Monday, January 23, 2012

Trip Report: 20 Degree Winter Backpacking with Hammock

The plan was simple. Hike nineteen miles over two days gaining and losing 5300 feet of elevation in snow, freezing rain, and rain with nighttime temperatures in the low twenties. Toss in the mile long rock scramble up Old Rag.

The first day we climbed up the classic Whiteoak Canyon trail all the way until we intersected with the AT here:
Highest point on the AT in Shenandoah at 3837 feet
Continuing up the side trail we reached Stony Man Mountain summit at 4011 feet. Since we were still shrouded in cloud we couldn't see very much. Heading back down to the AT we continued north past Little Stony Man. Here were some great views. Still shrouded in cloud, we were treated to swirling mist and cliffs that dropped out of sight. At cliff's edge the wind was strong enough to physically knock you back but stepping back just three feet put you in complete calm. I've seen this before at a steep cliff edge. The wind blows directly at the cliff but is blocked. With nowhere else to go, all that force is expended upwards resulting in an astonishingly forceful wind.

Hiking along cliff's edge just out of reach of the wind.
After a long descent down Nicholson Hollow trail we camped past Hottie Mountain. Okay, it's not really Hottie Mountain. Hot and Short mountains are right next to each other and the trail name was truncated to "Hot Short Mountain" - you draw the conclusion. Okay, I will draw the conclusion. Clearly these mountains are named after someone's boyfriend or girlfriend who was both hot and short. Even, or especially, if you choose a more risque explanation, the name provides at least an hour's amusement.

At 4 A.M. we rose from our comfortable slumber to pack up camp and begin the descent to Old Rag's trail head. Most of Old Rag we climbed before dawn; light was beginning to filter through the clouds by the time we started the scramble. The scramble was as fun as always with the added difficulty of thin ice. Sometimes the ice was hard to spot and rarely was it thick enough to warrant microspikes both of which meant that balance was the name of the game.

At the top we were treated to more cloudy views and trees covered in hard rime:

Luck was with us during this trip because the freezing rain held off. The rain held off too. The only precipitation we had was a bit of welcome snow. The only missteps were of the amusing variety, especially the reenactments of those missteps.

The night was cold and I froze a bit while standing around before bed. But the adjustments to my under quilt worked great and kept me warm for sleeping. I'm adding a slightly warmer insulation layer, one of these picked up from a compatriot on HF, to my cold weather setup and I should be good to go. One word on down booties for winter backpacking: I want them! (Three words.) My trail runners soaked through when I intelligently dunked them in the freezing river. Not a problem while hiking, but once we made camp it was a challenge to warm my feet. All in all, my trail runners have been validated to work down to 25 degrees when wet (!!), my quilts work, my pack is a dream. With my AT start date in mid-April, my three season gear is ready to go.

Thanks to Ryan for organizing and running this trip and to everyone who attended. I had a great time this weekend!


You didn't think I'd forget the ice axe did you?
This wasn't staged at all . . .
Photo reprinted with permission and without attribution as per the photographer's wishes. (Thanks Ryan!)

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