I hastily signed up for an overnight snowshoeing/backpacking trip to an AMC hut without fully realizing I'd be staying in an unheated cabin. And it would be about 15 degrees outside and inside. And, due to foul weather, gale force winds would be only a plywood wall from my resting head. And that I'd spend a night of fitful sleep, dreaming that the roof of the hut would fly off, ala Wizard of Oz. And while the views of Carter Notch would be stunning, I wouldn't be able to look at the views for more than 5 seconds at a time because snow would be pelting me in the face.
I took a winter hiking course two years ago, and I've been on a handful of winter day hiking trips and have enjoyed them immensely. But two years ago, I pledged to myself that I would never winter camp. My feet turn to icicles inside. But, when I saw this trip listed with AMC, I thought, "A hut sounds nice; I'll give it a shot".
Friday night we stayed in a heated lodge. Right as we pulled up the lodge, the trip leaders I was riding with explained that backcountry huts can be even colder than tents because they don't heat up quickly from your body heat, and that the first 10-20 minutes after you get in your sleeping bag can be "excruciatingly cold". Second thoughts started creeping in.
Then, Saturday morning this was the ominous view outside my window.
But I went anyway. And I survived. Yes, I was cold. The snow was over 4 feet deep. The winds were insane. I think I have been colder in my life, but not that cold for that long. To my relief, I never hit "excruciatingly cold" though. I was so relieved that my bottles of hot water kept me warm in my sleeping bag for at least half the night.
My backpack contained:
- 2 wool hats, 1 wool earwarmer and 1 balaclava to cover my whole head and face, except for my eyes
- 1 pair of liner gloves, 1 pair of windproof mittens, and 1 pair of nylon overmitts
- 1 pair of long underwear, 1 pair of fleece pants, 1 pair of windproof rain pants
- 1 short-sleeved hiking shirt, 1 long-sleeve underwear shirt, 2 fleece sweatshirts (1 light, 1 heavy), 1 fleece jacket, 1 down jacket, 1 parka (when I packed, I thought this was overkill, but it wasn't)
- 1 pair of winter weight hiking socks, 1 pair of fleece socks, 1 pair of -40 rated boots
- 1 pair of snowshoes, 1 pair of crampons, 1 pair of hiking poles
- 1 +15 degree rated sleeping bag (this was recommended, but if I did it again, which I won't, I'd take a -0 or -20 bag)
I used all of it, except for the crampons, since I decided to opt out of the afternoon hike up Carter Dome. I was told it was extremely steep, climbing roughly 1500 feet in elevation in just over a mile. I knew I'd never make it. I chose instead to sit in an unheated hut, chewing the fat with other Carter Dome dropouts, bundled up like this guy:
Before bundling up for my afternoon of sitting in the cold, I had to tear off my damp clothes in the privacy of our 20 degree hut. When I reached up to feel my hair, which was frozen, I laughed out loud thinking of my sweet Grandma Terry and the look of sheer terror on her face if she were to see me at that moment. Going outside with wet hair in cold weather was the most troubling thing I ever did to her when I was a kid. More troubling than wearing all black to her mother-daughter Easter banquet at her church.
Somehow my hair dried. The hut caretaker eventually lit a wood stove in the mess hall before dinner, but I could still see my breath all evening.
My favorite part of the weekend was definitely hiking across a frozen pond right before we got to the hut. That was my summit. I highly recommend you click here to see what I was doing yesterday afternoon.
This morning, after breakfast, I was fetching water from a hole in the ice. All those New England colonial women who fetched water all winter came to mind. And I thought: 1) this is fun to experience once, but I praise the lord I don't have to do this every day, and 2) fetching water out of a frozen pond goes straight to my list of "unexpected things I did in 2008". Didn't see that one coming.
I'm detailing all of this because sometimes I get the crazy idea that I want to give a challenging experience another try. And I'm warning my future self, that no. No, you don't. Be glad you gave it a shot. The food was tasty. The people were great. You enjoyed their stories about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. But staying out overnight in freezing weather is not a reasonable recreational activity for you. Waking up with frost on your pillow and ice on the ceiling above you is even less fun than it sounds!
Next time, stay in the heated lodge with the running water, and enjoy your day hike. You'll thank me.