Sat, Nov 15 2008 - Mt. Sterling Backpacking Trip (View Original Event Details)

Trip Leader(s): Michael Johnson, Bob Bunner
Participants:Bob Bunner, Michael Johnson, Chris L, Kristi, Kiran, Trey Baldwin, Logan Ballesteros

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Write Up:
Congratulations! Every person who participated in the Mt. Sterling Backpacking event this past weekend is officially a "hard-core" AOC'er. Or when the going got tough, most of us froze our asses off. Despite the ominous weather forecast and Michael and I's dire warnings that anyone who went on this trip was certifiably insane - as Michael put it, "there's no shame in canceling" - seven previously respected members of AOC became hard core hikers over the course of one weekend. We started at the trailhead near the Big Creek Ranger station and hiked up the Baxter Creek trail. Around 2:00, it started to sleet. Between 2:30 - 3:00, we arrived at an elevation of 5850 feet, on top of Mt. Sterling. The temperature had been plummeting all afternoon. It began to snow in earnest and we started seeing serious accumulation on the ground. Setting up a tent became an ordeal as our hands became numb. All we wanted to do was set up a shelter and jump in our sleeping bags where we were hopeful we would remain warm. After several of us took naps, we briefly crawled out of our safe cocoon to fix dinner. Taking your gloves off for only a few minutes led to frozen hands. At the same time, Michael and Logan, two aliens from the north, who lack the basic human condition of reacting adversely to the cold, climbed the 100 foot fire tower, where they were greeted to high winds, overcast skies, and a view of the rest of us shivering below. Many of us retired back to our tents after dinner. For the few, the proud, the persons who had to put up with Bob talking the rest of the night, there was FIRE! Trey, the naturalist from Chattanooga, famous for catching his own dinner, and Logan, the firefighter from Alaska, exhibited enormous skill and patience in building and nurturing a fire in ridiculously cold and wet conditions. The wood had to be thawed out because it had frost on top of it. Kristi and I enjoyed their sweat and effort. Kristi even offered one of the firestarters some form of healthy chocolate bar, an irreconcilable description of an alleged confection that lacked anything resembling something made by Hershey's. Those of us who stayed up to enjoy the fire were rewarded with stories of misspent youth and accounts of aliens in the skies. After a long hibernation in our respective sleeping bags, we all emerged like groundhogs to see what the weather had in store for us on Sunday. Depending on who you talk to, some say we had 4-6 inches of snow on the ground, some say a foot of snow, some say we had two foot snow drifts, and at least one person thought they saw an abominable snowman - okay, I was mistaken, it was only Michael. It was 13 degrees outside when we stuck our noses out of our tent. Kiran started his stove and all of us were grateful to pour water in an already lit stove to make oatmeal. We had to eat fast, because the outside temperature cooled warm oatmeal in a matter of seconds. Alas, the real pleasure of this trip was the hike down. We hiked out, planting our feet in fresh powder, surrounded by greeting card scenes of snow on trees. The clouds receded and blue skies provided a background to branches overhead covered in snow. None of us will quickly forget the paradise we walked down in as we wandered down the trail, stopped and took pictures of winter wonderland scenes we wanted to capture forever. After saying goodbye to Trey and Kristi at the trailhead, the rest of us crammed into Bob's car and ambled down to Barley's, in Asheville, home to an amazing selection of craft beers and delicious pizza. It was there that Chris revealed her thoughts while lying awake in her sleeping bag at 1:00 AM, that backpacking in these extreme conditions made her and the rest of us one of the hard-core's. We'll be patting ourselves on the back for some time from now. You can hear us tell our grandchildren someday, "I remember when I backpacked in two feet of snow, 40 below zero, wind howling at 50 mph ..." It's a great story and we were all there.