(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. -B)4/7/2006 - Snow Camping clinic - Desolation Wilderness, near Tamarack Lake
It's now 9:30 PM and I have been laying in my tent for three hours -- and we've been camped for about three more.
We're holed up because the purpose of our trip -- an April snowstorm we wanted to learn how to camp in -- has blown in with a vengeance.
March was one long string of snow (at our elevation -- ~7900 feet) and so it's going to be a white year on the Pacific Crest Trail. So I, Kerry and Jo (and dog Buffalo Bill Cody), famous trail angels
Jeff and Donna "L-Rod" Saufley, Krista (married three years, on first thru-hike), and John have joined Mountain Ned (and son Matt and very white fluffy dog Snowball) to test ourselves and our gear before we hit the trail for real. T-minus three weeks.
The tent I'm in is a loaner -- a Mountain Hard Wear two-man four-season job. Ned got it as a tester (he seems to work for them? [not true - but they've sponsored him for decades. -B]) and I get to play guinea pig. It's comfortable enough, especially considering it's snow/sleeting out there and below freezing, while in here I can leave my writing hand ungloved.
The tent design is a bit odd -- there are ribs of translucent fabric throughout, I suppose at the seams. When I turn off my headlamp, they glow with the night's pale reflected light off of the surrounding snow. I get the sensation of being swallowed up by a dinosaur and staring around at the inside of its belly.
It's also a "two-man" tent, but those people would have to be VERY friendly. ["Short and married," I joked on the trip. -B] With my backpack providing a footrest beyond my 3/4-length sleeping pads, me stretched out to full height, and stuff lining the sides of my doubled-up sleeping pads so I don't roll over and hit one of the moist-with-condensation walls, I've got room maybe for an extra pair of boots or two. Don't think Kady could fit in here.
But. 40 degrees F and no wind. I keep coming back to "much better here than out there."
It's a useful reality check for snowstorm camping. All you can do is bunker down, really.
My gear is holding up well. I am blown away by how comfortable my polyester/nylon clothes are -- both for sweat wicking while hiking and as insulation from wind and cold. I'm feeling much better about many of my gear buys, and I've even put the altimeter [a wristwatch with built-in weathergeek tools -B] to use. My clothes are comfy in the cold (that DriClime Windshirt is fuckin' miraculous!), my 15-degree Helium bag is performing well, the trekking poles are worth their weight in mountain money, I remain impressed with the DriDucks [raingear], and the alcohol stove even works in the cold.
... Not that I brought mine. I didn't have enough faith in it, so I fell back to my Pocket Rocket. Cold fuel = slow cooking = Bax learning experience. I coaxed along a packet of Lipton noodles for about an hour (inside the tent ... in the storm) in the tepid flame. Tasted good. Added tuna to cool it down. It still steamed up the tent but good. (I have to limit usage of its built-in ventilation flaps since it's really howling outside and snow blows in through them.)
And now I have to pee. Been wanting to go for hours, but not worth it to suit up and go get snow all over everything.
Batteries performing better than expected. I picked up some Lithiums since alkaline and NiMH are supposed to lose ~80% of their oomph below freezing. Haven't used them yet, though. [Never did -- the rechargeables I loaded my gear with at the beginning of the trip gave me four days' worth of juice and kept ticking. -B]
OTHER HIGHLIGHTS OF TODAY:
- Got to bed at 3 AM after driving to our meeting spot the night before. Car-camped til ~9. Had to detour AROUND LAKE TAHOE -- Highway 89 was closed due to avalanche risk.
- Hiked over Echo Lakes, saw way-buried lodge that I'm sure I'll recognize (or not) in the summer when I arrive. [Echo Lakes Chalet. -B]
- Saved a tent cover caught by the wind by dashing after it in snowshoes and taking a Flying! Leap! into the powder it was blowing across. And nobody even had their camera out.
- Had a trail name suggested to me. "Pole." Not like hiking pole. Like Tad Pole. I, uh, think I'll pass.
- Only hiked ~5 miles but it feels like 15. Snowshoeing up powder = vast amounts of effort. [Unlike most folks taking the clinic, I wasn't having breathing problems from the altitude and exertion. I was, however, being struck down just as hard -- in a different way. My thighs were killing me by midafternoon. On the uphill stretches, I'd have to take a few steps, rest a few seconds, start slogging again. I was pretty relieved when everyone else called it a day and we set up our base camp due to approaching clouds beginning to look threatening. My pack felt pretty heavy, too -- what with all the snow gear I had to rent for the trip, and four days' worth of food. Plus the heavy boots and snowshoes put a lot of weight on my legs I am totally unaccustomed to. -B]
Let's shoot for ~eight hours of sleep now. Not at all sure what tomorrow will bring (depending on weather, may be sitting in tent playing Solitaire) but it will pay to be ready. Plus I will need to wipe the frost from the ceiling before the sun melts it all.Post-trip supplemental notes
* For as much as I complained about the snow in the subsequent days of the trip, the first night's storm was far and away the worst. The howling tempest set tent fabric to flapping and kept pretty much everyone awake pretty much all night. Strong wind would occasionally get it to "snow sideways" throughout the trip, but it was only on that first night that I had to keep all of the tent vents closed because wild and fickle winds kept blowing snow in. It was relentless, and we were all relieved when Day 2 dawned a little calmer; the storm ended a bit after sunrise.Tomorrow: Day 2 -- ice axe practice, and a trail name sticks.