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What’s the Worst Weather You’ve Ever Hiked In?

Stacked pancaked  clouds like this, called Lenticular Clouds, are often the harbinger of heavy rain
Stacked pancaked clouds like this, called Lenticular Clouds, are often the harbinger of heavy rain

Most of us have had to hike in bad weather at one time or another, on day hikes or backpacking trips.

While there have been plenty of times when I’ve cancelled a day hike or postponed it do to bad weather, I’ve also be forced to deal with pop-up thunderstorms and violent rain that we not forecasted and unavoidable. Backpacking trips are no different, especially when you’ve been out for a few days without access to an updated weather forecast, and a new weather front blows through that you weren’t expecting.

Looking back over all the hikes I’ve done over the years, the worst weather I’ve ever experienced was the first time I hiked the 100 Mile Wilderness in Maine and encountered 6 inches of rain in just a few days. It was worse than sketchy. The streams were overflowing and dangerous to cross on foot, the trails in the section of Maine were underwater, the floor of my tent got flooded out one night and all of my gear was soaking wet. I should have just stopped and hung out for a day in a shelter, but I kept on hiking north through it all because I was worried about running out of food.

What’s the worst weather you’ve ever hiked in?

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39 comments

  1. It was a short day hike but being in an electrical thunderstorm on Mt Princeton in Colorado at 14,000 ft is no fun!

  2. North bound from the NOC to Davenport Gap in November. One day of rain follow by clearing followed by clear and repeat. All the way. Rain gear never did dry out completely. Above Fontana I stayed in the first shelter, had it all to myself. Actually saw steam rising from my wet socks as they dried in front of the fire. Everything was coated with ice next two days. One overnight hiker at Spence Field (?) exhibited what looked and sounded like hypothermia. Further on I noticed the temp dropped to 20 in the am and the bezel on my watch shrank from the cold and fell out!

  3. While climbing to what would have been our Camp 2 location at 17,400 feet on Aconcagua in 2007, our team encountered sudden heavy snowfall, 60+ mph winds, and temps in the minus 30F range. We were forced to build a hasty camp at around 16,100 feet where we spent the next two days waiting out the storm.

  4. I think I was hiking in the 100 mile wilderness at the same time. mine was 2012 and it rained for 5 or six days straight, the trail turned into a stream bed and the water crossings were very sketchy.

  5. Running the Escarpment trail race. Heavy rains all night had turned the trail into chocolate colored rivulets. Thunderstorms predicted for late afternoon came mid morning. As we hit the peak of Windham lightning and thunder hit right on top of us with heavy rains. We had to run as hard as possible to get off the peak and under the tree line. Later that day the I tripped but the trail was so flooded the water broke my fall.

  6. Hurricane Floyd -AT in SNP in Virginia. Low to no visibility. Very surreal on the overlooks where you could barely see the drop off then nothing but swirling cloudsNeedless to say I got wet.

  7. I’ve been in rain, snow and encountered 70MPH winds on MT Washington in Feb., but I would have to go with the heat in the Grand Canyon. It was 100 degrees at the rim and closer to 125 in the inner Canyon with few opportunities to get out of the sun.

    We were close to being in serious trouble and there weren’t a lot of places to find shade. Luckily we found a stream that feed the Colorado River and got to cool down until the afternoon. We learned our lesson and did a lot of night hiking on the rest of that backpacking trip.

  8. Backpacked in Guadalupe National Park not knowing before hand that the wind is extraordinarily bad there. I was with my Boy Scout troop and had a base camp with about 20 people and a crew that went backpacking with about 10 people.

    The wind was sustained 30 mph the entire trip, and there were gusts that were up to 80 mph according to the park rangers. After we crossed over the first mountain ridge it became really really calm.

    There is a part of the trail they call the “knife edge” there where there are drop offs on both sides of the trail. We were really concerned about the high winds, so we had the two biggest guys walk back and forth escorting the smaller guys. Memorable to say the least.

    When we got back down to base camp, so many tent poles had been broken that we were forced to cut the trip short and go home. At one point we put all of our gear into this octagon shaped tent, we staked it down, and put rocks in all eight corners, and another guy and I were inside the tent looking for something and the wind flipped the tent over and shattered all the tent poles.

