(this has been sitting in my drafts for far too long…)
Read Part 1
Going to bed cold sucks. But if you can get dry, and if your gear is warm enough, you can get comfortable and sleep well. There are other things that you can do. I think it’s good to get warm and get the blood pumping a bit before jumping in the sleeping bag. Jumping jacks, running around, or whatever, for a few minutes before bed helps. Heat up some water, have a warm drink, and fill a water bottle. Throw the water bottle in the foot of your sleeping bag. A Lexan Nalgene bottle can take boiling water and is thermally stable. This will do two things for you: it will make the foot of your sleeping bag VERY toasty, and you will have non-frozen water in the morning, saving you time and fuel. Just be careful; a bottle full of boiling water will be very hot.
A three person backpacking tent does fit three average sized men, but it’s tight. If you weren’t friends before you went in, you will be. I was just fine with that, because even thought the walls of a tent are thin, it actually can retain quite a bit of heat. Going to bed at 4am, I was glad that a cloudy morning let us sleep in. I have a hard time sleeping if the sun is shining on my tent. I think Josh and I roused ourselves around 7 or 8am. The least pleasurable part of getting out of the tent is putting on cold boots. The laces are wet, and the leather is hard. It pretty much just sucks, so you just have to suck it up and get the fire going.
I like hiking in to camp in the dark. Seeing the campsite in the morning is always a surprise. We knew the lake was close by, but we didn’t know exactly where. It was actually a shock to see how close and large the lake was. It was just several yards down the hill from the fire ring where we huddled the night before. After sleeping in a bit, the change of plans became solidified without discussion. Instead of going for the loop around Snowbank Lake, we would just hike back the route we came in. Which made Saturday a camp day!
The first order of business was to get the fire going. Ok, maybe coffee, and then fire (Starbucks Via is pretty awesome on the trail). The meager fire we had just a few hours before left little in the way of usable coals. Josh set to making the fire while I cut wood. Finding dry kindling was the hard part, but with some elbow grease, some was found. A nice benefit of cutting wood is that it heats you up quickly. Once the base of the fire was going, wood dried fairly quickly. By the way, having two hatchets and a Sven Saw in camp is awesome. You can use a piece of wood to baton a hatchet through a log, but the hammer side of another hatchet is an order of magnitude better.
With a fire going, the true glory of a camp day can unfold. Hanging out, exploring, smoking cigars and pipes, or just staying warm and trying to dry all of your wet gloves and socks. But the real beauty of a winter camp day is bacon. BACON. Hiking in cold temperatures means that you can bring meat products that normally require refrigeration. (Obviously, bear bagging your food becomes even more important.) Few things can rival the smell, taste, and feel of bacon cooked over an open fire on a cold day. It would be negligent of me to not mention that Torry did bring bacon that he pre-cooked at home, which he warmed on the fire. The convenience and immediate readiness of the pre-cooked bacon was awesome, and it would have been a mind-blowing delicacy had it not been in the company of freshly cooked bacon.
The obvious solution to the disposal of bacon grease is a controlled grease fire. And yes, it too smells delicious. The rest of the camp day was spent doing whatever you damn well pleased: getting water, making meals, talking about bacon, chopping down a (dead) tree, feeding the fire, eating more bacon. It continued to snow and drizzle all day, but between the fire, the tarp, coffee, and beer, comfort was found. It is the simple occupation of time that one seeks at camp, and despite the imperfect conditions, it was pretty nice. Night descended on us, and the sleep monsters got the best of us by 9pm. We retired to our tents, warm, dry-er, and full of food. We got what we came for, and it was good.
The next day was simple: wake, pack up, hike out. We had an easy breakfast, packed up our soaked equipment, and made for the trail. We weren’t sure what to expect on the hike out, being that our hike in had been much harder than we planned. But it was a fast and pleasant hike out. The sun even came out and it was by far the warmest day of the weekend. What took us 6 hours to navigate in dark, wet, snowy conditions, took about 3 hours on the way out. In hindsight, it was a fantastic weekend, but at the time, it pretty much sucked. But we would do it again.
2 thoughts on “Falling Into Winter: Backpacking in November, Part II”
Your right…keeping dry is key. Also I found that placing your boots inside a sleeping back cover seems to prevent outright freezing.