Enjoying time spent in the deep mountains during winter months takes a bit of practice before becoming comfortable. My first attempt at winter camping happened during my senior year in high school. My best friend at that time, Andy, was working on his Senior Project which involved both snow safety and travel and I acted as his ski partner – happy to be along for the ride. Specifically, one component to Andy’s project was to build a snow cave and stay the night within its icy tomb. To accomplish this, we drove up to Donner Pass from our parent’s homes in the Bay Area, hiked in a short distance, and promptly built a snow cave as the light of day faded away to night. Being 18 years old, while I was packing I assumed my grand father’s WWII down sleeping bag would be great for our expedition and more than sufficient for sleeping in the cave and that the clothes I wore while snowboarding at Tahoe’s resorts would suffice as well. Needless to say, both sleeping bag and clothes were drenched by the time I entered the cave. That night, my first foray into winter camping, I suffered through four or five hours of shivering before asking Andy if we could retreat to his VW Jetta and spend the remaining hours warmed by the car’s heater. We did just that.
Today, at 42 years old, I have winter camping a bit more dialed. This past Monday I headed into the wilderness of Idaho’s mountains to enjoy four days of camping and skiing with two friends, one who had just flown in from city life in Baltimore. The first 36-48 hours of our adventure were under blue bird skies and starry nights. However, the remaining time was spent under stormy conditions which produced close to two feet of wet, Pacific like, snow. On our first storm day, day three, we made an attempt on a 10,000 foot peak climbing into the clouds and navigating by map and compass alone. Unfortunately, our route ended in a false summit and with building avalanche concerns and fading light, we retreated back the way we had ascended – happy with the attempt and wet from the effort and precipitation. The morning of our fourth day, we awoke to a splendid sunrise which teased us to try the peak again. However, within’ 30 minutes the sneak peak of light had disappeared and another wave of the intense storm obscured the range. That day, we persevered and chose to stay below the cloud layer near tree line so that we could enjoy some powder skiing!
Even though we had all the right equipment, by the end of the fourth day, 80% of our equipment was soaked through. Our allotted time away from family and work was to end the next morning. We decided late that afternoon that, instead of suffering through a wet night similar to the one I experienced back in high school, we should slip down the valley and back to the trailhead where my truck’s heater could dry our wet bodies. What with 24 years of enjoying the winter months as a backcountry skier, I’m finding that moisture management is still paramount to enjoying the backcountry and though I’m getting better at it, I’m still (happily) getting wet!