January 6, 1998
Christophe and I had been at our place enjoying the winter break between classes, but today we were packing and headed up to the Bigelow Mountain Range for a short winter trip. It was one we each had done separately and during the summer, so we were familiar with the trail.
We left in the early morning in my 1988 blue Chevy Blazer packing everything but a tent. Our plan was to hike to the lean-to at the Horns Pond, overnight there and tackle the West Peak and return on the Fire Wardens trail the following day.
The weather was with us that day when we arrived at the trail head. I hauled out my circa 1995 EMS 7000 pack from the rear window of the Blazer. Christophe did the same. We took a look down the long approach road and decided that we’d have to use the snowshoes. The snowmobiles had defined a good path, but the snow was too soft to wear only boots, especially with our loaded packs. So, I slipped on my vintage Dunham waffle stompers, strapped the snowshoes on, shouldered the packs and shipped out.
The hike was super. Fresh snow covered the trees, the trail had been broken but perhaps by only a half dozen before us and the view we got of Sugarloaf was unbeatable. We arrived at the lean-to with about an hour to dark and quickly set ourselves in. We changed into dry clothes and a review of the site log informed us that the previous night had reached thirty below the doughnut. Yikes! But we were ready.
The cold started as soon as the sun disappeared. We both got into our sleeping bags and made dinner. I had pepperoni and ramen noodles. Afterward we started to melt snow for tea. As the temperature dropped we took shifts getting snow for water. It was the only activity we could bare to do, other than try and figure out ingenious ways to dry our clothes in this cold.
At 4:30 it started to snow. At about 5:30 pm, as we were waiting for a pot of water to boil, a lone hiker approached us from the left asked us which way the trail went. We pointed toward the right and off he went. Twenty minutes later he walked by us again, left to right. We hoped we wouldn’t find a body on the way out.
We must have made a gallon of tea (earl gray), re-using tea bags, and talking about how much snow it takes to make a pot of water (Turns out it was about 3 to 1), and everything else. Sleep started to wash over us. At this point we both had all the clothing we brought on. My boots were inside the foot of my bag my water bottle, lighter and fuel bottle were also near my body to keep them somewhat warm. It was cold. We both ended up sticking the lower portion of our bodies and sleeping bag inside our packs to help block whatever breeze may have whisp through.
To say we actually slept would be an over statement. We laid there without eyes closed. Around 2 am I heard the slight crinkle of my ramen pouch. I snapped up like it was the middle of the day, flicked on my headlamp (which I hadn’t taken off) and searched around quickly. A mouse had decided to make a visit and scrounge up any little pieces we may have dropped. As soon as I was up, the critter was gone in a flash, under a bunch of clothes that I was using as a makeshift hiking pillow. We didn’t see him again. We both noted how awake we were and thought it odd.
Morning arrived and we awoke to an odd mist that had engulfed us. The decision to skip out on the peak and head out the way we came in was an easy one. We also knew we were going to need some type of warm drink for the way out. So we fired up the Whisperlite and boiled another pot of water and flavored it with unsweetened cherry cool-aid. It tasted like Orc blood, but it would prove to do us well.
The whole way out the visibility was limited. It was by the time we reached the lower portion of the trail and only had the flat section left that I noticed my legs had begun to chafe. For the remaining 3 miles, I had to walk, with a full pack and snowshoes, with my legs more than shoulder width apart. Stopping was not an option since we noticed how icy things were getting. Our packs were slowly becoming encrusted with ice. So we figured the land around us must be icing over as well.
Finally we reached the Blazer, unloaded our packs into the back and jumped in. I rummage the keys out of my pocket and turned the ignition. Nothing. I turned the key again. Still nothing. Oh crap. The car battery was dead. Later I would find that when we left the day before and removed the packs from the rear, that we had inadvertently switched on the dome light.
So we walked to a nearby house. No one was home. We walked over to a second house. A guy was coming out. Yes. We told him what happened and asked if he could give us a jump or something. He was on his way over to work at Sugarloaf. He was a chef. He gave us a ride to a garage and towing company. We got the blazer a jump start for 25 bucks.
We got in the car and looked at each other and decided that a stop off at KFC was definitely in order. So, I with my waffle stompers, wool socks, long underwear, sweatshirt and medusa like hair; and Christophe, who didn’t look much better than I, staggered into KFC and had a nice warm meal. Our feet and faces were throbbing as the warm came back to us, the greasy love that is KFC filled our stomachs and we started to come back to normal.
The drive back to Portland took over three hours because of the icy roads. But we didn’t care because we were in the real world once again.