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

Mara Factor mfactor at gmail.com
Mon Feb 27 10:03:37 CST 2012

Good book, South Walker.  Can you imagine screaming down the cog railway on
those slideboards?  Yikes!

I've been borderline hypothermic twice and while both times happened to be
on the AT, neither time was during my thruhike.  The first time, I was a
fairly new hiker doing my first overnight trip by going hut to hut.  I was
with a friend and we were doing the loop from the Kancamagus highway to
Greenleaf Hut, on to Galehead, and back by way of the Bonds.

On the first day, the weather turned nasty and I got wet.  I put my rain
gear on over my wet clothes and stayed warm for quite a while but
approaching Lafayette, the weather got colder and that wasn't enough.  I
started shivering.  Having been through the AMCs Winter Hiking program, I
knew I needed to get warm or risk hypothermia but I made the decision to
keep going.  If I stopped I would probably get colder just trying to put
dry clothes on in the rain.  Instead, I continued knowing I would soon be
able to get warm in the hut.

By the time we got there, I was into the umbles.  I was stumbling,
grumbling, and fumbling.  This was full on mild hypothermia.  Everyone was
just sitting down to dinner so weren't paying attention to me and I didn't
think to ask.  I really needed the bathroom so went there first but it took
me ages to pull off my clothes.  I couldn't work the toggle on my rain
pants my hands were so cold.  But, I eventually stripped, wrapped myself in
blankets, and made it to the dinner table where I ate and warmed up.

The second time wasn't quite so bad.  It was a couple of years after my
thruhike and I was in Georgia for a week long trip.  I was approaching
Blood Mountain in a bad nor'easter.  I met someone hiking south looking for
the shelter.  I stopped to give him directions and that was just enough to
start me shivering so I quickly moved on.  I could have gone into the
shelter or put up my tent but I knew Walasi-yi was only a few miles away
and I wanted to get warm.

Trees had been coming down all around the night before and were still
coming down as I walked.  It was rather dangerous.  Slight changes in
elevation meant going from rain to sleet to snow.  Rather than climb into
the ice to go over Blood Mountain, I went around.

By the time I got to Mountain Crossings, I went in and made myself a hot
chocolate.  I asked if I could pay for it later as I will likely buy more
and by the way "was the dryer available downstairs?"  I had them put me on
the list for a shuttle to Goose Creek Cabins and then went downstairs.  I
pulled off wet layers and put them in the dryer.  I put on whatever I had
that was dry and stood on a chair in front of the heater.  As things dried,
I would pull them out of the dryer and put them on again.

I had just about finished drying everything and warming myself when my
shuttle arrived.  I paid for my hot chocolate and went to check in at the
cabins only to find that my friends who I thought were behind me, had
bailed off the trail and gotten a ride.  As I checked in, the lady said
"Oh, your'e the one who was hypothermic."  Well, I had been shivering but I
hadn't gotten to the umbles yet.  If I hadn't gotten warm and dry, I could
have easily gotten worse but once again, I had made a decision to get a bit
colder knowing I could get warmer in a heated building than in my sleeping
bag in a shelter.  Oh yeah, my sleeping bag had gotten a bit wet the night
before and I really didn't want to crawl into a wet bag.

I feel like there may have been another time or two when I brushed up
against hypothermia but nothing comes to mind and these two incidents were
certainly the worst.

I did get frostnip once when skiing in ridiculously cold temperatures one
day.  I had a tiny hole in the tip of one of the fingers of my gloves and
ended up losing a few layers of skin.  Ouch!

Stitches, AT99

Visit my Travels and Trails web site at:

On Mon, 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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