(Two weeks ago, I took a four-day group hiking trip to test out my gear and learn snow camping strategies prior to hitting the Pacific Crest Trail. The notes below are transcribed from my paper wilderness journal.
Apologies for the more fragmentary nature of these days' writings, but I'm running out of posting time before the real adventure starts. -B)
Sunday, 4/9/06 - Desolation Wilderness, near Tamarack Lake
Starting dinner at 4:15. Snow has been falling all day today and most of the afternoon it's been sideways. ~2:00 return to camp and everyone ducked into their tents.
So. A lot of snow. That would be today's theme. Snow. And the falling thereof. Onto us.
In that sense at least it was a remarkable gear test.
(By the way, two dinners tonight. Heated my beef stew; now supplementing with a Lipton Noodle packet. A leftover from the first night, when I cooked one instead of the two I expected to eat. Day 2's dinner was a double rice packet. It was a lot of rice.)
I've been learning what wonderful insulators all my polyester/nylon clothes are, but today really drove it home. In a snowstorm - a snowstorm! - the only things standing between me and the cold were: boots and llama sox; fleece leggings and my convertible pants; (note: no rain pants, those got torn up for my trail name); a short-sleeved polyester T-shirt; Driclime windshirt (all hail!), and featherweight DriDuck top. And some POS gloves that haven't been dry since the start of Day 1 - built-in liners and for some ungodly reason they have a layer OVER the Gore-Tex, so they hold moisture like a filled boot. And also gaiters. <3 <3 <3 the gaiters.
Keep in mind that the T-shirt, DriClime and Driducks is a grand total of ~1/4 inch of fabric.
But while out hiking - in the snowstorm - I was comfy and it kept me going (though frigid) during our lunch break. On top of that! My standard polyester pants shed show - and while I had to hang my Driducks up to drip-dry, when I came inside the leggings were already dried up! I have some superhero-like clothes. I would not have believed it if you'd told me as a sales pitch, but I'm a convert now.
I'm kind of glad it worked out, actually. Because I did not have a stellar morning.
Staggered out of my tent around 9:30 (after a terribly epic dream involving travel, world-saving, and some rich background I no longer remember) only to find everyone else packed up and on snowshoes! Had to abandon my ambitious morning plans of refill water/eat breakfast/urinate and maybe poop/get ready -- in favor of throwing some crap in my pack and jetting, still in my flannel bottoms and all. (For which I was later grateful.) Approx. eight miles of snowshoeing ensued.
Since the morning snow was still icy, Ned suggested we take off our snowshoes to get a feel for the stuff we'd be crossing on the PCT. This worked well until we got to tree cover, then postholing hell ensued. (Note to self: Trees = less sun = less melting of powder.) Snowshoes quickly went back on and stayed. ["Postholing" is the process of repeatedly sinking deeply in soft, powdery snow, your boots and legs leaving long, skinny holes that you could stand fenceposts up in. -B]
It started snowing before lunch. When we hit $lake(destination) [Aloha Lake. I didn't have a map and had to look it up after the trip. -B] the storm was in full swing. Hunkered behind tree cover, and I managed to beg some water from others (my first of the day) and choke down a few glovefuls of Zen Party Mix. [A trail mix with rice crackers ... a real morale booster for me. -B] Then the last half, back to camp, trying to navigate by fading footprints because the snow was hampering sight of landmarks.
Back at the tents, first order of business was trudging back through the pelting snow to our watering hole to fill up. Then - down to business. By which I mean a euphemism for the call of the bowls.
Still fiercely snowing, but it couldn't wait. So I grabbed a shovel, hightailed (redtailed?) it to a tree with a sizable wind shadow and braced for the worst. And the cold.
Arm cramp during squat (*ow ow ow*) but couldn't shift, since other hand had glove off, and plunging it into snow = suck. Finally rested with back on tree. Not as cold as expected. But made mistake of wiping butt with snow.
This accomplished - with some relief at not having frozen too much - I went back to talk to Ned. Money quotes (both mine):
"I've shit in a snowstorm. Now there's nothing that can harm me."
"Can't wipe with your gloves on. It just doesn't work."
Then... a long lazy afternoon. With nothing else planned for the day and a snowstorm still in progress, we all retreated to our tents. I cooked two meals, spent some time with Thea and napped. Rearranged the tent (to see if it was more comfortable sleeping with my head at the far end ..... apparently so).
Non-equipment Related Things I've Learned This Trip
- Avalanche danger: 25-35 degree slope. Especially after a storm.
- Practicing Wilderness First Aid is very difficult on someone who knows what/where a C7 is. [The vertebra at the base of your neck. The point is, if someone has enough medical background to calmly sit there and self-diagnose, mostly you sit there, nod at appropriate times and try not to say anything foolish. -B]
- Tent condensation: The bane of modern existence.
Still snowing. Sideways.
Breakfast is vanilla pudding. Didn't feel like granola and it let me kill a milk packet. Clothes are all grimy. There's six inches of fresh powder in front of my tent door. Despite this - and pulling a knee muscle last night while trying to tun around in my tent - having a good morning. 9 a.m. and all is well.
And snowy. And windy.
Dreamt last night I was in an RPG. Er, sort of. There were these evil elves stalking roaminrob for some reason. So he fled for sanctuary and I went with him. I went back to a house we'd briefly visited before hitting a lunch buffet - and discovered one of the elves there. He tried to paralyze me with a spell; I resisted and reciprocated; as did he; and with great effort I got him on my second try. The evil elf thus dispatched, and my newfound magic powers awakened, I talked with the house's owner (a sweet and also magically active grandma) learned that homocidal psycho were a larger threat and set off on a quest to keep the world safe from them. I foiled the random killing of (I believe) a rock star, then chased the elf to President Reagan's hotel suite. After a little deliberation, I decided Reagan was better off dead - thus saving myself from an ambush.
That's where the RPG comes in. The scene cut back to the gaming table, where the player beside me was tearing up another evil elf assassin character sheet and complaining about the game to the GM. I told him if he felt it was unfair to his elves, I'd be willing to switch places with him and let him play to hero, but mentioned that the game just seemed as though the evil elves had an uphill battle.
The wilderness has this way of producing vast, epic dreams.
Other random trip notes:
- Unexpected gear winner: Teflon pot scraper. [$1.95 for a pair; weighs a fraction of an ounce. -B] Performed beautifully. Doubled as a boot scraper to get ice from them upon entering tent.
- Rain/snow tent camping is such a pain. In L-Rod's words, everything you have to go outside to do (piss, H2O, etc) is "such a production."
- Only ~8 inches of snow on cars! Sorta disappointing.
- Snowed at parking lot. No problem driving out, though.
- Got rained on at 3,800 feet during the drive home. A change of pace from snow, at least.
- Went down to the American River Confluence (<1000 ft) on my way home and hiked around a bit. Exertion a total breeze. You don't realize how much of a difference the elevation makes until you get back downhill.
Also, the last of the snow camping photos are up. Enjoy.