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Failed Hike-The Foothills Trail


Grey Mouse
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Grey Mouse

Although I dislike admitting that I have failed at something I wanted to post the following story in hopes that it might be helpful to someone on here. I will forego the usual jabber about the trip there and such so as to get down to the point.

Myself and my buddy Greg (referred to as Lazy Squirrel) attempted to hike the Foothills Trail in South Carolina a month or so back. We went as ultralight as possible due to the trail being roughly 77 miles long. The temps were supposed to be 20°F the first night with a wind chill of 16°F followed by blissful 60°F days and 48°F nights for the week long trek. That information from the weather forecast online was a total lie lol. Again, I'll not list everything but lets just say that my pack had a base weight of 13lbs and LS's pack was around 10lb before adding food and water. He brought a set of 40°F quilts and I brought my 20°F quilts.

When we arrived it was snowing slightly and we made the eight miles to camp just before nightfall. The temps were dropping fast and we had already decided to put our tarp into "storm mode" due to the winds and possible low temps. That may have been the single most important decision that saved our butts. LS was so tired (he drove the nine hours there) that he went to bed without cooking or eating. He was asleep before it was officially dark. I however, decided that I might need the calories and so I fired up the Jetboil Stash using Jetboil four season fuel and made supper. Setting up that night and taking down the hammock was a difficult due to numb hands and me shivering. I only had a jacket like you see on LS's picture below and thank goodness we had brought our midweight thermals. Although I am a seasoned hiker I somehow forgot my winter hiking jacket at home.

Upon opening my meal I discovered that I had brought a vegan style chili (I'm not vegan) but decided to eat it anyways before bedtime. That was a huge mistake. My body rejected the meal starting at 1:30am. I went to bed and tried to get warm. I immediately noticed that I didn't "get warm" quickly and that told me I had an issue. After trying to adjust the quilts I realized that it wasn't an adjustment issue but rather a rating issue. It was getting very cold fast. I never did get toasty warm all night but then again I didn't start shaking either. I was lucky in that I had a brought two handwarmers of which one I saved for LS in case he needed it. I snuggled up to that thing like a new born baby to a mothers bosum.

We later determined that the temps had dropped somewhere around -8°F that night. My stomach started evacuating itself out the rear exhaust area after midnight. Between 1am and 5am I had made five bathroom breaks. Each time I got colder when I crawled back into bed. I also discovered that my toilet paper tablets that require water to expand did work in freezing river water but froze solid once unrolled. You can imagine the rest. I went through half of my tp that night. In the morning I awoke to a low body temp, dehydration, nausea, the aches and pains from hiking at an old age, and a very deep and raspy cough from breathing the cold moist air all night. I was very sick for three days after getting home even with meds and rest.

I got out of bed and retrieved my stove and fuel (Jetboil Stash with Jetboil four season fuel) that I had absent mindedly left outside. The lighter only lit because of the warmth in my hand after several tries of blowing hot air into them. The stove however would not light. I placed the ice cube of a fuel canister inside my clothes but couldn't stand the contact near my skin for long. Feeling very ill I tried to get some Alka-Seltzer Cold medicine to dissolve in cold water (takes awhile and tastes nasty). I noticed something funny was going on in the cup while swirling it around to help it fizz. I turned the cup up to drink and realized that it was a glass of "pearls" due to the bubbles freezing as they formed in the cup. After several tries I got the stove to ignite but she went out each time I tried to turn it up slightly. After about thirty minutes I got it to fire up and make breakfast but at a fuel loss from all of the attempts. Lastly, I had tested my new water filter before my trip and it froze from residual water. Any water removed from the stream was freezing fast so I did not attempt to filter any that morning. We hiked another eight miserable miles to a road while I tried to keep my "insides" inside. I used my Zoleo to text our driver from the day before for a ride out.

Lessons Learned:
1) Always hike with a buddy if possible and have emergency communications
2) Eat a new meal before a hike to test it's compatibility to your system
3) When plan A & B fail start plan C but prepare to get out if need be
4) Going as light as possible is fine but stay safe. Known when to come off trail


Had I of known that the temps would have even been near or below zero degrees I would have brought my overstuffed zero degree set of quilts and a better stove (Omnilite Ti, Primus 210, Trangia 25 with Nova stove, or my Optimus 111).

PS-I forgot to add that I had left my phone hanging on my structural ridgeline in the ridgeline pocket. When I tried to use it there was a cold warning icon and it quit. The phone did not become useable for several hours even though it was in my chest pouch. I had to resort to my trail map for navigation but to be honest the trail was easy to follow most of the time.  I know the hot water bottle trick, the wire and a rubber band trick for the stove (didn't bring), etcetera but in my sickened and numbed state I did not think of these things.