  9. My worst was on the 100 Mile Wilderness trail as well, Philip. I was not hiking at the time, however. We had just set up our tents, seeing that a storm was approaching. No sooner were we in our tents, the rain, wind thunder and lightening came like nothing I have ever experienced. I wrote a goodbye letter to my family because I really believed that we would not make it through the night. It was terrifying. I stayed dry and I eventually slept. Because of that experience, I avoid any hiking when I hear that there may be thunderstorms expected.

  10. 48 hours of bad weather turning into an interesting week. As we listened to cold rain on the shelter ceiling, it slowly stopped. Had it stopped raining? Nope, it just turned to snow. Ended up with 18 inches of snow to posthole through with a lot of surprised folks around (early April). I saw one group of guys blaze a good 18 miles with no footsteps to step in, just to make it to Newfound Gap. They REALLY wanted to go get a beer.

    As backcountry.com called it, that’s Type II fun right there.

  11. The worst weather I’ve been out in is probably a freak thunderstorm that rolled in on us and dumped hail on us. We weren’t out hiking in it, but sitting in a tent waiting for it to pass. I think we got about 4 inches of rain in an afternoon. We were nice and dry in our Big Agnes tent though!

    Worst weather out actively hiking without sheltering in place? Probably a heavy snowstorm that turned into sleet/rain half way through. With the right clothes I stayed pretty warm and dry at least. Damp yes, but warm.

  12. Headed North out of Stecoah Gap two thunderstorms met above us with heavy rain and lightening. We made it to Brown Fork Gap Shelter (2.5 miles). We were so worried about the lightening that we flew up the to uphills to get to the shelter.

  13. Guess I am either just lucky or a fair weather hiker. I have had lousy hikes in great weather and great hikes in lousy weather. (living and hiking mostly in FL probably helps with that) I guess the worst was a bushwhack through thick underbrush in about 45 deg weather with a light drizzle. Too hot to hike in rain gear, to cold and slow to hike without. Got mildly hypothermia on that one and lost feeling in my hands and toes.

    • A lot of these have been about people being cold and wet. How about hot (95f) and humid (90%) on a Gulf Coast island with no wind or fresh water. Hiking through ankle deep sugar sand and swarmed by biting insects. Tent malfunctioned. (someone left one of the poles at home) Hot, sticky, sandy, covered in bug spray and sun tan lotion, roasting in a sleeping bag, also full of sand, at night because the bugs were too bad to unzip it. It was about as fun as it sounded. Also, why I hate camping at the beach.

  14. Got stuck in a very bad thunderstorm on Cannon Mountain one July. Sky turned green, it started hailing, and after an hour of waiting the storm out I finally decided to turn around. Lightning definitely struck a tree not half a mile away from me (it was so loud I screamed). Next day there were reports of tornadoes on a lake in Maine, and a couple had gotten killed by lightning right next to their house. Most frightening hike ever.

  15. this is a common theme from reading the comments above. hiking with my teenage son in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho. approaching 8000 feet altitude when the big storm rolled in. we had nowhere to go. we took our packs off, put on our 97cent Walmart ponchos, and sat down on a log beside the trail. we waited out the heavy rain and hail, hoping not to get struck by lightning. we could see the lightning flashing horizontally among the jagged mountain tops and orange light flashing. thankfully we were not zapped.

  16. There are two trips that come to mind, one when I was about 11 years old and Hiking and camping in the Adirondacks at a place called Floodwood Pond. This was in the day when the only Radio reception one could get up there on those new Transistor radios were two French Canadian Speaking Stations, one out of Montreal and one out of the American French State of Vermont. A storm blew in one morning and it rained solidly for the next three days. Lightening was common. I remember sitting in the door of my tent watching the rain hit the Pond when Lighting made a direct hit on a 50 foot tall Spruce about a quarter of mile away sitting on the edge of the Pond when the entire top of the tree exploded into pieces spewing them half way across the lake. We were temporarily blinded for about 5 minutes. It was then it was decided it was time to get out and take our chances since everything was flooded and we were starting to get wet even inside the tent. We left the Car at the Pond since the road was impassable and we hiked the now flooded old logging road 5 miles to the main road. There is a Golf Course right next to the road so we called on some relatives in Malone NY who came and got us out. Later we found out that not to far away a huge “blow down” occured, wipping out about 5 square miles of forest, laying it flat. We revisited at the Pond every year until I was 18 and left for Military. I was able to visit the Pond again and camped overnight in 2011 and that Spruce is still very much alive and well, it just has a strange looking top to it…It is about 90 feet tall now.

