It's raining, it's pouring, but staying inside is boring...

Posted: Thursday, July 19, 2001

Juneau's "dry season" is coming to an end, but that doesn't mean we're stuck indoors.

By picking the right trail and learning a few other tricks, even a gray and drippy day can be fun.

"A lot of getting out in the rain is just psychological," said David Ringle, president of Juneau Freewheelers. "Once you get out you realize it's not that bad. It's motivating yourself to get out in this god-awful, depressing weather that's difficult."

Rainy days have their own beauty, said Bill Glude, an avid outdoorsman.

"It's like being able to walk inside one of those ancient Chinese paintings with the waterfalls and the mist and the little trails winding along the mountainsides," Glude said.

He enjoys walking the Flume on a wet day, when the many small waterfalls along it are at their fullest. Or, if it's a drizzly day with no wind, he'll put on raingear and go kayaking.

"It looks a lot better than sitting inside on rainy days looking out at the same weather," Glude said. "It's only water. So what if you get wet."

Stay low

If, or rather when, it is raining, the first thing to do is stay low. Around Juneau, rainfall increases with elevation. For every inch of rain that falls on downtown Juneau in the summer, about 3 inches fall on the ridge east of Mount Juneau, 2,500 feet above.

The danger of getting lost or caught in a mudslide also increases on socked in ridges, said Juneau hiker Paul Emerson.

"None of the ridges would be safe." Emerson said. "If it's at all foggy, it's no place to be."

Besides, there won't be any great views from the ridges or peaks if you're caught in clouds, Emerson said. So save ridges for clear days and try Yankee Basin or the Amalga / Eagle Glacier trail when it's wet.

Go north

Next, consider moving. Juneau is full of micro-climates, so there's a chance if it's raining outside your window, it's not raining somewhere else.

"The weather is always far better out the road," Emerson said. "Wherever you have a precipitous mountain close to salt water you're bound to have rain."

Downtown Juneau, Douglas and West Juneau are all stuck in a rain belt that extends along both sides of Gastineau Channel from Sheep Creek to Salmon Creek, according to a report on Juneau's precipitation patterns by retired meteorologist Robert Kanan. The average rainfall is 50 to 65 percent higher there than at the airport. South of Thane and Douglas the winds are notoriously strong, often toppling trees, Emerson said.

The Mendenhall Valley is sheltered from wind, but the rainfall increases closer to the glacier. Most of the valley gets nearly 50 percent more rain than the airport. Lemon Creek also collects rainclouds.

"Each mountain dictates its own rainfall and climate, practically," Emerson said.

Heading toward North Douglas, the Mendenhall Peninsula and Auke Bay, things begin to brighten up. Those areas are relatively dry because clouds have more room to spread out and aren't being forced up steep slopes. The tip of the Mendenhall Peninsula gets only 70 percent as much rain as the airport, and less than half as much as downtown Juneau. The Mendenhall Wetlands Trail by the airport or the trails at False Outer Point are more likely to be dry on a gray day than Mount Roberts or Sheep Creek.

The drying trend continues as you drive north.

"The further up you go out the road, as you go out toward Eagle camp, overall the precipitation is less," Kanan said.

So if it's raining downtown, try a hike at Bridget Cove, a paddle in Berners Bay or just exploring the tidal flats at Eagle Beach.

Seek shelter

If you can't get away from the rain, or if winds are whipping up the channel, seek shelter in the trees or valleys.

"If get back in the trees you don't feel the wind as much," Ringle said. "You realize it's nowhere near as bad."

Jim Douglas likes to run the Kaxdighoowu Heen Dei trail along the Mendenhall River on blustery days because it is well protected. He starts from the Back Loop entrance, then turns around before the exposed meadow on the Brotherhood Bridge end.

"You can travel down that almost 2 miles before you get any wind," Douglas said. "Even in a heavy rain there's so much heavy tree-line along that trail you don't tend to get as much rain as in other parts of town."

Hikers can also make one of the six state or Forest Service cabins their goal. No matter how cold and wet the hike up, a snack break and chance to dry off inside make the experience more enjoyable. The cabins are open to everyone as day shelters, but must be reserved in advance to stay overnight.

Stay out of the bushes

Look for wide, well-made trails without too much brush. Pushing through wet brush can soak clothes more quickly than a downpour. The Flume and Perseverance Trail, Montana Creek Trail, and Salmon Creek Trail are all wide enough for hikers, bikers and runners to dodge puddles and stay away from wet branches. With a good raincoat and hat to deflect drops from above, you can stay comfortable.

Dress for the weather

There's a reason X-tra Tuff rubber boots are sometimes called "Juneau tennis shoes." For a wet day hike on a muddy trail, they're the required attire. Add thin layers of polypropylene and fleece under rain gear, and suddenly hikers are impervious to the weather.

"The hardest thing that people need to understand is the first 5 minutes are going to be miserable until you warm up, so have a way to go out and take your layers," Douglas said. "I don't care whether your walking or running or whatnot."

Cotton shouldn't be one of those layers. Though comfy at home, cotton is dangerous outdoors because it holds moisture and cold next to your skin. Look for synthetic fibers instead.

For running in the rain, Douglas layers on a Coolmax T-shirt, under a Tyvek rain jacket. He always brings a hat and light gloves. Once he warms up, the gloves come off, along with the jacket. He also wears a pair of old, beat-up running shoes, "so that if you step in the mud puddle you're not going to get upset with it."

If your thighs get cold while running, try longer shorts or running tights that will protect them, Douglas said.

"It's a matter of learning to dress for it and not overdress," Douglas said.

The same goes for biking. Ringle recommends polypropylene tights and arm warmers for biking in bad weather. He also has detachable fenders, which are easy to snap on in wet weather and available for $10-$15. He also spends a few extra minutes when he gets home wash the mud off his bike and oiling the chain.

"Let's face it, if you bike in Juneau you have to be a little bit hard-core," Ringle said. "You have to approach little obstacles like rain as if they are just little obstacles."

Kristan Hutchison can be contacted at khutchison@juneauempire.com.



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