- Jan 17, 2012
I have a list of things I want to experience in life at least once. I routinely check items off this list and sometimes put them back on if I enjoy it enough. Scuba diving, learned, disliked it, took it off my list, rappelling, learned, loved it, do it when I can. Some experiences I have mixed feelings about, road biking. I LOVE riding a bike, I sincerely dislike riding on the road, it is boring and drivers are CRAZY. They truly scare the shit out of me. I avoid road riding but, will on occasion ride my bike on the road. One thing I have wanted to try is camping in the snow. I have snowshoed up a mountain and stayed in a gorgeous cabin in Colorado but that is warm. Specifically, I want to build a snow cave and sleep in the snow cave, that is cold. When the iHike group in Idaho Falls posted a trip to hike up Mount Baird, build snow caves and spend the night, I enthusiastically signed up.
I have also been working on purchasing better, lighter gear, for backpacking and was pretty proud of myself for getting my pack under 40 lbs, with winter gear included. This is my ninth backpacking trip, if you count my two bikepacking trips, I am up to 11 total overnight trips, one of those being when I was 10ish, with my best friend and her Dad in the Uintah’s. I don’t even remember packing for that trip, just eating really delicious fresh trout for breakfast. I am learning what I really need, what I can do without, and how to pack it all. Still trying to figure out what layers are best to take with me in terms of weight and warmth.
My goal with my last bikepacking trip was to make the process of packing easier and I am pleased to say, that I was not up until 3AM gathering and packing all of my items. I did get a respectable 7 hours of sleep. I wasn’t very hungry when I woke up and only ate a bowl of cream of wheat and two pieces of bacon. Then proceeded to trim my pack of unnecessary gear and food to get the total weight under 40 lbs.
We met at Dave’s house at 11AM, I should have brought a sandwich because I started getting hungry before we left his house. The trailhead for Mount Baird is up Little Elk Creek road off of HWY 26 between mile marker 390 and 391. We arrived at the trailhead about 2PM. Mount Baird is 10,025 feet tall, the highest peak in Bonneville County and the Snake River Range, which is part of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. From the trailhead, it is 4.5 miles to the summit, with an elevation gain of approximately 4,200 feet. The 6 of us (Dave, Paul, Joe, Chris, Megan and I) started hiking 30 minutes after our arrival, my stomach growled at me.
It wasn’t long before we decided to put our snowshoes on. We would hike for a bit in a small field of snow, then over the tops of rocks, then back into the snow, this repeated until we started up a trail on the left side of the canyon. This path was mostly clear of snow until higher up however, it was rather muddy.
I use to have really good hiking boots but they died in some canyon in Southern Utah and I haven’t needed to replace them since moving to Idaho, as the bulk of my outdoor play involves riding bikes. Two years ago when I went looking for good snow boots I ran into the same problem I had in Southern Utah. Retail stores believe only petite women like to play in the outdoors. I was flat out told in an Idaho outdoor store they don’t ever carry women’s size 10 boots; but they would happily order them for me. Thanks, I can do that myself, sadly, cheaper than you. I did end up buying a pair at Sportsman’s Warehouse, cute as can be with fur around the top. I wasn’t sure how far we would hike on a dry trail before hitting snow, these cute fury boots are bulky, heavy, waterproof, and come up mid-calf (good for keeping snow off my ankles). Or, I had a pair of Sorrel’s, I picked up in Utah, and used for winter fatbiking. These boots fit inside my pack and are 2 lbs lighter than my cute fur top boots; they do a good job of keeping my feet warm, but are not waterproof, which I am not really sure matters considering how much my feet sweat hiking in a boot designed to keep your feet warm. I was really worried about blisters and sore feet, neither choice seemed good for hiking a mountain in. Surprisingly, the Sorrel’s were far more comfortable than I imagined they would be, hiking up I had zero hot spots. Wish I could say that for the hike down.
