Day 157 9/14/15
Start: Speck Pond Shelter
Finish: East B Hill Road
Miles Hiked: 14.9
To Go: 256.9
Overall Miles Hiked: 1932.3
Some day someone will ask me, “What was your hardest day on trail?” and “What was your most dangerous experience?”. Well, I think today will end up being the answer to both unfortunately. The day started off badly as a nasty storm came in early and dropped a few inches of rain and close lightning strikes but luckily I had slept in the shelter and was out of the weather. It was still raining/misting by 9:00 a.m. and I couldn’t wait any longer so I got going. It was in the upper 40’s and I was forced to put on wet clothes and boots that had not dried at all overnight. I hiked with my rain jacket on all day as a way to help stay warm; I haven’t had to do that since Georgia.
My first climb of the day was a short but steep one up to Old Speck Mountain. I’m sure the view from the top was great but I could only see 30 yards in front of me due to the thick mist. I made the 2,300 ft descent down into Grafton Notch and the weather seemed like it was going to clear but as soon as I hit the trail up Baldpate it started misting again. I had just passed the last shelter before the summit and thought about turning back. I did not turn back and would soon come to regret this decision. I quickly checked my hiking book and saw I just had one quick up and down above treeline, exposed to the elements. I came to the last line of spruce trees which, after years of living in this harsh environment, were only about 5-6 feet tall; just high enough to protect me from the worst of the high winds. I studied the open mountain top before me and was happy to see it didn’t appear to be too steep. Since the trail above treeline is all rock, it is marked by white blazes painted directly to the surface or by rock formations built by trail maintainers called cairns in which rocks are stacked on top of each other. Because of the thick mist, I could only see two to three cairns at a time. I headed off into the wind and mist making very deliberate steps. After a few minutes, I had crested the top and started heading back down to the safety of the dwarfed spruce trees. I was relieved to be out of the worst of it but my feelings of joy abruptly stopped when I started heading back up.
Video I took starting to go up first peak
“Why am I going back up”, I asked myself. I took out my hiker book again and realized my error. The page was folded in such a way that hid the second peak of Baldpate. I now had another mile of trail to traverse – mostly above treeline. The longer I stayed in one place, the colder I became so I had no choice but to keep moving. The last bit of trail went up a few hundred feet over slick rock and I had to get down and crawl on several occasions. All I could see was grey; the trail seemed to drop off into nothing every where I looked. It may have been the scariest moment of my life. By the time I cleared the summit and was back in the protection of the trees, I was shaking. It would have been a really hard climb in good weather, what I just did was dumb and probably irresponsible.
After another hour of hiking, I arrived at the shelter after the summit. There were two guys already there and they looked at me like I was crazy. They were heading south and had actually turned back halfway up Baldpate because of the weather. It was only another 4.4 miles to my intended destination and was mostly downhill and all below treeline. I pushed it hard trying to arrive before dark. I fell a few times but had been wet and dirty all day so it didn’t matter. I got to my campsite just at dark and set up my tent and cooked in the rain. I stripped down in my tent and tried to dry off as much as possible before climbing into my bag. I was proud of myself for doing good miles in bad weather, it had been a really hard day and I had handled it well. I had broken a hiking pole, tore my boot and took a few hard falls but y attitude was still up. I went to sleep with a smile on my face. An hour later I awoke in a panic.
I may not know much about camping but I’m pretty sure water should not be on the inside of your tent. There were puddles of water everywhere and the bottom of my down bag was soaked enough to where my legs and clothes were wet as well. Down loses all heat retention properties when wet so I suddenly found myself in another dangerous situation. It was cold outside and now I was in a wet sleeping bag. I tried to find the source of the leak but was unsuccessful. I put some of y dry storage bags under me to get me off the wet tent floor and figured, so long as I don’t roll over, the top of my bag should remain dry and keep me warm enough. If it got too bad I would just have to pack up and start hiking to stay warm. Even though I woke up every 30-45 minutes to dry off my tent floor, I made it through the night ok. Today without question was the hardest and most dangerous day on the trail and I’m glad it’s over.