Remembering a winter excursion

Beachum McDougald Contributing columnist

January 13, 2014

Sitting around inside whilst recovering from heart surgery begats another severe illness — cabin fever. Yeah, it’s cold outside and who wants to be out in it? I do. Under “optional” conditions I love cold weather.

Brace yourself as my mind once more decided to take a trip back in time and outside in nature rather than watch daytime television.

This time I’ve gone back to November 1976 — Thanksgiving holidays to be precise — and the Explorer conquest of Standing Indian.

For those unaware, Standing Indian is a mountain located near the Georgia-North Carolina border on the Appalachian Trail. It stands 5,499 feet in elevation.

Today, we could never get away with what we did back then, but boy, we surely had some good, clean fun. It was our goal as leaders of Explorer Post 447 to teach sound appreciation and respect of nature to a coed group of high school students.

First of all we wanted it to be cold and we prepared for it. Basic rules to remember were: 80 percent of your body heat is lost through your head, dress in layers so you can shed and add as needed, wear wool, not cotton and you are warm only twice — whilst hiking or in your sleeping bag. Foods should be easy to prepare with just hot water and full of calories, carbohydrates, and fats. The fats will warm your body later in the evening.

Several of us left the Friday morning after Thanksgiving and drove or rode the 350 miles to Standing Indian, located southwest of Franklin, NC. Adult leaders were me, Calvin Newton and Henri Johnson. Explorers were Jim Biddell, Jim Wetmore, Randy Stewart, Tommy Nicholson, and perhaps two or three other guys that I can’t recall and two coed members that I can’t recall.

We spent Friday night in a trail shelter near Standing Indian Campground, or about 7.5 miles from the summit.

Following a filling hot breakfast on Saturday morning, we began the trek to the summit, reaching it by early afternoon. Immediately we began pitching tents and unpacking the absolute essentials. The panoramic view from the summit was beyond description.

One of earlier decisions of not to have a campfire bit the dust as the young-uns began gathering firewood and cleared an area for a beautiful, but essentially useless campfire. With the wind blowing you are either up wind and getting no heating effect or you’re down wind and in the smoke. All of our water boiling was done on small, compact backpacking stoves.

We all moved over to the western side of the pinnacle to watch the truly majestic and colorful sunset drop below the red-orange clouds and mountains in the far west.

I remember supper being a box of Kraft instant mac ‘n cheese with a heavy dose of margarine with hot water chased by two cups of hot chocolate. By 7:30 p.m. the temperature was 7 degrees and the wind was coming out of the west. The warm down sleeping bag resting on a closed cell foam pad in the tent was calling, and I went. Others soon followed.

The long evening’s sleep was deep, sound, and well deserved.

As the sun broke over the mountains to the east on Sunday morning, the temperature had risen to a balmy 20 F and the clouds, possibly snow clouds were gathering. We quickly broke camp, boiled water for some richly prepared oatmeal and began the hike to civilization.

Stopping at a local restaurant for Sunday lunch, the appreciation of hot water from a faucet, soap, and a toilet became evident. Delicious food that was not previously in the dehydrated state was most appreciated.

We were properly prepared, we braved the raw elements, and if the Explorers were not sleeping during the long ride home their humorous stories of their most extreme encounter in the wilderness kept everyone laughing.

Beachum McDougald is president of McDougald Funderal Home and Crematorium in Laurinburg. He serves as vice chair of the Scotland County Highland Games, on the Scotland County Tourism Development Authority, and is the founder and liaison of the Scotland High School-Oban High School student exchange program.