Danger Will Robinson … and everybody else.

If you’ve been following the AT class of ’13, you know that the weather has been record-breaking cold and wickedly brutal.  It’s also extremely dangerous to be out in those conditions, especially if you’re a rookie.   Otto von Bismark’s aphorism seems to apply (with a twist).  God protects drunks, fools and AT hikers. 

As I’ve been doing my homework in preparation for next year’s hike, I’ve been stunned by how many profoundly unprepared people attempt to hike the AT – in winter!  Whoa!!  Winter hiking requires specialized skills and gear.  Of particular concern is the number of people who worry about the weight of their pack in fear of being rediculed.  It’s an AT cultural artifact that should be exterminated.  Sure, knot heads show up carrying 50 lbs. and wonder why it’s hard and they fail.  Conversely, account after account describes how the gram Nazis have intimidated people into carrying light weight but inadequately warm jackets and bags, or insufficiently insulated hammocks and bull-shit rain gear.  Some have compounded this with zero winter camping experience, or in several cases, not hiking or camping experience whatsoever!  Hello.  Dead person walking.  Too many zombie shows…

I hold two people from this year’s class in especially high regard for being candid, for their honesty, and for trying to educate others.  They are Hobo and the misnamed Stupid.   The latter definitely isn’t.

Stupid described how he got caught out in the ice when tree limbs began falling all around him like shrapnel from air-burst artillery.  He recognized the immediate danger to his life and sought shelter under a fur tree with a low-slung and big wing span.  He was safe for the duration.

Hobo put it in the larger context, and I’m going to paste in this entire post.  It’s worth reading.  I wrote back to him that even experts are but one bad decision from death in killing weather.  The danger of hypothermia, frostbite and dehydration represented by conditions represented by driving rain at 34*F rapidly changing to single digit temps just after the sun sets is profound.  I’ve experienced all of the aforementioned, so this is experience talking.

Here’s Hobo’s tutorial.  Read and heed:

Hobo’s post Trail Journals.com April 5, 2013

 “If you are a worrier (Mille) I would suggest you not read today’s journal entry . . . or you may just want to skip to the last paragraph.

I awoke at 5:00 and checked my shirts to see if dry, but they were still damp.    I put them in my sleeping bag because its better to put on warm and damp clothes than cold and damp clothes.

The shelter had the usual snoring last night that Mallet has dubbed the Sore’chestra.

One person decided to return to Gatlinburg. Everything he had was wet and and he’s concerned about hypothermia . . . wise decision

It is still bitter cold and all the trees are covered with ice. It’s harsh but beautiful – a crystal forrest.

We got a late start because there were so many people trying to take down wet clothes from the lines we had strung in the shelter and packing up. Eventually Quaker, Trouble, Son Driven, and I hit the trail.

So, let me just say, this is very serious business out here and I don’t think it would be overly dramatic to say it is a matter of life and death. I didn’t want to post this until I talked to Anita so she would know that I’m ok.

When we were coming off Clingman’s Dome we met 2 guys who were just getting back on the trail after taking a hypothermic hiker down to where the park rangers could get to him. One of the guys had cuts next to his eye from his own fall.

Two days before I hiked Clingmans Dome there were two groups of hikers that had to be rescued and another who was having chest pain.

Several months ago they found a hiker in his early 50’s frozen to death at the shelter where I will stay tonight. The sad thing is he had all the right gear but became hypothermic and disoriented. They found him in shorts and a t-shirt beside his sleeping bag and warm gear. On March 22nd they had to airlift out a 23 yo with hypothermia from the same shelter.

Within the last week they rescued a hypothermic hiker with frostbite who will probably lose some of his fingers. They also brought horses up to carry out a hiker who fell and injured his leg.

So far, I have made wise decisions (like stopping after only 3 miles in the freezing rain), I have the right gear, and I always sleep in dry clothing. I have one set of clothing that I wear during the day, even if I have to put it on damp. I have long underwear top and bottom and a spare pair of socks that I NEVER wear during the day so that I always sleep dry. Nonetheless, I am constantly evaluating the conditions and my capabilities.

The trail conditions are still icy but somewhat better than yesterday. By 1:00 the sun began to peek thru the clouds and we were frequently showered with falling ice from the trees.

