9 people. 4 degrees. 3 nights in the snow.

Looking at this picture, do you really need to ask why we do this?
Looking at this picture, do you really need to ask why we do this?

Destination: Mount Mitchell
Elevation: 6,684 feet to summit
Total miles I hiked: 10.5
Number of hikers in our group: 8 9 (apparently I can’t count)
Number of female hikers in our group: 1
Degrees (low) that we saw on our thermometer: 4
Feet of snow on the ground: About 2
Number of animals seen: 2
Number of animal tracks seen: a lot (I thought they’d all be hibernating …)
Number of times I fell: .5
Number of times people in the group fell: About 30
Number of times Chris fell: About 25
Times I wondered if we’d survive: 1

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So, 3 nights in the snow and not only did I live to tell about it, but there is a part of me that still wants to be on that mountain.

It was an amazing trip. Kevin and I had a conversation while up there about how interesting it is that we’ve done this three times now, and it’s different every time. Same mountain, different adventure, different moments, different memories.

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The skinny: I hiked Mount Mitchell for the third year in a row. I wrote about the previous trips here and here. Mount Mitchell is located in the Black Mountain subrange of the Appalachian Mountains, and, at 6,684 feet, it’s the tallest point east of the Mississippi. It’s a very challenging hike even in good conditions, with trails labeled “very strenuous.” Add a couple of feet of snow and ice to the trail, and you can imagine the challenge we were facing …

In fact, the first night, as we set up camp in the snow at the base of the mountain, I wondered if we’d even hike at all. There was snow everywhere!

Day one: When we didn’t see “day” at all

road to campground

Four of us arrived in the middle of the night Thursday night/Friday morning after a pretty crazy drive to get to the campground.  And by “pretty crazy”, I mean snow-covered and knuckle-gripping and “thank God for four-wheel drive” crazy. But we made it, and then we got to camp in it.  

Once we got to base camp (Black Mountain campground), we were surprised to see we weren’t the only people out here – a few other tents were scattered around the campground. That made me feel relieved as I scooted into my bivy sack and spent the entire night in there for the first time (the other time I tried it I chickened out and ended up in the tent.)

Let me explain the bivy thing: I have this one, which is the most expensive, heaviest bivy that REI sells. However, at 2 pounds, it’s still lighter than a tent and it sets up much easier (no wrangling with tent poles as darkness is falling.) The reason I got one is because I get claustrophobic inside a tent. And the bivy allows me to feel closer to the open air. In fact, several times during the night I woke up feeling like I just needed to ground myself, and all I had to do was stick my fingers out into the air for a few moments and then I would feel better.

I also bought a small LED lantern, at an REI employee’s suggestion. He said that if I could put it just outside the bivy, then it would keep me from being claustrophobic. Problem was, I couldn’t get it to work. I don’t know if the batteries were too cold (they were lithium, so they shouldn’t have been) or what, but at 1 a.m. in single digit temperatures, I didn’t try too hard and relied on the firelight, and then the moonlight, and then the sunlight to keep things in perspective for me. And it worked!

Speaking of lights, I also couldn’t get my headlamp to work. So, I was without any lights at all. Not fun while trying to set up camp. Or cook. Or see, well, anything really. When I had to pee in the middle of the night that first night, I woke Chris up to go with me (and then promptly ordered him to turn around).

I was pretty cold that first night – due to the claustrophobia, I have a hard time pulling my mummy sleeping bag all the way around my face. I was actually able to zip it all the way up (a first for me!) but I couldn’t pull it tight. And after the pee break, the slit I left open in my bivy was directly above my head – and I’m pretty sure the wind was blowing straight down into my bag. This I realized as the sun was coming up and it was almost time to get up anyway.

Coming soon … day 2!