Tag Archives: New Hampshire

Snow Foolin’ – Stranded in a snow storm – Part 2

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Photo courtesy of Raymond Shobe at Flickr

Since nothing betters the disposition like hot soup, I put some on the stove in quick order.  I mulled my state of affairs over as the brew simmered. I was grounded on the summit in a snowstorm, the extent of which I could only speculate.  I had checked the weather forecast before setting out and no storms were imminent.  Yet, I harbored no illusions.  I realized New England mountain conditions could wax volatile and cruel abruptly.  I was in for a doubtful spell of waiting.  As this was my first day on a week-long trip, I was provisioned with ample food.  I reckoned if the situation turned dire I would break into the summit house, set off the alarm, and precipitate a rescue.  Hopefully that would summon help.

The tram cables screeched long into the night and into a foggy Monday morning. The winds wailed and raged but did not diminish.  I did a full inventory of my gear, read a book, and ate an early lunch while being entertained by the violin from hell that the White Devil played outside the windows.  By late afternoon I became bored and anxious.  The storm had not lessened.  How long would it last? Having never been stranded on a mountain in a blizzard I realized my options were limited. Was this a brief accumulation of snow or the beginning of a more furious, longer storm?  At what point should I send for help?

Monday night the cantata of rattling and sing-song cable screeches moaned on, backed by pounding winds which begged to get in at me.  I tossed in my sleeping bag, wishing I had earplugs, and finally resorted to wads of tissue to block out the merciless racket.

Morning came.  Silence.  Visibility out the windows was mere feet.  But sunrise had come.  The snow had lessened, but I could not judge its depth by looking out the windows.  At least the battering wind was over.

I set to making hot oatmeal and put coffee on.  After breakfast, around midmorning, I observed a stirring in the clouds outside.  Moments later I was thrilled to see them dissipate enough to show patches of blue sky above.  I reined in my elation.  This might be the end of the storm — or only a reprieve.

Within the hour the cloud cover dissolved completely, revealing the most lavish sky blue I had ever seen.  Elation changed to euphoria.  I ventured to the door, elbowing against the door hesitantly.  It opened with little effort, revealing a half-foot of snow on the ground.  I was relieved the exit was unblocked.  Tromping out the door, I basked in the rays of sun that blessed Jay Peak.  I waded through a knee-deep drift to reach the upper level, which allowed me a more distant view.  The area around Jay Peak was mantled in snow for about a mile, but the lowlands seemed snow free.

Vermont trail cabin

Vermont “lodge” style cabin.  Picture courtesy Flickr

My journey down the other side of Jay Peak consisted of slippery and slow going through pockets of blown snow, and the repeated need to scout for blazes on tree trunks to confirm I was still on the trail.  After a long and anxious hour I emerged from the snowbound region and walked onto bare ground.  Hazen’s Notch camp was my glorious reward, a fully enclosed cabin with wood stove.  A local caretaker had kindly laid in nearly a half cord of firewood.  I was giddy.  That night, I enjoyed the company of a young married couple hiking to Canada on the Long Trail from Johnson, Vermont.  Over hot coffee and tea we traded stories about the trail, the mercurial weather, and our adventures during our journeys.

Past hiking expeditions have had me doing a dance with lightning on Mount Moosilauke on the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire, grappling in a heart-stopping rock climb eighty feet above the ground on Vermont’s Mount Mansfield in cold, saturating rain, and dealing with the incapacitating pain of a torn Achilles heel while trekking in remote Maine wilderness.  My unplanned delay on Jay Peak may be another chapter to add to my adventure journal, but it’s also an important reminder to habitually manage outdoor challenges with practiced knowledge, flexibility, and a good dose of humility.

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Filed under Adventure, Adversity, Anxiety, Backpacking, Decision making, Fear, Hiking in snow, The Appalachian Trail, Timothy J. Hodges, Winter storm

Compelling armchair reading –

New Hampshire’s White Mountains are perhaps the most formidable obstacle a long distance Appalachian Trail hiker can expect to encounter.  Each year reports come of fatalities within the range, most particularly on Mount Washington.  Repeated verbal and posted warnings often fail to deter tragic events.  I recommend you consider reading “Not Without Peril” by Nicholas Howe before you backpack the trail.