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  • 2 weeks later...
Michael aka Mac

I had an eventful trip like yours,  I was told by the Ranger that the island area,  (Federal Land),  had grass, trees, & dirt  only to arrive to that location with nothing but sand as far as the eyes could see.  It was X-Mas eve and a few hours away from home and about 2-3 hour schlep back to my truck if I called it quits.

If I knew there was nothing but sand, I would have brought completely different gear that had zippers that could handle the sand.  Instead, the entire day and night was filled with gear failures, everything from my tent & sleeping bags to my jacket zippers broke.  More then half of my gear got damage by the blasted sand.

Sorry about the Chili marathon,  I had a similar discomfort on that Island trip trying out a new type of Freeze Dried meal that ended up making me look like i had the measles, as I had  with hives everywhere.

Yea testing out a food you never had before in the wilderness is never a good idea, I find that out 20 years ago and in point and fact, backpacking and Chili just doesn't mix well.  Between the unwanted music, and the skunk factor, lol it is not environmentally friendly.

Grey Mouse,  I couldn't tell with a 100% certainty that your hammock had an under belly quilt.  I usually add to that under quilt a Mylar solar blanket, & wrap it around the Hammock

1) to block the cold wind &

2) to reflect the heat back to you

Those hand warmers would be even more effective in that setup.

With regard to the breathing in of cold air, getting one of those bulky dust masks and sleeping with your mouth facing a hand warmer will help, I also use dry mouth spray before going to sleep too in those cold conditions.

Oh, and I also always bring anti-marathon pills (you got my drift) to stop all that running around stuff.

Btw, nice photos

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Grey Mouse

Hi Michael. I had a 20°F under quilt with a argon 90 quilt protector covering it. For a top quilt I was using a 15°F quilt. The under quilt already has an AT through hike under it's belt (not me) and is not really good down to it's rating. I start feeling the chill creeping in around 36°-38°F. If I had any idea that it was going to get that cold then I would have used my Locolibre overstuffed 0°F quilts (good to about -10°F).  

I have always taken a mylar blanket with me but somehow forgot the mylar, my wool beanie cap, and my windproof & waterproof winter jacket. When I did my load out online I had accidentally clicked on my fall pack load out instead of my "deep winter" load out list. It was a mistake that I started to realize once I exited the truck.  

The odd thing is that both LS and myself are also bushcrafters and we know the hot water bottle trick to stay warm but neither of us thought of it in the early am hours. I think that our judgement was clouded due to hyperthermia trying to set in and sleeping so hard after hiking. The same goes for the rubber band and spoon trick to help the canister stove fire up and run in extreme cold conditions. 

PS- I had consumed about three Imodium AD tablets during the night to no avail. It still was not "safe" to lift my leg crawling over a fallen tree in the trail if you get my drift.

PSS-The third picture is what is known as "Faerie Frost" to the locals. It "grows" horizontally from the vertical sides of the trails. The ones in the picture had been knocked down when walking past them.

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Edited by Grey Mouse
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Michael aka Mac

I never use an online setup nor program for gearing for a trip.  I pretty much already have a basic rigged backpack in my truck 24/7, and extra gear to add to it in bins in my trunk along with redundancies.

Also Beware of the "false advertising" for temperature rating.  That temp rating is the temperature you will be able to survive in while freezing your behind in the process and it is with the assumption that you are wearing the bare minimal of mid weight base layers including socks n beanie.. I add 15-20 degrees to a sleeping bag rating, and another 15-20 degrees if not wearing base layers.

so your 20 degree quilt is 35-40 degrees thus why you seem to be chilled around 38 degrees.

You should practice training yourself to write down on a piece of paper " What should I do in this situation"  it is a way for your brain to start functioning during a survival situation.

This is me doing just that right now below  and after you see what gear you have to see if any of them can be done in your particular situation.

Hmm I am freezing my @$$ off  what can I do right now... what are my options.

hot water bottle.

Shirt wrapped around head as a beanie

Drink hot beverages.

Eat to burn some calories for heat.

Make a fire and put rocks in it then place rocks in canvas and warm up your core.

Build a fire on one end of hammock and a wooden windshield on other side to reflect heat back.

Take a Niacin supplement for a blood flush for your fingers and toes.

warm up your sleeping bags via the fire.

hand warmers  ( I really like those charcoal hand warmers that go into a hand box,  they getcha smelling smoky, but they work great.)

make a hot room shelter (scroll down til u see hand made photos) 

Now is where I would look thru my gear to see what of the above things can be done or made .

Remember,  hand warmers should be placed under armpits, on chest, groin area and back   Core, organs, main arteries.

oh and with regard to Mylar blankets i wrote this brief piece

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