    The second event happened in the High Sierra, In what they call Bishop Basin. September of 1979?. We had spent three days hiking into the area gaining Altitude going from about 4000 feet at Bishop to 9,000 to 12,000 feet to eventually 13,000+ feet. We spent the first night at 9000 feet at Lake Sabrina to aclimate to the elevation change. Huffing and puffing with every step and a slight headache. The following morning we continued on up the mountain to Blue Lake for a second night at 10,400 feet. In the morning we made may way cross country to a secluded rarely visited but beautiful Blue Heaven Lake which sits just below Mount Darwin at 11,800 feet. Mt. Darwin was our destination and goal to climb to the top of the Mountain at 13,831 feet. We spent a day viewing the Mountain with Binoculars and picking out a trail since we were climbing “unassisted” is what I guess they call it today, all we had was our hands, feet and some parachute cord. I took us six hours to pick our way up and successfully summit the mountain and what a huff and puff that was, climb four steps, stop, huff and puff for 5 minutes, climb 4 more steps, stop, huff and puff. We found a number of small little Niches or Islands of the most beautiful 4 inch tall Orchids I had every seen in my life in between the patches of Snow and Ice. Sadly I was using one of the new fangled Kodak Box Camera’s, which the resulting storm totally trashed into wet cardboard and plastic pieces. So no pictures. But I do have a couple of pictures of the view from the top of Mt. Darwin my partner had taken with his regular camera. We only spent about 20 minutes on top and headed down because well, we could not breath and our hearts were pounding so hard an fast it was a bit worrisome. We made it back to Blue Heaven Lake and rested over night drinking a lot of water and eating Kendalls Peppermint Candy (which I no longer can eat today due to diet restrictions) which is all we wanted for some reason and then in the morning we headed back cross country looking forward to a couple of days of rest at Blue Lake for some Trout fishing and belly button lint study. Climbing that high takes a lot out of you. On the trek back to Blue Lake the entire Sky changed in 15 minutes or less. We suddenly found ourselves dealing with Gale force winds which knocked down a number of trees in an eerie looking slow motion twisting dance and fall and then the ice pellets hit, about the size of Marbles then Golf ball size. Our Poncho’s were whipping about our legs that the metal gromments smacking my leg left brusies we found later…We sheltered under a couple of huge boulders and listened to the Ice Balls make a smacking and cracking sound as they hit the rocks just like a Marble makes when you throw it down on concrete. This lasted for about 20 minutes. And then literally a wall of Rain hit, the world turned a very dark mean looking gray and we could not see more than 15 feet beyond our shelter under the boulders. Meanwhile the Wind was still gusting strongly and howling like a banshee or scream as it whistled and made guttering sounds as it made it way through the open spaces of the rocks about us..This lasted for about 2 hours and then suddenly it was deathly quiet and still like, nothing had every happened. A gray mist hung around for a couple of hours and then just melted up into the air and disappeared. We climbed out from under our protective Boulders and headed for Midnight Lake and from there to Dingleberry lake, to arrive at Blue lake. We made a camp and set up my Eureka Timberline Tent, which I still own and it is still in good condition. We spent the rest of the day laying up gobbling up our Freeze Dried food and finally managed to catch four of the planted Rainbow Trout and two of the Cut Throat Trout which I find to be one of the most beautiful of the Trout Species. What a glorius orgy of meal that was. Pan bread, dipped in olive oil, and deyhdrated mixed veggies and freshly fried Trout.. About 2 a.m. I awoke to an eerie sound, or the lack of sound, that brought me quickly back to my youth,,SNOW! The tent was sagging just a bit on the sides, I woke my partner up and we got up an investigated, peering our heads out of both ends of the tent (back then the Timberline was offered with two doors), it was surprisingly warm out, compared to what it was earlier in the evening, we had over a foot of snow and it was still falling. By 0600 we had over 3 foot of snow to bust threw for many miles going down hill to Lake Sabrina to where we would hitchhike down to Bishop to catch a Greyhound for home after a stop at Denny’s of course.. The trail was hard to see and it was pretty rough going and dangerous for the rains had frozen into ice patches on the trail which does not get that much Sun even on a normal day. We caught each other a number of times sliding into each other and almost going over the edge which meant at least a 100 foot fall down the side of the mountain. We sighed with relief as we spotted Lake Sabrina for the trail we knew near the Lake meant a less steep decent and a pretty easy walk and believe it or not, very little snow fell there at the Lake it was all rain and just windy and cold…We hitched a ride from a Water Dept Employee who had been inspecting the Dam there at the lake. The rest of the trip was just a nice ride down the mountain…. Boy this story ages me does it not…LMAO..Thanks for bringing back all those memories…

