Knee deep in trail

March 22, 2018

Destination: Hogback Ridge Shelter Today's Miles: 8.80

Start Location: Flint Mountain Shelter Trip Miles: 316.90

Views on the climb to Hogback Ridge Shelter
I slept burrowed in my sleeping bag all night. It must have dipped below 20 degrees as I was a bit chilly, but not cold enough to get out of my bag and dig through my pack for more layers.

I have a mummy bag, and I had it completely closed off, breathing my own carbon dioxide most of the night. It’s like the hiker’s version of blackout curtains. I opened the bag a tad and peeked out. The sun was coming up. A time check revealed it was 7:30 - time to get cracking!

My boots were frozen, as expected. I pushed on them and kneeled on them to break them up a bit, and then jammed my feet in them to run get my food bag off the bear cables. It was a brisk 20-22 degrees out. When I got back, Eagle was stirring in his nest. I took my boots back off and froze my feet in my crocs while I boiled water for breakfast and coffee. I put my boots beside my stove and leaned my seat pad against them to help reflect the heat back in towards them to thaw them out. I really should take a picture of this at some point. It really helps to get them on properly. I ate two bags of maple brown sugar oatmeal, a cliff bar, and had a cup of coffee. I didn’t get out of camp until 9:30, but I figured I could still get 18 miles in. Hahahaha hahahaha! 

The hiking started out ok. It was largely 3 inch deep snow on the trail. That quickly became 4-5 inches. No problem! That went on for a few miles until after Devil’s Fork Gap. At that point, I hit the start of a big three mile climb. Again, no problem. I shed a few layers and kept climbing. Somewhere towards the top, the snow drifts started getting sporadically deeper. And then at the top of the climb, even deeper. I could mostly avoid the deep sections, which were about a foot and a half deep. It was slowing me down though. 

I took pictures of beautiful views along the way: a log bridge across a creek, a waterfall in the snow. I climbed a bit higher and this time encountered drifts that I could not avoid. They were getting deeper. I was sinking up to my calf or knee with every step, and still climbing. This would continue the rest of the day. On the one seemingly “easy” downhill section, I slipped and fell on my butt. This cat doesn’t always land on his feet. I was fine though - my pride went out the window a long time ago!

As I got closer to Hogback Ridge, the drifts got even deeper. The snow was literally coming up to my crotch in some of them. The first time that happened it felt like I was falling into quicksand! At a towering 5’8” I didn’t have the legs for this. I pictured Skates and Clothesline finding just my torso sticking out of the snow, lips blue, maybe with a cliff bar or two sticking out of my mouth. Hungry Cat’s last attempt at food!

It took me almost 6 hours to go 8.8 miles to the shelter. I got to the shelter at about  

5 past 3. I knew I didn’t have it in me to go another 10 miles, so I decided to stay. 

I was the first one there, so I swept snow out of the shelter and off the picnic table, which was in the sun. The one saving grace was that today had been sunny and it was no longer snowing. I hurried to get water and my sleeping gear laid out so that I could set my boots and socks and whatnot in the sun to at least partially dry out. I’d say the temperature was right about at 32 degrees, so the sun would really help. The water source was a quarter mile walk down a hill, so I made sure to get enough so I wouldn’t have to do the walk again. I also resolved to eat two dinners. I wanted to make up a bit of mileage tomorrow and get close to Erwin and hopefully warmer temperatures. The extra calories would help give me a boost for the morning. I ate a backpackers pantry Katmandu Curry that was awesome. I had two cliff bars, and a knife rice side with added olive oil. I topped that off with a tuna packet. Right about then the Taylor University reunion crew showed up. They are a fun lot. Then Candyman, Fifty, Stumbles and Cheddar arrived, but just to eat and run another two miles ahead to a hostel. They were at lunch when I had the AT Burger. Apparently they have all been hiking together almost since the start of the trail. Stumbles and Cheddar gifted me a bag of Doritos, a cow tail, and a gummy worm, all of which I ate immediately. What an awesome dinner! 

