Mokelumne Wilderness, California 2016 / by William Bryan

We were sitting around the fire pit, passing around a sack full of snacks for lunch when we heard the first crack of thunder echo around the crater just in time for a second 'boom' to echo through the forest. We looked up and saw dark clouds spreading slowly across the sky as drops fell intermittently around us. There was a 50% chance of rain that day so none of us were too surprised, most of us had already thrown our tarps over our sleeping bags and other gear when we woke up that morning. We continued looking in the snack bag while discussing our options concerning the rain when another problem arose — smoke.

We stood up in unison and walked over to the lake to get a view of the sky that was free of trees and try and figure out where the forest fire might be. What we saw didn't look good. The clouds were dark and heavy with moisture, and the air was hazy and grey. The smoke seemed to be coming from the same direction as the thunder.

"Could a lightning strike have caused the burn?"

"No, the thunder only started 10 minutes ago, not enough time build up that much smoke, right?"

None of us were really sure what the answer to that was. Intuition told us that, no, it couldn't spread that fast; but it was the dry season and there were hundreds of other forest fires raging around California at the time. So maybe it was from the lightning?

Either way we had a decision to make: stay and risk rain, lightning, and potentially a forest fire; or call our trip a day early.

“Hey, at least if we get surrounded by fire we can just jump into the lake…”

No one liked the idea.

We decided to play it safe and hike out a day early, so we packed up our gear and made our way around the lake and up out of the ancient volcano crater while rain drops fell around us.