Monday, January 19, 2009

If I die on Roan Mountain

So, I'm alive. I just got back to Boone at 10pm, and the last 48 hours seem like a dream. I think I should write it all down now so I don't forget.

I set off Sunday morning to do a 30 mile horseshoe on the AT, a section that climbs to the top of Roan Mountain, and a number of smaller knobs. I was with three friends, so we parked one car on Hwy 19 where we planned on finishing the hike, while parking my car on a small, snow-covered mountain road. Our plan was to hike through private property for a mile or two before running into the AT. We would hike about 15 miles the first day, camping at a trail shelter in between.

I found a place to park and we started up a steep ridge in hopes of running into the trail. There was maybe an inch of snow on the ground, and temps were relatively high around 20. We nearly missed the trail when we hit it due to the snow, but I noticed it out of the corner of my eye. After reaching the first knob, we headed down a small valley before making the climb to the summit of Roan Mnt.

A few things we didn't count on: that our pants would freeze solid from the knee down -- that the hike was almost straight up with few switch-backs -- that only reaching the top of Roan would take us nearly 7 hours for about 7-8 miles. We hiked the last two hours in the dark and finally made it to the shelter. I collapsed on the floor when we finally made it.

Sleep was difficult to reach after dinner. My bag is rated for 10 degrees, and I had about 4 layers on in the bag. The top 1/3 of my bag (around my head) was frozen. I put an emergency blanket on, but it just kept getting colder. It definitely dropped into the single digits. Two other hikers (I never actually saw them) also came into the shelter after we went to bed. They were noisy as hell and kept us up most of the night.

We woke up to find our pants frozen solid, shoes frozen solid, gloves frozen solid, water frozen solid. We decided that there was no way we could finish the hike and considered our options. We eventually agreed to hike back to my car, and set off. There was about 7-8 inches of new snow on the ground, and it was still snowing. After about 20 minutes of hiking I was starting to feel my toes again.Frozen water means eating snow (this is also the trail..?)

After several miles we finally found the bush-whack trail that we came from. We didn't count on the fact that the new snow would completely cover our tracks. We headed down the ridge, trying to stay on the highest point. We realized we were lost just as the sun began to go down. We were hiking at an incredible angle down the mountain. The ice-covered ground with snow piled on top made each of us take dozens of hard falls. It was soon pitch black, and I realized that my outer shirt and coat was starting to freeze as well. We found a small stream and oriented our position with map and compass. I realized that this stream could easily be a tributary that leads to Roan State Park, which would just be leading us further into the wilderness instead of to the car. At this point I began thinking of places to camp, while trying to come to terms with the fact that I may not make it out. We took our chances and followed the stream, and found a small service road an hour later. That road led us to the main road, which eventually led us to the car. The road was covered with the same amount of snow, but I somehow made it down without sliding off the cliff.

I've had a lot of close calls in my life, but never one that set in like this. All I have to show is a bunch of soaked clothes, a right leg that doesn't seem to want to walk, and teary eyes. If you are reading this, you're most likely someone I love. I'm trying not to take that, or my life, for granted. If my friends did not decide to walk back with me, I have no doubt that I would still be there.