Thursday, May 15, 2008

On the subject of COLD...

It probably comes as no surprise that Denali has occupied my thoughts of late(!). I've come to realize that as much of the preparation involves getting one's head in the right place as it does going through and procuring gear, checking and rechecking lists, buying and organizing food, etc.

During my run this morning, I spent some time thinking about cold -- that is, the times in my life I've been coldest. Certain very cold hikes come to mind. When I lived in Northern Vermont, I'd spend the majority of winter weekends climbing peaks in the White Mtns. of New Hampshire, eventually climbing all 48 of the 4000 footers in every month of the year as well as the New England 100 highest peaks in calendar winter (12/21 to 3/21 +/- a day).

I remember one particular 15-mile hike when the temperature was in the minus 25 to 30 degree range and my partner and I wore face masks nearly the entire day. (Were we stupid or what?!) On a hike to Mt. Isolation which is a spur ridge off Mt. Washington, another 15 miler, the high for the day was minus 15. Stopping to eat or drink was difficult at best. At one point my hands were so cold that my best friend had to zip up my hood for me. The other very cold hiking experience that came to mind this morning was my first winter trip to Baxter State Park in Maine. Instead of opting for the heated (wood stoves) cabins, our group decided to tent camp. We knew it was very cold when the trees started popping and cracking. My thermometer read 18 below. On future trips, we stayed in the warm cabins!

While these experiences were cold ones, they weren't scary because we were prepared with multiple layers of clothing, chemical hand warmers, etc. Interestingly, two of three times I was so cold to the point of being very afraid were during long runs.

The first was during my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail back in the mid 90s. It was early August in Maine (heat, humidity, and bugs come to mind, right?), and I'd sent much of my warm layers home. On the day my trail friend and I crossed the spectacular above-treeline-for-many-miles Saddleback Mtn., there was a steady drizzle, winds probably in the 20 mph range, and a temperature drop to the high 40s. Again, stopping to eat was out of the question. We wore all our clothing, walked as fast as we could (being conditioned thru-hikers, that was pretty fast) and arrived at Spaulding Mtn. Leanto in late afternoon chilled to the bone. I'll never forget my friend's kindness in taking care of me that night (hi NM!!), providing hot drinks and my trail staple, Lipton noodles!, until my hands worked again.

The second incident was during the March 2000 version of the then annual Horton & Co. one-day ~70-mile run of the AT through Smoky Mtn. National Park. Being runners, the six of us wanted to go fast and light. David was unable to cajole anyone into crewing for us that year (there is exactly ONE road crossing where crewing is possible), so we were completely on our own for the entire 20+ hours. Although bailing out was an option at the road crossing, it would have involved a very long, convoluted hitchhike back to our vehicle at the north end of the park boundary. About a third of the way into the run it started to rain. As we approached Clingman's Dome, the rain had turned to snow and the wind picked up. We were wearing all the clothing we'd brought and trying to move faster to generate body heat. It was a scary situation, one where if someone had broken a leg, they probably would've died. As with any story, there is, of course, a little more to the story, but what happens on the trail, stays on the trail... :) The snow and rain eventually stopped and we warmed up, but the adventure was not yet over: about 5 miles from the end, I tripped and broke two ribs on sharp rock! The stupidness here is that I returned the following March to do it all again...

The final OhMyGodIMightDieOfHypothermia story was when Steve & Deb Pero, Greg "Loomdog" Loomis, and I ran the 54-mile Monadnock-Sunapee Greenway in New Hampshire one April day. We were doing great, moving along fine, talking, laughing, and having a great time when, about two thirds of the way through the run, it started to rain, the temperature dropped, the wind picked up, and the rock ledges (of which there were many) were encased in a layer of ice. Once again wearing every item of clothing we'd brought and getting VERY cold, we struggled to move quickly so as to generate body heat. When Steve stopped talking, I got very scared. Our margin of error was zero. Long story short, we made it to my VW Golf parked at Sunapee Ski Area amazed (at least I was) to be alive. Thereafter this run became known as "The Death Run."

Now you know why I moved to Southern California. :) Gotta run..............!


Anonymous said...

Sue - Hard to compare, but like you I can remember no time climbing when I was nearly as cold as Ive been running. Your just better prepared and usually have the option to just sit or make camp and sit - brew up something warm and wait it out. Hard to do while running - where, as you have recalled you have to keep moving to stay warm, in the mtns you usually/or should have spare clothes at all times, along with spare food, etc. You've pushed yourself thru much tougher stuff than youll most likley experience up there - and youll be better prepared for what you do encounter because of it! Just be sure to have a good book (long) or two for those times when you are forced to sit tight - nothin like a good book and a hot cup of chocolate with butter while the snow flies. Now for the important question - are you gonna wear a helmet cam? Im thinking you sew one into chris's flamingo hat!
Jeff (not 12, but a wee lad of 18 - one of the younger summiters at the time)

Doug McKeever said...

Sue, I agree with Jeff! But please never underestimate Denali(I know you won't). My first trip up, the shear size of the massif intimidated me, as did the suddenness of the storms , and I had been climbing for 35 years at the time, so I had seen many a "big" mountain and "bad" storm (or so I thought). It is huge country and the storms can be as ferocious as anything on Mt. Washington, and I'm talking about this time of year. The winters can only be imagined by mortals like me. Build strong snow walls at 11, 14 and especially 17 K. You will rest better knowing you can weather a bad storm and still have your tents. Be eager to check your reports as they come through!
Don't get scared now, just have fun!! and be safe!!!

I am a runner. "We are what we repeatedly do" said...

Good luck SUE!!!!!!!!! Lets hope it is more fun than the last few hours of the "death Run"