Thursday, February 09, 2012

Some Observations in Winter Backpacking

Ice hangs over the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah NP
So I did a few days "winter" backpacking last weekend and made some observations. Normally I never go out this time of year but decided with the weather a bit milder that I'd give it a whirl. My intent was to do the central and northern sections of Shenandoah National Park and hopefully complete for the third time my hike of the entire park that began last summer.

Day One - It's raining. I mean, not just raining. It's pouring. I am sitting at the Swift Run Gap ranger station, filling out my backcountry camping permit and wondering why on earth I would leave the car with dry gear to head out into a deluge. But I shoulder my pack anyway and begin.

Rain rapidly collects inside my pack cover and soaks the bottom of my pack.

Observation 1 - If rain does collect inside your pack cover and the bottom of the pack becomes saturated, no garbage compactor bag inside the pack will keep things dry. So double bag your gear or be prepared to dry it all out.

The sun peeks out on the way to South River

After an hour of this, the rain lets up and the sun makes an appearance. The worst is over. When I stop for lunch at an empty Lewis Mtn, I begin the drying process.

Observation 2 - the ULA Catalyst backpack dries very quickly!

I head for my night's destination, Franklin Cliffs north of the Big Meadows and after Fisher's Gap.                                                                                                                                                                         
View from cliffs near Big Meadows
My campsite at Franklin Cliffs

The day clears beautifully and magnificent views are at every overlook. Shenandoah is great in the winter and early spring. There are views you can't see any other time of year, and the tourists are nowhere to be found. I did not see a single person all day.

I found a good campsite by Franklin Cliffs, but high winds made it very cold.

Observation 3 - Do not let yourself get chilled through. Change to your heavy camp clothes ASAP. I didn't and found it impossible to keep warm at night, even with my 15 degree bag in the 20's. I had to wear my down jacket inside my bag and barely kept warm. Also I did not bring a good enough pad to go under my Thermarest neoair. The neoair must have a secondary pad for insulation in temps below 30 degrees.

Observation 4 - Water does not freeze when I kept it under the vestibule. But condensation on the tent fly did and nicely flew off like snow.

Observation 5 - If you choose to eat bars for breakfast, be sure you let them warm up in your pocket. Trying to eat a Cliff bar half frozen is a recipe for breaking teeth.

Observation 6 - Do not wear crocs on slippery rocks where ice has formed to retrieve a bear bag. I did and promptly pulled a ligament in my foot. The injury bothered me for a bit on Day 2, but I hiked on. That is until mile 13 when the pain became too great. I decided not to push it and bailed out just shy of Mary's Rock.

Observation 7 - A more extensive injury is not worth continuing on with your hike. If you are having pain, get off and rest it. The trail will always be there, waiting for your triumphant return.

The sun sets at Franklin Cliffs

Looking toward Mary's Rock northbound

No comments: