Wednesday, October 29, 2008

How To Stay Warm

Appalachian Trail Backpack Weekend – 10/25/08 – Day Two – Clingmans Dome Bypass Trail and AT to Derrick Knob Shelter – 10 miles

The rain did stop by morning and once we got out of our warm tents we hustled to go find a hot breakfast in Gatlinburg. Then we stopped at the Sugarlands Visitor Center to file our backcountry permit (we had reservations at Derrick Knob Shelter) and to prepare our packs. The blue sky was increasing, but we had decisions to make based on the weather forecast – clear but cold, getting down to the low 30’s in the high elevations. I was concerned that my sleeping bag was not going to be warm enough. It was rated at 20 degrees but was ten years old and had seen lots of use and not much care. An even bigger concern was my ever-present hot flashes.

Now, I know you all are tired of hearing about the hot flashes, right? But they can be a serious problem in cold weather because that few minutes of heat produces perspiration, and when the heat leaves what is left is damp skin and a terrible chill. (Mike now knows more than he ever cared to about hot flashes.) In a tent by myself I could throw the sleeping bag off and then back on all night, but in a shelter with other people it’s a different matter. So this is what I packed:

Sleeping bag
Silk bag liner
Little fleece blanket from my last plane trip
1 microfleece jacket
1 midweight fleece jacket
1 polyester tank top
1 short-sleeved wicking shirt
2 base layer capilene shirts
1 base layer capilene long underwear
1 heavyweight long underwear
2 pairs Smartwool socks
1 fleece hat with ear flaps
1 pair of fleece gloves

This is all in addition to what I was wearing to hike in. This stuff is incredibly lightweight, though, so adding in 2 liters of water, my food (I don’t carry much and should probably carry more), a stove, fuel, and various other things, I think my pack was about 25-27 pounds.

Off we went to the Clingmans Dome parking lot. Mike had brought his camera (more about that later) and spent a few minutes photographing the incredible view. This time, instead of being fogged in, the clouds were below us with the lower mountains peeking out -- awesome. Then we walked up the Clingmans Dome Bypass Trail and stepped onto the Appalachian Trail.

Mike had not seen any of the Smokies shelters since they began renovations so we stopped to inspect Double Spring Shelter.  Double Spring is very cool, in an open area and facing southeast with lots of sun. It even has a privy (not all of them do) and Mike took a photo of me in it. We hiked on and stopped at Silers Bald Shelter to eat a little lunch. Here Mike taught me how to pick up and put on a loaded backpack without struggling or falling over or standing on my head – one of the most valuable lessons I learned on this trip.

We walked on towards Derrick Knob Shelter, each in our own thoughts and a few minutes apart, tagging up at shelters or at trail intersections. The weather was gorgeous and the trail was covered in fallen leaves making a crispy, crunchy sound as I walked. My concerns about being warm at night were keeping me from fully enjoying the day and I felt a little down. I realized that it was nearly three months since my dad passed away, and then memories of both his and my mother’s passing occupied me and my mood began to go further downhill. The idea of this hiking project had begun partly in response to my mother’s death, but who would have thought that I would lose my dad during the process? With no offense meant to Mike, I began to pray that some other people would be at our shelter to distract me and help lift my mood. I did not want to cry on Mike’s shoulder.

As often happens, God answers prayers by sending people. At the shelter there were two men and soon the other three in their group arrived. They were from Columbia/Lexington, South Carolina and were long-time friends on a lifetime plan to section hike the AT. I will not use their names to protect the innocent. They started a roaring fire in the fireplace (something Mike and I would not have done) and kept it going. Several of the guys were Boy Scout leaders so we had much in common and stories to share. I passed around my little business card for Smoky Scout and told them about my project. (Hey, guys, if you’re reading this, you promised to make donations, remember?)

And these guys were not even scheduled to be at Derrick Knob that night - the rain had held them back a day... Before we started to boil water for dinner, Mike announced that he had a surprise and asked if I had brought a cup. Well, no, but the lid of my wide-mouth water bottle would do, and he poured out peppermint schnapps for medicinal purposes to warm us up. (Later on I saw the guys passing around a plastic flask of what was probably iced tea.) We cooked, ate, cleaned up and then sat around talking. Ladies, you should know that when a bunch of men get together overnight, they are just like us in discussing bodily functions and issues and “products”. I learned that Gold Bond powder is a thoughtful gift for any occasion.

I watched the backcountry TV (the fire) until I could no longer delay getting in that sleeping bag.  The Boy Scouts were spread out on the lower bunk and Mike and I had the top bunk to ourselves.  The wind whistled through the boards.  I told Mike I was afraid I wouldn't be warm enough.  He carefully and graciously said, "You do whatever you need to do to stay warm."  I grabbed my sleeping bag and headed down to the lower bunk, told the Boy Scouts to skootch over, and made a place for myself in the middle.

I put my rain jacket inside a stuff sack for a pillow, pushed my midweight fleece jacket into the bottom of my sleeping bag to keep my feet warm, and put on all the clothing listed above. (I changed out of the day’s hiking clothes because they were damp.) I popped in my ear plugs and slept very well. When a hot flash would come on, I would stick my arms out of the sleeping bag, and when it passed I would scrunch back down inside and go back to sleep. Warmer would have been good, but it was better than I had expected. The silk liner made a tremendous difference. I didn’t even wake up for the mouse that was running around.


Smoky Mountain Hiker said...

Smoky Scout - so, did you sleep better than expected because of the silk liner, or was it due to the schnapps?!?

I think those sleeping bag ratings simply measure survivability - not comfort levels....

I once (foolishly) camped when it went down to 5 degrees. I stuffed an army surplus mummy sleeping bag into a regular, generic bag and managed to stay relatively comfortable. My friends didn't manage as well - I found them in the car that morning with the heater blasting away...


smoky scout said...

I truly think the silk liner made a difference. However, the schnapps helped clear my sinuses!