Friday, October 26, 2012

Inside The Moments: Episode 6 - A Cold Night Cabot

After finishing my 48 in August 2011 via a Moonlight Presi Traverse with my brother, we were hiking towards the end of his 48 in one year, led by his determination, we were squeezing hikes in to accomplish it in the same one year I had set out for. Between that August and this date last October, I had gone onto Pemi Loops, Grafton Loops, and the like, and the weekends between, we knocked of the Kinsman's, Owl's Head, and Jackson for Bill. Hiking crazy hikes going nuts across tough terrain, we were on a roll. That was until a hike on October 22, 2011 (close to a year ago today) that gave us a reality check. Of course we had a cool plan to start a night-hike to the Horn, Bulge, and Cabot, for an attempt to traverse the Kilkenny Ridge to Waumbek by early Sunday. After being slowly soaked by increasingly dense fog, a chilly Cabot almost did us in. Along the way we heard a loud smash in the woods I remember clear as day. Both of these things were not really highlighted in my original post, so it's a good one to take you back inside the moment.

By the time the car spot was done at Starr King, and we were at York Pond Road on that Friday night, we were quite tired, so we napped about an hour and a half until about midnight, and then we set off on the Unknown Pond Trail. (If you have the time, first go back to the original trip report here before continuing.)
Unknown Pond Trail
It was a raw, wet, damp night, and the leaves were slick as we made our way down the Unknown Pond Trail just after midnight. What a beautiful trail, but I will have to hike it again to see it in the daytime. We were pushing along about halfway up to Unknown Pond when we both heard a distinctive sound of tree in the woods. It was as if something crashed in the woods, but it was sort of like one loud thump and echo. My brother described it as, "sounded like something huge took a 50-foot tree and slammed it up against another tree, like a baseball swing." Immediately we were thinking Sasquatch, but no, this sound was real, weird, and the feeling we both had was that sound was not just a tree falling. We're hopeful we startled a Moose or something and it was not a Sasquatch, but after a few minutes of looking around nervously, we continued hiking at a VERY swift pace up the hill towards Unknown Pond, crossing the raging outlet from the pond using two sticks for balance. It was one of a few a un-explainable things we've encountered on the trails, especially at night. There was no wind at the time, and it would be tough for a tree in dead-fall to make that noise. Very spooky nonetheless. 
Looking our over Unknown Pond (I think)
We made it to Unknown Pond, and there was no fog yet. I remember shining my light over the pond, and seeing darkness, and no fog in the path of the flashlight. However afterwards were making our way over the Horn and Bulge, and we were engulfed in thick wet fog. On the Horn, we could hardly get up onto the rocks they were so slick, and after about 30 seconds on the summit and a couple of quick pictures, we decided we better get back onto some soil before we fall. It was ice. Then it started to spit a very light mixed precipitation as we made our way to over to Cabot. 
Bulge summit, not knowing I'd be shivering very shortly
Now, approaching Cabot, we had progressively been ascending into the wetter fog, but being in the trees, I guess it was hard to tell, but we were actually getting pretty soaked. We didn't have waterproof gloves for this hike, but we both did have two pairs each. They were soaked, and my fleece was really damp from me not noticing how wet the outside was before putting on my waterproof layer. Our pants were soaked through to our legs from the wet trail and precipitation. At the summit of Cabot, it was certainly close to freezing, as pellets of sleet were flying. My brother was in a similar situation, so after hitting the summit, Cabot Cabin was looking really least we thought.
Bill on his first summit of Mt Cabot, a memorable one for sure
We got into the cabin and the first thing we did was put our base layers on next to our body, and then put some of the other clothes back on over. We changed into some dry socks even though our boots were completely soaked. There was absolutely no way for us to dry anything without starting a fire, which was pretty much out of the question. Standing in the cabin, I clearly remember shivering trying to get warm. We marched around the cabin for quite some time as the wind gusted occasionally outside. We saw there were some foam sleeping pads already secured to the bunks. Eventually, we decided to sit on one of the top bunks back-to-back, and try to rest a bit, warm ourselves if possible, and wait for sunrise just a couple of hours away. A couple of long hours that I think back to as a definite learning experience. Just because its not a raging rain or snow storm, doesn't mean you can run into a little trouble with hypothermia, even when you think you have packed everything you need.
Bill looking out, wondering when daylight might come
"Dan, it's snowing out, should we get moving?" 
About to leave the cabin after our unexpected "Cold night on Cabot"
Just before actual sunrise, we sluggishly geared up upon the sight of grey sky and stepped outside the hut to see it flurrying with snow. This was not good, but it instead of stopping altogether for us, it turned to a rain as we arrived at the Bunnell Notch Trail junction. Clearly with it raining and after what we experienced, we made the easy decision to head back to the car at the hatchery instead of continuing with the traverse.

Even after a lot peaks in the prior seven months and some really intense hiking, we still had a lot to learn about hiking (and there still is). Us each having that full unused base layer and extra socks that night was the key for us being able to stick this one out. However from this, we learned that if we had gaiters, our pants wouldn't have been so wet. If our gloves were waterproof instead of "weather-proof", our hands might have been warmer. If we had a stove, we could have cooked a meal to warm-up. Those were just a few things we learned on this one. We didn't expect the fog to create such wet conditions before it actually started to precipitate. It was only near freezing, and we learned that's all it takes when mixed with wet gear. It was all a matter of these things coming together on that night to give us a run for our money. We are thankful it did not turn into a more serious situation, but at the same time, I'm glad that we both went through it because, for me, I know that I never want to be that wet in any colder conditions ever again. It sticks with me every time I plan a hike. 

After this, and prior to the impending winter, we started to bulk up our gear closet, starting with the purchase of some gaiters and better gloves and stuff. When it hits October, the White Mountains are unpredictable. Having the correct gear to cover the number of situations that one might face could make all of the difference in getting you through an unexpected cold night. Be prepared, always bring the 10 essentials and more, and always consider the minor details.

Now, another year later, both my brother and I are still challenging ourselves, learning as we go, and enjoying every adventure we can! Hike on and stay safe!


  1. I too had an interesting Killkenny ridge traverse, coming in from Starr king, got to cabot very late, in some rain, and approaching the cabin I realized, lights were on. Someone was allreay staying there. We had to sleep on the floor....gross.

    1. Thanks for sharing. Cabot Cabin is certainly not the most homey of shelters, although I don't think I'd turn down an opportunity to stay there again sometime to see the stars or full moon on a clear summer night.