Continued from Part 1…
The following day I was awakened by a noise. It somewhat sounded like rain hitting my tent, but not exactly. I looked outside, and saw it was snow; very fine, hard, grains of snow, almost like ice. This was the last thing I needed. If it started snowing, the wreckage of the airplanes could easily be covered up. On top of my other problems, now I had to race against the snow to make it to the crash sites before the snow covered them up. I quickly ate breakfast, and packed everything up. After finding a place in a stream that had not frozen over, I filtered 4L of water. I had kept the filter in my sleeping bag with me during the night to keep it from freezing.
I then got going as quickly as I could.
To my great shock, after a short distance, I reached another water crossing. As upsetting as it was, it became clear that I had not even reached the last of the three streams. While I had in fact crossed three streams, at least one of them was obviously not indicated on the map. Judging by the size of this one, it had to be the third stream on the map. I was even further behind than I had thought. Yet another navigational blunder.
Heavy fog had set in, but even so, this last stream offered a great view.
I continued forward. The trail was now non existent. What was left of it was either a frozen stream, or was covered by snow.
A few hours later I reached the elevation around the 2900ft mark where I had planned on abandoning the trail and starting to bushwhack. I took a bearing to the first crash site, and set out.
Now this is the tricky part when navigating in this manner. The map and compass can give you a bearing quite easily, but it’s much more difficult to get a precise location. The approach here is to travel on the bearing until you hit the object for which you are searching, i.e. the crash site. I kept walking however, without encountering any wreckage. On a few instances I encountered cliffs, which forced me to move higher up in elevation. I began to worry that I would bypass the crash site. I had been following the terrain features from more detailed maps I had printed out, and it seemed to me like I had reached the area where I though the airplane would be.
At this point I had another difficult decision to make. Clearly I had not found the crash site, but I thought I had reached the area where I expected it to be. I could either continue to search for the crash site, or I could abandon the search and instead summit High Peak. It had taken me the better part of the day to get to this location. If I pushed up the mountain, I may be able to make it back by the two day mark (when I would be out of water), but if I continued to search, I would not have enough water to climb the mountain and then make it back to the water source. I could start melting snow on the mountain for water, but there wasn’t enough accumulation at this point. Besides, I had not brought enough fuel for melting water; I would have to use a fire, a time consuming prospect. I would do it as an emergency measure, but it wasn’t something I wanted to rely on.
I decided to keep searching for the crash site. I was just so close. I spend the rest of the afternoon searching, but with no luck. I took a final picture of the area where I thought the crash site could be, and gave up.
I did however find something for you chaga lovers out there.
I wasn’t sure exactly why I had failed. There were three options. The first and most likely one was that I had committed a navigational error. Considering my errors the past day, it was very likely that I had incorrectly estimated my current location. Looking at the GPS map when I got back however, it looks like I was in the exact location where I had intended to be (honestly quite surprisingly). That leaves the other two options. Either my research was wrong, or the combination of fog and snow prevented me from spotting the wreckage.
Either way, I set up camp for the evening. Up in the mountain the temperatures were now lower, falling close to 15F (-10C). The next day I would have to start back down the mountain. I didn’t have enough water to to spend the next two days doing up the mountain and then coming back down to a water source. To be honest, had I found the crash site, I would have, probably unwisely, pushed up the mountain, but psychologically I just wasn’t ready. I was too unsure about my location and my ability to reach my destination quickly enough.
I was plenty comfortable in my Western Mountaineering Antelope MF sleeping bag during the night. There was a good deal of condensation, but the sleeping bag held up fine despite the moisture accumulation. Similarly, my Kovea Spider stove was functioning well. These are low temperatures for a canister stove, but this design was working well
In the morning the temperature was not much higher. Here is what my water bottle looked like after I put it on the ground while making breakfast. I had kept it in the sleeping bag during the night to keep it from freezing, along with the filter and my camera, which now had only one functioning battery remaining. .
Now, here is an issue that I have spoken about before. In cold temperatures, breathability of materials becomes less and less relevant. The reason is that the moisture generated by your body encounters the cold air from the outside and freezes before it can exit your clothing. The colder the temperature, the deeper inside your insulation it will freeze. What you see on the jacket here is not snow, but rather the frozen vapor/sweat from my body that passed from my base layer to the top of the insulation while I was cooking. It is actually imbedded in the material and is hard to remove. Had the temperature been colder, the moisture would have frozen even further in.
Anyway, I packed up and started moving. I decided not to follow the trail back, but rather to bushwhack directly down the mountain. The trail was in such a poor condition that I figured it wouldn’t matter. It also wasn’t very difficult navigationally. I would just keep bushwhacking north until I reached the trail near the streams I had passed the previous day.
It was still very cold, so I set out while wearing the Patagonia DAS parka. I expected to take it off rather quickly, but I ended up getting a good distance down the mountain before I got warm enough to do so. I also had put the compass under my clothing, close to my body as it had developed a sizable air bubble due to the low temperature. When it warmed up the bubble went away.
And here is why you don’t use narrow mouth water bottles in winter. This is what the water bladder looked like when I checked it after about two hours of hiking down the mountain. I managed to pop out the ice, but you can’t count on being that lucky every time.
I quickly figured out why the trail was where it was. This whole area appeared to be covered by cliffs. While from the map it looks like steep, but fairly gradual terrain, the actual elevation changes were nothing like it. The ground would be level for some distance, and then end at a cliff. Going down the cliffs became very time consuming especially because of the icing. This is a common error/false assumption to be made when reading a map, and I certainly made it on this trip.
The weather started warming up at the lower elevations, but it was still cold. Even after removing my Patagonia DAS parka, I kept the REI Revelcloud on over my fleece until I made it down the mountain.
The upside of all the cliffs was that they created some nice waterfalls.
Now, had I gone to the Bear Grylls Survival Academy, I would have probably climbed down the face of the waterfall, but since I hadn’t I had to go around and find an easier way down…which I did.
I reached the trail at some point in the afternoon and started following it. It was apparently later than I thought, because it got dark on me before I realized it. I set up the tent and made dinner in the dark.
I was now back at about 2000ft in elevation, so it was relatively warmer. The temperatures were back up to around 32F (0C). By the time I was done eating, it was close to 5:30pm and pitch black. I got in my sleeping bag for another 13 hours of uninterrupted sleep… expect for the excitement of having to aim in the middle of the night into a pee bottle.
Continued on Part 3…