A North Face BackMagic On Bob Bald Trip 52
TRIP 52 December 2005
** The South Fork Black Bear
** A North Face BackMagic Pack on Bob Bald
** 10 Degrees at Watauga Camp
** Big Oak Blowdown in Mill Gap
South Fork--+Iron Camp+--South Fork--+Snow Camp+--54A North--+Bob Bald+--Naked Ground (Watauga Camp)2+--Four Mile Ridge--Fodderstack--+Crowders+--Big Stack Gap--Slickrock Creek--+Slicnic Bee Camp+--Big Fat--South Lead--Four Mile Ridge--+Watauga Camp(2)+--Four Mile Ridge--Bob Bald--54A South--South Fork--+Iron Camp+--South Fork and OUT.
So, Trip 52 is cold and gets me up to Bob Bald from the South Fork Citico trail. My new tent of choice is the Hilleberg Nammatj with the two 9mm poles.
JOURNAL TRIP 52
THE LIFESTYLE OR WAY OF LIFE I have accepted is symbolized by those objects used in that endeavor, the tents, sleeping bags, boots, gloves, socks and packs. By themselves they are simple nylon fabrics but when put together in such a way for the common good or goal of wilderness backpacking, they become Gear and therefore by extension home and hearth, bed and warmth, possessions and kitchen, freedom and joy; and beyond this they symbolize the philosophy of union with beauty, love and nature.
By such introductions I begin trip journal 52 in the winter of 2005 and so I sit penning this on the South Fork trail sitting in the sun on the level cut section with 3 dogs in total and one heavy pack. The Fields where I parked had 6 cars and a big RV situated for camping and for hunting so likewise the dogs are out in force. Two more miles to go and I'll be at Iron Camp.
AT THE JEFFREY HELL TRAILPOST AND RESTSTOP
I must mention the black bear I saw earlier. It was right past Eagle Camp and I saw it coming out from the right brush by the creek, seeing me and jumping, immediately going into the brush it just came out of, thinking twice and twirling around to run into the brush on the left side of the trail. Goofy looking? Yes. Holy, beautiful and black? Yes. Off the trail like a bullet? Yup. The cold air has me hiking in Defcon 2 and sometimes 1 on the steep hills.
OVERNIGHT AT IRON CAMP: The tent is up and soon after a snack I will go and filter a liter of water from the South Fork. It is cold and my bare hands are cold but only because they are gloveless as I write this. They say it will rain all weekend but if it stays this temperature I will see snow instead.
Ok, night falls on the upper South Fork, the water is up and nearby the 3 dogs are curled to sleep though I'm sure there'll be a midnight raid of the 4 hung food bags. The dog pack is up high and my 3 food bags are in a tree next to Shunka and the tent with my cook pot balanced to fall if disturbed. Good thinking, Fungus.
I brought 4 books or parts of 4 books: "THE COMPANY THEY KEEP"(about Green Berets), "TRUE BLUE: POLICE STORIES BY THOSE WHO HAVE LIVED THEM" by Randy Sutton, Jon Krakaur's "UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN" and Brummie Stoke's "SOLDIERS AND SHERPAS". These with the little radio will keep me occupied in my candle lit tent as night falls early in the winter season.
Winter backpacking and camping is defined by the word WINTER as an Appalachian winter is different from Swedish winter camping, Rocky Mountain camping or Denali winter camping.
APPALACHIAN WINTER CAMPING: Now, that's better, I can only speak from this perspective, I leave the rest to the Swedes and the Western boys, respectively. I have spent 25 winters backpacking and camping but what I've learned can be summed up in a short paragraph though the snowy tentsites are many and varied.
For the serious winter camper there are just 4 words to learn, apply and remember: Goose Down Sleeping Bag. All the rest revolves around that single important item. It is the first thing acquired because with it the mental questions and fears are resolved and replaced with a clean willingness to get out.
The body as an exercising machine producing heat functions best in the cold and thereby the cold is a great advantage when backpacking. There are no bugs or snakes, no gnats, ticks, yellow hornets or poison ivy to interfere with a trip, only the biting cold in the morning when packing up and in the afternoon when setting up, for the most part.
