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


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.


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!

15 creative and well informed people commented on “ 9 people. 4 degrees. 3 nights in the snow. ”

  1. Chris says:

    Was waiting for these blogs to start! I gotta write my own soon. It’s kinda nice going back and reading about it… almost like it keeps you in the memory. Such a fun weekend, despite the frigid temperatures. And I didn’t fall 25 times… maybe 23 though.

    Looking forward to more!
    .-= Chris´s last blog ..It’s gonna be cold! =-.

  2. Scott Helms says:

    sounds awesome! did the garmin work? calories?

  3. Melissa says:

    Garmin lasted *almost* half the trip. Kevin’s 310 lasted the entire trip, which is why I will officially be returning my 405 for the 310! He burned 3,400 calories. I still have to do the math to see what I burned. My garmin is still in my pack with a dead battery. Will figure it out soon!

  4. Susan Hamel says:

    OK. Now I really think you are CRAZY! ;o) We went camping one night and the temps went down to 20. I thought I was going to DIE! Of course we were NOT prepared for the cold, the highs were in the upper 70’s and the forecast was lows in the 40’s at night. My nice -10 degree $300 sleeping bag was at home! I cannot imagine how you could even sleep! Girl you are one tough cookie. And where was Jeff?

  5. Chris says:

    @Susan Nice a -10 degree bag! Melissa and I both have the same bag, which is zero degrees. I was very warm, but it’d be nice having a -10 degree bag for that extra assuredness.
    .-= Chris´s last blog ..It’s gonna be cold! =-.

  6. Melissa says:

    Jeff was in his own Marine Corps bivy – a -40 degree sleeping system!

  7. Staci says:

    What a great experience! Seriously, I think that is amazing how you were able to do that! I am soooo envious 🙂
    .-= 1´s last blog ..First Day Half Marathon Training…… =-.

  8. Kevin says:

    It was so much fun! I would get a colder bag and those battery powered socks for the next time I am camping in that weather though!

    Can’t wait for the next blog!
    .-= Kevin´s last blog ..MitchellWinter 2010 =-.

  9. Jeffrey says:

    Well, I did not carry my whole sleeping system, as John used part of it. I only had the -10 degree bag and the bivy…but that is also the ‘old’ rating system, so it is equal to a 0 degree bag by the newer ratings.

  10. Heather says:

    Thank you for reminding me why I wanted to move to a warmer climate before winter! 😉

    Seriously, though, I don’t think I could hack it in that environment. I like hiking and camping, but not being that cold! I’m glad you had such a good time though, even if some of your gear failed!
    .-= Heather´s last blog ..Mostly True Stories #3 =-.

  11. urbanvox says:

    Oh WOW!!!!
    Sounds awesome!!!
    can;t wait for day 2!!!! 🙂
    .-= urbanvox´s last blog ..For goodness sake will you just grow up!?!?!?! =-.

  12. Melissa says:

    @Scott – So, to figure out my calories – I used Kevin’s Garmin to get the total mileage (10.5 miles). Then I found this web site:


    and it didn’t even ask for mileage, just time. I was hiking for 630 minutes. But since I was going really slow and since I needed to factor in breaks, I took off 200 minutes. I know that’s high but I didn’t want to cheat! Also, the pack weight on the site is 10-20 lbs, and my pack was 30 lbs. So, I probably burned more than 3,397 calories, but that’s what I recorded. I am happy with that number!

  13. […] 9 people. 4 degrees. 3 nights in the snow. […]

  14. […] This season, I saw my first snow during our annual hiking trip to Mount Mitchell. And I lived in this snow for 3 days. And it was wonderful, but after 3 days of eating, sleeping, […]

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