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March 19 2023, Mollies Ridge Shelter to Siler’s Bald Shelter: Woke up to the sound of the crackling fire slowly making its way out. Pusher whispered to let me know I was on his mat the entire night while he slept on the hard wooden ledge. What a trooper.
We tried as hard as possible to embrace the damp cold that was outside the warmth of our sleeping bags. Checkmate and I eventually got up, got dressed and started walking. He teased, “So, who’s your new boyfriend?” Couldn’t a girl just have some fun without people assuming I was now a thing with someone?
The strands of my hair were covered in frost since I left camp. It didn’t start to melt until the afternoon came around. The streams all froze over and our water bottles turned to solid ice. We felt so thirsty, yet there was nothing we could do but hope for it to warm up. I slipped and fell on the ice streams a few times—even broke my trekking pole at one point.
I got to Siler’s Bald Shelter, heated a freeze dried meal in attempt to warm up, but still found myself shivering. It felt much colder than the night prior. Shortly after, Sasquatch showed up and I asked him if he could please stay in the shelter with me just in case no one else showed up. He was happy to stay and shortly after, Checkmate showed up, too!
Only us three—we were so cold we didn’t even want to leave the shelter to collect firewood in an attempt to make a fire. So, we ate our food and went straight into our sleeping bags. When I first saw Sasquatch’s sleeping bag, I assumed it was a liner because it was so thin. He was also a really big guy, so his sleeping bag only pulled up to his armpits. He had to grab his sleeping bag liner and throw it over his face like a buff as prevention from the cold. He put his socks over his hands because he didn’t have any gloves. Then, he wrapped his tent around his body to insulate himself even more. I laughed to the point of tears due to how hysterical the image appeared.
I was the oreo in the middle; we cuddled up close in the corner of the shelter and joked about how cute it was that we thought the night prior was cold. We were told it would be 1°, but would feel like -7°. Sasquatch and I were even told by several people to get off the mountain due to the upcoming weather, but we thought we could handle it so we brushed off the suggestions.
Checkmate wore his base layers all day so went to bed in wet clothes. He goes, “There is a 33% chance that I’m gonna die tonight.” Then he says, “I’m taking 63 zeros when I get to Gatlinburg.” I said, “That is if we make it to Gatlinburg.” I continued, “Okay, guys, seriously. We have to think straight and brainstorm.” I thought of all the survival shows I used to watch, “We have to use each other’s body heat to warm up.” I told Checkmate to get into my sleeping bag. He goes, “Is there enough room?” I said yes! He was only able to get half of his legs in. With his knees pressing into my spine, we laid there for a couple of minutes and he goes, “What the fuck. This isn’t sustainable!!” I defended, “No! No! This is good! I can feel the heat!“ He goes, “Yeah, that’s because you’re sucking all the heat out of me. You’re like a fucking leech!” Silence came over us after the laughter subsided. Checkmate goes, “This is rock bottom.” Sasquatch adds, “It’s so cold, this is the kind of weather that makes me want to cuddle with a grown man. I’m secretly wishing Beans would show up right now to spoon me.”
We started to feel delirious from the cold and tried to think of any backup plan. We thought it would be a good idea to night hike 12 miles to the gap and sleep in the bathroom. The other option was to calm down, hope for the best and try our best to fall asleep.
I gave Checkmate my last hand warmers. Slowly, we huddled closer and after some time, we fell asleep with intermittent shaking in between. I would randomly wake up in the middle of the night to check and make sure everyone was alive and breathing. At one point, the sound of a search and rescue helicopter flew over us and woke us up with its passing bright lights. Still in a dream state, I thought the sound of the helicopter blades was the sound of me dying and going to heaven.