Emma and I love hiking. We’ve been on a five day hike for her 2016 spring break and we have been on several one day hikes. Well, in the middle of winter, Jan 4, 2017, we decided to go hiking in Shenandoah National Park. We were eager to try out some new equipment we had received for Christmas. We had bought ourselves some new trekking poles and received a new Bio Lite Stove.
The park is beautiful and we have been there many times. Driving out there was the first time I had driven in the snow and it was a challenge. Once you get close to the park the roads aren’t plowed very often and the snow builds up. Anytime a large vehicle came down the opposite side of the road we had to find a good place to slow down to a crawl and not get stuck. It was a very slow drive.
We got to the park and filled out the backpacking permit that we needed and off into the wilderness we went. The first few minutes were annoying. We had to figure out exactly what warming layers to keep on and one of our trekking poles broke. After about 15 minutes it got easier. We were just walking along having a great time. About an hour in we reached the peak of one of the mountains (or really big hill; still not sure). The wind was awful. The gusts were about 20 mph and it felt like it was cutting us. We stopped about two hours in to take the picture you see at the top. It may not look like it in the picture, but I felt like I was dying. My hands were white despite the fact that I had two hot hands in each glove. On top of this mountain was when I realized we made a huge mistake.
Us being the kind of go-getters that we are meant we were not stopping. I’m glad we didn’t either. It was beautiful with the freshly fallen snow. We crossed a couple tiny streams and crossed fresh deer tracks and hearing the deer running through the woods. Towards the end of the day, we were fatigued. We knew we just had to make it to our camping area and we would be able to make some warm food with our new Bio Lite Stove.
We got to the camping area after dark and tried to setup camp as fast as possible. Emma was responsible for trying to put the small Walmart purchased tent together while I tried to get the new stove started. The stove small cylinder that you stuff with leaves and small sticks and it creates a little tunnel of fire. It’s pretty cool. I could not for the life of me get it started. I tried and tried and my hands were barely working. It was awful. After about 30 minutes of trying, I got it lit and we put our macaroni and cheese in the pot to heat. The fire lasted for about two minute and then went out. We couldn’t get it started again so we climbed in our tent and into our two person sleeping bag. We ate the coldest, crunchiest macaroni and cheese ever. It was disgusting!
After about 30 minutes of trying to get warm, we stopped shivering. We didn’t stop shivering because we were warm; we stopped shivering because we were just too tired to shiver anymore. We were entering hypothermia. We were lucky enough to realize this and we made the call that the only way to get warm again was to get moving. We decided at around 9pm to pack up and hike out.
It took about three minutes to pack everything up and we were on our way out. We decided to go out the same way we went in because we were more familiar with the trail. It wasn’t so bad after we walked about 10 minutes. We started to warm up and morale had lifted a little. We heard a few strange noises but we dismissed them as small animals and such. About halfway out, as we were just walking along, Emma turned to me and asked, “What are those lights to the left?” I looked over and realized that there were no lights. The city was to the right and on the other side of a mountain. I looked a little closer and that’s when it hit me. IT WAS A BEAR. I told Emma to keep walking slowly and to make loud noises. I pulled my little handgun out – not to kill the bear, but to hopefully scare it – and we just kept moving. The bear moved a little but luckily it never came closer. Once we were a little further from the bear we decided to walk fast and make plenty of noise. It felt like we were walking out FOREVER. We finally got to the car around midnight and started the long journey home.
I know bear sightings are pretty common in the park and nothing usually comes of them, but this was pretty scary. It was dark, we were freezing, and we felt pretty exposed. We are lucky to not have frozen and to not have been mauled by a bear that night. Great experience and I’m really glad it’s over!