Thunder, Lighting, Hail

by wjw on September 4, 2007

The holiday weekend was full. On Friday night Kathy and I journeyed to Santa Fe for Carl’s birthday party. Next morning, following breakfast at Melinda’s of Lamy (eggs baked atop spinach, brie, havarti, and cream), we journeyed to Snow Bear at Taos Ski Valley for a weekend with our friends Pat and Scott.

We drank good wine. One night we grilled some glorious New York steaks, another night we ate out at the local Bavarian restaurant (I had the Mixed Sausage Plate, but though the sausage was fine the best part of the meal was the homemade sauerkraut). We watched Hot Fuzz and Call of Cthulhu. And I got to hike up mountain trails every single day.

On Saturday, Kathy descended into Taos for shopping while Pat, Scott, and I decided to march up the Williams Lake trail. This is about a three-hour round trip, and involves hiking over an 11,000-foot pass. The sky was cloudy but promised rain, though our landlady assured us that any rain would be light, because the sky was clear in Taos and that’s where the weather comes from.

So for the better part of two hours we meandered through ponderosa forest, mountain meadows (created by avalanches), and the giant sprawling remains of rock slides. (You might say that the area’s geology is rather active.) The New Mexico mountains seem to attract a polyglot crowd, and on the way up we passed folks talking in German, French, Spanish, and what might have been Tagalog. The cloud cover kept things cool and the occasional spatters of rain were negligible. But shortly before we crested the pass, the rain began to come down steadily and we took shelter beneath some pine trees.

I had packed like an imbecile— I had no cool- or wet-weather clothing at all (it was all in the car we didn’t take). At least I remembered to bring a water bottle. Scott more than made up for this— he had even brought garbage bags for use as emergency ponchos. So he kitted us out in fashionable black plastic tunics, and we continued our walk, over the pass and down to the little lake.

The view was stunning, as I hope to demonstrate if Scott will kindly email me some of the excellent photos he was taking. The lake itself isn’t very large or very exciting— and it’s barren, because it freezes to the bottom every winter— but it’s set in an idyllic valley set between massive peaks. It’s very close to the tree line. Maybe some day I’ll haul a tent up there and camp out for the night.

I was standing on a bluff overlooking the lake when the water began to hisssssss as if it were a teapot about to boil. The sound created simultaneous but contradictory reactions.

  • Wow, that’s soooo cool! But—
  • That sound means more, um, interesting weather is coming!

The interesting weather turned out to be hail, accompanied by thunder and lightning right overhead. As even pea-sized hail could sting through the trash bag I was sheltering in, it became clear that there was a natural limit to the amount of time we were going to spend at the lake.

So the return journey began, through gradually worsening weather. (The annoying thing is that we were up so high we had a clear view of blue sky off in the distance. The blue sky just wasn’t approaching very quickly.) Despite our plastic tabards we were thoroughly soaked and very cold— amazing how quickly chill can become a problem. We spent about half the time sheltering from the worst of it, and the rest sliding down an increasingly slippery trail. I only actually fell once, when some liquid soil slid out from under me and I did the involuntary splits. As I am not one of those intended by Nature to do the splits, I pulled a groin muscle somewhere in the sprawl.

Scott very energetically jumped off the trail and, by wrenching and trimming branches from fallen trees, made us all walking sticks that made mud-sliding less likely.

We made it back to Snow Bear and hot baths after four hours of adventure. I didn’t consider myself recovered until I’d wolfed down a steak with all the trimmings.

“Adventure,” I recall SM Stirling remarking, “is a whole lot of shit happening to someone else, very far away.”

But any adventure that ends with a hot bath and a steak can’t be all bad.

Kathleen September 4, 2007 at 10:11 pm

When they returned to the condo, I told them how *very sorry* I was not to have been with them. I was forced to curl up with a good book and a warm Polartec jacket till they got back.

I spend the morning in Taos doing a little shopping and mostly rubbernecking at the beautiful things to buy.

BTW, the weather does *not* come up the mountain from Taos. It is often sunny and clear in town and pouring in the mountains.


InsightStraight September 5, 2007 at 6:04 am

Personally, I’m impressed how you schlepped on down the mountain, after that muscle pull, with nary a wince evident.

Though a hassle, the storm did make it magnificent and memorable. Thank you for sharing your lake with us. What other geological features do you have named after you, that we can visit?

I told my co-workers where I had been over the holiday weekend, and one of them smiled and said Williams Lake was where her husband proposed marriage to her — he on skis and she on snowshoes, went on his knee in the deep snow and everything. 10 points for style, 100 points for setting. They went back in warmer weather to try to find the exact spot but were unable to locate it, as on the fateful day the snowpack had been higher than the smaller trees.

It was striking when we were there – I’ll bet it’s spectacular in deep winter.

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