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NPT, Benson to Piseco - 11/10-11

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  • NPT, Benson to Piseco - 11/10-11

    Backstory: My job entails observations of courses that are being redesigned. The professor in charge of the adventure education sophomore fall block asked to redesigned three of the four courses that make up the fall sophomore semester. The students in this block course spend the majority of their time in the field and so, observations would take me out there with them. I already did the trip with them up the Cascade slide as one observation in September. For the rest, I joined them for several days of bushwhacking/backpacking in the Siamese Ponds. I went out with last year's fall block, doing the Northville to Benson section of the Northville-Placid trail. At that time I was miserable. Too much gear, not enough of the right food. To be frank, I was a day hiker and didn't have a lot to experience with backpacking and thought it would be an easy transition. I was wrong. So wrong. So, this year, I was determined to have a better experience. I started experimenting with camping recipes at my house, using my MSR whisperlite universal stove on my porch, and eventually started doing smaller overnight trips. I spent one cold night at Colden Dam (hiking in from the Flowed Lands) and a weekend at Stratton Mountain Pond, which was absolutely fantastic. Subsequently, my hard work paid off and I had a great time with the students. I had my gear fairly well dialed in, and thankfully it wasn't too cold or wet.

    During this preparation, I've thought about thru hiking and thinking that I actually might like it. But, I had yet to do one and didn't want to commit to a longer trip, so I chose this weekend to head out on the NPT, doing the Benson to Piseco section. I chose this section because it wasn't too long (27 miles) and at nine miles a day, I thought I could do it in three days. Nine miles a day seemed reasonable as I had no idea how fast I would travel, what conditions would be like, what the trail would be like, etc. It was a safe guess on my part.

    The weather forecast predicted the first real cold of the season. I had a similar trip two years ago, Thanksgiving weekend, to the Feldspar lean-to when the temperature dropped to -5F overnight. It was a lot of down time spent in a sleeping bag and I knew that may end up being the case this time as well.

    In doing research for this trip, I started looking for information on winter thru hiking. I found the work of Andrew Skurka, as well as the two gentlemen who hiked the PCT in winter, one of whom did the AT in winter as well, and Cam Honen. I looked to their gear lists and systems for staying warm in the coldest conditions. I learned a lot and implemented a couple of items into my gear, which paid off in dividends.

    The Mr. MB agreed to shuttle my car to Piseco Friday morning, but had to drop a teenager at wrestling practice first. This would mean a later start. With that in mind, I opted for my drop at the Godfrey Road trailhead instead of Benson as again, I had no idea how long this would take me and I didn't want to commit to what would have been a 13-mile day Saturday (little did I know). He drove me to Godfrey and I got started a little after 11 a.m. in very cold and very windy conditions. I was a little nervous about the whole thing, but knew I was prepared and would likely be ok.

    There were boot tracks in the dusting of snow ahead of me for about a couple miles and when they veered off into the woods, I realized I was completely on my own for potentially the rest of the trip. I crave and seek out solitude in the woods, but in such cold weather there is always some part of me that wonders if this is really a good idea. The water crossings were ok; I knew that the trickiest one would be West Stony Brook and as it happened, most of the rocks were covered in ice. I donned my microspikes and made it across carefully. The trail was quite lovely and I made it to Silver Lake at about 3 p.m., which was my destination for the evening. I decided to set up my tent in front of the lean-to and use the lean-to for cooking as it was sheltered from the really nasty west wind that was whipping across the lake. Setting up my tent, inflating my Downmat 7, getting water, and preparing dinner meal was a lesson in patience as I often had to take breaks to warm my hands in my mittens, which contained handwarmers.

    At 5 p.m. I settled in for the night, let the Mr. MB know I was fine via Delorme and did some reading, writing, calculated my average speed for the day, went over my plans for the next day accordingly, etc. At 7 p.m. I had completed all these tasks, made another trip to the privy and hit the hay. And then I laid there for hours, awake. Every year, my body rejects the time change in the fall. Last year a two-week bout of sleep deprivation resulted in a month-long case of bronchitis. Now, it had already been a week since the "fall back" and I was still up until midnight or later and because of work, had to be up earlier than my body wanted. I was really hoping that this trip would fix this, but alas, it did not. And, I was starting to get a runny nose. Just what one needs in a down sleeping bag! I lightly dozed for an hour and woke up at midnight; I knew I should use the bathroom again and that was when I realized that my tent ceiling was covered in frost! Yikes. I knew I was in no danger of it melting, but it would mean a wet or frozen tent for tomorrow night. I knew I could probably make the Hamilton Stream lean-to, though it would mean a slightly longer day of about 11 miles. I finally fell asleep about 12:30 a.m. and slept till 5. At 5 a.m. every time I took a big breath in, my body would shiver, and I was warm in my -5F down Marmot bag. It was quite cold outside. I didn't have to get up yet and managed to doze again for another hour. At 6:30 a.m. I knew it was time and managed to get up, get my sleeping back in the lean-to to cook breakfast from inside it and get my gear ready to go.

