The weekend of May 18 – 19, 2013, I went backpacking on Grandfather Mountain. Due to lack of lead time in planning, I did not have any companions, so the trip was solo. On the way driving up to the mountains, I saw several wild turkey on the Blue Ridge Parkway. After getting on Grandfather Mountain, at least four grouse flushed near me in a staccato drumbeat of wings.
The prominent feature of this trip was rain…and rain…and rain. I have been on hundreds of trips in my career when it rained; or snowed; or hailed; or lighteninged; or blew heavy wind. But this was my first trip when it rained the entire time. I have a decent rain suit from L.L. Bean that is supposed to be water proof and breathable. But the non-stop precipitation eventually made the surface “wet out” and stop breathing.
The 100% humidity, combined with sweat from the extra-ordinarily hard work of hauling a full backpack up a couple thousand feet of altitude, meant even more pressure on my rain suit to somehow breathe. It utterly failed. By the time I got to camp, my clothes were wringing wet. All the things in my pockets, including a camera and cell phone that should have been kept dry, were dripping water. I am used to getting damp outdoors, but it is always slight enough that I can leave on my damp clothes and they will dry during the evening puttering around camp and during the night sleeping in my bag. Not this trip. I was wetter than I can remember on any trip where I did not jump in a lake of fall in a river.
Fortunately, I had a change of dry long underwear and socks in a waterproof stuff sack in my pack, which I wore in the tent the rest of the evening. But I pride myself on preparedness and choice of high quality equipment. It bugged me that I could not control the wetness.
Another problem was my Big Agnes Seedhouse SL 2 tent. Since it has a separate fly that goes on after the net body is spread out and raised with poles, the pouring rain wet the interior floor before I could get the waterproof roof attached. Then another problem was the tiny confines of the solo tent. After a short while of thrashing around in it changing clothes, spreading my sleeping pad and opening my sleeping bag, just about everything in the tent was some degree of wet. Since it was not terribly cold, the wetness was not life threatening. But I have a down Marmot Helium sleeping bag. It absorbs moisture like a sponge and does not dry out until it sees a sunny day. It’s warm integrity was quickly compromised. I made it through the night sufficiently warm to be fine, but again my inability to control the wetness pissed me off.
The route on this trip was the Profile Trail from NC Highway 105 in Linville, eastward to Calloway Gap. Then south on the Grandfather Trail to Alpine Meadow just north of Attic Window Peak. When planning the trip, I had forgotten that a few portions of this trail change from slanted upward to nearly vertical. The surface goes from dirt, roots, logs and rocks to large boulders and small cliff faces. That trail is difficult to traverse in dry conditions with a daypack. Add slippery wetness and a full backpack, and you have a recipe for losing your grip and taking a bad fall. Some sections put me in a tense struggle to keep my balance and avoid an injury-causing tumble.
Once I made it to Alpine Meadow and got in my tent, the next question was, what to do? It was only about 1 p.m., but it was still pouring rain. My legs and feet were too sore, and my gear was already too wet, to get back outside and day hike some more. So I did the next best thing. I stayed in the tent and took a nap. This situation was the first time in my career that I had spent an entire half day laying in my tent. Again, I was angered by being bound by the rain, and my inability to control my circumstances. What the heck. I had a good snooze and read my scuba diving magazine.
When it was time to cook supper, I was determined to stay in the tent. Like my last trip, I broke several safety rules expounded by the tent and the Snow Peak GigaPower gas canister stove manufactures, by having a fire inside the fabric body. [Sandra Lowe, I was thinking of you!] This time it worked - no accidents and no burned tent floors.
That night my pee bottle worked admirably. One downside of laying in the tent all afternoon was that by night fall, when I wanted to go to sleep, my hips, back and shoulders were sore from constant contact with my ThermaRest NeoAir sleeping pad. I tossed and turned a lot that night.
The next morning was more of the same. Use the pee bottle. Cook breakfast over a gas stove in the tent (successfully!). Thrash around in the tiny confines stuffing my sleeping bag, air mattress and cooking gear into the pack. Struggle into cold, wet clothes. Get outside and cram a sopping wet tent into its sack. Slog through endless mud puddles. Hike down a dangerously steep, slippery trail. Several places the trail was so difficult that I bounced down rocks on my butt and knocked my water bottles out of my pack pockets and had to catch them with my feet, to keep them from being lost down crevices between the boulders. Hey, this is fun?
After returning home, I ordered from REI some Nikwax TX Direct. This product goes in your washing machine with your rain suit and supposedly restores the waterproofness and breathability. We will see. I also ordered two Aloksak zip close plastic bags to carry my camera and cell phone in my pocket and protect them from sweat.
A note on guns. I carried my .40 caliber Glock model 23. I was cognizant of my last trip to Alpine Meadow when a black bear came into my camp at breakfast and tried to get my grits. A call to the ranger station before the trip confirmed that Grandfather Mountain, like all NC state parks, now allows concealed carry weapons. But, stupidly, concealed weapons are not allowed at the private attraction at the south end of the trail, including the Swinging Bridge and Top Shop. I asked the ranger, if a hiker comes up the mountain from NC 105 or US 221 with a weapon, where is he supposed to put the gun when he crosses the boundary at the end of the trail and enters the parking lot? The ranger had no answer.
I guess I am getting older. I have hiked and backpacked on Grandfather several hundred times. This trip, again, engendered another first. Upon returning home, my feet, legs and hips were more sore than ever before. Sunday night I could barely hobble around the house. Four days later, on Thursday, my calves were still so sore that it was hard to walk. The cure, I believe, is for me to do a better job of running and getting hard exercise on a daily basis, instead of depending on occasional tough trips to stay in shape. Oh, well, it was worth it!