Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Winter camping attempt

If you're interested. My poor attempt at solo camping, or, The winter camping trip that wasn't. What I mean is I bailed out of staying overnight on top of a mountain near my house.

This morning had my wife drop me at the trailhead nearby, elevation 500m, and hiked to the peak, 900m, in sometimes blizzard like conditions. Only 1.6km up but very steep. On the top was post holing in knee deep old snow. Saw where one area of snow on the sasa had avalanched. Very small, 100m long 25m wide. Never saw that before up here. On the summit ridge there is always a 2m. deep drift about this time of year. My plan was dig a snowcave into it and overnight there.

After about an hour of digging I had a small cave with a sleeping shelf. Much harder work than I thought it would be. By this time my old gore-tex shell is soaked as are my cheesy gloves. Have back up mittens but not gore-tex. Figured that would happen, always does. Couldn't do much but sit inside as the snow was really flying outside. When I went outside and popped my head up over the top of the drift the north wind pelted me with flying ice and snow. Back into the snowcave.

Due to weight limitations it's always the choice of snowshoes or skis but rarely both, too heavy. I chose snowshoes today because of the weather forecast of course, like to be able to get home tomorrow.

After an hour or two realized the roof was dropping, not good, damn heavy snow. Plan B, remove the roof and cover it with 'blue sheet'. Brought an extra set of very long ski poles for this scenario. Pile everything in one corner and cut open the roof and clamber around outside in the quickly accumulating snow, shovel some snow on the edges of the sheet to hold it in place. Much better, spacious, but noisy with the flapping. By now it's about 2pm.

For entertainment, I've got a book, too much food, some nihonshu, a few cigarillos, heck I even have a portable DVD player,(I can hear scowls from the purists).
What movie you ask? Cold Mountain of course.

I figure I should wait till about 8pm for the movie, not the type of person who can sleep too early, even from all the activity, so try out my sleeping arrangement. Two thin closed cell foam pads and a very old zero (F) rated synthetic bag. Get all the lumps and bumps smoothed out underneath and climb in the bag, nice and toasty. By now the snow is piling up good on the blue sheet and it needs an occasional shake of the ski poles to clear it. When doing this the condensation from my warm cave mists down onto my uncovered bag. My old bivy cover has long since departed this world . If this keeps up all night the bag'll be fairly wet by morning. Not the end of the world but could be a problem. I also notice the blue sheet wearing thin where the ski poles push against it. If it goes in the middle of the night could be messy.

At this point I can honestly say it's the warmest I've ever been winter camping. Most of my previous experience has been in New York State and New Hampshire, very, very cold. I estimate it's about 5C inside and a little below zero outside and dropping. Won't get too cold though, never does.

Have lunch and read my book. Around 4pm or so, I'm thinking this ain't so fun. Gotta lay here 4 more hours till movie time and 14 more till daylight. A battle starts in my head, if I go I'll kick myself, if I stay I'll be staring at the blue sheet all night. The snow'll be waist deep by morning. The tarp will collapse etc. I'm fairly comfortable, warm and well supplied but... somethings missing. Company. Wish the kids were older.

Now I like camping and backcountry skiing. I've gone solo camping a few times many years before and it was at best so-so. I ski this mountain many times a winter, always by myself. But I'm bored ****less here! So I decided to head home. It's only about 4-5km.. Pack up my 2O kilo backpack and head out into the blizzard. It's raging. The powder is knee deep. Start thinking my 8X25 inch snowshoes ain't gonna do much in this come morning, when there will be double this amount. Maybe I made the right choice. Could be stuck for a while, or have a hell of a time getting home. About dark, make it home, man that pack was heavy and I'm old. But the fire's hot and the beer is cold!


  1. This is an old story but a good one! I can totally relate. I often wanna go out hiking or camping solo but if you get the timing wrong or forget to bring enough entertainment it can suck..Good effort though! I probably would've gone home to some cold beer too!

  2. Thanks for commenting, sorry for the late reply.
    Last time out I forgot my book, so it was looking like a looong night, the weather turned me back anyway. Have to try again soon.