  17. Easily the time I was hiking south on the Long Trail from the Laura Woodward shelter to Hazen’s Notch shelter. It poured rain all day long, never got above 41 degrees, and the summit of Jay Peak was so windy that I couldn’t stand up straight.

    In retrospect I should have just spent the day at laura woodward… but I was dumb and eager so I pushed it. I ended the day exhausted, demoralized, and mildly hypothermic.

    I’ll never forget coming down the trail from Jay and needing to lean backward to prevent toppling over from the rushing water that covered the trail almost to the knee.

    The next day was gorgeous though, so it goes!

  18. North Cascades for a week. It rained, sleeted, snowed, hailed, iced, stormed, rained some more, all day, every day. Near the end my hiking partner was ill. We backpacked 18 miles to come out a day early, in the rain. He was passing a kidney stone.

  19. Thunder/snowstorm/hail in the San Gorgonio wilderness mid-May. It was one of those freak late spring storms, and that trip ended prematurely. :) I’ve had some Adirondack trips that were snowy/rainy/miserable, but nothing where the weather cancelled the trip.

  20. Compared to some of these stories, my worst weather hiking has been a walk on the beach. Of course, most of my backpacking has been from an established base camp on an extended camping trip so I generally have a little more flexibility on when I go.

    Probably the worst weather I encountered led me to where I am today. I’ve hiked and backpacked most of my life, although I didn’t acquire any lightweight gear until the last decade. I’d always considered backpacking to be something endured to get to a beautiful destination–now it’s an enjoyable part of the journey.

    About ten years ago, my brother and I decided to hike the CDT in the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana. Montana was in the throes of a six year drought that didn’t break until the moment I stepped off the plane. For days, we checked the weather forecasts and they always held out a bit of hope for drier weather on day five–which reminds me of the hilarious YouTube video on Canadian weather available on a search for RMR: Seven Day Forecast.

    We finally headed for the Bob with my 59 lb. pack and my brother’s 64 lb. load and it did NOT rain the full five days–the last half of the trip consisted of sleet and snow! On the fifth day of our 47 mile hike, as we fixed breakfast with our gear spread out over about three and a half acres, a CDT thru hiker named Geertje François showed up and visited with us for over two hours. He was hiking Canada to Mexico with just over 20 lb. on his back. We grilled him, but not for breakfast. I still have the notes I took from that visit and we’ve stayed in touch ever since.

    Once we got back to my brother’s house, we pulled out and weighed all our gear. My brother carried twenty pounds of stuff that wasn’t used the full five days and another ten of things that were only used because he had them. He also found two boxes of ammunition in his pack, a legacy of a previous hunting trip. He exclaimed, “Most people carry useless plastic but I carried lead for 47 miles!” My packing prowess was as bad as his. We changed our attitudes and gear and my heaviest load the last decade has been half of what I carried in the Bob, and that was only because I was hauling water and my grandson’s gear as well. I hiked the Grand Canyon with a quarter the load I had in the Bob.

    If Geert, my brother, and I had not all been delayed by the weather, we wouldn’t have met that morning and I’d still be clueless in my backpacking.

