Day Five/Day Six

Trip 89  January  2009


January 11-12-13-14-15-16-17-18-19  2009


It’s 14 degrees this morning so I go out to chop thru a frozen yellow urine stream and then go to the creek to wash my cooking pot and brew up a liter of hot nettle tea which I store in the Sigg bottle and keep in the pocket of my down jacket.

Leaving camp today will require going in lighter layers than yesterday since the trek will be steeper, sweatier and longer. The bottom layer will be the merino long johns under shorts and the top layer will be silk turtleneck/t-shirt combo under the two merino tops, along with both hats and gloves, the all-important gloves. The hats can be easily adjusted for overheating as can be the gloves. The hardest part will be packing up this camp w/o undo finger damage and numbness. Havng a hot water bottle close by makes packing up much easier on the hands though the hotness quickly turns to coldness when it’s 14 degrees. Tonight’s projected low is around -5 below–yikes!

Yes, boys and girls, it is possible to hump heavy weight up steep trails while wearing your midlayer tops and still keeping them dry. When it is very cold you can’t exactly backpack in a t-shirt, but then if you gear up under thick merino or polypro and go for it, sweat will quickly wet your tops, even in cold weather. The solution is gait discipline or simply slowing down.

There are four main gaits or steps a backpacker uses and flucuates due to terrain conditions and desired cadence or hiking rhythmn. The first is Gear Gait One and is used climbing steep hills with a fully loaded pack. Shuffling along in this gait(minching steps)will get anyone up a mountain though slowly. It is stepping forward with overlapping feet or boots, never does the next heel step go beyond the toe of the other boot. In other words, the gait is only as far as the other boot length.
Such short steps produces a “bulldozer” effect and any hill can be climbed using this step. Stumpknocker on Trail Journals: “I had to take baby steps on the ascents and descents, and I was still slipping and sliding . . .” AT Trail Journal, 1/22/08.

Gear Gait Two is a bit longer, with the following foot no more that 3 to 10-12 inches past the other foot. There is no overlapping but the heel of the striding foot is close to the toe of the other boot, between 3-12 inches.
The third Gear Gait is a normal uphill gait with at least 12 inches or more between boots. This stride is easy to do and produces the best results for most backpackers on gentle inclines or downhills.
The fourth Gear Gait is a wide stride on a level or slightly downhill grade. “Booking it” in other words. The feet are at their widest and fastest. Used for level trails and road walking.

Gait One is useful for downhills as is the Butt-Slide Gait where a backpacker must sit down and step gingerly while at the same time sliding forward on his butt and pack bottom. Generally used to avoid falling and used in the snow.

This is an out-of-control forward lunge after tripping on a root or rock when booking downhill and results in a screaming rushing almost running attempt to keep from falling. Much ground can be covered in such a panicked “upright fall” and the Death Gait never results in an actual fall. It is a successful save.

Falls occur outside a normal gait and therefore are not included in this report.

A level above the Belly Flop, the Squirting Duck Walk happens when a short distance must be covered bent over or actually squatting. It is difficult with a lot of pack weight. The Belly Flop is not a gait and therefore is not relevant(crawling under a blowdown on your side or belly with a full pack). Difficult blowdowns dispense with gait cadences and are therefore not included here.

These are like walking up stairs and are done on very steep trails with root footholds and rock purchases. There is no real cadence and therefore no real gait. There is a limit though on how high a person’s foot can reach a step and still use that leg to lift the entire body with backpack attached. Shorter steps must then be found if too difficult(the Nutbuster has many examples of such steps).

On The Nutbuster Trail

The worst is over as I sit in the sun on the heath overlook about to finish section 9 and enter section 10. Section 9 kicked my sac and it is a danged difficult part to get thru cuz of the low hanging heath branches. See ya at Naked Ground.

Like a robot I got the tent up in frigid conditions and then got a quick liter of raw spring water and boiled it quickly and stored it in my boot with a glove over the top as it’s nice to have cold liquid thru the night. With the stove still running I scrambled up 4 eggs with mayo and put half in a ziploc to forego frozen and cracked eggs by morning. I ate the other half quickly and then used the pot to cook up some brown rice with a veggie patty and some cheese.

