Learning About Winter the Hard Way

I just got home this morning from a successful, even if not in the expected way, trip.

The hope was to travel from Friday to Tuesday, covering about 10 to 15 miles per day with my dog, Layla. The trip was planned to be fairly warm, but last night’s expect low just north of the Smokey Mountains on the AT was around 23. I don’t think it ever made it to this point, but it did get cold. Sounds like a great trip.

The way it actually worked out: Well, I am home and it is only Saturday.  So I got off the trail very early, but still learned a lot from it. As we enter four season territory finally in the south, I want to be able to continue my backpacking through the entire year. I’ve very little experience camping in temperatures much below 30*, so I am really winging it to see what I find out.

First, I found out that I will never again go hiking with Layla in the cold. Layla still isn’t perfectly trained, and I know her well enough to know she won’t come when called if anything exciting happens. For this reason, she is always leashed out of respect for others and the leash is connected to my belt so I can use my trekking poles. So Layla normally sets the pace for hiking. With this in mind, her curiosity at the slightest scent is cute when it is nice and warm outside, but when you are planning your layers based on exertion, it can really drain the warmth from you to stop every 30 feet or so.

Also, her sleeping situation will have to be planned differently. Normally, I let her curl up next to me in my quilt. When the temperatures drop below 32* though, she becomes a quilt/pad hog. I think any possible future endeavor will have to include her own dog quilt (which will make in the same style as the Sin50, I think) and pad.

Finally, and most importantly, I don’t deal with long nights without company well. That sounded a bit bad. Allow me to explain a bit. My hiking style in 3 season hiking is to hike from 7am until it is dark and crash when I get to camp. This leaves no down time in camp. For winter camping, my confidence isn’t high enough yet in walking in the dark, especially once the snow starts arriving, and cold conditions bring more challenges anyway. Also, with night falling around 6pm and the sunrise around 7am, that gives me a 13 hour night to deal with. I suspect a really good book and a fire would solve this, but these are just two things I’m not used to having on my trips. A better solution, that I have begun to like much more, is to ditch the idea of solo altogether and bring a buddy. This gives a fall back in case things get hairy, moral support and someone to hang out with. Now I just need to find someone to go with me. That will be my task over the next month and a half or so.

The trail was beautiful though, and with no one to interrupt my hiking during the day, I got some great time to myself before I had to come home and start working on applications for college.

With no school or work yet for the Spring, I think I will be doing quite a few trips this winter to find out what works for me and what doesn’t, and I will be posting as I learn more. Hopefully in the future, I will learn more do’s rather than don’t’s, but learning is learning.

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