I hope this works….

If you don't experiment, you don't learn.

“Winter” Camping

on February 13, 2015

Last weekend I went on an overnight “winter gear and skills testing” hike. We were gonna learn how to start a fire in the snow and how to melt snow to use for water…apparently there is a trick to it. It was only a mile to the campground, so if there was equipment failure or we had to bail, it wouldn’t be too hard to get back to the trailhead. There were about 15 ppl that chose to come and I was the only one that had a hammock, all the rest were in t**ts. Marmot tents mainly. Little orange mounds all over the place. We had been planning this for quite a while and were watching the weather anxiously as the weekend drew closer.

I was expecting the worst and had asked about cheap winter tarps over at the Hammock Forums page on Facebook, and got a lot of advice. I ended up buying a 10×12 ripstop nylon tarp from Ace Hardware…only about $13.00 as compared to a “real” winter tarp at $139.00. I had revamped my set-up, making a topper (mini-cover to go over the top part of the hammock to help hold in warmth) and a bigger under quilt protector/gear hammock that fit below everything to help hold in warmth and served double-duty, holding my boots and such to keep them off the ground. I “camped out” on my deck to see low my gear would take me. 18 degrees! Pretty good. I bought a thing called a “Rest-stop” which allowed you to urinate without getting out of your warm set-up. (Winter nights are Looooooooooong) I had bought hand-warmers, found a great deal on some snowshoes, bought a pair of vintage wool hunting pants off of e-bay for $20.00, bought down mittens, bought sunglasses that fit over my regular glasses….you get the idea. I was READY!

The first sign of trouble came the weekend before the hike.  I had just bought the 10×12 tarp and was perusing the inter webs when the first email from the group arrived. “I’m bringing my board shorts and sun screen…weather is supposed to be 65f degrees and windy.”  What????  But…..but…..all the cold-weather gear…..noooooooo!!!!!!!

I still ended up packing it, I just left it in the car in case of an emergency. It was a beautiful day on Saturday,  The kind of weather that spoils you for Colorado forever. Blue sky, gentle breeze, great scenery…. hardly any snow…..We trekked into the campsite around 9 am and picked out our spot. The Ranger had said it was one of the best for windy conditions. It was on the brow of a ridge-ine and in a grove of pine trees. I set up my hammock with the foot end painting west into the breeze and rigged up my regular summer tarp. My two camp-mates set up their Marmot t**ts, we ate a quick lunch, I gave a few hammock tours and then as the afternoon wore on, we went for a stroll.

I had worn my lightweight long johns and a pair of fleece-lined pants as well as a wool, long-sleeved shirt.  Soon the pants were rolled up and the sleeves were pushed up. Other ppl were a little smarter than me and had removed long johns or just worn regular summer-weight hiking pants and shirts.  We had a great time, the mica in the rocks was beautiful -shining in the sun and the air was crisp and clean.

As we walked back along the trail, the wind picked up. As we cooked our dinner – the wind picked up even more. My tarp was flapping in the wind, so I removed it. It was promising to be a clear night and the topper and under quilt protector/gear hammock would help keep me warm. One of the other campers started a roaring fire in their fire-ring and soon we were all gathered around, swapping stories, telling jokes. One of the guys had an app that let him track the ISS as it passed overhead. We all trooped out into the clearing to see it. A tiny, fast-moving orange dot that flew from the moon across the star-spangled sky. Amazing.

By now the wind was pretty fierce. It wasn’t letting up at all. I checked on my hammock, it was still there, not moving much as the wind was still coming from the west. Heading for the bathroom, I was gob-smacked. The entire city of Denver was spread out below us. A golden ocean of light. It stretched from north to the south as far as I could see. Looking up I found a silver city of stars. It was something I will never forget.

Around 8, the party at the campfire started winding down, we put the campfire out with dirt and some snow we found in the clearing. One of the guys walked me back to my hammock. I climbed in and settled down, or tried to. The wind was stealing any warmth I was building up, sucking it out from between my sleeping bag and the down under quilt. I wrapped my hard-shell jacket around the foot of my sleeping bag and zipped it up. The hood fit perfectly across the footbox, It worked, but I could still feel a heat drain around the middle of me. The wind was roaring by now. Gusts shook the trees and me and my hammock. There was no gentle rocking, it was more like a violent shaking. I found my fold-up foam sit-pad and put it under me….Almost, almost it worked.

Then, of course, I had to pee. Camping wisdom says to get rid of it as soon as possible, so your body doesn’t have to work to keep it warm too. Sighing, I sit up, put boots on, walk out into the wildest wind of my life, do my business and then, an idea, and I adjust the suspension on the under quilt protector, pulling it up higher in an attempt to keep the wind out. Crawling back in, I lie down to discover that the wind is no longer stealing heat. It worked. I was warm now.

Warm and comfortable and completely unable to sleep due to the noisy wind.  It was like being in the middle of a very busy freight train yard. Hours crept by. I tried to do games on my phone, but the light made me more aware of the wind shaking my topper, blowing it in towards my face as it switched directions. Then around 2, the wind stopped….It was like a switch had been thrown. Sleep at last….then the moon rose above the trees and shone down on me and woke me up again. The topper fabric let a lot of light in. Two hours later…the wind starts up again. This time it is constant. No gusts. Just blowing steady and very noisy.

Finally dawn arrives. As soon as i can, i get out of hammock only to have a gust of wind come from the side and turn my hammock into a parachute. It flips up and things start falling out of it. Things like my sleeping bag and extra clothing…. Oh noes!  I have to pee and i have to save my gear before it blows away!  Grabbing things and stuffing them into my pack, I hope I’m getting everything.  Other ppl are beginning to crawl out of tents. It takes two ppl to tear them down, one guy loses his groundcloth. He finds it wrapped around a tree about a ¼ mile away…shredded beyond saving. The wind isn’t dying down, so we bail.  We don’t even make breakfast, we just pack up as quick as we can and head back to the cars.

We find out later that the Ranger had *really* said we had the WORST spot for windy conditions……

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2 responses to ““Winter” Camping

  1. Kat Rawson says:

    Sounds like a wild night. I am all for camping and hiking, but I not in the cold. I admire your hardiness.

    Like

  2. sirrka says:

    Kat, It was only 40 degrees that night. I don’t think the wind chill was much worse. It was just enough to steal my heat!
    One lady I work with told me she admired me, but didn’t envy me…..lol

    Like

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