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Bruce Hudson
08-28-2007, 20:35
OK, I'm a 64 year old guy who's new to backpacking this year-- hiked Atkins to Erwin in two separate hikes this summer. I'm a teacher adn school has started and of course I'm anxious to get back out there. The question is how crazy is it to hike the trail in Nov. I don't have cold weather 4 season equipment--Kelty 35 plus bag, Flashlight tent. My thought was to go south from Erwin. How sensible is that to try in late Nov.? (I'm aware that there are winter hikers but that's not what I have in mind.)

Bruce Hudson
bruhudson@mindspring.com
Raleigh, NC

bigcranky
08-28-2007, 20:56
Bruce,

I love hiking in November. No bugs, no people, great views (no leaves), and it's usually cool enough for good hiking without being so cold as to be a winter hike. The only downside is the short day-length. I like to bring a book and a warm bag to hole up in.

That said, hiking in late November, i.e., Thanksgiving, opens you up to some potentially serious weather concerns. You'll be in some high country -- Big Bald is a great mountain. In general, the overnight lows will be below freezing, and often below 20-F. The highs will be anywhere from 30-60, and it could be very windy. It's usually fairly dry, so you won't have to worry too much about rain and snow -- but it could happen. Worst-case scenario, you're hiking in 28-degree weather and it raining sideways with 50mph gusts. Been there, done that, and it's less than ideal hiking weather :-?

So you're not crazy, but you'll definitely want a warmer sleeping bag, and to make sure you have the right clothing. It wouldn't hurt to find an experienced cold-weather hiker with whom you could share this journey.

Being mentally prepared is also important. I can't count the number of times I've driven up from warm, sunny central North Carolina, and been dropped off at the trailhead in an icy gale. It's a shock to the system. But knowing it's going to happen helps (a little).

Oh, and don't dismiss winter hiking. It takes some time and experience (and gear) to do it, but the rewards can be terrific.

Hope your fall semester is going well.

--Ken

orangebug
08-28-2007, 21:39
I did Erwin to Damascus in 2004 finishing just after T-Day. Views were great. Definitely not crowded. But weather was an issue on the higher Balds. I had rough times and cold rains and snow on T Day. Loved every minute of it.

You have Max Patch to deal with south of Hot Springs. The rocky ridge relo near Jerry Cabin (forgetting the name, sorry) will be exposed, but the blue blaze has better water. I'd pass on the side trail to the TV antennae. The fire tower north of Hot Springs is great. Spend a day in Hot Springs and soak in a hot tub.

Be prepared for anything in the Smokies after October. Your sleeping bag is not adequate. A small one person tent is easy to erect and keep warm. Bring lots of calories. Days will be short, hence plan on lots of batteries for lighting.

It should be pretty easy to get Erwin to Hot Springs in just a few days. Another week to get to Fontana at the most. It is a good time to hike.

bigcranky
08-29-2007, 07:47
Hey, OB,

Good advice. I thought that relo south of Jerry Cabin was awesome.

Bruce said he was a teacher, so I assume he has, at most, 5 days off at Thanksgiving. (That's what my wife has this year, but it depends on the county.) Given his experience level, I would expect that Erwin-Hot Springs would take at least 5 days, especially with the short day length.

--Ken

Bruce Hudson
08-29-2007, 17:40
You're right Ken-- five days. Erwin to Hot Springs would be the trip. I've heard that decent cold weather sleeping bags can be had through army surplus that aren't all that heavy. Wonder if that's an option to fix my bag problem. Having just sprung for a new Gregory Baltoro pack and the Sierra Designs Flashlight via the REI labor day sale, I'm not sure another bag can be in the works for the immediate future:-)

Bruce

bigcranky
08-29-2007, 18:22
Hi, Bruce,

Sounds like a great hike. Here are two sleeping bag ideas that should be much lighter than military surplus:

http://tinyurl.com/38s55t

http://tinyurl.com/33z2tn

Both are down bags. The Campmor is a popular inexpensive choice. Not as well made as a $400 bag, but well worth the sub-$140 price. The Big Agnes is a nice bag, too; just be aware that their bags have no bottom insulation -- they require a sleeping pad inserted into a sleeve on the bottom.

Either of these bags should work with the usual Thanksgiving weather, especially if you wear clothing to bed to boost the rating. A hat and dry wool socks make a huge difference. Also, carry a small closed-cell-foam "sit pad", and put it inside your sleeping bag at night, under your feet for more insulation. (During the day it provides a warm and dry place for your keister when you take a break.)

Cheers,

--Ken

orangebug
09-01-2007, 08:16
As important as hat and socks will be, plan on a balacava and something to cover mittens/gloves in case of rain. The balacava is great for wind during the day, and keeps your head and face toasty at night. You have no idea what misery can be to have a freezing rain work through gloves. Once it gets cold enough to freeze the mittens, everything is all right, but before that point, plastic sacks/bags or vapor proof glove covers are a godsend.

BTW, to those who notice my tardiness in responding to messages - I have a fairly new job working in a residential treatment facility for personality disordered males. AKA prison. I don't get computer access so much these days.