Monday, March 16, 2009



One of those cold wet early spring weekends. There were a fair number of visitors on the mountain considering the weather. Met Matt from PATC Trail Patrol on his was out. He and a friend from Colorado had just finished the hike. Starting in the later part of early afternoon, I mostly saw hikers that were coming out. I meet a nice group of four backpackers wearing heavy packs and dealing with the challenges of a wet rock scramble. I tagged along with them until Byrds Nest which was near where they planned to stay for the evening. While slippery in parts the mud was not too bad. As dark fell some of the raindrops were freezing on the tree branches but as of 9PM there was no ice forming on the ground. There were still patches of thin snow cover in the woods. So thin it was polka dotted by holes from rain drops. Good day to test your gear and your ability to deal with wet conditions.

Most of the time the mist is similar to what you see in these pictures and you can see one hundred feet or more down the trail. That said, on a very rare occasion I have seen it where you could barely see five feet in front of your feet. While woodland trails are continuous and easy to follow even in thick fog the rock scramble may not be.
Even when the mist is not thick, your lights will be greatly limited in the distances they throw light or can be seen at night.
In all of my times in the wild I have found rainy weather near freezing the most challenging for survival from hypothermia. Cold wet days have fewer people on the mountain and therefore more need for self reliance. Remember that if an injury makes you non-ambulatory you will not have the furnace of physical exertion to keep you warm and it would not be unusual for it to take 12-15 hours from when someone goes for help for you to be evacuated.


Misty days are a unique experience. Everything is muffled, close and a little bit surreal. Time is blurred and slower. The mist softens thoughts of goals. It no longer is important to push for the summit views because there will not be any. I find it easier to slow down and absorb the details of places I would never have focused on during a clear day. Mist brings quiet, soft, soulful, restful, nostalgic, reflective thoughts and both respite from and recharging for the more frenetic activities of clear dry days.

John Muir wrote

I was as wet as if I had been swimming after crossing raging torrents and fighting my way through the Alaskan jungle. But everything was deliciously fresh, and I found new and old plant friends, and glacier lessons that made everything bright and light.

Signs Of Spring

Down in the lowlands signs of Spring are showing. An early alarm that spring approaches for the mountain as well. It should not be too long before we start to see dark purple skunk cabbage blossoms followed by green skunk cabbage leaves up near bartenders spring. Skunk cabbage is a unique plant in that it generates its own heat (thermogensis) and therefore is one of the first plants to sprout and flower on the forest floor in the Spring.

Of course now that I am watching Spring will take longer than my anticipations' expectations.


  1. you put into words exactly what it feels like when backcountry camping in the Shenandoah in misty/drizzle rain. Sounds get dampened, solitude increases, and thoughts are hightened. It is such an exhilerating experience in a weird kind of way if one keeps an open mind. Thanks Bob. Also, thanks for the education on skunk cabbage--always wondered what those things were. Reading your blog is quite educational.

  2. Thanks for the comments. I have been pretty ignorant of a lot of stuff in the woods. I am attempting to learn is I go and post stuff I think others might find intersting. Thank goodness for the internet and how easy it is to research stuff. Be warned I may get some stuff a little wrong as I learn. According to one site the skunk cabbage may have blossomed as early as January so I may have missed the blossuming and will have to watch for it next year. I should be able to catch when it the green leaves start showing though.