When it’s cold enough to freeze the gonads off a brass monkey, that’s a three dog night. Well, we’ve had more than one of those on the Appalachian Trail since the nor’easter blew by.
The days are pleasant enough. The sun is warm when you’re out of the wind. But, oh the nights! The mercury drops faster than lead balloon once the sun winks below the horizon.
There’s no mercy if you’re camped on the eastern slope of the mountain where the shadows come earlier and the radiant heat rapidly dissipates. Blink your eyes and, boom, it’s in the single digits.
It’s almost laughable. I’ve been reaching my daily hiking goals earlier than plan which assumes a two-mile per hour pace on average. What to do with the extra time?
Once at the shelter, the decision is to tent or not. If there’s precip in the forecast, I sleep in the shelter. Nobody likes to pack up a sopping tent let alone one frozen like a block of brittle nylon.
After that, it’s a rush to don warm clothes and set out the bed roll. After cooking and gobbling “whatever” before it can cool off, I dive into the sack to keep warm. Under these circumstances hiker midnight has come as early as 5:15 p.m. on a cloudy night on an eastern slope.
The good news is that sunrise is earlier. What is lost on one end of the day is gained on the other. Regardless, daylight is preciously in short.
Once in bed, I like to listen to the forest for an hour or so before plugging into my iPod vintage radio dramas, pod casts or recorded books.
On bitterly cold mornings, it’s a rush to pack up and get moving. My pack system is sleeping gear in the lower compartment with food, stove and clothing in the upper. Everything closes out in reverse order of what will be needed on the evening.
I eat cold food for breakfast because cooking in the morning takes too long. It’s just too damn cold and I need to preserve body heat. So, I munch granola bars after I’ve walked enough to begin generating heat.
Today offered an alternative in the form of good fortune. The over night temp remained above freezing – Yes! – as yet another storm front roared in from the southeast.
Even before I could even saddle up, the rain started in buckets. Beats the alternative I thought. If this precip was freezing, the misery might be profound. At least I started hiking in rain gear rather than having to fool with it on down the trail. You count fortune in small increments on the AT.
I was with Winter Walker, a Vermonter out for a thousand mile romp. He was a humorous fellow and very good company. Damascus was only 10 miles down the line.
Lunch at the Blue Blaze Cafe was our carrot. The rainy deluge our stick. Let me just say that we made early lunch.
The monkeys may have been emasculated by the prolonged cold, but we beat the odds to enjoy a nice meal. We’d laid siege to the gates of Damascus only to be welcomed warmly.
Warmth is all we wanted. Warmth is exactly what we got.