 

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Thinking about…risks of hiking the Appalachian Trail

English: Two campers with gear hiking through ...

English: Two campers with gear hiking through Bear Mountain State Park. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I stumbled out of the woods at Bear Mountain State Park in New York.  I was parched and exhausted.  The spring some miles back was dry and my complete attention was fixed on the first thing I saw – a water fountain!  Disregarding two people I lurched forward and spent what seemed like five minutes gurgling, slopping, and slurping enough water to distend my belly.  Finally sated, I stopped, wiped my brow, and shed my backpack.  I looked at the two people I had until now ignored.

The man looked precisely like novelist Tom Wolfe.  He was dressed like Tom Wolfe.  Completely in white.  White hat.  White shirt and white jacket.  White slacks.  White – patent-leather shoes!  Beside him sat his lady-friend.  She, too, was in bridal white, right down to the bleached handkerchief she had just plopped down on the rock upon which she sat, no doubt to shield her pristine dress from becoming soiled.  They fixed me with a stare and gaping mouths.  I walked over.

“Where have you come from?” the woman began.  “Georgia,” I gasped.  “You mean you…walked here from Georgia?”  I nodded.  Her eyes grew wide, as did her male companion.  Silence was thicker than the humidity around us.  I was waiting.  Waiting for “the question,” which came sooner than I ever expected it to.

“You mean,” she continued, “…I mean…aren’t you afraid of bears and snakes??”  I smiled.  I had to resist the urge to snap my fingers.  Instead, I calmly explained what I felt were the real risks of hiking the Appalachian Trail, and bears and snakes are far down the list.  Seeing their confusion and genuine disbelief I bid them a good afternoon and shouldered my back, disappearing into the woods.

High controversy and debate sometimes surround the issue of what is genuine risk in undertaking a long-distance hike along the Appalachian Trail.  That there are real risks is undeniable.  It remains to sort out which are foremost and which are of lesser concern.  It surprises many that the cliché “bear and snake” risk is not as pronounced as believed.

Each hiker will have their own personal list, based on their anxieties and expectations, and sometimes bears are the most feared and dreaded.  Perhaps it might be a fear of coiled reptiles lying in wait behind downed logs which cross the trail way.  Wildlife is abundant along the A.T., and one is certain to meet some of the fauna there; that’s part of the draw of the trail.  But the potential harm wildlife encounters propose pales in comparison to other possibilities.

Here’s my list, in order of perceived potential risk:

Lightning 2

Lightning 2 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hypothermia (exposure); being caught in violent storms; lightning strikes; having a serious fall; suffering sunburn or heat stroke or exhaustion; crossing highways; fording streams and rivers; lyme disease; rabid animals; insect bites; spiders; hornets; wasps; black bear encounters; venomous snakes; poison oak and poison ivy; stomach ailments; norovirus; contaminated water; crime.

Everyone will have a different experience on the trail.  For me, I had a nerve rattling encounter with hypothermia while backpacking in the Maine wilderness.  I was also laid up at Speck Pond shelter in Maine for three days with a severe case of giardia.  After a third day I managed to hike to Gorham, NH and get attention.  I had a black bear visit at a state park in Pennsylvania, but managed to deter him getting my food and gear; still it was pretty close.  I dodged lightning in New Hampshire, but there were no close strikes.  Still, that shot adrenaline through my veins and I’ve never walked so fast with fifty pounds!  I was spiked by a hornet in Maine, which also sent me jogging down the trail to avoid further stings.  Falls?  Too many to count, but none serious.

The list above is based on the greater likelihood of event, and not on melodramatic or perceived actual hazard.  This does not mean you will not see a snake or bear.  What it means is you are less likely to be harmed by them than being caught in an exposure situation high in the mountains, or being struck by lightning.

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