Those kids hustled to the hostel, and then a girl named Caterpillar showed up. She was going to the hostel with them as well. She paused to eat something, and then took off. The Taylor crew said that Skates and Clothesline were coming. They finally rolled in about 30 minutes later. One of Skates’ trekking poles had broken. Clothesline had a hole in one of his shoes. They were both looking a bit beaten down.  They recovered a bit after they got warm and ate some food. We all talked a bit about Harry Potter, and I found out that other hikers I had met and had breakfast with at Fontana, Weeble and False Alarm,had met playing quidditch. Apparently that is a thing outside of the books. 

Time to call it a day. Tomorrow I hope to get much closer to Erwin! Hopefully the snow drifts will not be as challenging as today. I’m grateful for the sun and blue skies today, and also the lack of new snow and beautiful winter scenery. Tomorrow’s adventures await! 

As a postscript today, I give you a little write up on trail hygiene. 

Trail Hygiene:

Trail hygiene is a thing. What I mean is, obviously trail life isn’t always the most hygienic life, but there are definitely certain things we do try to do on the trail to stay healthy. 

#1 - No touching! We don’t shake hands, we don’t high five. At the most, we fist bump. Why? Touching other people’s hands and then touching your own face is a great way to get sick, or contract/transit Nora virus. Life is hard enough on the trail without getting ill! If you’re meeting thru hikers, do them a favor by not shaking their hands! Fist bump if ya gotta. Also, we pretty much have runny noses all day hiking in the cold. We are professional snot rocket blowers! Yet another reason not to touch hands or fists! 

#2 - No sharing/tasting food or water bottles, etc. The same reasons as #1 apply. 

#3 -Use hand sanitizer. I don’t always wash my hands every day, but I do use hand sanitizer. I use it after touching things at the shelter, using the privy, and before handling food to the extent I remember. 

I know this may make me or other hikers look like germaphobes, but we are out here trying to accomplish a goal, and our immune systems are already stressed. I personally do not want the misery of being sick on the trail! Imagine the last time you had to hug the toilet. Now imagine that you had no toilet to hug and were in the woods, cold, wet and Ill with three days to hike out to get to a town. Lots of fun right? That’s why we are careful. 

I’m also careful to monitor small cuts. I have two right now that won’t seem to stay closed because they are on my thumbs. I keep them clean and wrapped as I can. I carry a very small, focused first aid kit for aches, pains, cuts and the like, and that includes antibiotic ointment. You can get travel versions of these things at REI. 

Lastly, we all have to do it. We all poop. On the trail, some shelters have privies. If the shelter has a privy, that is where you should go. It’s like an outhouse. The only thing that can go in the privy is toilet paper and your poo. No wipes!! Wipes in general are bad for sewage systems, but they definitely need to be packed out on the trail. The privies are essentially composting toilets. You usually have to throw a fist full of sawdust in after you go. If you throw wipes in the privy, not only can it mess up the composting system, but a volunteer will probably have to pick them out. Imagine if you had to do that! Capital G GROSS!!!

What if there isn’t a privy? You have to dig a cat hole. Basically, you dig a hole at least 6 inches deep and then go in that. You have to bury your poop and toilet paper in the hole. Again, no wipes! Pack those out. Of course, we have to make sure we dig our cat holes far away from camp and any water source. What do you dig with? I use an ultralight camp trowel called the Deuce of Spades and I love it. For overnight trips we have the classic orange plastic trowel. Some people who want to go really lightweight just use the tip of a trekking pole, but it can be hard to cut through roots with that. I always carry a trowel.

As for other hygiene, I try and clean myself up a bit on the trail when I can, but i largely stink! No room for deodorant on this trip! I do carry a small bottle of Doctor Bronner’s soap to clean cookware, and sometimes my hands and face. I use wipes sometimes as well, though those can inconveniently freeze in the winter! Sometimes I use creeks to splash water on my face, and maybe use my buff to do a quick wipe down. At the end of the day, a long distance hiker is just going to stink!

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