Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Observations of a Two Week Appalachian Trail Hike – Stecoah Gap to Spivey Gap

I did the first of the series last spring where I covered Amicalola Falls State Park to Stecoah Gap, and my observations had to do with other hikers.

The start at Stecoah Gap. Harmless hiking...for now.
This time around, the observations really had to do with me. You see, I had to endure weather conditions I’ve never faced or faced in limited quantities during my spring hike this year from March 23 - April 5th . I am no winter hiker. I have never been out in anything less than 15 degrees, nor am I much on snow hiking. I did a 17 mile snow hike in Shenandoah National Park this past winter, and I must say, that hike really got me ready for what was in store during this time.

1.       Winter Camping – I broke my all-time camping temps at nine degrees at Derrick Knob shelter in the Great Smoky Mountains. When I arrived at 4 PM, the shelter was packed. Fresh snow lay on the ground with more falling. I had not ever been camping when snow was falling. Nevertheless I dug out a spot and erected my tent in a blustery wind that dropped the wind chill to below zero.
My tent set up at Derrick Knob Shelter
I put on every stitch of clothing I had and used a silk liner inside my humble 15 degree bag along with a hand warmer. I managed to stay mostly warm. What I didn’t count on was the water bottles freezing solid, including ice plugs on the top. My trail shoes froze solid (and they can take forever to get back on!). And my stove was inoperable. I learned to warm up the bottles to get a bit of water and warm up the canister, but only on the advice of other hikers. Which leads to #2

2.       Hikers helping Hikers – I was given good advice on winter camping from hikers who knew what to do. One hiker told me to carry my canister in my pocket as I got ready for camp so it would light. When I arrived at a shelter later that day, another hiker had water there from a spring so I could fill up (I’d had nothing to drink for six miles because the bottles were still frozen solid). He also went and got me fresh water as well. When I found out my lighter would not work, a fellow hiker offered me her spare pack of matches (I should have thought to bring matches as a backup).
Rescued at Newfound Gap by a fellow hiker
Another hiker picked me up at Newfound Gap and took me to Cherokee to warm up, resupply etc., all on her dime. And a fellow hiker offered the idea of getting to town to dry out after a very wet two day slog through the final days in the Smokies, and only after he helped give me advice on how to negotiate the solid ice on the trail that came from melting and refreezing of the snow that had fallen. It was also my longest hiking day at over 18 miles.

3.       Winter Trail Conditions in Springtime – There were winter conditions I have never really experienced backpacking. Like rhododendron full of snow, and when you pass through, they dump snow over you.
Going under the rhodo on the trail made for tough travel
Snow from high above in trees falling like snow bombs on top of you. Then the trail turning to a slushy mess when it began to melt. My feet were soaked and slipped and slid much more even than ice. It made for a very slow, cumbersome travel. What should have been easy hiking turned into a major ordeal.
Now it's all slush, and 2-3 inches worth of it. 
And so too my “schedule” had to change. I did not camp where planned but camped where I needed to. I still was able to make certain rendezvous with family, but had to constantly rearrange plans. So it is with the trail and weather where best laid plans are but aside, and you work out each day as it comes.

But it all passes and great views abound. On Big Bald.

Yes, this was a time for personal observations of what I endured. You never know what a section hike on the AT will bring, and this was certainly a two week adventure I will never forget.

Related Blog:

Observation of a Two Week Appalachian Trail Start

Day Hiking in Winter

No comments: