Beating sunrise to the summit of Mount Jefferson at 5,712 feet.

Posted by The Real Hiking Viking on Friday, January 8, 2016

 

In early December, 2015, The Real Hiking Viking set out on a southbound winter thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. This is no small undertaking. Aside from the obvious winter weather threats, the stakes are exponentially higher on a winter southbound. As ATC information services manager Laurie Potteiger explains, "there’s no people around, it’s not the social experience. You don’t have camaraderie, you don’t have the assistance, you don’t have the moral support. Literally you’re dead if you don’t have experience.” But over 3 months later, The Real HIking Viking has crossed into Virginia, having beaten the odds by completing the most daunting leg of his treacherous trek. Will it be smooth sailing from here? We'll see! For now, let's check in with The Real Hiking Viking as he recaps his journey through rugged Mt. Bigelow in Maine:

 

The Bigelows are some burly peaks to go over even in summer. I was about to tackle them in late December, which admittedly could be a much more difficult prospect in any other year. Last year at this time, the towns and the lowlands had several feet of snow on the ground. All the locals had been telling me that the previous year was brutal. I suppose I couldn’t have picked a better year for this. But I gotta tell you, at higher elevations the trail can be a stark contrast to the weather and temperatures that are occurring in the towns. The Bigelows were about to be a shining example of this for me.

 

You start the ascent up to Little Bigelow Mountain from around 1,000 feet above sea level. It was fairly mild at the bottom. Not much snow on the ground. It feels so tame and so pedestrian. It’s very deceiving. I knew this wouldn’t last, but it toys with your insides. By the time you get to the top of Little Bigelow Mountain, it’s a very different world. The wind was tough - everything is covered with ice and snow. You can’t walk anywhere without your micro spikes on. All the slab rock is coated in ice and is on such a slant that you’re looking at bruised and broken limbs from one little fall without the proper traction. You’re sitting at 3,000 feet. It’s much colder than the valley floor and the sun is going down. It’s only getting colder. I had hopes of potentially making it over Avery Peak in the dark and making it to the Bigelow campsite where there were tent pads and a water source, but the winds were picking up too fast and there was a little bit of snowy precipitation - nothing to write home about down at 3,000 feet but Avery sits at almost 4,100 hundred feet. That is a significant difference in terms of the difference in weather conditions.

 

I decided that as it was getting darker that I would just camp at the Safford Notch Campsite. There were tent pads here also. It was a few of tenths of a mile off trail, but as I was making my way before the sun set to scope out the area, the side trail takes you through a bit of a cave. Really it's just a massive boulder wedged up against an overhanging cliff wall. It creates a pretty awesome wind barrier. And the darker it got, the windier it was getting. I had fully intended on setting my tent up on a tent pad this evening, but the wind was just frigid. I decided that even though the “cave” was slightly uneven, it was worth it to be out of the wind. Plus I set my air pad up on top of my foam pad. It did a pretty good job of breaking up the uneven rocks. I actually had a pretty good sleep. I didn’t even cook dinner this evening. I just had a handful of trail mix, a few handfuls of chips, slammed some water, and then called it a day. I wanted to make sure that I got a good nights sleep. I knew the next morning I was about to experience some true winter alpine first thing in the morning. The view I had of the main peaks from Little Bigelow was an indication of what I was about to have. They were socked in by their own micro climate. Things were about to get interesting. I could sense it.

 

As I began my initial ascent from the notch, it was pitch black, as usual. I have grown extremely accustomed to this now. There were a few flurries falling from above. I couldn’t tell if it was the wind shaking snow from the limbs above or if it was fresh. The higher I climbed out of the notch, the more I could see the valley and the surrounding environment. Just below “The Old Man’s Head” (if you had an aerial view of the mountains, you would notice that the mountain looks like an old man laying down), there was an outcropping of snow with a window to the east that displayed a red horizon right down the line from Little Bigelow Mountain. The snow had picked up, I could look up at the Old Man’s Head and see the cloud line above it. So it was snowing on me, but I stood there in amazement for a while as I watched the red ball of fire emerge from its glow of red clouds on the horizon of distant mountains. I didn’t linger too long as I knew that I had a long day ahead of me and the weather was only going to get worse. I was just thankful to have a moment of calm and a view of the sunrise to start the day. It really felt special to watch that sunrise. I can’t explain it. I often can’t. I suppose that’s the reason I do this. Because no description with words or pictures can ever quite put you in those moments. There is no substitute for being there and FEELING it.

Tune in next time for the exciting conclusion of The Real Hiking Viking's southbound Appalachian Trail thru-hike.

 

The Real Hiking Viking Frozen

I am the Walrus, cookoocachoo

 

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Hiking trails with that kind of isolation and sub-zero temperatures is no walk in the park. Fortunately for The Real Hiking Viking, he had Salazon Chocolate with him to fuel his journey. Check out The Real Hiking Viking’s favorite chocolate bar, 72% Organic Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt & Orange Zest, to see if it’s the right jump starter for you. Take 10% off your Salazon Chocolate order with discount code HIKINGCHOCOLATE.

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