My 5 wettest mountain adventures

(NB. Scotland doesn’t count)

I expect most of us have experienced it at some time in our lives: escaping the office for a few weeks of sunshine, only to end up somewhere wetter than a haddock’s bathing costume.

For those of us who travel to the mountains for enjoyment, it’s not uncommon to spend a full day cowering inside a tent while snow pounds on the roof, but these moments are tempered when we emerge the following morning into a wonderland of white.

Rain is a different matter. Nobody likes rain, except ducks, camels and Australian batsmen. Yet sometimes we can’t avoid it. Here in reverse order are my five wettest mountain adventures.

5. Torres del Paine, Chile

Famous view of gorgeous rock pillars from the Torres del Paine Lookout. You have to be lucky to get views like this.
Famous view of gorgeous rock pillars from the Torres del Paine Lookout. You have to be lucky to get views like this.

Patagonia, at the southern tip of South America, is known for its severe weather. It’s most famous for its wind, but rainfall can also be intense. One of my first trips to South America was in 2002, when I spent four days in the Torres del Paine national park, an area of dramatic rock spires.

Or they would have been dramatic had we been able to see them. At one point it rained non-stop for 48 hours, and as we were camping we had no means of getting anything dry. We walked, ate, rested and slept in soggy clothing.

Many of the views the region is renowned for were denied us, including the Torres del Paine themselves, and my camera was never used, but on the morning we were due to leave the sky cleared and we were treated to some breathtaking views of the Cuernos del Paine, another series of impressive rock towers.

A little while later I received an email from someone who was travelling to the Torres del Paine and had seen my pictures of the Cuernos. He had heard Patagonia could be wet, but was overjoyed to see we had experienced good conditions and was keeping his fingers crossed he had the same “lucky” weather we had.

I couldn’t bring myself to reply, but if he’s reading this I have only two words to say, and the second one’s “off”.

4. Snowman Trek, Bhutan

There were moments on the Snowman Trek when the trail was delightful. This wasn't one of them.
There were moments on the Snowman Trek when the trail was delightful. This wasn’t one of them.

I’m sometimes asked how Nepal compares with Bhutan, a smaller Himalayan country a short distance to the east.

There are many facets to this question (some of which are addressed here and here), but one important difference is the weather. Generally speaking the further east you go in the Himalayas, the wetter it gets (there are exceptions to this: the Pakistan Karakoram is rocky and barren, but perversely on the Baltoro Glacier it seems to piss down half the time).

When I walked Bhutan’s best-known long-distance trail, the Snowman Trek, in 2009, we never got to see 7326m Chomolhari, one of the country’s most beautiful mountains, because it was in cloud for days on end.

Many of the trails were churned into mud by yaks, and needed to be tiptoed around, but the final twist was reserved for the last two days, when it rained so heavily we could have refilled the Aral Sea from what we were able to wring out of our clothes.

We waded along trails that had been converted into streams, and sheltered in bamboo shacks for lunch, flicking leeches from our clothing as we ate. Some of my gear was still wet when I returned to the UK.

3. Manaslu, Nepal

These porters knew they were approaching Manaslu Base Camp when it started raining
These porters knew they were approaching Manaslu Base Camp when it started raining

The monsoon was in full swing when I undertook the six-day trek up the dramatic Budhi Gandaki gorge from Arughat to Samagaon at the foot of Manaslu, the eighth highest mountain in the world.

I was expecting to be rained on, but in fact we were lucky with the weather. Although it did heave down in buckets every day, trekking days were short, and usually we were safely in camp by the time the weather gods decided it was time to unzip their trousers and start peeing.

It was a different story when we got to base camp. Manaslu Base Camp, sitting on a shelf of mountain at 4800m high above Samagaon, seemed to exist in its own weather capsule. Down in the village it was cloudy but dry, and high on the mountain it was possible to climb above the clouds into clear blue skies.

But every day at Base Camp it rained. I was woken every morning by rain hammering on my tent, and I went to bed every evening after dinner in a rain storm. In between, it rained some more.

Until last month I never dreamed there could ever be a base camp as wet as Manaslu.

2. Rwenzori Mountains, Uganda

Conditions in the Rwenzoris are ideally suited to certain species of bird that have mastered the art of avoiding muddy boots
Conditions in the Rwenzoris are ideally suited to certain species of bird that have mastered the art of avoiding muddy boots

The Rwenzori Mountains in East Africa wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I thoroughly enjoyed them in a weird kind of way.

The mountains are carpeted in cloud forest, and the trails were muddier than a fatted pig wallowing in a generous serving of mud pie. When not muddy, the land was underwater, and crossing it involved bog-hopping from tuft of grass to tuft of grass, or tightrope-walking along branches which had been laid across the path to preventing sinking.

A full day without wet feet was a minor miracle. I wore gaiters over my leather walking boots, and Gore-Tex trousers over everything. Each evening my legs would be caked in mud up to my thighs, and I hung my waterproof trousers from the rafters of mountain huts to dry overnight, before putting them on again in the morning. Most of our local guides wore wellies.

Yet on each of our three summit days we were able to climb above the clouds into clear skies, and gaze across Uganda’s last remaining glaciers. They won’t be around for much longer; the rain will see to that.

1. Peak Lenin, Kyrgyzstan

Every so often the weather gods on Peak Lenin granted us respite from the rain. On these occasions it snowed.
Every so often the weather gods on Peak Lenin granted us respite from the rain. On these occasions it snowed.

Nine days into my expedition to Peak Lenin last month, I wondered if I would ever get to see the mountain I had come to climb.

Throughout the three days we spent at base camp it remained resolutely in cloud, and one of our guides came down with another group, saying the clouds extended all the way to its 7134m summit. His summit photo could have been taken anywhere, except there was a bust of Lenin, the grandfather of Soviet Communism, sticking up out of the snow.

We moved up to an advanced base camp at 4400m on the moraine of a glacier. It rained every day and our tents leaked. Any equipment touching the walls would be soaking wet by the morning, and every night I clogged up the ends with towels and assorted dry bags to prevent waking up with my head in a pool of water.

Sometimes when it wasn’t raining I plugged my Kindle into a solar panel only to find a couple of hours later that the charge had gone down.

It even rained at Camp 2, 5400m. Up there the groundsheet of our tent was porous, and the only way to keep anything dry was to leave it lying on top of something else.

I did read Storm and Sorrow in the High Pamirs before I left, but I was still expecting Krygyzstan to be nice some of the time. Peak Lenin was comfortably the wettest mountain I have been on (outside of Scotland), but in spite of horrible weather we were still able to launch a full summit assault.

Tune in next week to find out how it went, and if you can’t wait you can see my photos on Flickr.

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2 thoughts on “My 5 wettest mountain adventures

  • August 13, 2015 at 10:17 am
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    I recall having a similar experience in the Torres del Paine, Mark. After five days of drenching our best view of the mountains was on the ferry ride back to civilisation, on the last day of the circuit!

  • August 18, 2015 at 12:07 pm
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    This is hilarious now, in retrospect… but it’s never fun when you are in the middle of it. Looking forward to reading your post about Peak Lenin!

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