I even took off all my hats and brushed out the hair though my ears got cold real quick. I sit in the tent half-bagged with a lit candle warming my fingers as I prepare for one of the coldest night I’ve had since leaving the Tipi in 2001.

It’s easy to sit out minus 10 below in a tipi with a woodstove–it’s not so easy in a tent under a sleeping bag. The hot water bottle is in the bag with me as I sit up writing this, it sits between my legs and keeps my puny world warm.

As of Thursday January 15, I look to find any hammock campers and I find none(not even any backpackers, period). Is not subzero temps workable for the hammock crowd? And I think of the SORUCK crowd meeting in NOC(Nantahala Outdoor Center)tomorrow and can only laugh at earlier weather reports from seven days before the event. BTW, I wonder if the Soruck gathering is an alcohol-free event? If not prepare for loud raucous noise and possible frozen hungover bodies found in the morning. Who ever heard of having a backpacker’s gathering and they all hang out in heated rooms, indoors? Might as well have it in downtown Charlotte.

I’d like to sponsor an AT type trail day-Soruck style gathering but put it where no one can drive so they have to walk at least 5 miles in to participate. And have it in the middle of January. Somewhere on the Slickrock or up on the Fodderstack would work. I wonder if there’d be hundreds of photos posted on WB of the gathering then?

This year the Soruck’s gonna get walloped with the cold and heck, I’m on a 5000 foot perch right above it on the other side of Robbinsville. The anticipated event is being cursed by this cold snap and I am sure a few of the organizers are gnashing their teeth in dismay. It’s so cold, I can hear the trees around me cracking loudly like rifle shots.

We all wonder what it would be like to climb Denali or Mt Washington in the winter, well, wonder no more. The southern appalachians are getting a small taste of it for the next couple of days. It’ll be cold enough to stay here and not run home, please fellow packers, do not run home!

I hope the backpackers in the Smokies stay put tonight and tomorrow night, and camp out with me but over on other high mountains. Places like LeConte and Clingmans will get hit tonight, but stay put in your tents and we’ll compare trip reports when I get back. If we can make it to Saturday or Sunday, I believe we’ll get thru this together.


No night colder than this on my recent backpacking trips–I’d say it’s about -5 below zero and falling. By dawn it could be close to -10 below, a fun number and one I’ve seen on several night’s out. The 1982 seven day -10 degree blizzard spent in a tarp comes to mind as does many bedroll nights at -5 or worse in the Beck Camps, several nights behind the church at zero or below, and the long cold winters under two bags next to the Buttress Camp in ’80-’81.
It’s hard to keep track. And then there were the several nights in January 1985 at -28 below, the worse snap in my record book. At the Tipi I had many winter nights in the deep belows, -14 below was the worst but it was the high winds which added to the fun. Anyway, here I am again in the subzero negative digit midgets yet snug and warm in my WM goose down bag.

Cold attacks in varying degrees, and you always know when it’s really cold, when everything gets brittle feeling and nothing exists in the liquid state. Boots are like bricks and even when zipped up in a good bag you can feel the cold attacking you like a smell that won’t go away. But fuel stays wet and candles burn, ink still flows(most of the time), and the Bics can be warmed to work. Pee still dribbles out and so far the tent still stands.

In this kind of weather any real emergency like a twisted ankle or a nervous breakdown(or god forbid a heart attack)would result in near instant death-by-freezing. A deep cold snap should be treated like any other storm, whether a rainstorm or a blizzard or a windstorm: Find a suitable tentsite and set up camp and hunker down for the duration.  Set up and go into fortress mode–stay put and wait it out, otherwise, you could be stuck somewhere in the middle of it w/o the energy or presence of mind to get a shelter fixed and a site prepared.

The last thing you want to be doing is stumbling around cold and getting worse, exhausted and hypothermic and finished–overwhelmed is a good word. Once a camp is set and everything arranged, then you can sit or sleep and wait it out, even for 5 or 6 days if need be. And don’t bother pulling out the frozen water filter, just fill up a liter of fresh water and get to boilin’ it!

