Last weekend, being a 3-day for the kids due to MLK holiday, Jason (Age 11 and veteran of many multi-day hikes) and I were hiking the Pine Mountain trail in FDR State Park. It was coming together as a 30+ miler, after some last minute route changes to find some unoccupied camp sites, and he was being proud of himself for being capable of easily trumping the requirements for Boy Scout Hiking Merit Badge. We started out around noon, 3 miles up-trail from the last time we hiked here (Easter of ’07, age 6), and hiked 7+ miles to the Whiskey Still camp site. This was the same spot we camped the last time as well. Somewhere around mile 6 Jason and I were separated. I was hiking at a faster clip and told him I would wait for him to catch up at the next road crossing. I timed myself for the mile (the miles are marked on this trail) and did it in 23 (2.6mph) – right in line for my all-day pace on the BMT 6 months ago. This was not “pushing”, just hiking at what felt like my normal pace. Jason came in at 33 (1.8mph) for the same mile, so still right on the ~2mph average we were shooting for. Shorter legs, he said. However the last mile hiking together to camp, he looked like he was limping. He said he was OK, that his feet were only tired and sore. We hit camp about 1/2 hour before actual sunset, and arrived at the same time as two other hikers from Macon. We picked out our hanging trees, but to make the best of the fading light, Jason started collecting fire wood as I hiked the 1/2+ mile round trip to the water hole. When I returned, Jason and the other campers were just lighting a fire. We then set up our hammocks as it was getting dark. One of the other hikers was also a Boy Scout dad and was very impressed with Jason’s camp skills.
This trip was to be a cold-weather hammock experiment. We had packed double pads for the added bottom-side insulation. The low was supposed to be around 28; 30 was the lowest I have been in the hammock so far. In addition to the extra insulation, we were both wearing polypropelene bottoms and several layers of fleece tops. We also filled a 1L Nalgene water bottle with near-boiling water, and put it inside a wool sock to snuggle up with. We turned in before 9pm. I woke up around midnight, freezing my butt off, thinking that there was no way I would be able to tolerate this temperature comfortably, and still get a good night’s sleep. But I did fall back to sleep, and when I woke up again at 2:30 I was much more comfortable. Comfortable enough to get out of the hammock to use the bathroom and tie down a loose tarp corner without feeling like I was sabotaging all that “saved up heat” (I have no idea if that makes any scientific sense). I woke up once more at 5:30, chilled but not freezing, before dozing off again. With my hat pulled down over my eyes I did not wake up until 7:30. Jason reported that he was comfortable if not a little bit too warm, with the exact same setup as me. So I suppose we can call that a successful cold-weather setup. According to my high/low thermometer, it only hit 30, which was also the ambient temp when we woke up – but that was inside my backpack, not swinging freely in the air.
Also new for this trip was the switch from Camelbaks and filter pumps for water purification, to Aquamira drops and Nalgene bottles. I will call it a success, although I need to come up with a better way to attach the water bottle that is still accessible. I clipped it on with a carabiner, but it bangs around too much. My pack does not have any bottle pouches, which was one of the reasons I switched to Camelbak in the first place. The pros and cons of this water setup fall in favor of the nalgene/aquamira, due to the weight savings. A Nalgene is half the weight of a camelback, and the water is half as much again – 1L standard load instead of 2L. The drops weigh 2 oz to the pump filter’s 11oz. The only drawbacks are that you have to stop more often for water, and you should probably filter it through a bandanna when filling. A spare platypus bag (+1 oz.) would be a good fallback for a longer distance or summer hike if the water sources are further between.
For the next hike, at least the next 2-person hike, I plan to invest in a Platypus Water Tank – an ultralight one-gallon camp water carrier that will be way more convenient than (and weights the same as) the two 2-liter Platys I had to clumsily lug back to camp along with the filled Nalgene bottles.
The next morning we were on the trail by 9:10. I was expecting 6 hours of hiking for a 12 mile day. Adding in breaks, we should hit camp barely 1 hour before susnset. I am not used to the limited daylight of winter hiking! I let Jason walk in front of me, and noticed that he seemed to be flinching in pain every once in a while, especially stepping over technical ground. I finally got him to admit that he had rolled his ankle towards the end of day 1, and that it hurt when he put weight on it at certain angles. It was obvious that he didn’t want to tell me, as it could have meant an early end to the trip. I took off his shoe and poked around on his ankle – it’s hard to tell if there was any swelling since he has thick ankles. I compared both ankles, and one felt a little stiffer or tighter, and hurt when poked a certain way. I decided that we needed to bail out, that it was not going to be good to continue hiking 22 miles under load on the ankle. He was crushed — and in hindsight my mood was a bit off for most of the next day (Monday), as well.
We decided to stash his pack along the trail, to make the walk back to the car easier on his ankle. His was 16lbs dry when we left the house, but probably lighter now, since I took back the cooking kit on day 2. Fortunately we ran in to the guys from our camp site after only a mile of road walking, and they gave us a ride to our car. I had misread the map that we were only 3 miles from our car by road when we turned around, but really it was closer to 5. As a consolation treat we went to Longhorns for lunch, and watched The Fly when we got home that afternoon.