Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Sleeping on Ice

For a while now, I have been wanting to do a winter overnight out on the trail somewhere.  To be an Outsider, you must be able to experience all forms of weather and figure out how to handle each.  When we go out on our long distance hikes, we must be ready to function in every way when Mother Nature throws curve balls.  Knowing what it is like to be outside in cold, snowy weather is a must in preparation.

So, with the three feet of snow that Jonas dumped on the East Coast, I had a good back drop for a quick stay in the woods.  I had some business to attend to up at the Museum and I made sure I brought my full pack ready to go.  As the day went by, I figured I could head up in the afternoon some time and maybe make it to a shelter area for the night.  

Even with the melting we had over the past week or so, there was still at least a foot of snow in the woods and therefore on the trail.  I had some slim hopes that the trail would have had some traffic on it and devised a way to use some of the old roads in the area (which used to be the AT) to get me up South Mountain and on my way to Toms Run Shelter.  As I always do, I had alternate plans to the main plan and would change as needed.  That change came pretty quick.

I came very close to chickening out once again after I visited the Inn Keepers at the Ironmasters Mansion (Mike and Mary), but some force made me turn onto Old Shippensburg Rd instead of crossing the street and returning to the Museum.  My back had gone out as I shoveled some snow in preparation for a maintenance visit the next day and the familiar pain was nagging me and my visit to the Mansion had delayed me some (but it was worth it. Had to sample some home brew).  I had almost decided to just stay at the Museum for the night, but after I made that turn, my mind changed and I kept hiking.  As I headed up the old road, which was clear, I figured I could always turn around and just make a nice practice walk out of it with a full pack (plan C).  

When I got to the end of the road, I had about an hour of daylight left.  I left the road and followed the little trail that goes to the AT.  I immediately started post holing.  When I got to the AT, there was one lonely set of prints and they were snow shoes.  I walked to the bridge over Toms Run and decided that plan B will work just fine for tonight.  There is a small (semi secret) spot near here, where I have camped before, so I headed there.  It wasn't a long hike, but I realized quickly that there was no way I would be able to get to Toms Run Shelter in the next hour.  This place would do fine for the night.  

Tent up, wood found.  Time for fire and dinner
I located the place and kicked off the snow that covered the fire ring.  I stomped out an area to put my little one man tent, set it up and did a quick walk around to gather a few pieces of wood, so I could have a little fire before bed.  

The day had been in the low 40s, which had softened the top of the snow, but the night was going to get into the low 20s or even upper teens.  I had what I needed to keep warm and dry.  My socks had gotten a little damp in the day as I shoveled the snow in my trail runners, but I tried out a technique where you put your feet in bread bags as a vapor barrier.  I had one bread bag and one Walmart shopping bag, but it really did the trick.  My feet felt warm and toasty up until bed time.  

I made a small fire and cooked my dinner with my stove.  The fire was for a little warmth and comfort.  I didn't really Need it, but I was glad to stare into its eyes for a short time.  The sun set as scheduled and my belly was full with warm food.  As darkness settled in and the fire burnt down, I decided to retire to the tent and read some.  It was still pretty early.
Hiker box Mountain House. mmmmm
I (wrongly) decided to keep my hiking clothes on, even keeping on my damp socks and not putting on the nice thick wool socks I bring for camp during cold times.  I still felt pretty warm from the hike up the mountain and figured my body heat would help dry the socks (which it did), but I probably should have put the thick socks on and maybe my dry base layer that I also carry in cold weather.  My puffy was standing by, but I didn't feel the need for it yet.  

Snow camp
I scampered into the small Eureka tent and once again realized, that this is really nothing more than a fancy bivy sack and not really a tent.  There isn't much room to do anything in there like change clothes and such, so I just lay down and got out my phone to fire up the Kindle app and do some reading.  Not too long after that, I was ready for a little nap.  This usually happens when I start reading in bed.  I was still feeling warm and comfortable, so I let sleep take me for a time.

If you check my FitBit sleep pattern for that night, you will see A Lot of awake time.  I did a lot of left side, flat on back, right side, flat on back, left side, repeat.  My back was still hurting some, so there's that, but I usually do a lot of tossing and turning when I first go into the bush.  My mattress was working fine, I didn't feel any cold coming up from the packed snow, but I was awake a lot.  I had forgotten to remove my hammock woobie under quilt from my pack before heading out and I used that as a ground cloth in the tent and my sleeping pad fits into a sleeve in my Big Agnes sleeping bag, which went on top of the woobie.  I also had my bag liner, which gives a few more degrees of warmth in my 30 degree bag.  Getting into that while in the small tent was fun.

After a few hours of doze/sleep, I felt just a little cold.  Not too bad, but I knew it was time to put the puffy on.  I usually use it as a pillow, so I replaced it with my clothes bag and struggled into the puffy.  I immediately felt very warm and would for the rest of the night (at least on my upper body).  As the night wore on, my feet began to feel cold.  My socks had indeed dried, but the darn tough socks just weren't as good as my thick wool socks.

As morning arrived, but not light (it is still the dead of winter, no matter if Phil sees his shadow or not), I lay in my bag, feeling warm and not wanting to face the freezing cold day.  I could see with my head lamp that a fine layer of ice now coated the tent walls from the vapor of my breath.  It had cooled off quite a bit during the night.  

Eventually I forced my arising by letting the air out of my sleeping pad.  The cold immediately came through, so it was get up or get cold.  Well, getting up also meant getting cold, but I had to get moving.  At first, I had planned to make some coffee and oatmeal before heading back, but as I started packing up, I realized, I could do that later in the semi-warmth of the Museum.  I needed to get moving.

I had the usual problems.  Try to pack something without gloves.  Hands get really fucking cold, stop and put on gloves for a while.  Try again.  My shoes had frozen solid in the night.  I was glad I had untied them the evening before, but I should have opened them up more.  I basically slammed them on my feet and tied the frozen strings as best I could.  Other than my feet and hands, I was not cold.  I estimated that the temperature had dropped to the low 20s overnight. (Later verified to be somewhere between 18 and 24)

As I was getting everything together, my feet started going numb from the toes back until about half of my feet felt like a block of ice.  I would stomp in place for a while to get the blood flowing a little, then get back to work.  Also, I guess I should have had a footprint below my tent as the woobie and the sleeve on the sleeping bag was wet and so was the pad somewhat.  I just shoved everything into the pack and rolled up the icy tent and put it on the outside of my pack.  I knew I would be in warm(ish) and dry space soon.  I would be "inside".  

Before too long, I was ready to go.  It was still plenty dark and I had done all the work by head lamp so far, even though the waning crescent moon was shining brightly from above.  I retraced my post hole steps to the road and started down the mountain.  After about 1/2 mile, my feet warmed up from the effort of walking, but before they were all toasty, they had some painful moments as the feeling started coming back into my toes and forefoot.

I turned out my head lamp for the walk down the road as the moon was providing all I needed to see the black, clear strip of gravel that was the road.  After a pleasant down hill walk I could see the Museum's light as a comforting beacon to me and shortly after that, I was inside.  The 55 degrees or so it was inside felt like heaven.  

I unpacked and dried out my gear with the little radiator heater and started my day.

Looking a little tired, but none the worse for wear
It was good to get a feel of sleeping, hiking and living in a cold environment.  It raises your respect for your gear (and Mother Nature) and gives you ideas where you can improve things.  Knowing that I was only a little over a mile from shelter felt good, but I can only imagine what the day would have been like if I had to travel all day and deal with still wet gear the next evening.  But that will be a test for another day.

Keep on hiking,