Summer means sun, humidity, and long lines at the local swimming hole and it all kicks off on Memorial day, the traditional beginning to the 100 days of summer that runs until Labor Day. It’s also the start of when I usually retract from the outdoors; heat and humidity afflict my yankee DNA, to the point where a mild depression settles in any time that the weather turns north of 80 degrees. This Memorial Day though, buoyed by a nonstop barrage of thunderstorms, the mountains were rained out on one of the busiest tourist days of the year so I was heading there to try and find some space in a season that’s usually standing room only.
Rain is an odd thing. It often destroys plans more than makes them and by the lack of shiny sedans with Florida plates heading to the normal hotspots of Linville Falls and Sliding Rock it definitely seemed like the low point of the season, not the peak. The only constant exception to the “fair weather” adventurer stereotype is, and will always be, whitewater kayakers who regularly prance in circular patterns wearing only sprayskirts, shaking their paddles to the sky in feeble attempts to summon storms. Climbers, mountain bikers, hikers, bird watchers all have to find other pursuits when it rains hard enough, but kayakers only demand more and more. In the southeast, whitewater paddling has a feast and famine relationship depending on how bad the drought is or how much water falls from the sky. Small, steep creeks that are only runnable immediately after a deluge see a bum-rush of whitewater...bums to try and squeeze in a run before it goes dry again, possibly for a year or more. As of Memorial Day 2018, over 12” of rain had fallen in May, nearly 4x the average, so they were out in force.
But since I had no notion of running the gnar this year, the rain was a chance for me to try out a new tent and make sure of it’s waterproofness before a 17 day trip to Montana later in the year, take some photos of waterfalls at several times their normal flows, and maybe see the mountains in late spring without hundreds of people clogging the views. It’s not that I want to deny people the joy that I experience in the gorgeous views and vistas, but they do rob me of my joy when I have to wait in line. But unless you’re able to come on a Tuesday morning, how do you beat the crowds on a Memorial Day weekend, and the answer I’ve finally discovered is camp in crappy weather. Obviously you have to change your plans a little bit when the locals are building arks and animals are lining up 2 by 2, but it doesn’t mean your trip is a bust.
The biggest factor for thriving in less than ideal conditions is gear; I’m by no means a gear snob, but if you are not properly prepared for rain your trip is going to be miserable. This means more than a rain jacket and a hat for hiking in the rain, you need a system so you can come back to camp and crash somewhere dry. That could be an EZ-Up style shelter, a tarp strung between some trees, an awning coming off a vehicle, really it’s just a place that you can sit out of the rain and eat comfortably. The lack of sunshine is depressing enough due to the lack of Vitamin D, but if you shut yourself in a tent the claustrophobia only makes it worse. I personally use a Kelty Noahs Tarp 12 for a dining fly when packing size is a concern, and it’s super easy to string up between several trees especially when paired with Nite Ize Figure 9s. Leave toying with knots to the Boy Scouts (or, just “The Scouts” now) and use these tensioners to pull everything taut in a hurry. In addition to protection from the weather, a good chair to keep you up and away from the wet ground, and a pair of Wellingtons to slop in the mud around camp go a long way to keeping you comfortable.
We spent the Memorial Day weekend bouncing around to some of our favorite spots along the Parkway and NC 215, making the short hike to Courthouse Falls, stopping alongside the beautiful stone bridges that cross the Pigeon River, and watching the rain fall across the different ridges from overlooks. And, best of all, there were barely any people out there. Our nights were spent in a dry tent that was large enough to comfortably change and sit up in. Another added benefit of the rain is the normally hot and muggy weather turned into cool and humid weather, so my inner Yankee didn't even let out a squeak of protest.