Sunday, January 26, 2014

Diamonds in the Rough

Training, is generally a state undertaken when we expect to be tested. If the challenge never arises then we feel as if the time and energy, spent on such a lengthy exhaustive process, has been wasted. The conflict can become desired if "training" pushes on too long.

Acting as a professional outdoorsman is an attitude I have been training toward for years now. Many trips have come and gone without any fault, failing, or misgiving and have served as great training opportunities. Luckily, mostly at the beginning of my career. In the trips of late, however, adversity abounds. In truth though, I wouldn't ask for anything else. I need to have my skills and mental strength tested at this stage. Tempered one might say.

01/23/14 - Cold Start

Two of my co- workers collaborated to ensure I could get off early to make my drive to Talladega National Forest just outside of Ashland Alabama before sunset. The Jeep had hit the interstate by noon and was parked at the Adams Gap trail head shortly after 6pm. 

There was the option of night hiking, but the temperature was in the mid 20's with a forecast to drop even more. Finding and setting up camp , in such conditions, on an unfamiliar trail was a fairly distasteful prospect. 

In the process of  exploring the features of my new Jeep, I had yet to figure out the perfect sleeping accommodations. The rear passenger seat, when folded down, afforded a space large enough to suit the needs of six feet of Mike G., and happened to be flat enough to take advantage of a thermarest. The rear drivers seat served as a fine night table. Hanging my weather tracker out the cracked window, I feel to sleep.

01/24/14 - Opening Moves

Nine degrees was the low temperature last night. It was 17 in the Jeep. At the start of my hike it was barely 15. My water bottle was half full and getting hydrated was an important objective. 

(Gear Note - In winter I carry one wide mouth 1L nalgine and a 4L soft dromadary bag. The wide mouth takes some time to freeze and the threads are on the outside. The dromadary can be dropped to break the ice when frozen and also has a wide mouth opening. When water is abundant the dromadary will remain dry to save weight.)

My first water source was partially frozen and within five full pumps the filter had frozen over. I put the filter in my jacket to thaw it out and hope for the best. By the second water source it is clear the filter was broken. As my clean water was about to run out; a solution was needed

The answer was rather apparent. I had two options: call the backpacking off and car camp Cheaha State Park just outside the wilderness area, or sacrifice hot food to utilize my limited supply of fuel to boil and clean my water affording the chance to complete my backpacking loop. The later was the obvious choice. So the race against time began.

Winter is a great time for hiking, so quite, so calm.

Low temperatures can really bring out the magic of  ice.

 In the last hour of daylight I began the arduous task that had become purifying my water. My only pot was a 275ml cook pot. After bringing the water to a boil it became necessary to let it cool before putting it into the Nalgine. It took 4:30 to reach boil and another 10 minuets to cool off. Three complete pot boils were needed to fill up my one Nalgine. Due to the time wasted in obtaining water, I chose to skip out on the exciting task of pitching my tent and took advantage of an open trail shelter.

01/25/14 - The Aid of Nike

Time management came into play. Breakfast was consumed as the first bottle of water was boiled up. In another areana, it was clear the canister was running low, and that prompted the decision to hike as far and as fast as possible. Yesterday put eight miles under my boots and that left nine in total for the Skyway Loop. These nine were up the ridge line and then back down.

Crossing a service road I was confronted with the possibility that the forest service had removed the rest of my route from play.

Hiking down the service road, in a slightly deflated state of morale, the opportunity to pick the trail back up and continue on the route was noted by some markers. Soon, I had begun the climb up Talledega Ridge to Odium Point.

A slight stretch of the definition and we have a primitive moraine.

Higher up the mountain still, massive boulders and rock features break out of the soil. Castles of marbled granite, with their parapets and mighty keeps, arise to defend against the ravages of time and erosion.

Of course such bastions also offer great views of this humble yet rugged lesser range.

Stopping for lunch near a small creek, the unfortunate eventuality that I had been dreading came into being. The fuel canister ran out. I had 750ml of water left, three hours of daylight and 4.5 miles of trail.

Although I had one more day to stay out, I had limited water. It was possible to spend the night and hike the remainder in the morning on the verge of serious dehydration but that was, also, a distasteful prospect. I was more interested in pushing out the 4.5 miles and having a hot meal.

The going was fine until the last mile. I had run out of water and was quickly becoming fatigued from the onset of  dehydration. The trail was also failing to cooperate. From the crest of the small hills, the road could be made out, somewhere just up there was the Jeep. It was close, so close, but this dam trail kept going back into the forest and up another hill. Once up this new hill it was down again and then, hey, lets go up. If only I could get my hands on the designer of this trail!

"Last Mile Syndrome" had set in. That is the state of knowing the end of the trail is very near as the physical phenomena of exhaustion sets in, thus skewing a hikers judgement of what is and is not a difficult section of trail.

The proverbial straw happened. A final climb of 250 feet of gain. Half way up the hill a wave of defeat passed over me. I fell to my knees. My palms embraced the cold dry earth, and my forehead followed. For a moment there was silence. Only the wind in the trees and the rustling of leaves. Then with a violent groan that grew into a roar, I arose to my feet. Carried on by the virtue of Nike I sallied forth to triumph.


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