Lib & Chuck on the Springer Mtn summit

Lib & Chuck on the Springer Mtn summit

It sounded like a good idea at the time. At least it did to me.

Several months ago–in fact, around about this time last year, I asked my wife, Lib, if she would ever have any interest in going backpacking with me. It did not take much discussion, and she agreed to the idea. I would carry most of the equipment, all she would need to carry was her sleeping bag and mat, and very little else.

Over the last year I’d managed to nickel-and-dime things along until she was pretty well equipped: pad, sleeping bag, pack, a few other trinkets, but everything else, I had and we would share. I snagged a two-person tent, as I knew that as much as we enjoy each other, my one-man shelter would not cut it.

Then in May, she blew out her plantar fascia, partially tearing it (long story, but it involved chasing a school bus so it would not leave without a couple of kids; as Lib said, “The next to last day of school, you DO NOT want kids left at school at the end of the day!”); summer spent in a walking cast (all through Scotland), and rehab all fall turned 2013 into a wash. I got out some, but not with her.

Then along came Christmas, and a couple of days later, we were talking New Years Eve plans. Lib wondered about having people over, I posed the possibility of Springer Mountain. Shock of Shocks, she bit. Weather was clear, not too terribly cold, so the plans were on. It’s only a one-mile walk from a parking area to the summit, and we arrived around 3:30, making the camping area near the shelter by 4:00. We got the tent set up, then I walked Lib around to the summit, which hosts the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. After a few minutes of looking around, we made it back to camp; collected water, went to the tent and got our pads and bags laid out, then with dusk moving in, we started gathering firewood.

We’d collected a good bit, some we broke up, some we cut up (I carried a saw in, and had some troubles using it, which I could not understand, but do now), and started to build a fire. I had a couple of firestarters, and had humped in 4-5 small lumps of coal, so I set to light the fire.

The firestarter caught, and started working on the smallest sticks, and I noticed they were not real quick to catch. As I kept breaking wood up, and arranged the stove to prep dinner, I was curious as to why the wood was not catching. I tried all my tricks. Firestarter, butane lighter, coal, leaves, everything. Even pulled out the firestarter that I’d saved for the morning, and NOTHING worked. NOTHING. I could not believe it.

We cooked dinner (Thank God for the stove!) and ate it, had dessert (Bananas Foster) and hot chocolate, all the while still trying to get the fire started. Finally we came to the sinking conclusion that it was not going to happen.

With all the rain we’ve had this fall, and a deluge the weekend before we hit the trail, everything was wet. To add insult to injury, it was below freezing on the summit. In other words, the wet wood was frozen (thus my trouble with the saw). We simply were unable to get enough of a fire burning to thaw out and dry out wood to burn, in order to get enough of a fire to sustain itself off frozen wood.

In other words, when the wood is frozen, the fire won’t burn!

I’ve learned a lesson–next time, I’ll hump in a little flask of kerosene, and maybe a hatchet to split the wood.

I bet no one else got in bed at 7:00 PM New Year’s Eve; that was the only way to stay warm!