I’ve done the route up Sisar Canyon to the gate just before the Red Reef/White Ledge Camp trail multiple times. It’s an awesome training route, given its consistent 500’/mile ascent, well maintained trail, and low traffic. Today I set out to take that route up towards Hines Peak…but was derailed…
Meteorologists have been calling for a storm to hit today…for about a week. Therefore, I brought my rain gear but I wore shorts and a softshell shirt, expecting the day to be mostly sunny and about 65-70 degrees.
I parked at the water tower atop Sisar Road, the usual parking area for this hike, around 10am. Skies were blue with a few clouds to the north. The wind was light from the south, meaning those clouds I saw were most likely going away from me. I continued onward at my usual 3-3.5mph clip for this trail, making it to my first creek crossing within about 20 minutes. The creek crossing was a bit lower than usual, but I made a note of this in case the weather ended up turning (this is called foreshadowing). After 2 miles or so, the skies got a bit darker around Topa Topa Bluff and Hines, but, again, those were a bit north of me. Onward, farther up, 3 miles, and then finally the gate I call White Ledge Gate. This is where the Red Reef Trail begins. The skies had gotten darker north but more importantly, I noticed a couple puffier clouds just to the south. The sun’s warmth was destabilizing the atmosphere, which often results in quick-growing storms. I decided to take a break at the gate and check the doppler radar on my phone. When it finally loaded (darn you 2G!), the radar showed very little to worry about. Still, the temperatures had dropped considerably, probably into the mid 40’s, and my intuition told me I should be on my guard.
White Ledge Campground is on the Red Reef Trail and is saddled in a narrow canyon. While this area is beautiful, it is also in an area that looks like it could be flash flood city. I decided to continue up the fire road, which adds distance to one’s journey up to Hines but is more gradual and definitely safer in a wetaher emergency. Not .4 miles up from the gate, it began to drizzle and I noticed the temperature dropping again. I also saw what I thought looked like snow accumulating on Topa (over 6k’). My intuition and my lack of warmer clothing told me to go back to the trail head… so I started my descent. Not 5 minutes after turning around, the rain picked up a lot. Even though the sky was not dark, it really started to rain. And then it began hailing. Pea size hail. Then penny size. And then it was just a full out deluge of rain mixed with hail and wind. This lasted pretty much until I made it back to the car.
Hiking in the rain is actually kind of fun if you have the right waterproof boots and clothing. The only time I had to watch myself was crossing that aforementioned creek crossing. What is usually 3-4″ of water rock steps became 8-10″ of raging chocolate milk. The rocks were still visible but were slick. If you ever find yourself in this situation, I’d recommend three plans of action:
1. Try to find another easier crossing close by
2. Use the wet rocks for crossing. However, instead of relying on your shoes for grip, rely on the angle of your steps and your downward force on the rocks for traction and stability. Trekking poles also help here (this is what I did this time around)
3. If the water is fordable, turn and face the park of the creek where the water is coming from. Carefully side step your way across the water. When a person is in this posture and stance, they will have their maximum amount of stability and balance.
Anyways, I was soaked to the bone when I finally got back to my car, but that’s ok. This was a fun hike and one I won’t forget any time soon. I’ve uploaded a video taken shortly after it began to hail.
Time: 3 hours
Distance: 8 miles
Elevation gain: 2000 feet
Weather: 40s-50s with rain and hail on the descent
Calories burned: 2000