[at-l] 4 days in '97 when hypothermic

Amy Forinash aeforinash at gmail.com
Mon Feb 27 09:06:53 CST 2012

All this talk about hypothermia is not helping me in my quest to get better at winter camping. :/


Sent from my iPhone

On Feb 27, 2012, at 9:07 AM, "South Walker" <southwalker at windstream.net> wrote:

> For a chilling account of people who got into serious trouble in the cold
> you might read "Not Without Peril", 150 Years of Misadventure on the
> Presidential Range of new Hampshire by  Nicholas Howe. 
> Some survived, some didn't.
> -----Original Message-----
> From: at-l-bounces at backcountry.net [mailto:at-l-bounces at backcountry.net] On
> Behalf Of RockDancer
> Sent: Sunday, February 26, 2012 7:57 AM
> To: 'AT-L'
> Subject: [at-l] 4 days in '97 when hypothermic
> This morning I got to thinking about the perils of hiking alone in cold
> weather, esp. thinking of my '97 thruhike when, looking back, I exhibited
> surprising lack of judgment. I humbly admit to being caught in the late
> season rush to Katahdin although at the time (and even years later) I would
> only say that I was trying to do the hike "right". That meant trying to
> enjoy each day for the views and lessons it offered, and to resist the
> temptation to Flip even though I knew by Sept. 20 I didn't have much chance
> to reach Katahdin before Oct. 15. Here are the 4 entries from my journal
> where I censored the fact that I was hypothermic to some degree during the
> day. My new notes in parens for each day. --RockDancer
> September 20 - Carter Notch Hut (Day 180 ~ milepoint 1845.9) A wonderful
> welcome here at the hut after a cold, wet, windy, strenuous hike. I arrived
> slightly dazed by the experience and was greeted by Gold Thumb who had lots
> of questions for me! He was certain I was ahead of him, so "what happened?".
> I told him the stories of my tent repair, sleeping behind the Ragged
> Mountain Store, the hitch to North Conway, etc. As I finished I remarked
> that I needed to eat something warm & get something to drink. Next I hear
> one of the Boston AMC group invite me to supper with them
> - pasta with meatballs, bread & ice tea! Cards after supper, conversation
> about Boston Chapter members we know, and then lights out at 9:30 p.m.
> Cold in the bunkroom tonight but much better than sleeping outside. The
> lakes nearby had a cold, forbidding appearance as I came by, not the cool,
> refreshing look they have on a hot, summer's day.
> Latknee, the caretaker, did a great job answering questions and helping
> organize the cooking & cleaning up. Then he just blended into the
> background, quietly knitting a new wool stocking cap.
> (Goldthumb remembers me arriving at the hut differently. I was slow in
> speaking, moving only stiffly. He acted to get me inside, into dry clothes
> and stayed with me until I came around. I hadn't sunk too deeply into the
> cold though and didn't have the drunken behavior or the unrelenting
> shivering as I warmed up.)
> September 23 - Gentian Pond Shelter (Day 183 ~ milepoint 1872.9) The trail
> today is the last section that I've hiked in previous years. Each time this
> happens I seem to gain memories or renew them - of who I was with, our
> goals, and a snapshot of who I was at the time. Today was no exception.
> I remember that dayhike as a fine, Fall day with this shelter as our lunch
> stop. I explained to my group the network of shelters stretching back to
> Georgia and encouraged them to read the register and look for messages being
> passed forward and back. One long entry was a goodbye present from a Brit to
> his fellow hikers, a long poem about the primitive "blue wode warriors" of
> Britain. There were many Thank You's in reply to his writing this down, he
> had recited it for many.
> I thought how it would be for me to travel so many miles, on foot, with new
> friends, and now be approaching the end. How to say goodbye? Now I'm here
> and forced to do my best.
> Rain, cold, mud today doesn't diminish the beauty of these woods. But
> reminds me that very cold times will occur soon and I should move as quickly
> as I can.
> Heard a moose today, snorting like a horse and then clomping away from me.
> My head was down and the rain hood blocked my view, all I saw were the
> branches swaying back into place.
> (Spent the cold night alone & mostly awake in the shelter tucked away
> sitting in the best corner in dry clothes, in sleeping bag, wrapped in the
> body of my tent. On arrival I was shivering in a very exaggerated way. It