Pray you brought enough fuel. After the first night, pull out the bag and hang it up, let it ventilate and let it dry, even cold wind and air can do some good to a moist bag. And the bag will get moist as will the insides of a tent. Right now my tent is covered in a thin sheet of ice crystal condensation, normal at these temps and nothing unusual. The coldest nights are usually the clearest so by morning there will be a rising sun and it will help the drying process.

I arranged an in-tent bed for my dog but he would not come in and now he paces constantly around the tent and seems spooked by the popping trees. He usually digs out a leaf nest and curls up for the night, but not tonight. He’s getting squirrely and scared, maybe he knows something’s coming I don’t know about? Maybe Yellowstone finally blew its lid? Another distant tsunami? Naw, it’s just the popping trees.

It’s his neurotic will against my control-freakish will. After several hours of battling with him inside the tent, outside the tent, in the vestibule, constantly walking around the tent, tearing at the sides, freaking out as only Shunka can do, I finally tied him away from the tent on the other side of the firepit where he’s barking and frustrated. He will probably cut the leash with his teeth, he’s done it before and even broke a few teeth trying to cut a steel cable. If he does cut the leash, I’ll have only one recourse: Weeping. Let him bark, and let him do so over there and not have him clawing the tent sides. If I have to stay up all night I surely will, it’s his will against mine and he’ll probably win.

About 3 weeks ago I went down to my 12×12 basecamp tent on Chickasaw Creek for the night and brought Shunka inside so he could sleep as usual on his rug. As soon as I zipped up the door he tore thru the side of the tent, ripped right thru the canopy and out the other side. Don’t ask why, he’s a strong willed animal.  Granted, the tent had some serious UV damage and the canopy was pretty fragile, but when I think of forcing him inside this tent I flash back on that gripping ripping moment. He’d make mincemeat of this tent and so the clash of wills.

I only wish I brought a short cable leash for times like this as the nylon web leash won’t last long once he decides to chew. He’s got to keep me up thru the night cuz he’s scared of the popping trees and he’ll do so by grunting, clawing the tent, walking around in the crunching snow, barking, groaning and all the rest. Knowing him he’ll chew down the tree he’s tied to.

He once completely ate a cedar tree he was leashed next to just out of frustration. One time Blade tied him up in the carport and then shot off his .22 rifle several times and Shunka went beserk, he chewed off the side of the metal carport and bent up the metal trim. One time under the deck porch he was tied and got spooked and pulled off the vent in the cinder block underpinning and crawled thru the little hole under the trailer where he stayed stuck until I got home. These popping trees must sound like sharp gun reports. He’s a mess. He should be curled up in his little nest for the night but no, he’s created a huge drama out of nothing and on the coldest night of the year.

A Cold Night At Naked Ground Gap, 4,840 feet

DAY SIX    TRIP 89    2009

All this dog stuff is happening around midnight and running around in the snow in Crocs dealing with Shunka ain’t my idea of a warm relaxing night in the tent. I hope by first light he’s calmed down some.

Today’s the day for the great frozen gathering at the Nantahala Outdoor Center–the NOC–Nads Overly Cold. If I survive this trip I hope to get a full report on WB about how it went. There will probably be endless comments on the cold, I’m sure. And the amount of alcohol consumed?

At 9am I go out into the full light of a warming sun though it is frigid at ground level and inside the tent. What little water I had in the Sigg is solid but all I have to do is head down to the spring with the bottle and stoop for a second to get what I need, then return and boil for fluid intake or oats. What has to be done is putting on the boots, frozen blocks and then hoof it to the spring. Shunka is alive and hungry and he slipped into the vestibule again with me, I found him after a deep though squirming sleep.

When I arrived up here yesterday I noticed several sets of boot prints and all going and coming from three different directions. There was a few from Santee Valley and a few coming down from the Bob and another set running off to the Hangover. All dayhikers? I doubt it, so there may be some campers over at the Hangover or god forbid up at the Bob. We’ll know soon enough. (NOTE: When I got back I got an email from Troll, an old backpacking buddy, and he told me it was his footprints I saw going to the Bob where he camped while I was down at Naked. Later when I went to the Bob to camp, I set up in the same tentsite he used earlier).

It is time to pull on the boots and hoof it down to water to wash the urine pot and get a liter for boiling purposes.

