It's only been almost 12 years since I thru-hiked the AT. It's only been 7.5 years since I last spent a night on the trail. It's only been close to two years since I last did any decent hiking on a hiking trail. Yeah...it's been a while.
Recently I bought a new sleeping bag to replace the one I used on the thru-hike. I sleep in a hammock 7 days, err nights, a week. I typically use the sleeping bag almost year round unless it is that warm in the house. My old North Face Blue Kazoo had gotten to the point of being in dire need of replacement, even when being used in the house.
The new bag I bought was what I deemed a junker. I didn't buy it for hiking, I bought it for using at home, in the house. I bought it at Wal-Mart for under $40. It was a zero degree, synthetic mummy bag. As I walking out the store with I was already thinking of testing out the rating on the bag to see how big of a lie the rating would actually be.
In testing I found it worked pretty darn good. I've already had it outside in my hammock down to -8 with no problems. The only thing I have had as any kind of trouble has been the condensation from my mouth on the cold night freezing on the bag. Everyone pretty much has the trouble. A few people say they have found ways to work around the problem and I thought I had found a way. It worked once but failed the next two times I tried using the idea.
I knew I had the hiking down. The only winter dayhiking I've did has all been up to the higher points in the Whites several years back. I've hiked Moosilaukee and Lafayette several times during the winter months. I also knew I didn't have too much to worry about when it came to camping. I've been spending most nights camped out in my backyard over the past several weeks, several subzero nights. It was what laid in between that was bothersome to me. Setting up and tearing down camp without freezing my behind off, as well as how to kill evening hours until I got sleepy without freezing my butt off.
I was initially planning on a three day/two nighter for this past weekend. I woke up Saturday morning and saw one of my equipment tests had failed and the weather forecast was quite questionable for Saturday night for where I was planning on going. I don't have a tarp for my hammock yet so I only sleep outdoors when the weather forecast isn't calling for snow. I cancelled the trip.
I saw Saturday someone made mention on a previous post about not being willing to go hiking until he had at least 10 hours of daylight it got me to thinking/checking that I would love to hit a night out with at least 14 hours of darkness. I saw I was in my last couple of days of opportunity until next winter. February 3rd the sunrise is 7:00AM and sunset is 5:00PM. I knew I was running out of time.
I spent Saturday night in the backyard once again in the hammock planning to get up Sunday morning and head to western Vermont. I woke up Sunday morning and found more testing failed on me again. Fortunately I woke up rather early and was able to get everything dried out. I packed up the backpack and hit the road.
I made my way over to Clarendon Gorge and parked my car. The strange thing I noticed was it was 10 degrees warmer on the western side of the Green Mts than it was on the eastern side. It was cloudy with the forecast for cloudy skies to clear partially before clouding back over by this morning. No rain/snow until Tuesday. I put on the snowshoes and pack and headed for the trail.
I made my way across the bridge planning a nice long hike(YEAH RIGHT!). I start up the climbing on the other side of the bridge and promptly removed my hat. 32 degrees is much too warm for a winter hat. I short while later I removed the gloves. I was sweating quite nicely but I knew it was warm out and one forecast called for it to stay warm all night while the other forecast was saying it was suppose to drop down to the upper teens. Quite a contrast between to the two forecasts.
I kept walking along breaking trail the whole way. First time I've actually had to break trail. I was a bit surprised how easy it was, most of the time to keep track of where the trail was, even when I couldn't find the next blaze, just look for the path of greatest resistance and then look for the divit. Cakewalk.
I was surprised how out of shape I was. I was stopping, briefly, ever 10-15 minutes to catch my breath. I haven't had to do that since I first started my thru-hike.
I quickly came to realize to my plans for a long hike in wasn't going to happen and instead I would probably cut the hike short and stay around the Minerva Hinchey Shelter instead going on for the Greenwall Shelter.
After a while I noticed what almost looked like a privy, it looked a little strange. I walked another 30 seconds or so and then knew I was seeing the shelter. I looked and saw it was 3PM and also knew I was done for the day. I hadn't started until 1PM or so, much later than originally planned.
I walked up to the shelter and took off the pack and looked around for a place to setup the hammock for the night. Sweet spot right outside the shelter "front door". I set up the hammock and proceeded on to have fun. Oh...did I forget to mention...I never carried a stove when I thru-hiked. I owned a Whisperlite but I didn't even bother to take it with me on the thru-hike. I always ate cold. I knew that wasn't going to be an option while winter camping.
I pulled out the stove. I had tested it at home to make sure it would still work. I set up the stove and lit it. Everything was going smooth. I added the water and then the food I was going to eat. I did say I never used it during the thru-hike didn't I, LOL!!! I think I walked out the shelter and went to the bathroom. I didn't realize how quickly the stove cooked. By the time I got back inside my meal was already burning on the bottom of the pot. I've never had that trouble at home when cooking with a stove/microwave. It sure was a problem last night though.
After supper I went on a melted some snow for hot water bottles to stick down inside the boots to keep them warm and to help some with keeping the sleeping bag warm(I knew I wouldn't have that to worry about though).
Afterwards I headed on off for bed with still some twilight left and the skies clearing nicely with Casseopia up above me. At first my feet were a bit cold. Since I changed socks after I got to the hammock that didn't surprise me any. My own fault...maybe twice over. I took a new Gatorade bottle with me as well to hopefully keep it from freezing overnight.
I feel asleep rather quickly and woke up a short while later, still some twilight left. I move the boot bag around and got it on my feet and managed to fall back asleep. I woke up before midnight and went to the bathroom in the PB jar. I decided to try something a little different this time. The Gatorade bottle was still cold so I thought why not try to pass some of the heat from the urine over to the Gatorade bottle. I put the two bottles side by side and fell back asleep. I woke up again 3AM and found the Gatorade bottle had warmed up quite nicely. I emptied the PB jar over the side of the hammock and went to the bathroom again. I placed it back by the Gatorade bottle and went back to sleep with the Big Dipper now over head.
I woke up again sometime after 6AM and notice it was getting brighter out. I did manage a little more sleep but finally told myself I had to stay in the bag until 7AM.
Finally, I pulled the boot bag out and went on to change socks and pants so I would be ready to hike. I got up and put on the boots and went on to pack up the sleeping bag. I knew this wasn't real winter conditions like I should expect to see but I was trying to act like they were. I was trying to move rather quickly to pack up under 32 degree temps while trying to pretend it was zero. It took me all of about 20 minutes to have everything packed up and over by the shelter where I kept my backpack and food for the night. I went on and fixed breakfast being much more careful to watch the food and make sure I wasn't going to overcook anything.
I finished packing and left the shelter about 8:45 and managed to make it back to my car in just a little over an hour. I was surprised how much quicker it was to make to back to my car than it was to make it to the shelter.
Just as the second forecast suggested the temperature never dropped overnight. It was 33-34 degrees when I got to the shelter and still at least 30 when I got up in this morning. It was 34 degrees when I got back to my car about 10AM. The wild thing...on the drive home I saw it as high as 37 around the top of the Green Mts. On the east side of the Green's it dropped all the way down into the mid 20's before recovering into the low 30s by the time I reached my house.
So what is the requirement before you can really say you've been winter backpacking? Does it just take the time of the year, the snow on the ground, or does it take cold temperatures. Heck...I had it this cold during my thru-hike but I wouldn't say I ever did any winter hiking until yesterday/today. Then again...have I really did any winter hiking or not?