August. Mid-August in the 100-Mile Wilderness of Maine. You would think any inking of cold, chill, or frost would be distant impossibility. You would be wrong. The rule is simple, with elevation climb, temperature drops. Another rule: clear skies at night lead to radiational cooling, which also ushers in cold.
Climbing in the 100-Mile Wilderness of Maine, I had the foresight to retrieve from my “bounce box” a pair of ragg wool gloves, a wool scarf, and extra wool socks, plus a stocking cap. My North Face sleeping bag, however, was only rated to -10 degrees, and a night of shivering was close at hand. I knew it was coming. I saw it in the frosted exhalations from fellow hikers huttered close by the fire. I saw it in the occasional swirl of gentle snowflakes which danced near the flames before suffering immolation. My digits felt it, so I put on every clothing item I carried. Still, by the time obsidian pre-dawn hours ruled the shelter I was in, which was high on a summit ridge line somewhere in the Bigelow range, beings of ice and cold and frost had begun their merry dance, stamping their feet to trounce out the remaining heat of the coals in the fire pit. There was no forgiveness with them. “Rouse yourself or freeze!” they seemed to say.
Sitting upright in the sleeping bag, I began the nimble dance of pulling stove and matches closer, lighting the burner, and pouring a generous slug of water into my cooking pot. The water could not heat fast enough. Eventually, however, the perfect constellation formed – steam rose from beneath the pot lid to herald the acceptable temperature, thus time came to make some stout coffee; and the first ray of sunshine broke the eastern horizon, sending the last of the frost giants scattering into the spruce and balsam.
Giants dead, the day begun, I managed a steaming breakfast. Within an hour I plunged my feet into stiff, frigid boots, lacing up their thickness like so much inflexible iron around my feet. Only when I had plodded down the trail for nearly half an hour did warmth and a sense of sanity weave into my bones along with the reminder that, even during mid-summer in Maine along the Appalachian Trail, the frost giants can make a visit.