Monthly Archives: March 2010

Cold & Calories

This is the entry I tried in vain to post in February. Thank you for coming back!

The photo below shows all the “ingredients” for the quilt I mentioned in the previous blog; over the course of 2 weekends, these ingredients became our “cold weather” sleeping quilt. This one, with its 2-layer .9 insulation and the head & neck cozy, should keep me much warmer on next year’s hike and so help avoid the horror of “the hungries!” I’m betting that a mere 8 extra ounces in insulation will be a better choice than more food.

Have I mentioned “the hungries” in an earlier? blog It’s a technical term among through-hikers, Len told me at Wallace Creek told me, when I mentioned that every mid-afternoon I became ravenous, devouring all my trail snacks & looking longingly at every backpack we passed. I even went so far as to mooch snacks! Each night when we stopped, waiting for supper was torturous.

Len explained that “the hungries” kick when when a hiker’s body fat falls below the “safe” level,* usually around day 21. So what had caused my body fat to fall below “safe” level? My calorie count seemed reasonable. Why was I so hungry? After much consideration, I determined that I’d simply gotten too cold too often; in response, my body had, indeed, cranked the furnace all the way up, burning off all the excess fuel (read “fat”).

Fact is, backpacking in cold weather burns more calories. We’re supposed to increase our food intake & gobble even more fat than usual. Some folks say double your food consumption; others suggest 250-500 calories more a day, reminding that “your body will be running the furnace at full blast to keep your core temperature within reasonable limits.” Okay, she’s talking about really cold, but she’s also assuming we are dressed for the weather & not ambushed by a hailstorm followed by several frosty nights in an inadequate sleeping quilt. Something like that (says the girl raised on a tropical island) could push some of us right over the edge.

On day 7, coming down off Silver Pass, Mr. Jack & I hiked through a hail storm. When the clouds initially built up, and even when the rain began to spit, we thought we were in for one of those traditional mid-afternoon Sierra thunderstorm we’d walk out of in about a half-hour. We were wrong. The rain gave way to hail as we started down switchbacks toward Silver Pass Creek crossing.

Streams of ice cold water gushing across the trail froze our feet as we approached this creek crossing that, according to Ms Wenk in her JMT trail guide, even in fair weather “can be a very dangerous crossing because of the dashing cascades above and below.” So frightening did the hip-high crossing appear in the hail storm that if we could have found a flat spot to pitch the tent, we would have stopped. Instead, after a shivering consultation, we plunged through.

Hardly catching our breaths, and now completely soaked and numb-footed, we reached the North Fork of Mono Creek, which the same text describes as “another dangerous ford … the creekbed is rocky and the water turbulent, making footing difficult.” The third crossing, while as frigid & deep as the others, was at least relatively calm. And the hail had stopped. By the time we made camp high on a Quail Meadows flat, the sun was coming out. We set up camp & a clothes line, made hot tea & basked in the late evening warmth as our clothes steamed dry.

We ate hardily at Vermillion Resort, took hot showers and slept well, but the damage had been done.

“The hungries” started after the Bear Ridge climb and persisted the rest of the trip. It certainly didn’t help that several nights’ temperatures dipped below freezing, including one memorable night just below Mather Pass, when we woke to a frosted sleeping bag inside the tent & frozen water hoses outside.

Although this new sleeping quilt will not be able to keep the tent frost-free, I am hoping that it will keep us warmer at night, increasing both our sleeping comfort and our calorie-conservation abilities.

*More About That: The minimum percent of body fat considered safe is 5% for males and 12% for females.