18 November 2008

AT: Moreland Gap Shelter to USFS 50

I have never been so cold as I was last night. There are no words to describe it.

When I woke at about 4 a.m., all my water bottles were frozen solid, and there was a good inch of snow covering everything in the shelter, including us. Tim and I discussed contingency plans in muffled voices through the layers of our respective cocoons. We both knew Buster's feet would have a hard time going very far in the new layer of snow, and Tim's feet weren't doing so well either. Last night he wore three pairs of socks, topped by my fluorescent orange hunter gloves, and a raincoat wrapped overtop of all that, and his feet were still numb. I too was starting to feel like I would never get warm. We decided that the best and safest next step would be to go to a hostel about six miles out, called Kincora.

We summited White Rocks Mountain, hoping for an easy descent, but even that was perilous. The plentiful snow, combined with a blanket of fallen leaves and the sharp grade, made it impossible to step carefully. I wiped out again several times, once banging my elbow and leg hard on the rocks (and I now have some nice purple bruises to show for it). I was hiking sloppy, I think, because I'd had nothing to eat or drink that morning — our water was frozen into blocks and so was undrinkable, and it was so painfully cold that to pause and feed ourselves seemed unwise — we just wanted to get to Kincora. So by about an hour into our hike, I was so thirsty that I was scooping up snow from the trailside like a cave woman, just trying to hydrate myself a little. I felt like an animal.

Tim offered to take Buster and clip him to his own pack, which was a big help because even at a petite 30 pounds, that dog can pull like nobody's business. So I gratefully accepted and then spent the rest of our descent fretting that both Buster and Tim would go careening swiftly down the mountain — and then where would I be!? Fortunately, Tim was more surefooted than I, and no further wipeouts ensued.

Finally the trail evened out a bit. The descent became more gentle and I knew the hard part was over.

We made it to the spot where the trail crosses US Forest Service road #50 and hiked the quarter-mile to Kincora, where we gratefully found proprietor Bob Peoples (the same guy who helped build Mountaineer Shelter, where we stayed earlier in our trip) available to shuttle us back to Damascus.

I was really disappointed that I didn't capture more of our experience in photos, but to my delight, I learned later that a fellow Whiteblazer happened to be at Carvers Gap just before we passed through, and he got some great pictures. Many thanks to TwistedToad (yes, that's his trail name — and I'm sure there's an awesome story to go with it!) who was very gracious to share the following photos with me.

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