Monday, August 2, 2010

Sonora Pass

Here's the story from last week I didn't have time to tell:

It was July 25th and I was scheduled to hike Sonora Pass. Not having heard of it or seen it before, I didn't know what to expect. The guide book describes possible "lethal" snowfields. Thunderstorms passed through the area on the 24th, but this morning seemed OK. As I approached the pass, it was clear that there was going to be at least a mile or two above treeline. I didn't know it was going to be several miles.

At 10:00, just as I reached the treeline, I stopped for my morning snack. While eating, I was admiring the wonderful view and the fact that for the first time in three days, the mosquitoes had vanished. As I was finishing my snack, I noticed clouds started rolling in over the ridge. "Uh oh," I thought. "More storms?" Even though the clouds were just beginning to appear, I had a decision to make. Should I pitch a shelter and possibly have to wait all day until the storm materializes, and possibly waste an entire day of hiking? Or should I attempt the pass and hope for the best. I decided on the latter, figuring it was only 10:00, and the storm would probably arrive later in the afternoon.

As I climbed the mountain, I kept careful watch on the clouds. Sure enough, more and more began to accumulate and they created dramatic bomb like plumes over the surrounding peaks. Sonora Pass seemed just fine. Bright blue skies were shining above me and the views were spectacular. I began to grow increasingly uncomfortable though, when I noticed the trail made no descent as far as the eye could see. The trail simply followed the side of the ridge above treeline for miles.

At this time, the clouds began darkening, and I could see rain falling on distant peaks. I began running through storm scenarios in my mind, confident that the trail had to start descending soon. No such luck. It was around 11:30 am and I was still hiking the ridge. Then I heard a sound that sent shivers down my spine. The first crash of thunder. On top of the ridge, it didn't seem to roll. It was like someone dropping a tray of plates, glasses, and silverware to the floor. "Shit" I thought. "I've got to get off this ridge!" My sunny skies quickly began to collapse on me, as dark clouds closed in from all sides. CRASH! Another clap of thunder. I started to jog slightly as my mind continued to process my options. I was quickly running out of time. Once again, I witnessed a wall of water falling across the valley heading in my direction. I began running down the trail but there was simply nowhere to go. The storm was going to overtake me within minutes and I was stuck up on the ridge.

Just then, I noticed there were small pine bushes to my left that formed the perfect cave. At these altitudes, the bushes grew just a few feet off the ground and very close together. I saw a huge streak of lightning to my west followed by a deafening crash of thunder. "Get off the mountain!!" my mind screamed. If I could have jumped, I probably would have. I had 30 seconds to make a run for it, or hunker-down in the bush. Another giant streak of lightning, this time even closer. "Get in the bush!!" my mind ordered. I dropped my pack, grabbed my rain gear and ground pad, and crawled into the bush. It was the most amazing place I've been on the trail. It was like crawling into the palm of God. The bush formed the perfect shelter. I assumed the lightning drill position and said a prayer. "This might be the end!!" I couldn't help feeling. All of a sudden, the winds simply began to howl overhead. It was like a jet plane flying 2 feet over my head. Rain came down in torrents and hail pummeled the mountainside. Lightning and thunder crashed all around me. While I sat snug in "The Palm of God," my only regret was that I could not see the storm rage around me.

Then, as if someone flipped a switch, the rain and hail stopped. It was over in 15 minutes. I sat in the bush a little while longer waiting for the clouds to move further east. As I emerged from the bush and saw blue skies to the west, I couldn't help but let out a victory howl! I made it, I survived! I finished the rest of the pass feeling high as a kite. My hike had been resurrected from the depths of mosquito hell. That evening, I was blessed with a rainbow while standing atop Sonora Peak. Maybe I'll make it to Canada after all...



  1. Great story! I had a moment like that in the Everglades, but without the extreme danger. You'll never forget that feeling inside the bush. Guaranteed.

    Mark, where do I send your disks next?

  2. Still a great story, 18 months later.