  21. One more bad weather hiking experience:

    This was a short day hike with the grandkids a year and a half ago on Elk Mountain in the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma. There was nary a cloud in the sky when we left the parking lot and started up the mountain. At the top, I had a cell signal and called my wife. In a few minutes, a cloud built up above us and started rumbling and I ended the phone call. Torrential rain and hail ensued and the kiddos and I took cover under some rocks. When lightning started striking the mountain top, I decided to get us off that mountain. Once we hit the trees below the peak, we heard whimpering and found a drenched couple with their two young daughters cowering and shivering in the sudden storm. We shared our gear with them and started down the mountain together. I’d put my camera in a Ziploc to keep it dry and placed my GPS/cell phone in a waterproof pocket on my backpack. Those waterproof pockets only work when zipped up! We lost the trail in the storm and I decided to check the GPS. When I reached in the pocket, it was like pulling my device from a fish bowl. It never worked again. We could see the parking area at the bottom of the mountain and continued off trail. When jumping from one rock ledge to another, my feet landed on some mud washed out onto the wet granite and I took a really bad uncontrolled fall and shattered my right wrist. From that point on, we made it down safely and then splinted the wrist. I didn’t want to let a little thing like a broken wrist stop the fun and we continued the camping trip, returning home the following evening.

    That was the seventh time I’d broken my right hand and wrist and I’ve got severe arthritis in it. Next week, I’ll be having thumb joint replacement surgery to try to correct some of the problems.

  22. Let’s see:

    Hiked off the AT to Crawford Notch during Hurricane Irene (2011). Though the park had been closed the day before I had stayed because I figured (correctly) that the hostels in the area would be full. They were at about 200+% of capacity. It was amazing to see new creeks along the trail, some were larger than creeks marked on the maps. Though this was the worst weather I’ve been in it wasn’t the scariest. Though Crawford Notch was closed it was still occupied by many employees (foreign guest workers with no place to go.) I took off my rain gear and entered the hotel. When I entered the receptionest asked where I had come from as the White Mountains were closed. I explained explained my arrival, whereupon sheasked if I would like something hot to drink. I accepted and when she came back with the tea she offered me two towels, one for me and one for the puddle around me.

    Earlier that week I had just arrived to the summit of Mt. Moosilauke when an electrical thunderstorm broke out. This was by far the scariest. It certainly got my attention & respect.

    In late April of that year, just after Easter, I was on the trail when the tornadoes that killed 355 people came though. I mostly slept through it though I did think it was a bit windy, but by far this was the most dangerous weather I’ve been in.

    And lastly many years ago when hiking in the Smokey Mountains I crossed a foot bridge. About 30 seconds later a bolt of lighting struck a tree immediately next to the tree and cut it half and falling upon the bridge. That was and amazing event. I asked my self, what were the odds?

  23. In a late September 2010 tropical storm, we completed the Franconia Ridge, Mt. Liberty through Lafayette then over to Mt. Garfield. We encountered sleet and hail on Lafayette and high winds. We spent the night in the old Garfield shelter one of us at each end. The shelter was shaking all night long, felt like the Wizard of Oz. The following day we heard there were 80mph gusts over night. Headed out via the Garfield trail and had to ford two very swollen rivers which weren’t on our map.

    A bad weather day hiking is a better than a good day at the office…

  24. We led our Florida scouts from Neel Gap to Springer Mountain in March of last year. It hit 17 degrees on Springer and was very windy. A tarp blew away leaving one of us in just his bivy, and he definitely wasn’t getting out to get his tarp. Luckily, my wife made us take emergency blankets (I didn’t think we’d need them). Between that and our 30 degree bags, we were actually able to sleep. I awoke in the morning to find ice between our bags and emergency blankets. Our water bottles inside our tent were frozen solid. Oh, and one of our scouts slept in a hammock! I don’t know how he made it.

  25. Being in southern utah during flash floods in october was the scariest weather event. 3 days of non stop rain on the last few days of the long trail was unmotivating.

  26. On top of the Cumberland Gap trail with Scouts we were in our hammocks when we had two of the fiercest thunderstorms I’ve been in. This is from someone who grew up in Florida. Lightening cracked over our heads and shook the trees. The rain was so strong it was driving through my tarp. One of the scouts had brought a cheap piece of plastic for a tarp and his hammock filled with water. There was no where to hide on this trail since our route up was a ~2800 rise over 3.5 miles.

