Hiking in the Rain in the Catskill Mountains

Catskills Hiking and Backpacking Trip Gone Wrong

A rainy backpacking and camping trip in the catskill mountainsAfter driving three hours to backpack and camp in the Catskill Mountains, a little rain was not going to turn us away. Out came the trash bags, ponchos, and hats. The four of us: myself and my long-time backpacking companion and self-professed expert survivalist, and each of our girlfriends, had a plan: four miles up the mountain to a scenic lookout and a night’s camping, a very light trip to accommodate the inexperienced girls in our group; one of whom weighed 85 pounds sopping wet. The weather was expected to cooperate, with a high of about 55 and a low of about 45.

Off we began up the wet mountain, our pace slowed by the fact that the path doubled as a river bed which was presently flooding. About two and a half miles up the trail, two hours into our walk, it hadn’t stopped raining. Since we were hiking and backpacking  ankle-deep in flowing river water, we did a hypothermia check: the rule of thumb is that if you can’t touch your pinky to your thumb anymore, you should make a fire and warm up. My girlfriend failed the test. We hustled to get out of the rain.

Walking a little further up the trail, we found a decent cave system: just large enough to accomodate the four of us with a fire. Out of the backpack comes the emergency fire kit to deal with the wet firewood: a road flare, chapstick and cotton balls, and various lighters and firestarters. Two of us head out to find a few pieces of dry wood and a bunch of wet wood that we’ll split and feather with a machete and dry by the fire.

It’s not true that you can’t light a fire in the rain: usually, only the outer bark gets wet, even in heavy rain. The inside of the wood is often bone dry. In my experience, it’s even possible to get a fire started with wood that’s been in the rain for several hours. What we didn’t know is that it had been raining on this mountain for over a week. The wood we found near the cave was soaked through.

We feathered and split the wood. We lit the road flare. We dried twigs over our cotton ball wicks. We used all of our pyromancer talents, but nothing helped. The times we did get twigs lit, the fire was not big enough and did not create enough embers to dry out the rest of the wood. Four hours later, we still had no fire.

My friend stands up and looks out of the cave. “I have to take a crap,” he says abruptly. We dig the toilet paper from the backpacks but realize quickly that it won’t do much good. For him, it will be wet leaves while squatting in the rain. He comes back after about twenty minutes: “Let’s go home,” he says. We’re all glad not to have been the ones to say it, and I was particularly happy to see the survival expert defeated in a single afternoon by a bit of rain and diarrhea from a garlic pizza that he had for lunch.

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