I gasped for air as I came to, the first thing that came to my mind was “Where the hell am I?” as I heard a familiar voice ripple through the transition between unconscious and conscious: “Dude are you ok?” I replied with a panicked “Someone turn on a goddamned light.” As the lights began to flood the frozen walls of the three person tent that Frank, Dan and I had occupied for the last eight hours, I realized where I was and what was going on. I struggled my way out of the confines of the minus twenty sleeping bag I occupied and sat up. I heard Franks voice again “Pat, are you alright?” Unable to shake the panic, I put my boots on and crawled out of the tent into the sub-zero night of the High Peaks Wilderness.
As I stood there breathing in the razor sharp air of the night, and gazing up at the beauty of the of sky it occurred to me that I had suffered a panic attack brought on by the claustrophobia of a cinched up sleeping bag in a crowded tent. After I regained my composure, I crawled back into the tent and sleeping bag. I laid my head back down and replied to Frank “yea, I’m alright, panic attacks are a bitch.”
After what seemed like an eternity of blackness, I awoke again, this time without the panic. I could hear Dan stirring on the other side of the tent. I could see the faint glow of moonlight on the tent wall and asked him what time it was. “it’s about five thirty, I’m going to start making breakfast.” At this point the temperature had plummeted to around negative twenty, which made it hard to motivate myself out of the warmth of my sleeping bag, but after about thirty five minutes of contemplation I put my boots on and crawled out into the day.
I could hear the roar of the stove in the distance which meant food and warm liquids. When I got to the lean-to that we were using as a kitchen, Dan handed me a hot bottle. I took a swig, hot chocolate. I immediately felt my body begin to warm. Frank joined us a few minutes later and we started to force down a meal of re-hydrated eggs and some oatmeal. Eating is a chore when it is this cold, everything is a chore when it is this cold.
I pulled out my camera to take a few quick photos before we started our hike. The camera, coated with a layer of ice, slowly woke up and I snapped a few shots of Dan as he melted a little bit more snow so we had water for the day, one of the few luxuries of being in weather this cold, unlimited access to water. That is of course if you have a way to melt it.
I noticed my left foot was starting to lose feeling, but I wrote it off as a side effect of not being very mobile for the past hour or so. I strapped my snow shoes on and started to walk around hoping to jumpstart the circulation in my foot. It seemed a little bit better, but not quite there yet so I promised myself I would reassess the situation periodically during the hike.
We crossed the frozen water at Marcy Dam and began to make our way up the trail. I was hard charging to keep myself warm and to try to get my toes working again. At about ten o’clock I decided to reassess the situation during a water break. I sat down and removed my boots and socks. My foot had little to no warmth and my toes were still numb. At this point I decided to make the call to head back to camp. I began to quickly move down the trail back toward Marcy Dam with a sense of urgency. I knew the tent offered a warm sleeping bag to try to revive my frozen toes in. I passed a pair of hikers who commented on my speed of decent. “I’ve lost the feeling in my foot and need to get it warmed up.” I said. “Well then I guess you need to keep moving, have a good one.” One of the hikers replied.
I made the descent to camp in about thirty minutes and crawled into a sleeping bag. I tore open a hand warmer and shoved it into a sock to help speed up the warming process. Within a few minutes feeling began to pour back into my foot. I decided to lay back on my pack and rest for a bit before heading toward the car. Once I felt confident that my blood was flowing again, I put on another pair of socks, packed up some of camp and continued on down the trail toward the Adirondack Loj. Dan and Frank would pack up the tent when they came back through.
Although I didn’t get to summit Mount Marcy that day, I learned a valuable lesson on knowing when to throw in the towel and listening to your body. Had I ignored the warning signs and not called it quits when I did, who knows how much longer my toes would have hung on in that bitter cold.