Time and space seemed to transition in an instant. I lost consciousness to the drumming of the wind at some point last night. I remember the noise. It might be somewhat alien to you...sitting there now, reading this. But I can tell you it was something I will never forget...that sound coming up the ridge to meet me. Which was fine then. But now I'm awake and it's time to leave my perch on Grassy Ridge. Damn it.
There's snow everywhere inside the tent which comes as somewhat of a surprise to me.
I had thought the cold precipitation was just the internal weather of my tent. Yet in fact it was wind blown snow that was accumulating during my brief and accosted slumber. It's cold now. It's the kind of coldness that freezes things solid yet at the time it didn't really matter much. I simply put on my clothes while attempting to decipher how exactly I was supposed to pack up the tent if the stakes were frozen in the ground. On top of that, I wasn't certain I wanted to take off the second layer of long johns...but how would my pants fit over them if I did not? Immediately the idea crossed my blurry brain to just hoof it back to Hank(my truck's name is Hank if you didn't know) sporting nothing but the thermals. These thoughts faded once I realized that I could in fact wriggle into the pants even with my additional layers. Admittedly though, it would have been epic as hell.
Later I would learn that the air dropping into my lungs measures somewhere around 0 degrees when I ventured outside to inspect the current situation. Apparently it had kept snowing during the night but the skies were now crystal. The sun was warming and the wind had finally stopped. Everything was just still now. I debated coffee but decided against the idea. It was just too cold and my hands were already numb. I still have to pack up the tent and gear up for the hike out. I can see tracks on the trail to my right so I know that other brave souls had already made their way along the AT which meant it was passable.
I go back inside the tent and start knocking snow off my gear. I fish around for my contact lens case so I can put in my eyeballs. It had previously came up in conversation with more normal people about how exactly I keep my water from freezing during trips like this. I always give the same old answer about how I keep it in my sleeping bag and molest it during the night. "But what about your contacts?" is generally the next question. Well, I keep those in there too...usually.
But not this time. I just put them next to me on the floor. This made for the first time I've ever had to thaw out my contacts which were by now quite frozen. So I put the case in my pants pocket to thaw while I fumbled about with rubber fingers trying to pack everything up. I gnaw on a frozen protein bar and before I know it there's nothing left in the tent but me and my pack. Here comes the part I've been dreading. It's time to pack up the old reliable tent. I dig around the base to locate the stakes and sure enough they're frozen into the ground...and of course I've double staked them...remember? Fortunately, a couple of good yanks(haha) and they finally come loose with a satisfying metallic ringing. I managed to only lose one stake in the process which still nearly drove me to tears. It remains somewhere up there on the ridge...feeling abandoned and wondering why it wasn't as good as the other stakes or what it could have done differently. Meanwhile, I've spent a fortune on therapy for the stakes that did make it out. They suffer tremendous survivor's guilt over the fact they left a man behind. One of them has fallen into a depression and doesn't even go out with the other stakes anymore. Most of the others now drink heavily to mask the pain. Camping is hell.
I take a few moments to breathe in the view before making ready to meander down the bald.
It's only a two mile hike out but I'm not entirely certain how difficult it may be due to the ice. Before the weather moved in two days ago the trail was already questionable in places. Adam is still kicking himself because Adam didn't bring Adam's ice gear.
I start back south. The morning is beautiful on the AT and the balds are snowy and cold. It's a magnificent sight which makes me stop at each summit just to appreciate the scene.
Winter has a vibe all its own in the Appalachians. The snow smears on contrasts that you don't see in the spring or even during the fall. As I make my way along I begin to warm up. The descents are sporty. There are stretches of the trail with only about an inch of snow on top of the ice which makes traction a gamble at best.
I negotiate the passing using my tripod as a walking stick. Manfrotto makes one king hell bastard of a tripod(no, I'm not getting paid to say that). I encounter a portion of steep downhill that I'm fairly confident to be an ass-busting certainty. Briefly I go off-trail to detour and instantly sink down nearly mid-shin in the fresh powder.
It's around 11 AM when the trail makes its approach on the backside of Round Top. I can make out the outlines of a couple of hikers out for a morning stroll at the top of the bald. They are just two little black specs creeping along in the snow. As I walk towards them I stop and give them the road on the down hill. We talk briefly about the trail conditions ahead before I continue on up to the summit. No longer than it's been and it's still odd seeing people again. It's only been two days since I last spoke to anyone but it feels weird nonetheless. I encounter quite a few more people at the summit and exchange more words. It occurs to me in mid-conversation that I must be somewhat of a decrepit sight. I've got the shemagh pulled tight over my face which is now frozen solid from my breath. When they hear that I've been out for three days their reaction is the look of "are you fucking crazy" which I commonly receive. We talk for a few minutes more and then we all go in our respective directions. As I drop back into the wooded area of evergreens I make a few exposures as I go but really just enjoy the quietness. The snow covered trees absorb most any sound before it reaches me. It's sensory deprivation and sensory overload at the same time.
As I make the final walk back towards the parking area I spy old Hank waiting for me. The wintery weather has left him enclosed in a frosty casing of ice.
I shed my pack and break open the driver's door to crank up and let everything unthaw while I change clothes. Just as I was getting out my clean duds a fellow hiker approaches me and asks for a lift for him and his friends back into town. I unfortunately have no room in the single cab for three more people. We stalked for a minute and I learn he and his buddies are southbound thru-hikers. I insist on shaking his hand. I offer my respect and ask his name. Socrates, I hope you and your compadres made it to Springer.
I head to the bathroom to change and fill up my water bottle at the spring just behind the lot. I feel like a new person after getting into some fresh clothes. Walking back to the truck, I encounter the same group that I spoke with at the summit of Round Top. I say hello again but realize they don't even recognize me now since I've changed which gives me somewhat of a neurotically audible chuckle. The thermometer on the trail information sign reads 2F.
The trip into Roan has been a great one. I was there to test myself and I have. I wanted to photograph and I did. The transcendent joy which comes from these kind of excursions, at least for me, is the revival of spirit. It makes surviving back in the world a little more liveable. The volume gets turned down on the meaningless and empowers a person to let that which does not matter truly slide. I try to be thankful for what I have a little more than I was before I left and to remain a Moose amongst men.
These are my thoughts as I wheel downhill in the shadow of the mountain. Quiet thoughts. Enlightened thoughts....
...still moving faster than I should.