Monday, December 03, 2007

Mt. Everett, MA

Joel, W2TQ, and myself arrived at the Mt. Everett, MA Ranger Station about 11am, Dec 1st. About an inch of light snow had fallen that morning creating some slippery roads but coating everything with a creamy-white finish. The blue clouds were cruising fast across the sky creating dashing pockets of sunlight on the new snow. We started our hike from the parking lot, our car safely protected by the proximity to the Ranger Station. It was becoming noticeably colder after the frontal passage with temperatures around 20 f. and very windy. You could hear the wind in the tree tops higher up the mountain as we turned onto the now-closed and gated road to the top of Mt. Everett. This is a very scenic hike and a very crowded area in the summer due to its accessibility.

After a mile we came to Guilder Pond, frozen over but pretty with its deep winter coat of ice and snow. Midway up the summit road we spot some curious paw tracks in the snow heading in our same direction. They were too big for a coyote or even a wild dog and had the tell-tale large palm pad, finger pads, and the give-away claw marks in the white snow. It was a small black bear with the palm pad only about 3 inches across. It was late in the season and I’m sure the bear was looking for its winter hibernation nest.

After a climb of about 1000’ we get to the top. The temperature was now near 10 f. and the wind ferocious at speeds around 40 mph, biting at our exposed skin with every gust. It was now clear and sunny and we hike the final 500’ of the icy trail to the summit, billowed by the gusty winds. We take some pictures of the 360-deg view of the southern Adirondacks to the north, the Catskills to the west and the beautiful valleys of the Berkshires to the east. No need to linger here; much too cold for any ones comfort.

The Appalachian Trail crosses over the top of Mt. Everett and there is a small, stone shelter at what was once a vista parking lot years ago when cars were allowed up the access road. In the late 1990’s, the 2nd steel firetower was removed but the cement footings are still embedded. The footing remains of the 1st firetower constructed in the early 1900’s are still visible if you wander around a bit. The first picture was of the original Park sign from the early 1900’s captured when I was here in the summer of 2005. That sign has now been replaced by a sign antiseptic in comparison. We huddled inside the stone shelter to escape the wind and silently marveled at the vista to the east and the 1,500 foot dropoff to the Berkshire valley below. The adventurer in me was thinking this would be a great place to view the morning sunrise….but then another wind gust rocked me to reality. Joel consulted his maps and we wisely hiked north to a lower elevation on the AT to several shelters. The first was one of the best shelters I’ve seen on the AT with water nearby, a fire pit, privy, bunk beds, a loft, everything but a heater! We dropped our packs, quickly scouted the other nearby shelter and readily agreed we wouldn’t find anything better than this 5-star wilderness hotel!

The temperature was now 10 f. The wind is still howling up above but we were somewhat protected in the forest below. We scavenged for firewood and I quickly got a small fire going. The world (well, the camp) seems a much better place with the crackling fire fending off the worst deep chills. We could tell it was to be really cold overnight; the forecasts were for the low single digits.

What about my planned QRP operation with my Elecraft K1 and my trusty dipole to string in the trees? It seemed like an extravaganza….we were cold, it was supposed to get colder, the fire’s heat sucked up the wind and I wanted to put up a dipole in the trees? My coax was frozen stiff, the 50-lb nylon fishing line I use to anchor the dipole ends was brittle, every effort demanded twice the concentration. But I got the antenna up with Joel’s help, I plug my lithium Ion battery pack in, connect the coax and now for the moment of truth….does a K1 work at single digit temperatures? I tentatively push the on button….YES! I hear 40 cw! It was around 4 pm, getting colder as dusk settles into our camp area. I called CQ for about 30 minutes but no answers. Was something wrong? Maybe I’m too early on the band? I check the system and decide that it is just too cold….maybe the RF is freezing I laughingly rationalize.

I abandon my ham radio efforts to focus on getting warm, preparing for dinner of some freeze dried Jamaican Chicken, and then into the down sleeping bag. Dinner was wonderful! And in spite of an occasionally snow flurry, by 7 pm or so the numbing coldness drives us into our sleeping bags for warmth. Surprisingly we fall asleep quickly and I vow I’m not getting out of my warm bag to visit the privy during the night.

We’re nearing the winter solstice so it didn’t get light until around 7 am. I wanted to try to operate on my favorite 40m band but I didn’t want to get out of the warm sleeping bag. I squirmed around to get the K1 set up so I can kind of operate from the bag. I connect with W9ZN who has a really loud signal into New England. My second contact was with WB2YRL in Virginia who reminds me that a snow storm is forecasted for our area later that day. The temperature is now 5 f. and I’m surprised my K1 works at this temperature.

We eat a great breakfast (ok…as “great” as oatmeal can be!) and it starts to lightly snow. We think we should get on the road back to NNJ before the weather snarls traffic. So we quickly pack up and hike back to the car, and start our 2-1/2 hour drive back.

It was a great winter camping trip but temperatures in the low single digits make everything much harder. It’s surprising how cold your bare hands can get in just a few minutes and how challenging it is to stay warm. Therein lies both the beauty and beast!

Thanks to my Polar Bear friends who were dutifully listening for my wilderness signal. And I can hardly wait to the next winter outing…. Of course that’s easy to say now in the comfort of my easy chair and 70 f. shack temperatures!

Guy, N7UN/2
Polar Bear #15