Thursday, November 11, 2010

Same trail, a week later

Winter wonderland.  Photo by S. Adams.
The story this week was how a group of Nine Warrior Women braved 14 miles of slippery trail as we hiked on the Appalachian Trail from Hogpen to Unicoi.  We faced a night of bone-chilling, finger-numbing, frigid temperatures (18 degrees!), and I will never forget how the Brave Dames on this trip came together as a team and had a total blast.

It's hard to comprehend how the same trail that I scouted just one week ago could be so completely different than it was this weekend, magically transformed as it was by a layer of snow and ice.  At first, I was nervous because I'd never backpacked in the snow before, though I'd done plenty of hiking in worse conditions.  But my fears drifted away as we gazed in amazement at the trees cloaked in snow, breathing in the crisp air, listening to the crunch of frozen leaves underfoot.  Eventually, the sun broke through the fog and clouds, making the forest sparkle and ice shimmer against the deep blue sky.  I felt grateful to be out enjoying my first winter weather of the year, while nearly everyone else in Georgia was down in the valley having a regular fall day.

When we stopped at the Low Gap shelter for lunch, we listened to a group of young guys describe their miserable night in the snow.  I hoped that we wouldn't look as wrenched as they did the following day.

We hiked on and the trail joined an old road.  Icicles were forming along the rocky outcrops.  As we descended in elevation, pockets of snow became more scarce.  Finally, we reached our campsite which was thankfully free of much snow, due to its sunny exposure.  Everyone pitched in to help with making camp, helping set up tents, gather firewood, and hang the rope to keep our food away from bears.  Still Waters had a fire blazing before the rest of us returned from fetching water.  We huddled around, telling stories and laughing, recalling the high and low points of the day.
Draped in my under-quilt, huddled around the campfire.  Photo by S. Adams.
We turned in for the night at 7:45, since we were all getting cold as the air temperature plumited.  At first I lay shivering in my hammock, wondering if I would freeze to death during the night.  Finally, I slipped my pack beneath my feet, and shifted the sleeping pad and underquilt around.   Miraculously, I warmed up enough to finally drift off to sleep.  Whenever I woke during the night, I heard a chorus of soft snores around me.  How could everyone else be sleeping so well?!  In the morning, we'd all discover that EVERYONE had this thought during the night-- we must have all taken turns lying awake shivering and sleeping and snoring.

The trail the next day had some serious climbs, and was treacherous with icy leaves over slippery rocks.  We only took brief rest stops because we got too cold when we weren't moving.  Last week, I'd sailed up these hills, but this time, they left me sore and tired just like they had on my first backpacking trip with the Dames a year and a half ago.   Funny how just when I think I've got everything figured out and am feeling strong and confident (as I was last week), the trail will continue to provide new challenges.

Things I learned:

- Who you're with can make all the difference.  I am so grateful to all the Dames who continue to teach me the meaning of friendship, strength, perseverance, and bravery.

- I need to figure out how to keep my hands from freezing.  I've always struggled keeping my hands warm, and I loose all dexterity when my hands get cold and also I have a lot of trouble thinking coherently when I loose feeling in my fingers.  I've tried various gloves and handwarmers, which work OK during hiking, but my fingers freeze when I take off my gloves to do stuff around camp.  Maybe I need to develop a cold weather camp routine that doesn't require the use of my fingers or thumbs.  Any suggestions on how to cook and get water without either getting my gloves drenched or having my fingers go numb?

- One of the first signs of hypothermia is mental confusion.  Next time we are standing around discussing how we are all having sluggish thoughts, take that as a sign to warm up!  Also, Still Waters kept telling me to take off my wet gloves and put my hands near the fire to thaw out, and I just stared at her blankly.  This was sort of like the tendency hypothermic people have to take off their warm clothes when they are freezing to death.

- My camera is NOT an item I should leave behind just to save pack weight.  What was I thinking!?!?

- Even at the lowest point of the trip when I was nearly in tears because I was so freezing cold, I still wanted to be on the trail more than anything else-- I don't want to be at home.  Even when I'm scared and uncomfortable, I still feel like I belong on the trail.


  1. I definitely like that we were called warrior women! I am CRAVING another trip! I work with a friend who has been backpacking with a meetup group doing some serious two night, 15 mile a day trips. They had a bear encounter this past weekend in North Carolina!

  2. Oooo! I've been itching to do more long trips too! Let's do one soon!