Why you don’t listen to the weatherman

On the morning we left Andover for our final two week push to Katahdin we did what any responsible hiker would do: check the weather report. We made sure we had the proper gear for the forecasted temperatures, which were daytime highs in the 60s and lows in the mid 40s. Since we knew we would be sleeping in the mountains we figured on nighttime temperatures to be more realistically at about 40. Perfect! Low chance of rain, and decent temps allowed us to trim our clothing weight by a few pounds and travel a little lighter for the first week of our final two. We have good gear and generally err on the side of caution so we took off figuring we would be a-okay. I don’t know why I actually trusted the weather man.

Snow in the trees on Saddelback Mountain in the middle of September
Snow in the trees on Saddelback Mountain in the middle of September

The first morning we woke up to 20mph winds with temps somewhere in the low 30s (we only have a little keychain thermometer). That means it “felt like”  24(ish) degrees. Ouch! Well to say that we were excited about hiking would be a bit of an exaggeration. Nonetheless, we bundled up with our now meager collection of winter clothes, packed up camp and headed out. Walking warms you up, of course, but the concerning part of the day was the fact that the mercury in the thermometer seemed determined not to move. It only warmed up to the high 40s, at best. Far from the sunny 60s they promised. Cold is okay, but when what was originally forecasted as a 30% chance evening shower turned into a 60% chance overnight storm, weather becomes more serious. We ran to the next road intersection under spitting rain clouds and spent the night indoors at the nearest hostel as we were admittedly unprepared for this change in weather. Yes we would’ve survived, but I’m not out here hiking the Appalachian Trail with my wife to be in survival mode.

That’s when we made the decision to “turn back down from the mountain”, take a day off the trail and go get some better clothes from home. We woke up to 37 degrees and wind in the valley, 2000ft lower than our next campsite and decided we didn’t want to wait another 6 days for clothes in a mail drop. Could we have made it alright? Likely, unless we had another unforeseen storm. I’m not willing to compromise safety for weight or speed again. I’m permanently affected by frostbite from a night on a mountain in Afghanistan because we chose to travel light and fast, taking the bare minimum of winter gear. Then the mission changed and we spent 6 hours with a 0 degree wind chill. We stayed on the mountain because it was our job and potentially people’s lives depended on it. This is the Appalachian Trail, not Afghanistan. Therefore we took a shuttle and headed home for winter gear. We spent a lot of days walking in the rain this summer when others stayed in shelters to stay dry and this is why. A few day cushion in our schedule allowed us to make a smart decision and not just “survive” the last 12 days.

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2 thoughts on “Why you don’t listen to the weatherman”

  1. So true! I’ve definitely come to think of weather forecasts as best-case scenarios when packing for section hikes. Until this year’s hike of Maine, my understanding of the state had been that it was *always* raining there. Glad you built some cushion time into your schedule; the trail is too great to just be “survived.” :^)

    1. Thanks for checking us out, Kristin. Normally the fall in Maine is pretty rainy so in all honesty we got lucky this year hiking it in September with only a few truly cold, rainy, miserable days.

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