Tanya and I hadn't been out hiking in awhile, so we chose a nice trail up in the cool pines. We ended up with quite an adventure on this usually-tame route!
We knew there was a good chance of storms today, so we set out from the trailhead at 7:45, a little later than we hoped, but still on track to be back below treeline by 11. We were, but it was barely enough...as we climbed up and up, we encountered a number of people. Since we've only done this hike in the fall (or from Inner Basin), I'd never seen this volume of people on the mountain before! But folks were very friendly, and it was not a problem at all. We steadily moved up to the saddle, refueling just before 10 a.m. to make a run at the top. Already, clouds were starting to build, and I was feeling uneasy. No tall thunderheads appeared yet, so I figured as long as we moved steadily, didn't dally on the summit, and got back here by 11, we should be ok. Packed up and ready to go, we moved steadily up, as a couple fellow hikers joined T & I for the final push. They hadn't been up here before, so they were glad to be warned of the false summits.
After the last false summit, I looked back towards Agassiz and saw its top disappearing into a cloud. not good. I mentioned to Tanya we ought to think about turning around, but we were 2-3 minutes from the top. We summited, and saw a crew of 20 people or so sitting on the top. Someone offered to take our photo and I said "Sure, but we won't be sticking around long," he snapped the shot, looked at me funny for being a hurry, and we took off for safety. More than anything else, the length of time on that high ridge (on the highest summit for at least 100 miles) had me worried about being a human lightning rod
A couple folks on our way down made comments like "It won't rain," or "nah, we'll be fine" when they saw us hustling...after all, no lightning yet, right? Just as we got back to the saddle in those scraggly trees, "BANG!", right over our heads. That's a flash-bang right there! It was 11 a.m. Most hikers got the memo that still were hiking up, and immediately aborted. Even through strong suggestions/pleas/orders not to, a few persisted up.
No rain yet, and I stopped to take a photo of the wicked cloud gathered on Humphreys (see gallery). I was really worried about the now-nearly-100 people on that long ridgeline. We got our rain gear out, expecting the inevitable as we hiked down. Once in the trees, the skies just opened up. Pea-sized hail pelted the mountain, and didn't let up for 45 minutes. Rivers of water rushed down the trail, pooling into ankle-high ponds in places. So much hail fell that it looked like fresh snow was covering the trail. All the way back to the ski area, we hiked through hail and heavy rain, which broke right when we had to cross the ski run near the parking lot! What an adventure! Dry clothes in the car and a hot cup of coffee sounded pretty good