I hope you enjoy the picture with this entry because it nearly cost me my life. I told the group to go ahead while I took a picture. I also decided to pee since I was alone. I began to walk down the trail while I was putting my gloves back on and I was looking around (proof that I can’t do 3 things at once) when I tripped over something and went face first off the side of the mountain. I was on a narrow ridge that had a steep drop off and plunged about 10 ft before I could grab a tree. I heard a loud crack and my first thought was I had broken something. I did a quick inventory and all bones reported in as being intact. Then I thought I must have broken my poles but I found them lying beside me in one piece. As it turns out I feel on a limb that broke when it hit it.

Now I’m lying face down a mountain and my mind is racing. Should I take off my pack so I can face up hill? No, I quickly decided – I don’t want to lose my pack down the mountain unless I have no other choice. Eventually I was able to maneuver myself around and crawl back up to the trail. The beauty of this story is that I stood up and hadn’t walked more than 10 ft when Quaker appeared. My buddies were concerned about what was taking me so long and Quaker was designated to come back and check on me.

Thankfully the rest of the day was less eventful. We found a wonderful sunny spot for lunch on top of a mountain (see pic section).

Most of the day was spent hiking ridges above 5,000 ft. The most significant climbs were an unnamed mountain at 5,728 ft, Mt Sequoyah (5,941 ft), and Mt Chapman (6,249 ft).

I started to get cold and restless after lunch so I decided to strike out on my own knowing that I had a safety net behind me. After awhile Sun Driver caught up with me and we hiked the rest of the day near each other.

We reached Peck’ a Corner Shelter but decided to push on even though it was getting late. We wrote a note for Quaker and Trouble telling them we had pushed on and left it on the shelter sign post. We arrived about 6:30 at Tri-Corner Knob shelter. I was really happy when Quaker and Trouble rolled in about an hour later. Trouble said she had never see Quaker hike so fast.

Billy, a ridge runner, was in the shelter and I enjoyed talking to him.

This is a nice shelter with a new privy. Finding water sources is something you are constantly aware of and sometimes you have to hike down a steep trail to get it. This shelter had a water source about 20 ft from the shelter – yeah!

I went to bed excited about tomorrow. I will we going to lower elevations and the lowland forecast is for son with temperatures in the 70’s. I’m sooo ready!!!”

Not all those who wander are lost ~ J.R.R. Tolkien


Mobile Device Test

This is a test to check out posting from a mobile Device. REI has a twenty percent off sale. Going to use my discount to buy a pack. Can’t wait.

Am noticing in the Trail Journals that a number of ’13 thru hikers are dropping out due to excessively cold weather. Judging from their comments, many seem unprepared mentally and are ill- equipped. These intrepid souls also seem inexperienced winter campers. You have to be harder than woodpecker lips to live outside in extreme cold for a long time. Experience doing it is a big plus.

Note to self: Pack the -15*F sleeping bag and expeditionary grade down parka and pants. The weight be damned. They can be shipped home from VA. Better than being miserable! Continue reading


I’ve been doing a lot of homework over the past couple of months.

It all started with reading Lost by Cheryl Stayed.  That excellent read reminded me of what I’ve been missing by being away from hiking for so long.  I followed that with David Miller‘s AWOL on the Appalachian Trail.  It seemed like a very straight forward account of just how mentally and physically challenging a 2,000+ mile hike is.  My only criticism is that I thought it may have glossed over the far north end of the trail.

Following “AWOL,” I motored over the the ATC HQ in Harper’s Ferry.  I spent more than an hour in conversation with a very helpful gentleman who patiently answered my zillion questions.  I joined up, bought some books and maps.  Among the books were the two Barefoot Sister books.  They are marvelous adventure stories that pictured the trail from the viewpoint of a couple of precocious 20-somethings. I think I have a reasonable idea of what the experience will be like.

I’m now focusing on gear since almost all of mine is worn out or obsolete.  Trail Tested by professional hiker Justin Lichter was very insightful.  They only thing he really didn’t cover is personal hygiene and doing the dishes.  It was very good for boning up on modern gear.  The fabrics are magic!

How to Hike the A.T. by Michelle Ray also was a very good refresher that is AT-specific.  She left nothing out and I sent her a note of thanks.  Of all things, my greatest challenge is going to be weather.  The wild temperature swings and rain will be challenging.  It seems, according to the journals, that they really wear some people down quickly.

