Captain Crinkles On August 23, 2017, I did not wake and enjoy a leisurely morning coffee. I lowered myself from a bunk in the Little Rock Pond Shelter and embraced the familiar pins and needles in my bloated feet. I stood, if only for a moment, to regain consciousness through heavy eyes. The grass bowed to the weight of the raindrops from a stormy night and a heavy fog began to lift from the pond. A beastly snore from a south-bounding hiker broke my sleepy hypnosis. I packed my bag with anal precision, moving quickly yet quietly as to not wake the other shelter dwellers. The cool Vermont air left me unwilling to change from my warm, dry long johns into my damp t-shirt of four days sweat. With eyes closed and a swift inward breath, I made the switch. The V-neck hung low, stretched out and damp, like a hand-me-down far beyond its glory days. With a shrug of indifference, I turned to my daily oatmeal and ate without reserve. I chugged a cold “mocha latte,” that was prepared with instant coffee and Carnation instant breakfast. A caffeine fix, a meal, and some cold spring water left me ready for the grueling day ahead. Our goal was ambitious to say the least. We planned a 24.5-mile day that would end with a brutal 4.3 mile climb to Cooper Lodge Shelter on Killington Peak, the second highest summit in the Green Mountains. We were half-way by 1pm and already exhausted. Downtrodden and famished, we stopped for a much-needed lunch break. I was uninterested in collecting water and immediately began the preparation of my meal. Andy had returned from the stream with the wolfish grin of a 10-year-old boy. I knew the trail gods had smiled upon us even before he flashed two ice cold Harpoon IPAs. They were left at the shelter to make a hiker’s day; they gave four hikers the energy and encouragement to finish their day. We approached Cooper Shelter as the sun began to set. An additional 0.2-mile vertical climb would take us above the tree line. Mamba and I dropped our gear and scrambled to the top, unwilling to miss a 180-degree western view. We had worked far too hard to pass up the reward. As we took the final steps up to the top, the blood red sun descended from a dissipating cloud. It lingered just long enough to be appreciated before it slipped beyond the horizon. Then, it was as if the evening had ended too perfectly. As we returned to the shelter, balance was returned to the trail. By this I mean, there were two tent spots for the four of us. “Not a problem,” I mused. “Mamba and I don’t mind sleeping in the shelter.” Under normal circumstances this was true. Unfortunately, the summer was ending in the mountains, and Mamba and I were both unprepared for the drastic temperature drop. In an effort to be truly ultralight, Mamba had sent home many of his extra layers and even his quilt, which he substituted for an emergency space blanket. An emergency blanket that should be used once, in an emergency! We claimed the last bunk, level with an open window, primed for brisk winds off the face of the mountain. I was just warm enough with my summer quilt wrapped tightly around me, my down jacket hood synched over my face, and my hands clasped together firmly between my legs. I drifted in and out, but sleep mostly, it evaded me. Each time the wind washed over us, it caught the space blanket. It was as if Mamba were holding a giant piece of tin foil and waving it up and down every five minutes. One gust was strong enough to pull the blanket to the floor. The following moments were pure comedy as he jumped down to grab his tin foil and pull it back onto his wooden plank of a mattress. Needless to say, we didn’t wait around and have breakfast with the other sheltering hikers. At first light, we collected our gear and left the scene of the crime. Never Go Full Ultralight.
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