Thursday, May 17, 2012

Rain is a Reason, Not an Excuse

     This weekend, I will be post-holing through the snow to some hopefully not iced over lakes to hopefully catch some fish. Orographic lifting makes springtime mountains in Montana perpetually rainy, and chances are it will be a wet weekend, and I really hope it is. For some reason, most people have a negative view of rainy weather. They will say, "It's gloomy out", or the "weather was bad". It makes little sense to me to save your cash for a "Rainy day". Because rainy days are the best time to get outside.
     In terms of precipitation, the large majority of Montana is classified as desert. Very few places in Montana average more than 14-18 inches of precipitation a year. The badland country on the southern fringes of the Pryor Mountains is the driest region in the state. The Beartooth-Absaroka have already caused most air masses that move through there to dump all of the moisture within them. The wettest region in Montana is the west face of the Cabinet Mountains, where over 100 inches of precipitation can fall annually. They are the highest obstacle that eastbound air masses must deal with between the Cascade Mountains of Washington, and the Mountains of Glacier National Park.
     Growing up in a place where rainstorms were few and far between, and usually short, I always jumped at the opportunity to go play in the rain when I was a kid. I would throw on my ridiculously yellow raincoat, and go climb in the rocks behind my parents house. I loved it.  Instead of keeping your kids inside when it rains, make rain an event. "It's raining out. Throw on your poncho and lets go explore!" I do it with my own daughter.
      Rain takes a place and changes its nature. Often to the point that what once was familiar can instantly seem foreign.  One of the reasons people seek the wild places that Montana has to offer is solitude. It's often my primary reason. Because of the general population's avoidance of the wet stuff, a rainy day can bring solitude to places typically crowded. Take for example the M Trail in Missoula. It is the most used hiking trail in all of Montana, and on a clear day it is crawling with people. But when a mid-latitude cyclone rolls through town, I can hike to the top of Mt. Sentinel and back down without crossing paths with anyone. The sounds and smells are different. The sights change color and texture. Being outside in a downpour really changes the way a place feels.
     Historically, there were very real reasons to avoid the rain and the possibility of soaking yourself and your belongings. Some of them still apply, but really don't need to. In late May and early June, when Montana is most likely to have a widespread deluge, it is usually warm enough that you don't even have to keep dry. Wear wool. It's tough, cheap, and keeps you warm when when you're wet. When it is raining and 50 or 60 or 70 degrees out, I wear a pair of woolies for pants and a wool flannel and just get soaked. The wool keeps me warm, I don't have to worry about staying dry, and I really enjoy the experience. If it's early spring or fall, I still wear wool pants but just have a water-proof outer layer for my upper body. In my opinion some of the best weather for hunting is pouring rain. You know where the critters are likely to be, you can move quietly, and chances are, no one else is out hunting. It's a rare feeling to have the mountains to yourself.
     We are coming into Montana's rainy season. It comes quickly and leaves in an instant. For a couple weeks in late May and early June Montana turns green, and you feel like you're in a different world. It's something else, and you should get out and take advantage of it. The outdoor locations you enjoy on a beautiful day can be just as rewarding in the middle of a drencher. Rain is in the forecast tomorrow for some of Western Montana, and the weekend is predicted to be partly cloudy. No matter what the weather does, you don't have an excuse.      

For the record, I do not endorse anyone going into the hills, getting soaked, and dying of hypothermia. Layer up and pack extra dry layers, as well as appropriate supplies in case things go south. There are no guarantees when it comes to Montana weather.



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