BIG MISTAKE! I should have respected the forecast more and also factor in that Mother Nature can be less predictable in the mountains.
I should have accepted the offer of trail magic from Doug and Deb. Or I should have stopped at the hostel when I had a chance.
Like I told you yesterday I was in my sleeping bag by 6:00. At about 6:30 another hiker showed up in a very frozen state. The storm had already started. He didn’t say anything when he saw all five of us were already in our sleeping bags. He just walked away and proceeded to set up his tent. When he got done he came back to the shelter to cook some supper. Now he was chilled to the bone. I told him there was still room for one more in the shelter. He accepted the invitation. His name is Dead Man Ale. That’s the kind of beer he likes. He is my age, retired from the U.S. Justice Department.
At around 8:00pm the storm really unleashed. The wind was in the 50-60 mph range. We could here trees falling in the forest. Some of them were big enough it sounded like the crack of thunder. Fortunately at all the shelter sites volunteers keep all the vulnerable trees cleared. We should be safe from that.
The problem was that the tarps that were hung to kind of enclose the exposed side of the shelter didn’t help much.
The wind was blowing straight into the open side of the shelter. So in comes the snow. In addition on the back side of the shelter there is about an inch gap between the roof and the back wall. It is not air tight and normally keeps moisture out. But the wind whipped over the top and back into that gap so you could feel this constant light snow on your face.
So our sleeping bags are getting wet from both sides as we lay in them. At around midnight I had to go to the bathroom. This is a process when the weather is like this because you have to get completely dressed every time you get up. I find my shoes on the ground in front of the platform we are sleeping on. They are full of snow and frozen. So is everyone else’s in the shelter. I put mine on anyway. As I went out I see the guy that went out before me, Rayden went out barefoot in the snow. I see his footprints. My family will appreciate that.
As the night went on my bag got more wet and I got colder. It was a very sleepless night. The wind and snow kept blowing. I started having negative thoughts. Hypothermia was starting to enter my mind. Six men stranded in a storm in the backwoods of Appalachia.
Now it’s 5:30am. I’m the first one up. My shoes were wet when I finished hiking and are now frozen. My socks are wet. I have a dry pair, but they won’t do any good hiking in wet shoes and five inches of snow. My sleeping bag is wet. My rain jacket that was hanging in the shelter is frozen with ice all over it. My clothes I pulled into my sleeping bag are damp.
Seabiscuit is the next one to wake up. He suggests that we hike to Sam’s Gap 2.4 miles away and call for a shuttle. Immediately John Boat who’s next to him says that’s what he wants to do. We really didn’t have a choice. Our bags are wet and it’s not going to warm up enough to dry them out. In fact it’s supposed to be in the twenties tonight too, even though the snow is supposed to stop.
Then when Dead Man Ale and Engineer woke up they instantly said they were going to town. None of us planned to go to town. All of us agreed we shouldn’t hike out alone.
The only hold out was Rayden. He said he was going to hike on. Engineer tried talking him out of it. He stayed in his sleeping bag and said he was going on.
So John Boat called the shuttle service. It was going to be $8 per person, but we had to be there by 10:15 or he was going to leave us. He was super busy because all the other hikers in the mountains were using his service. All the hikers in this area were going to town. It sounds like the storm was worse on Bald Mountain, our next destination.
Seabiscuit, John Boat and I left together. Engineer stayed to help Dead Man Ale take down his tent and much to our dismay Rayden was on his own.
This is John Boat. A retired Optometrist from the Twin Cities.
When we got to Sam’s Gap trailhead there was a couple there providing trail magic. HOT COCOA! We arrived ahead of schedule. A little later Engineer and Dead Man Ale showed up. Five minutes behind Rayden came and after seeing the trail conditions he changed his mind and went to town to. Going on, especially alone would be dangerous.
So all six of us are at the Super 8 in Erwin Tennessee. It’s a small town of maybe 5000. It is full of hikers today because virtually everyone came of the mountains to town.
I’m going to Pizza Hut tonight with five of them. Rayden has a friend in the area and is doing something different.
Four of us are going back to the trail tomorrow at 11:00. That’s the earliest shuttle we could get because they are so busy. I get the impression the shuttle service is liking the foul weather. It’s good for business. Seabiscuit and John Boat are staying two nights. Hopefully I’ll get to see them sometime in the future.
This is long. If you’ve read this far, thanks. Most posts won’t be this long. Time, cell service, and battery life are always a factor. Not so much today.
I love all of you. I am blessed. Thank you Amy for allowing me to do this.