Do note a lot of these lessons are mostly for myself, if you learn something from it then that’s sweet!
I woke up to the sound of rain pouring outside. A smile creeped across my face. I’ve always secretly loved the rain, running in it, walking around town in it, less so working construction in it… I was planning on doing a day trip up to elsay but with the rain and my unfamiliarity with that route, I opted for a safer objective Pump peak, and or Mt Seymour. I’ve been meaning to put my rain gear through its paces and this was the perfect low consequence trip to do so as Mt Seymour is well flagged and I am familiar with the route. What makes the rain really nice is that it scares away all the fairweather hikers that would normally make the trail insufferable for me (not that i dont like people using the backcountry, i just prefer quiet, and tranquility and a feeling of solitude while out in the mountains). When I’m outside I like to have a moment of peace from the industrial cacophony of noise and visual pollution of the city. Furthermore the hikers and mountaineers out in the bad weather are usually the sort that are pretty cool, and are less likely to play music on a speaker at full blast leaving garbage everywhere.
I started pretty, late getting to the Mountain at 11:30. The estimated time for Seymour was 5 hours, so I knew I would be within sunlight hours if it did take me that long. I ended up getting up and down roughly 2 hours with a solid pace. The Mt Seymour trail was a stream all the way up, waterproof boots were worth their weight in gold. Instead of being soaked they were only mildly damp from the sweat my feet produced. I made sure to walk in as much of the water I could to really see just how capable my goretex boots were. The vibram rubber was fantastic on wet rock. The icy rock and trail near the summit still made me cautious. Having good gear is no excuse for not paying attention. The one thing I did slip on was this big plastic pipe imbedded in the trail, my heart jumped, I felt like I was going to be a cartoon character slipping on a banana peel.
My goretex jacket and pants were solid. Wearing the jacket was a little toasty on the way up, but a little too cool on the way down. I just wore a baselayer and fleece underneath on the up and down. People think they need an uber burly $700+ goretex shell all the time when they come into the outdoors store I work at. For 95% of the people who aren’t looking for a ski jacket, but are looking for an outdoor jacket; a lighter weight more affordable jacket will really do you wonders.
Where I really learned a lesson was in my glove system, which was nonexistant on this trip. I just wore synthetic liners. On the up I was fine, they were getting soaked but with my body moving at a fast pace, the heat of my internal engine sustained the warmth. It was when I slowed near the top to try and assess where I was that the cold crept in and hit my hands hard for the decent. There was no visibility up at the top and the rain had turned to a fierce snow with no trees to block the wind. Without a waterproof glove or another pair of insulated gloves, I made the decision to turn back very quickly. Even trying to undo zippers and the clips of my bag proved very challenging with wet cold hands. It made me realise what good is having all this gear in my bag if my hands don’t function and can barely even access the bag in the first place. Invest in a few pairs of gloves and bring a few pairs for wet and cold days. It took almost 20-30 minutes of full blast heat in the car for my hands to feel good again. You won’t have that in the backcountry. Even with a woodburning stove in a hut you will be competing with all the other fools who also didn’t bring enough pairs of warm dry gloves, never mind all the stinky boots and liners in your face. I think I’d say invest more money into your glove system than your shell, I think safety wise it’s that important to have warm hands.
Another piece of gear I’ve come to love dearly is my synthetically insulated belay jacket. I know that down is more packable, lighter, with the potential for more longevity. But when it comes to the wet west coast mountains, I am so thankful I opted for synthetic. In an ideal world I would own both down and synthetic to suit the conditions. But not having to worry about getting my SHTF cold weather insulation layer wet was such a relief when all I wanted to do was warm up again as I got back to the parking lot.
Finally one last lesson I learned was the importance of an Altimeter or Barometer and gps devices. When I was at the summit my phone was next to useless. Wet fingers and gloves were hopeless trying to unlock the damn thing. I was hoping to find out where amongst the three Pumps I actually was. An elevation measuring device would have been perfect as I knew from the guidebooks the approximate elevation of each peak. Which ever electronic device I opt for in the future I will try and find one with as many tactile buttons as possible. The touchscreen pads on my liners wore out in a month. When routefinding is paramount in bad conditions I don’t want to rely on a touchscreen anymore. For fairweather adventures where you can actually see things around you, a phone is quite a handy tool.
If you ever get the opportunity to put your gear to the test on a rainy weekend do it. It was actually quite fun and I’m glad I didn’t end up spending the day on a computer complaining how the weather was too sucky to go out.