SWEAT AND WET
These are the 2 enemies of winter backpacking and more will be said about them. Backpacking is hard sweaty work in the winter as in the summer and too many people start out on a cold day too heavily covered which in itself is not a problem. The problem comes when in exerting the backpacker refuses to stop then and there to remove clothing and instead stubbornly keeps going in a skin sauna guaranteed to saturate the important thermal layers.
For dayhikers this is not a problem but for the backpacker out on a 2 week winter trip it's a disaster, therefore every effort should be made to avoid wet clothing and the consequent hypothermia which will come later that day at camp or in the tent.
I have used Defcon levels to determine where I am temperature wise and adjust accordingly. Defcon 1 is t-shirt and shorts and these two items can get soaked with no ill effect. In fact, today I walked in shorts and the cold was not a problem. Defcon 2 is the same but with a thermal/polypro top or a rain jacket to cut the torso heat loss.
In severe cold I go to Defcon 4 with pants, hat and gloves and tops but even this can be too much on a frigid day. The main point is, don't sweat into your warming layers, take them off and stash them in the pack and at the next reststop pull them out and enjoy the DRY warmth they provide.
Here are some other points: Never ford a creek wearing gloves, one tilt out of balance and what goes down first? The hand. Take 2 pair, one thin for camp chores and one thick for hiking in severe cold and snow(or mittens). Boots? If there's a waterproof backpacking boot out there I haven't found it. Except for the Sorel type winter snow boots which are too clunky for serious trail work, no boot I've ever used stays dry in wet snow.
Goretex gaiters are important in deep snow but really, how often does one encounter deep snow consistently in the southern apps? 2 or 3 days at most? In constant snow a sealed waterproof boot with insulation is vitally important but the drawback is hot sweaty feet which over time will fester and rot, unable as they are to breathe. If high gaiters are taken, they just may never be used so keep that in mind when buying and carrying these bullky and heavy items.
It is important to take extra fuel for boiling water for hot bottles just in case the situation goes to Defcon 8. Like a good sleeping bag, extra fuel is a security item and will ease the mind when the going gets tough. All important is the sleeping pad one must carry to ward off the cold from below especially when using a compressible down bag.
The thicker the better but there are limits to what can be carried in bulk and in weight. I prefer the Thermarest in its many variations but there are others also as good but try to avoid the thin ones whether a self-inflating or not. The Ridge Rest, the Lite Rest, Z Rest, the Ultralite, the Prolite 3, just to mention the Cascade Design models, are too thin for cold winter use on snow or frozen ground.
My experience started with an old style ensolite pad, thin and floppy but serviceable. It was bombproof though bulky but at the time in 1978 - 1982 it was the backpacker's main pad. In 1982 a wandering mendicant praised his orange Thermy and so with 30 bucks I took the plunge for a standard shorty model and have been using them ever since.
The 1.75 inch models are the warmest and not much heavier than the fancier 1.5 inch models, the only difference being the length and width. Right now I am sitting on a 1.5 inch model, at 77 inches long and 25 inches wide the extra width really helps the arms and the knees and it works thermally when supine though when sitting up the butt seems to touch the ground no matter how firmly it is inflated. In some ways this trip is a test of the Prolite 4 mattress, will it keep me warm? In my truck I have a thicker 1.75 inch stowed away just in case.
HEADGEAR IS ANOTHER IMPORTANT consideration but being so personal it is really an individual decision though like gloves it should come in pairs and worn in pairs when sitting in a frigid camp. The common wool or nylon watch cap has been my standard since the beginning and augmented with a gray wool balaclava in wintry temps.
On this trip I left the watch cap at home and though I kept the Patagonia balaclava I am also using a homemade rabbit fur hat over it and it is warm! Winter backpacking is hard but it appeals to a few select individuals intent on the exhiliration that comes with it.
It is a testing of gear and an adventure into solitary places where a high blizzard can cause the heart to jump in joy and glee. It is for those mastadon types who find comfort in the white powder snows of winter and who have a deep regard for their tents when set up in such conditions. Seeing a warm dry nesting hole in a world of white can be the best motivation for winter backpacking. All Hail therefore the backpacking snowman caught inside the winter wonderland of good gear, sweaty ascents and the down of geese.
bob baldhilleberg nammatjraven camp