I’ve made four trips to REI to check out gear and to talk to helpful folks.  I also bought my first pair of boots for this hike.  It’s never too early to break them in.  They’re Salomons – the same as my last pair.  After trying on about a dozen pairs, they’re the only ones that fit.  I’ve walked about 20 miles in them near where I live.  So far, so good.

I’ve also been reading the trail journals and watching the vest array of YouTube videos.  I’m paying careful attention to the journals and how people are managing or not the various challenges and issues that come their way.  Some of the writers are very authentic.  I especially loved one story from a guy who found some bear spray in a shelter then candidly related the story of how he managed to douse himself with it by accident.  Not everyone would be that honest with himself or his readers.

Now starting to plan the shakedown hikes.  I joined the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club to both learn more and to invest in the AT itself.  I’m hoping to make this a life-long relationship.

Also joined “White Blaze” and have begun to read the class of ’14 forum.  Will engage with them soon.  I noted one sixty-year-old woman who’s starting in Feb.  That’s also my tentative plan.  Once I get the Medicare application done and the taxes filed, I’ll be ready to go.  If there’s extra snow, I’ll just buy snow shoes.  We’ll see how it goes.

Why am I doing this?

I’m approaching the end of my working life.  I’ve had a satisfying career, but need to figure out what comes next.  I’ve been fortunate to have worked with and around 18-24 year-olds most of my life, so I’m my outlook and orientation skews much younger than the average retiree.  Fortunately I am a life-long athlete who would be considered fit if I were a 30-something.  Therefore I have a broader range of options that most folks who contemplate life after social security bell begins to toll the beginning of the last phase of life.

I consider the phases of life to be youth, adulthood and retirement.  As I enter the final frontier, to borrow a phrase, I want to involve myself in joyous and meaningful activity that benefits myself and others.  Since I’ve worked in an office most of my life, something like nonprofit office work is in the “don’t even think about it” category.

This blog is where I’m going to share some of my thoughts and rationale; and my adventures.  It’s being written primarily for me and for my family and close friends.  So it’s not intended to even be noticed or impress anyone, or win any prizes for that matter.

After working at senior levels in the military, the corporate world, higher education and the federal government, my head is about to explode.  My mind is bureaucratically warped and its full of sclerotic bull that needs to be jack-hammered out and forgotten.

The process of figuring out who you are now and what you want to become is different for everyone.  For me, an epic quest is just what the doctor ordered.  It’s characteristics must include physical and mental challenges, use of wits and sustain itself over enough time to test my commitment and bring out both my best and worst.

My research suggests that a through hike of the 2,100 mile+ Appalachian Trail (AT) would do the trick.  A through hike takes the average person about six months and tests their will, their skill, and their temperament.  Finishers report absolutely positive life-changing experiences, not to mention the many good people they meet on the trail and along the way.

Even if you’re an expert hiker who’s in shape and equipped with all the right gear, success isn’t guaranteed.  The vast majority of people drop out.  Most quit for a wide range of reasons including simple over use injuries, infected blisters, strains and sprains, broken bones, illness, weather, they run out of time, damage equipment they can’t afford to replace, and in extremely rare cases, a raft of really bad things such as severe allergies, snake bite, bears, or encounters with malevolent humans.

For my part, I am competent in the woods at any time of the year.  I started as a very active Boy Scout.  I’m a graduate of the Army’s Winter Warfare School in Alaska and was certified by the Minnesota National Guard as a winter operations instructor.  I’ve lived on a glacier in Alaska, skied northern Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area in mid-winter (overnight temps averaged -35 F, and I have climbed and hiked in the Colorado Rockies during all four seasons.

So where’s the challenge?  However fit I may be (I run almost daily and lift serious weights multiple times weekly), the reality is that I am in my sixties.  I’ve learned there’s a reason people claim to be twenty, thirty, forty and fifty somethings, but you never hear anyone claiming to be a sixty-something.  I think it’s mostly because you have wrinkles, you wear glasses, gray hair if you are fortunate to still have hair.  Athletically, your tendons aren’t as flexible, your max heart rate is lower, and you can feel the cumulative wear and tear on your body.  I sustained an injury five years ago to my right foot that could be problematic.

I also, 30 years of getting out in the wilderness as often as possible, I haven’t pick up a backpack in 20 years.  The risk of over-confidence is definitely there.  So I’m going to need some practice hikes.  I’ll go out initially for two or three-nighters on tough trails in Shenandoah National Park . Once I get my mind and my gear sorted out, a multi-week shakedown cruise along the AT is in order.