    I got started at 8:25 a.m. with the hope of making it to Whitehouse in four hours, which is exactly what I did. The trail between Silver Lake and Whitehouse was absolutely beautiful. Lots of open woods and lots of route finding. I didn't get lost or have to back track, during my trip so I consider that a win. I loved the big bridge over the Sacandaga, which was running fiercely. I ran into my first person at Whitehouse, a day hiker coming back from Big Eddy Falls. I wouldn't see anyone again until I was under a mile from Piseco.

    The first part of the trail from Whitehouse toward Piseco was nice. I hit the Hamilton lean-to just before 2 p.m. and realized that I could probably get to my car in two hours. The problem with thru hiking in this kind of cold is that you can't really stop. And with the early transition to dark, there is a lot of down time. Rather than spend another fourteen hours in my sleeping bag, I continued on. The section after the lean-to was my least favorite. Lots of baby heads, moss, wet areas, lots of climbing and my body was tired. I was ready for my day to be over. I ran into a huge beaver pond just before Piseco. The hunters I encountered trying to get around it said it wasn't there last year. It was big and deep!! One of them told me some of the others in their group came across an old beaver dam further down. I opted for that route and did a little bushwhacking down to it. Around it and back on the trail, I made it my car at 4:15. A total of 15 miles for the day.

    Earlier, I mentioned that I integrated a couple things from the expert winter thru hikers into my gear. I am now a firm believer in the VBL. I wore my VBL socks for this trip. Before I left, I tried them on with different sock configurations in my boots, but found that just the VBLs without any socks was the way to go. And it was! My feet were always warm, even when I stopped or got into camp, and my boots never got wet. My feet were only a little damp and a few minutes in the air and a rub down with a pack towel did the trick before I put on my sleeping socks and down booties. I don't think I'll ever hike in the winter without VBLs again. I know there are some on this forum who use them as well and now I get why.

    I also wore a VBL shirt in the form of a nylon wind shirt I happened to have. My Montbell Anorak is now waiting for me back in Vermont, but the windbreaker did the trick. I wore an Icebreaker merino wool base layer 3/4 zip and the wind shirt over it. I tucked both into my pants. This guaranteed that my #1, the back of my pants stayed dry where they would normally get wet from the sweat between my pack and my back, #2, my pack never got sweaty and #3, my insulating layers also stayed completely dry. Epic score!! I never got overheated and if I did start to get warm, venting was easy and saved the effort of layers on and off all day, as I was never continually climbing due to the rolly nature of the NPT.

    I don't think I'm a fan of the winter thru-hike. Once the snow comes in, mileage per day is almost impossible to calculate and the down time is too much for someone who hates sleeping bags to begin with. And with this section of the NPT, I gave myself three days, but I really only needed two. With a longer first day, that would have brought down the mileage of day two, which was a little much. I do like early fall thru-hiking though. The VBL gear will be an eternal part of my winter hiking set up!

    This is a long report, I know, but I've been pretty quite for a while. I've given up on my 46 grid for the time being. But, I know I'll be back to visit my old friends, the High Peaks soon enough. The ice is coming in fast!
    #8335W, Solo 46W
    NE 111 113/115


    One list may be done, but the journey is far from over...
    Half Dome, 2009

  • #2
    Fantastic report! Sounds like you planned very well for a time of year when the conditions can vary widely from day to day. Winter backpacking is definitely a mental challenge. I don't normally build a fire, but if winter camping in an area where fires are allowed, I've found that it helps to extend the time before climbing into my bag for the night. Anyway, great job!
    We don't stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing ~ Satchel Paige

    Comment


    • moosebeware
      moosebeware commented
      Editing a comment
      I could have and thought about a fire, but it was so windy.... In hindsight and what I thought about often was that I needed to take my -5F bag AND my bear canister and my pack is ok for both, but not ideal. I'm not experienced with the bear hang, which is allowed on the NPT. To be honest, there were no bears (or really anything; I never even saw a squirrel, though lots of tracks) out there this weekend and I likely could have gone without. (I even stashed the canister it in the lean-to) This week promises more nights below freezing, so I'm pretty sure that in two weeks I can go without it with no issues (I did so two years ago). That makes room in my backpack for the sleeping bag and a synthetic down blanket (the idea being that the insensible perspiration goes into the blanket and stays out of the bag). I'm hoping that taking the tent out of my tarp-tent will help with the frost concern, maybe... When I took my sleeping bag out of my backpack yesterday it was pretty damp and that was only for one night. Tenting next to a lake and in high humidity was also a factor....but I digress. I do love being out there... it's so quiet and the quiet is addicting.

