Saturday, August 25, 2007

Cold, but it's my fault

I've wrapped myself in every spare layer I could find at the office ... the spare socks in my desk drawer, the neglected-but-dry dress shoes, the mildew-scented cotton hoodie that was stuffed in my trunk. Seems nothing can cut the edge off this blue-lipped chill. It's the kind of cold that doesn't come off ... August cold.

It's always difficult to figure out how to dress for hours of activity in the rain. Do I go for minimum layers soaking wet, or multiple layers soaked in sweat? I've become pretty good at estimating the insulation I'll need for my exertion level in biking. Guessing how much of my own heat I'll generate is much harder to do when I'm hiking.

Today I dressed minimally for the West Glacier Trail because I decided my knee is strong enough now for uphill/level-ground jogging when the trail isn't too technical. And since my whole aim is to go as hard as I can, I figured I wouldn't need all those layers weighing me down.

All went well until the trail veered away from the glacier and began to climb the face of Mount McGinnis. Where the West Glacier Trail becomes the Mount McGinnis trail was a little unclear to me, so I continued along, hoping to find a better overlook. The marginally walkable surface gave way to nearly-vertical granite outcroppings, slickrock smooth and weeping with rain runoff. There were enough good handholds to make the climbing fairly fast. But after several occurrences of nearly losing my footing on the slippery surface, I began to realize that downclimbing wasn't going to be such a breeze.

One wrong step away from a raging waterslide ride into an icy abyss is probably a better description for the downclimb. I had to take it painfully slow, making sure every carefully placed step was secure before moving another limb, all the while lamenting as my fingers and toes slowly went numb and the wet chill worked its way toward my core. By the time I made it back to the main trail, I was shivering, no longer able to calm my chattering teeth, and more than a mile away from the joggable part of the trail. A long hike indeed.
I'm familiar enough with this wet chill to know that it never becomes truly dangerous unless I stop moving. Still, it's uncomfortable enough to impair balance and motor skills, and make any activity I'm not quite accustomed to - say, jogging - even more difficult. I actually fell flat on my face once after slipping in a mud puddle and failing to even put my arms out to break the fall. I finished out the trail speed walking, wary of every rock, and covered in mud. The rain washed me clean before I returned to thetrailhead, which was a good thing since I had taken so long at that point I had to drive straight to work ... if only I could coax my numb fingers to turn the key in the ignition.

Ah, a wet-weather onset of mild hypothermia. Late summer just wouldn't be the same without it.