I’m gonna see this snap thru and basecamp here for another night so wish me luck. There’s a cooked meal in my near future and the possible birth of an emerging turtlehead and the usual close warming of both feet and hands, other than these things there won’t be much else to do. No dayhikes, no fire bulding, no walking back and forth in camp, no relaxing except in full layers in the sleeping bag, sort of a confined pleasure.

Here’s where the open candle flame comes in handy. I brought with me a blog called SOUTHERN BACKPACKER by DG and it concerns mostly Cohutta backpacking with Sipsey and a few other places thrown in. There isn’t much written on the Cohuttas overall except for a community forum called, so any amount is welcomed.

Another cold night hits Trip 89 as Day 6 slides into the history bin and it is a day to be proud of in a trip of pride since I managed to pull the 21st climb of the Nutbuster, the long slippery rugged Nutbuster. Friday came and is nearly gone with no sign of another human, in fact, I hain’t seen a single backpacker this whole trip and just the dayhiking Whiteblazers on Day 2.

I just finished a second call to Little Mitten, the first being yesterday at early evening. She and Blade are watching a vid down in the Cherokee Longhouse where the temps are about 15 degrees warmer.

Although I would never spend the high dollars needed for a Kifaru Tipi tent, having something with a portable woodstove would be ideal in this kind of weather, but only in this kind of weather, and what kind of weather am I talking about? Subzero temps with a permanent snow cover, thereby having enough snow to cover the tent’s perimeter and keep out the wind. This is very important, otherwise w/o a sewn-in floor, tipi-style tents are notorious for wind-related disturbances, especially high winds on open balds.

I spent much of the winter of 1986 in a Chouinard one pole tipi tent(Pyramid)and found it toally unsatisfactory in areas of high wind w/o snow. I forget how many perimeter stakes it took to bolt down the Chouinard, but it was never enough as the wind would whip under the thing as it would under any tarp and lift it off the ground like an umbrella, necessitating holding the windward edge down from inside thru the night. And if the Kifaru is anything like the Chouinard . . .

I couldn’t imagine using a woodburning Kifaru on a high bald in 50-60 mph gusts I’ve experienced lately like on Haw Mountain or up at the Whigg. The whole thing could or might need 10-12 high guyline tieouts to keep the stove pipe and fabric from touching as a mean wind shuddered and whipped the thing. In a high wind, one side could collapse inward and this would present a real challenge when heating with a red hot stovepipe. Not to mention the problems associated with wind blown stove ash swirling out to dry leaves nearby, or the dry grass on an open bald.

And in real cold areas above treelines, well, the Kifaru-woodstove combo would be useless as there’s no wood to burn. The Kifaru would work best in protected areas in deep or falling snow, otherwise, keep your four season tent and subzero down bag. You probably won’t see the Kifaru-stove combo up on the slopes past the basecamps of Denali or Everest, that’s for sure, and if you do, only as med tents or cooking kitchens. Where’s the wood to burn? In winter people need shelter from the wind, something a single wall tarp or tipi will rarely provide, especially if there’s no snow to pack around the tent’s perimeter. How often do you see tarps on Denali or at the South Col of Everest?

Neolithic primitives used small tipis covered by skins with a circle of rocks to hold down the outside edge and built small fires inside to escape thru a small hole in the top. Laying out a tripod first and then adding extra poles to form a circle, then adding hides from a door pole around and reaching up close to the top, and then capped off with a sort of poncho hide with a hole in its center for smoke exit.

The rocks and the poles could all be gathered at the campsite, only the hides and a bit of sinew cord needed to be carried. Hides are heavy and could be replaced with tarps of varying thickness, from silnylon all the way up to the store-bought polyester blue-style Walmart tarps(or the heavier gauge silver). To make the job easier, a bowsaw would help a lot to get equal length poles(and some cord to make the tripod).

In my setup, two fire options exist, either an open fire in the center or a portable woodstove with a stove pipe going up partway to the “crotch” hole which could be capped off in a bad rain. Or with a little work the stove pipe could be slanted out the doorway keeping the top area totally waterproof and always covered. An open fire would produce jumping sparks, bad for down bags and thermarests, and would smoke a bit w/o using a tipi “liner”.  A woodstove therefore would be the solution.


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