The timing was bad. We’d just climbed to the top of Cove Mountain, one of the rockiest stretches of the AT in Pennsylvania. At 4 PM, the skies were as black as dusk. We had at least three miles to go to reach the shelter area, and it wouldn’t be an easy walk – it took us three hours the next day, as it turned out.
“Let’s hunker down,” I said, as the first flashes appeared over the next ridge. “Where?” John asked. I pointed to a tiny spot near a big log.
“No, we should pitch the tent,” John said. “It won’t fit there.”
“Let’s keep going, then.”
I said a little prayer for safe passage and refuge from the storm. The ridgetop was made of rocks, big and small, filling the footpath. It was scarcely fifteen feet wide and thickly forested. The likelihood of a tent spot for our two person tent was small. But we rounded a log, and found a small spot between a log, a tree, some rocks, and the footpath.
“How about here?” John asked. I looked at the sky. “I think that would be prudent.”
We moved faster to set up the tent than we’d ever done before. Because of the obstacles around it, we couldn’t guy it out fully. The first big raindrops started as I tossed the packs into the tent just as John finished tightening up the hiking sticks-as-tent-poles. I rolled in, muddy shoes and all. The downpour began, with a wind so strong it shook the tall trees around us. Thunder and flashes of lightning soon followed.
We huddled on the floor of the tent, pushing our packs to the ends to help prop up the sagging silnylon. “I’ve always heard you should lie on the ground during a thunderstorm,” I said. “I’m just glad we have this roof over our head.”
Lying close, we fell asleep. By the time we woke up, the violent storm front had passed. The heavy rain persisted. It was too late to walk any farther anyway. We pulled out the sleeping bag and one Thermarest, sharing it sleeping diagonally. Cold food made up our dinner. Although we almost always hung our food bags every night, there seemed no point to it in the downpour.
The next morning, I had to laugh. John had used the snack bag to prop up his head. “You slept with beef jerky in your pillow!” Fortunately, the bears and mice didn’t notice.