Florida Woman Suffers Through Winter Hiking
They say you pack your fears. My number one fear is being miserable on trail. To help give myself a fighting chance at a 2,200 mile walk, I decided to buy a smaller pack to help keep the weight down. The less room you have the less stuff you can bring, right?
My other main concern was being cold with a planned start date of February 17th. As a sweet summer child of Florida, I know that there is a lot I don’t know about winter. I figured that with the 20-degree quilt, sleeping bag liner, multiple layers, and cold-weather accessories, I was being on the conservative side in terms of preparedness. Oh, how naive of me. Living in a state that rarely gets to freezing temperatures (much less below freezing) left me vulnerable to what it means to be cold. Water freezing as soon as you put it in your bottle cold. Waking up with a thin layer of ice on the inside of your tent cold. Fingers and toes past the point of numbness and into a foreign new pain threshold cold. Is this normal? Or are these the first stages of frostbite? I don’t know.
Luckily, hiking keeps you pretty warm. Unluckily, at some point you do have to stop to eat or sleep. Turns out cold can suck the joy out of even the most enjoyable activities. I’d start to shiver less than an hour after stopping on those days when the high hovered right around freezing. My shivering would only lessen once I was bundled in my quilt for the night and begin again in the morning as we packed up our gear to head out for the day.
Even I must admit that there are perks of hiking during these frosty temperatures. The beauty of winter hiking is unmatched. A silent pine forest feels even more magical with perfect crystalline snowflakes floating gently through the air. The white blanket of snow contrasting with the green pine needles, the crisp air and sweet smell of fir trees, the intricate details of icicles and snowflakes–I could go on. They are enough to make you forget about the pain in your fingers and toes for a moment and make you believe that it was worth leaving the warmth of your home and the comforting routine of your old life after all. And then, because you are standing still marveling at your winter wonderland, the cold sets in once more and you feel the burning in your extremities, and you have to leave it all behind for warmer, sunnier days and greener pastures.
What would I have done differently?
Probably nothing. On our coldest night (13F), wearing all the layers, a full Nalgene of hot water, a block of cheese before bedtime, and several packs of hot hands seemed to do the trick. I was pleasantly surprised when one of the hot hands ended up underneath my back. I woke up that morning feeling warm all the way down to the tips of my toes.
Carrying a 36L pack, I have to prioritize what takes up its precious space. It wouldn’t have been worth it to pack additional (and probably very puffy gear) that would have been used for only a few hours total. Besides, I came out here to challenge myself and be in these uncomfortable situations. Or at least that’s what I keep telling myself.
Now that we have passed through the Grayson Highlands, we’re counting down the days until we can offload our cold weather gear. This will include our sleeping bag liners, warm base layer/sleep clothes, and my puffy and Patrick’s fleece. It’s a potentially risky gamble but one that we are willing to take if it makes we’ll be a few pounds lighter!!!!
Easy to say right now. (Frostbitten) fingers crossed we won’t regret it!
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