Day 12 – April 1, 2020, A Story of Our Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike
April Fools Day! We set out on the Appalachian Trail on March 21st, just a couple days after the first day of spring. We thought it would get warmer as the days passed. As we awoke to what was most certainly the coldest morning we had experienced on the trail so far, we felt like this was nature’s way of pulling a prank on us. I had slept in all of my clothes in an attempt to keep warm, so I didn’t have to worry about getting dressed. I went outside the tent to retrieve the food bags. As I began untying the paracord that held our food bags off the ground, my fingers struggled to maintain their motor function. I lowered the ice-covered bags and hurried back into the tent. We made oatmeal, ate a cliff bar, and packed up our things. We wanted to get moving as soon as possible to warm up our bodies. As we exited the tent and began rolling it up into its dry bag, snow began to fall from the sky.
Even though we were freezing and our icy hands made simple tasks like “going to the bathroom” seem incredibly challenging, we marveled in awe of the endless enchanting snow-covered tunnels of rhododendrons that the trail winded us through. Although it was below freezing, the snow didn’t accumulate more than an inch, which was good news because it was too cold for us to be hiking with wet feet. The forest was quiet. The snow seemed to dampen all of the sounds in the woods around us, and it was as if time had also frozen. A few hours into our hike, we ran into “Music Man” as we passed Siler Bald. We encountered another thru-hiker, who went by the name of “Donatello.” Donatello received his name due to resembling one of the teenage mutant ninja turtles with the large staff he hiked with, along with the conical hat that he kept strapped to his back when he wasn’t wearing it. We hiked with Music Man for a little while as Donatello stayed behind, soon to catch up.
We hiked for about an hour before the three of us picked a large fallen oak tree to sit down on to enjoy lunch. Music Man pulled out his tobacco and papers to roll up a cigarette. We observed that most of the thru-hikers we had met so far smoked cigarettes. We wondered how their lungs could handle smoking while hiking up breath-taking mountains. Music Man took out a can of espresso. As he started boiling some water, he offered me a hot coffee, which I very gratefully accepted. It did not take long for us to start shivering again, so we decided to get a move on to stay warm and cover some more ground for the day.
We hiked 15 cold miles and chose a stealth spot to set up camp for the night just beyond Cold Spring Gap. There was a shelter at this gap, but there were no hikers to be found. We were alone in the forest, just as we preferred. Nightfall came quickly, and the temperatures began to drop dramatically. We raced to set up the tent and get inside, so we could start making dinner before we were too cold to function. We ate dinner and then boiled water for hot tea to warm up our bodies. Before the last few moments of daylight faded away, we hung up the food bags and went to the bathroom (a.k.a. a spot in the woods) once more before slipping into our sleeping bags for the night.
It was so cold that even with all of our clothes on, we were still shivering uncontrollably inside our sleeping bags. The only thing we could think of that may offer some relief was the silver mylar emergency blanket that we kept in our first aid kit. In all of the years of hiking and camping in all sorts of weather conditions, we never actually had to use an emergency blanket before. We pulled the blanket over us to both fit beneath it. An emergency blanket is intended to work by radiating body heat back to you when you have the blanket wrapped around you. It did no such thing. We did not feel any warmer at all–the only thing the blanket really achieved was collecting all of the moisture our bodies produced and then soaking us with it. Sleep was not going to happen during this frigid night, so we laid awake in an exhausted, mildly hypothermic state, listening to nearby coyotes, anxiously awaiting the sunrise.