  27. My most tense weather experience was summarized in my post lasst year at http://sectionhiker.com/white-snow-on-white-blazes-february-on-the-appalachian-trail-by-menace/.

    Surprise snow made tracking blazes impossible and the temp dropped to zero. STory had a good ending, and our confidence kept us safe.

  28. Flash flood. Two kids (5 & 9), three adults. It started pouring as we were cooking dinner. We geared up and ate increasingly soupy food. Someone stuck a mug outside. We got over three inches of rain in an hour. The river we were near changed sound. When the rain lightened up, we saw the trail either direction out of camp was rushing water and we were on am island.

    Scariest out hiking was a day trip when we tried to outrun a thunderstorm. In retrospect that was stupid. We were dry enough, we should have dropped off the trail a bit and sheltered until the lightning passed. We were lucky.

  29. 4 inches of early season snow with canvas sneakers as a young Boy Scout. Not terrible, but “memorable”!

  30. From the time I was a young child, I’ve loved the outdoors and camping… mountains, cliffs, rocks, trees, wildlife, lakes, waterfalls, rushing streams, vistas, canyons, etc. My father traveled all over the world in his geophysical work and when he got home, we went camping.

    Weather (and a seven year old’s clumsiness) played a part in a memorable but extremely short camping trip. We lived in Calgary, Alberta, and my father had to do some work in the Crowsnest Pass area on the Alberta/B.C. border. He loaded the tent into the company car, did his gravity survey, set up camp and managed a little fishing. Mom got her four children, ages 3 to 8 in the family car and we drove to meet him at camp. I was so looking forward to another few days in the mountains. Of course, as soon as we left Calgary, the floodgates of the heavens opened and the ensuing deluge escalated from cats and dogs to wolves and lions and was probably headed to mammoths and mastodons had we stayed.

    When we got to camp, we were met, not by my normally cheerful father, but a wet, miserable, grumpy man that I barely knew presiding over a shelter pitched in a muddy lake. There was no way my parents could cook or any of us could play outside so the six of us piled into the tent with all our gear. Of course, us children tracked mud and sand in, created a huge mess, and soon commenced to roughhousing and ricocheting off the walls of our canvas cocoon as my parents’ mood steadily grew darker and more somber than the weather outside. I don’t think we’d been in there five minutes when I kicked over a gallon can of white gas and drenched the interior of the tent. “That’s it!” growled my father, “We’re going home!” and he herded us through the downpour into the car, gathered up the soggy mass of our gear, stuffed it in the trunk and we drove back to Calgary. Fifty-five years later, I still lament the missed opportunities left behind on my five minute camping trip.

    My now 91 year old father and us five children had a good time reminiscing on that trip at a family reunion a couple weeks ago. My youngest sister had the presence of mind to not arrive in this world until the rawest trauma of that expedition had faded a few years in the rear view mirror. My father and my 98 year old step mother still go camping–although now in a small RV. He’s done with tents!

  31. I once slept through most of a pretty bad storm at Zaleski State Forest. Thunder and lightning all night. I was very lucky, though, because, on my way home, I discovered that only a few miles away it had been really bad…trees down, tree limbs everywhere, one of those.

    This is a great poll, by the way, some interesting stories. One for animal encounters would be great too!

  32. Goat Rocks Wilderness, Snowgrass Flats/PCT area. Three days of light but fairly steady rain interrupted only by a hail-hurling thunderstorm that lasted a few hours. Trails turned to streams, etc. A great opportunity to test gear and skills for staying dry and/or warm.

  33. First backpacking trip with the new girlfriend and we got caught in a hail storm. I got 3 points of the tarp up and had to crouch holding the 4th for the next 30 minutes.

  34. Across Kodiak Island during Brim Frost ’89. Ended up on top of a mountain for the worst blizzard ever recorded in Alaska. It hit 80 below and we could get no resupply. Our commander was relieved in place for incompetence and failure to follow orders, specifically to pull his troops out of the field. We ended up trapped, in place, by the weather and had to ride it out for two weeks.
    I remember trying to break trail, in waist deep snow with snowshows on while pulling an ahkio and the wind howling. Total whiteout, I could not see a foot in front of my face and frigid beyond belief. If you took a piss, it froze before it hit the ground. LOL
    That was a walk to be remembered!

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