  • #3
    Nicccccce well done

    Comment


    • #4




      VBL's
      VBL for hands per Trail boss medical or food prep plastic / vinyl gloves
      Pure silk liner for winter bag, pull over face so you don't breath into bag. Nalgene with boiling hot water in bag to pre warm bag so you don't have to warm it. FIRE with small hardwood and reflective snow wall. Learn how to hang food bag, bears are active on / off all winter, saw lots of tracks near NPT / Wakely dam this weekend if not bears Pine Martens will get your food..

      Comment


      • #5
        mastergrasshopper

        Forgive my ignorance but I've turned this one over in my head and can't understand how it works: "Pure silk liner for winter bag, pull over face so you don't breath into bag".

        Did I read that wrong or are you saying to pull up the liner to cover your face? Besides feeling like I was about to be buried at sea, wouldn't moisture, from one's exhalations, condense and freeze on the silk?

        I recall one "technical" problem I had was having moisture from my breath freeze on the surface of the sleeping bag closest to my face. When I turned over, my face would brush against it and it was like being awakened by an icy dishrag. I figured I needed some kind of fleecy "frost bib".
        Looking for Views!

        Comment


        • moosebeware
          moosebeware commented
          Editing a comment
          TB, I had the same issue with my sleeping bag. I'm good about not breathing into the bag and breathing through my nose and not my mouth. The condensation in the tent was inevitable I think, given the high humidity that day, next to a lake. I'm taking the inner tent out of the equation (it's a TarpTent Scarp 1) and hoping that might help or at the least I won't have to worry about a wet floor the next day. Andrew Skurka and others use a synthetic quilt on top of a down sleeping bag. The idea is that the insensible perspiration goes into the synthetic later and stays out of the down. You could argue with the logic, but hiking across the top of the states in the winter seems like expertise in this area to me. I have a synthetic quilt and will to try it. It's an alternative to the VBL for the sleeping bag which just doesn't seem right, though others swear by it.

        • mastergrasshopper
          mastergrasshopper commented
          Editing a comment
          Cover face = YES
          create dome that collects condensation / ice = better than wet down gasket. Stayed off my face and you can leave bigger hole in bag so condensation can be better dissipated. The silk liner was way better than non woven poly as I all ways breathed in fibers. silk liner adds most R value to bag.

      • #6
        fantastic report, thanks so much! NPT is on my list, but certainly not in the winter... you def. made me think about the transition from day hiker to a back packer. Wondering about the VBLs - did you have to go up half a size in your boot, or do they still fit if you skip the outer and inner layers?
        46/46 as of August 1st, 2014!

        Comment


        • YanaLG
          YanaLG commented
          Editing a comment
          yes, thanks! will have to look into it a bit more and check them out.

        • Trail Boss
          Trail Boss commented
          Editing a comment
          Do they stay up? That's my chief complaint with the plastic bags I use, they ride down and eventually bunch up underfoot. I've tried rolling the top of my sock over the bag but it doesn't work for the duration of the hike. I don't want to tape them to the sock or use elastic bands.

          The only good thing with plastic bags is that they're cheap as dirt and don't need to be washed ('cuz they stink like heck), just recycled.

        • moosebeware
          moosebeware commented
          Editing a comment
          TB, These have "cinchers? to keep them up, as well as elastic built in. I did not have any issues with them falling down.
          https://rab.equipment/us/vb-socks

      • #7
        Originally posted by YanaLG View Post
        fantastic report, thanks so much! NPT is on my list, but certainly not in the winter... you def. made me think about the transition from day hiker to a back packer. Wondering about the VBLs - did you have to go up half a size in your boot, or do they still fit if you skip the outer and inner layers?
        I also use Rab VBL "socks" but only when it gets really cold. Tried plastic bags but they would never last the whole day completely intact. The socks don't really fit like socks but the material is thin and I've gotten used to how they feel. I wear them between a polypro liner and wool outer. Foot comes out a bit clammy at the end of the day but the outer sock and boot liner are dry. Haven't had a problem of them riding down.

        Comment


        • YanaLG
          YanaLG commented
          Editing a comment
          thanks for the feedback!
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