> was hard to handle the operating of my stove, a canister type, but made
> soup, hot drinks and nursed myself along.)
> September 29 - Bemis Mountain Lean-to (Day 189 ~ milepoint 1921.7) Here's
> what I wrote in the register: "Resting here this afternoon after a cold, wet
> morning. Not sure what's wrong but I needed to get out of my wet clothes and
> into my sleeping bag to warm up. Now, 3 hours later, I feel ok, but it's
> still rainy and cold and windy so I'll call it a 5 mile day."
> I've had time, for the first time, to really read the register and absorb
> what each of us GA->ME folk is doing/has done. I'm in awe of how each hiker
> is not just pluggin' along, but finding joy/peace/beauty even at this late
> stage of our journey. You are all wonderful folk! I don't know how you've
> kept your sense of humor through it all! It's a lesson I'll remember.
> I've read notes from about 30 hikers who've passed me, dating back to 7/24 -
> that's over 2 months man! Brother Paul leads the pack. And your notes have
> reminded me of our time together, however brief. I'm glad you've stayed with
> the trail.
> I still hope to catch Rhymin' Worm, Hiker Ned & Sweet Pea, Mossman & Tonic,
> Trail Snail, 180 degrees, One Hit, Skeeter & Osgood. But mostly I hope to
> finish the trail "right". Whatever that means.
> (The temp was just below 40 but the rain was punishing all morning. I
> decided to "hike wet" knowing that the heat I generated was compensating for
> the cooling effect. There was no wind along the protected trail but I would
> get episodically cold when crossing rocky outcrops. The day was only 4.8
> miles because I was only stopping for lunch. My lunch break became scary
> when the shivering hit & I retreated to dry clothes and my sleeping bag. It
> was 3 hours before the shivering stopped. All along I was feeding myself,
> making soup and hot drinks. When the shivers stopped I was out of trouble
> but the rain was continuing and the thought of putting on wet clothes was
> anathema.)
> October 2 - Poplar Ridge Lean-to (Day 192 ~ milepoint 1950.2) The wind was
> blowing a steady 50 mph with gusts up to 60. The temperature was mild
> though, around 35, so the wind chill was only around -15 degrees F.
> Snow had plastered all the rocks so the white blazes were all hidden from
> view, so I had to find the cairns that mark the trail and follow them. As I
> made my way over Saddleback today, the 3 miles of above-treeline hiking, I
> remembered that if I stop or lose the trail I really could die under these
> conditions.
> But it all went smoothly. I took my time to make certain I stayed on the
> trail, ducked down behind rocks a couple of times to rest and have a snack,
> and when I couldn't find the trail made methodical circles until I came
> across it. Met no one else up there today.
> The wind tore open both pockets on my jacket and I lost my handkerchief.
> Otherwise I was fine, but a bit drained, from the experience. As I descended
> the Horn of Saddleback the cloud cover broke open and gave a dazzling
> display of bright, white ice contrasted against the garish Fall red, yellow
> and orange hillsides. Spectacular Day!
> Met Charlie Brown, a south bounder, here at the shelter. Nice guy - I wished
> he was heading north.
> (Charlie Brown came into the shelter about 4 hours after I arrived. By that
> time I was well on my way to recovering from the day. It was similar in
> feeling to my Sept. 20 hike but here, again, I can't tell how far gone I
> was. My mental sense was along the lines of "I'm in trouble, be sure to do
> everything right, this is important, you have to get dry and get warm". )
> Me again: The insidious thing about hypothermia is how we can be taken
> without knowing, and that our internal sense of "Danger, Danger" will be
> diminished as you sink deeper and deeper into the cold. There is a point,
> however, where we cannot rescue ourselves. That could be from lack of
> physical ability to change clothes, seek shelter, prepare food; but it can
> also arrive because we no longer sense the danger. There are only a few
> anecdotes of those who rescue themselves from deep hypothermia. Read the
> story of Beck Weathers and the 1996 Everest disaster, for a miracle story.
> For a story of suicide by hypothermia in the White Mountains look up the
> story of Guy Waterman. His death was off the AT, on the north summit of Mt.
> Lafayette.
> Arthur D. Gaudet
> RockDancer on the Appalachian Trail
> Rockdancer97 at comcast.net
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