As soon as we dropped our packs at the campsite I pulled out my phone and found that we had enough service to send a text. I quickly messaged our location, situation, and general plan to my wife. I let her know that I would check back in shortly. It took me about 20 minutes to set the tent up as it required a lot of digging and shoveling to make a solid surface in the deep snow below the tent. At this point Mike added some extra dry layers and did some of the shoveling to try to warm up. Once the tent was up I had him get inside and get into my -15 degree sleeping bag, while I worked outside to secure the tent with a buried ice axe dead-man anchor and some trees. At that point I realized that Mike had dropped his Axe and a large water bottle when he fell about a half mile back up the trail. While there was plenty of snow to melt losing the water bottle would not be ideal, so I opted to hike back up and find it. I checked on Mike and found that he was still cold but feeling a bit better. I told him to do some sit ups every few minutes and to eat some bars to help warm him up. It only took me about 15 minutes to return to the tent with the lost axe and bottle. At this point Mike was halfway out of the bag and rummaging through his bag for food. In hindsight I am kind of an A hole for not just getting him the bars to make it easier. He was now complaining of being even colder and moral was at an all-time low. In terms of moral something really changed at this point, Mike went from being cold but not really worried to really anxious and frustrated. Noticing this change, I decided it was best to come up with a plan based on a couple key priorities. Priority one was to get Mike to warm up to a point in which he was comfortable and out of any hypothermia or frostbite danger. After that I would have to assess if this plan was sustainable overnight for both of us or would it be safer to hike out before the sunset. Once I explained this to Mike he seemed to be a bit less anxious and really accepted the magnitude of the situation.
Ok priority one, get warm. Mike was now in the bag, fully zipped up and wearing pretty much all the clothing he had. To further improve on this I had him add the SOL Escape Pro Bivy to the system. This handy Bivy is made of a Sympatex Reflexion material and really helps to warm you up by trapping in body heat but keeps moisture out. He added this as a top layer to this sleeping bag. While he was doing that I fired up the stove and boiled a full 32oz bottle of water. I placed this bottle inside the bivy storage bag and had him place this near his feet inside the bivy. I should mention that I had been doing my best to limit cold air entering the tent. Within about 20 minutes Mike was feeling much better and was actually starting to get warm. At this point now that he was not in pain or cold distress we began talking about priority two which was sustainability. Assessing our situation I felt that if it was possible for Mike to hike out today that we would be taking a lot less risk by not staying overnight. Mike concluded that is was not fatigue that had caused him to want to stop earlier but really just being cold. The hike out would only involve about 500 feet of elevation gain and then a long but not technical decent back to the Jeep. Mike stayed in the tent as I organized gear, removed the shell and undid all the anchors. I texted my wife letting her know that we were hiking out and after about five minutes of haphazardly gear packing we were on our way. I took as much weight from Mike as possible to make the climb easier. Additionally we put crampons on to ascend the steep slope that was now packed down. Mike dropped a few layers as we approached the slope and then added them once we got to the top and started heading down. All in all it took us a couple hours to hike out but we made it back to the Jeep just before sunset. We joked on the way home about all the mistake we had made and how bad it could have been. And while we had to bail on the overnight I was happy to have reached the summit and proud to have at least made the decision to hike out.
Catskill Winter Backpacking 1 – Mike and Andrew 0. Stay tuned to hear how we evened the score in Part 3.