, and started identifying and removing the largest glass chunks from around the fire pit.
Boo started digging in the sand of the trail, making a sand castle. J joined her, and they had quite the discussion of who would attack, what kinds of attacks were fair, how to prevent attack. They then had a small war, destroyed the sand castle, and utterly obliterated any sign that they’d been there. (This got some looks from the hikers that came through.)
The scouts returned to report no camp sites unless we crossed the river by Skinny Dip Falls. Those sites are fairly close to a trailhead, and the trail was a little rough. Let’s stay here. I asked Lee about how far we’d come (I really hadn’t been paying much attention…), and she said almost 5 ½ miles! Considering how tricky the trail had been for short legs, the kids did even more awesome than I’d thought!
Setting up camp was odd so close to falls and rough water. It made it very hard for me to even hear that Lee was talking when I wasn’t expecting it, and that caused us to not get set up as smoothly as usual. The batteries on the Steripen were dead. I had been meaning to pick up spares, but hadn’t. We had iodine tablets or could boil our water, but S loaned us his pump. Then the lighter wasn’t working. It had fuel, but it wouldn’t spark. I’ve never heard of a lighter dying that way. OK, the magnesium sparker is actually easier to light the Trangia with anyway…
I hung a drying line, since we all had wet socks, and most of us had wet pants from all the river/trail stuff.
Lee made us yummy food. As we were eating, it was getting dark. We wondered if it was later than we thought? Were we deep enough in the valley the mountains were just making it dark early? Or were those clouds darker than they looked…
It started to sprinkle. I got our raincoats. Especially because Boo was in a cotton sweatshirt, we wanted her dry. We finished eating and it rained harder. We sent Boo to the tent. She didn’t want to be alone, so Lee went with her. I rinsed the dishes with rainwater and hung the food bag. First branch I could not get. Second branch was thin enough it hit the tent once the food bag was hoisted. Third branch worked. I hung using the PTC method for the first time. There are black bears, but I was mostly worried about raccoons. No self-respecting bear was going to be out in this downpour.
I got into the tent and left my dripping raincoat and pants in the vestibule. Boo was quietly snuggled into her sleeping bag. Later, she said she had been scared, but at the time she was just quiet. As the rain pounded the tent, she fell asleep. The rain was loud enough the thunder which started shortly after didn’t bother her at all. As I dried off, I thought about flash flooding, and thought I remembered waterways close enough to our site that would take enough water we should be ok… But it was raining so hard….
We watched out our little windows as best we could, checking that we weren’t about to float away. The ground was wet, but nothing scary or dangerous that we could see. The sky lightened as the rain continued to pour, which answered our question about the dinnertime darkness. As the rain slackened a bit, we could hear that the river noise had changed. A lot. Which was somewhat concerning, even though there was nothing worrisome we could see through our tent windows.
Then S called, “Come look at this. It’s worth poking your head out.” Lee went to look.
What had been our trail out of camp was now a reasonably sized waterfall.
The trail back the way we’d come was also flooded, though less violently.
And our two tents were effectively on an island.
He had stuck his mug outside the tent, and estimated we’d gotten about 3” of rain that first hour. By the same method, we got another 1” of rain overnight.
(Where’s an appropriate place to pee during a flash flood? I can’t go “away from water” when the entire hillside is half an inch deep!)
What do you do when you’re on an island made by a flash flood? Text everybody! We got a text out to G, who had been worried watching the weather at the house. That also meant that we could text her if we needed a new pickup location, instead of trying to hitchhike from an alternate trailhead.
Eventually, we dried off enough to crawl into our down sleeping bags. And it got dark enough we could sleep.
Have you ever camped through a flash flood?