Return of the Iceman: Roan Highlands-Part III

February 09, 2016  •  1 Comment

I always drape the shemagh over my face each cold night before I pass out. The reason for this is to prevent the assured "ice face" syndrome. As such, when I wake up on this second morning in the Roan Highlands, it is a dull green glow that greets my eyes. I've learned that in extreme cold weather the interior of my tent develops it's own weather pattern. The warm air which I tend to exhale rises and then condensates on the rainfly causing the occasional internal downpour. When the temps drop further, the condensation freezes. Add in a little wind and the frost falls inside as a nice shower of Moose-made snow.

It's cold but not overly. I'd hazard somewhere in the teens with the dense stillness of a snowy morning. I can see a shadowed border around the outside base of my tent and snow splotches covering the top. I shuffle off my sleeping bag coil and fumble around for my water which was placed at the bottom of my cocoon to prevent freezing the night before. I'm an isobutane man when it comes to stove fuel so I grope further to find my canister. You have to keep this kind of fuel reasonably warm for it to render aerosol so it slept snugly alongside my left ass cheek for the glorious ten hour slumber from which I find myself currently revived. In a few minutes I have my coffee going and a semblance of warmth begins to creep into my humble home on Grassy Ridge.

Breakfast will be glorious on this trip because I have decided to pack in a hearty portion of bacon. I make ready to enjoy some bacon tacos...because bacon...and because tacos. I forego chewing because I don't need any type of mechanical intermediary coming between me and my happiness. I decide to charge up my camera whilst I read a while and get the day's kit together.

Juicing up the camera...

...and myself. 

Mother of God....

After putting in my eyeballs I decide it's high time to venture out into the snow. I gear up and head out of the tent straight into a world that has been transformed literally overnight. I find myself being the solitary human in a black and white photograph with my tent alone being the only signpost of color on an otherwise gray washed canvas.

The sky is a soupy gray-yellow overcast with the sun remaining as a hotspot behind a perpetual wall of clouds. It's eerie. The snow is falling in clumps. I'm somewhat surprised at the lack of wind but it won't last. My goal for the day is to photograph the area in it's winter shag which I haven't often saw attempted.

I make my way along Grassy Ridge through a patch of bare Rhododendron. The snow is still falling and the wind picks up gradually as I leave the cover of the undergrowth.

When I reach the bald proper, conditions are nearly white-out. The wind is absolutely howling and I can't tell the difference between the snow boiling up from the ground and snow falling from the sky. There's still no readily locatable sun. The diffuse light produces a fairly opaque tone to the few objects around me with the visibility limited to only a few dozen yards. The trees are just phantoms appearing and then disappearing with each gust of wind. The AT vanishes into the white in front of me and I can't help but think that I could just keep walking to Maine. Katahdin is about 1,200 miles to the North.

As I turn around to head back down I audibly mutter "one of these days." One of these days indeed....

By the time I make it back to camp it's getting cold. Not the kind of cold where you can just keep moving or shake it off. This is approaching the "oh fuck" kind of cold where exposed skin freezes. The wind is beginning to make my eyelashes freeze together unless I blink quite a bit. I decide to make one quick run back down the trail to the south in the hopes of catching a break in the clouds but no luck. I make a few exposures before my battery dies. I've been keeping the batteries in my pocket and loading them before each use to save power but this time it's not helping. It's time to head back and button down. Once back to camp I make a judgment call to double stake my tent. I knew the forecast was calling for winds upwards of 35 mph and one stake just wasn't going to cut the mustard this time. After making the rain fly secure I dive head first into the tent's relative warmness. The wind is already slapping against the walls with enough force that for once I begin to doubt the ability of it to withstand the wintery anvil that is already bearing down on me. It's around 6pm.

The nights meal is chicken alfredo-not and some tortillas. The wind is bad now. I've had to move the stove and cooking pot right up close to me because with every gust the sides of the tent buckle in so far that it comes close to tipping the entire enterprise over. I wasn't in the mood to lick cheap noodles from Wal-Mart off the frozen floor...even if it is cooked in jerky water(hehe every time...). One of my gloves serves as a pot holder. I wasn't prepared for just how creepy such an appliance might appear. 

By the time I finish off the chow the wind has become incredibly strong. I feel a mix of anxiety and pride at the punishment my tent has withstood so far. It's the only small tent I've ever owned and I purchased way back in 2009 for my first solo backcountry trip. Thanks little guy, how far we've come.

I pull on my second pair of long johns as well as my heavy gloves before burrowing down into my sleep sack. It's still relatively early so I decide to read for a while. I break out my copy of "The Tao of the Dude" in an attempt to channel a little relaxation into my mind. By now, the wind is By God ridiculous. What made it worse were the calms when there was absolutely no sound. Then I could hear it coming. The sound started like a ringing in your ear before graduating to something like the noise a waterfall makes as it impacts earth. Then it would hit.... And friends, let me admit now, it was terrible. The entire structure would strain down nearly to my face with a rattling sound of ripping cloth and clapping hands(the best I could come up with). It's a an odd feeling realizing you are completely helpless and literally at the mercy of your gear. I was glad for double staking the poles earlier that day but this was the extent of my preparations. All I could think about was that if anything did give way I would still have some cover inside the tent which would then be nothing more than a thin blanket of vinyl and mesh. I figured I could wrap myself up in it enough so that I wouldn't freeze to death and just leave the tent the next.... "calm the fuck down,boy!" my inner Moose screams out to my outer man. Worrying isn't doing any good. So, newly shaken out of an episode of pussitude, I decide the best course is to just sleep. I slide the book under some clothes and cover my camera gear to protect it from the snow that's now blowing in from beneath the sides of the tent. I switch off my headlamp and tuck myself in for the night. The wind keeps going. The overall conditions were an amazingly hellish assault on on my senses. I would later learn that the wind topped out somewhere around 40 mph at my location with an estimated low of -10F. I flash on my headlamp one last time to make sure the cross poles of the tent were still there before I nodded off.

Laying there alone in the cold blackness and the deafening rage of the wind, I feel a contentment that generally eludes me back in the world. It's a sort of self awareness which finds you after you've done all you can do. Lights out.

I really hoped I wouldn't die.



This all sounds very familiar. Thanks for enduring and documenting.
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