We slowly picked our way up the mountain, I was the slowest. Navigating the mud was tricky as my boots were not made for mud hiking. I heard the group ahead of me call out to the mountains. A few seconds later I thought I heard another call from down canyon, but decided I was wrong and it was just the group ahead of me again. It wasn’t long before Paul came bounding past me. He was in Driggs when we started hiking, he has so much energy and literally bounces everywhere he goes. I have decided he his Tigger. Paul caught up to us 2 hours and 15 min after we started hiking. Shortly after Paul joined us, we stopped for a small break, as we stood around chatting it begin to lightly snow. We pulled on our rain gear and continued on.
We started up the steepest part of the hike around 5:30PM. By the time we reached this point, I was STARVING!
Breakfast was long gone, on the hike to this point, I had only eaten two Lara bars and a Kind bar. I really thought we would have a lunch break. This is what I am use to when hiking, but we only took quick stops. Not enough time for me to sit down dig through my pack and find my lunch. This steep section really didn’t look like it would take very long to hike, I figured just a little longer and I could have dinner. However, this section just about kicked my ass. I would take 5 slow steps forward and my foot on the downhill side would slip backwards and off the trail making me fall all the way to my knees. I would fight to push me and the pack up, then proceed another 5 steps to repeat this process all over again. Sometimes I would make it up to 20 steps before this happened, I must have fallen at least 30+ times, no exaggeration! I can’t say that I have ever tried to snowshoe something this steep. The snow consistency made my trek upwards arduous. I tried to use my poles to help keep better balance and keep from falling all the way to my knees, but when I would plant them on either side of me they would get stuck underneath the snow and I would have to tug hard on the poles to get them out. To complicate things further, every time I fell, the packs weight would pull to the downhill side, I was a little worried that the pack was going to cause me to go rolling down the hill. What sight that would be, as snow packed around me, legs and arms flailing, as I became an out of control ball of snow.
I fell a few more times, heaved myself and pack to an upright position and looked toward my destination. I couldn’t even see the top or anyone else, my spirits sank. I had moved past the growling stomach stage to just the dull ache in your gut because you are too hungry; my hands were freezing because my gloves were in my pack and it was too much work to pull the pack off and find gloves; I was sick of falling down. This is where I had that conversation with myself as few tears rolled down my cheek.
Yes, you could easily roll down the hill and be at the bottom in a matter of minutes. The easy way out. Why, why do you do this to yourself? I don’t know… I just do, again and again. I challenge myself because I get bored sitting at home, doing the same things over and over. I think, I like taking myself to the point I almost can’t stand it anymore and pushing past the break point. All I know, is that you only get where you are going, one step at a time, even if you slip and fall down, you pick yourself up and keep going. It is the only thing I really know how to do. There have only been a few challenges in my life, that I felt were no longer worth pursuing and let go. Today was not one of them.
As I plugged along I could see the group standing around near a group of trees waiting for a visual on me. When I reached the group, Dave could tell I was struggling. He broke my rule, of course he doesn’t know my rule. If I ever look like I am not coping, or struggling or whatever it is that prompts you to ask me “Are you okay?” Don’t, just don’t ever ask those three words. It is the key that unlocks the flood gates. You will end up with a blubbering mess that you truly don’t want to deal with. Actually, that I don’t want to deal with. It is better to just smack me and say “pull yourself together.” Leave it at that. I did, sort of, let him know that I was still standing and moving in forward motion and as long as that was happening I was doing good enough. I kept proceeding up the mountain and Dave and the rest of the group fell in behind me. Dave was way too chipper for how much energy I was exerting during this short hike and kept asking me questions. I just took a step to the side and waved him along. He protested, I insisted, followed by “You are chatty and ask too many questions, I am perfectly happy hiking in silence.” I tried to be sweet and funny as I said this as to not offend. There were a few chuckles from the rest of the group and they all marched past. I continued in my silence. At this point I started counting my steps to 100 and would rest, 100 steps and rest. I could finally see the stopping point. Two and half hours after snapping a picture of Megan as we started up the steepest section, I snapped a picture of my frozen pack, after dropping it to the ground. That is fucking ridiculous! That is all I have to say about that. I think I am embarrassed. I made it, I guess that is all that matters.
It was windy on the ridge and I was starting to chill off fast. I set about getting my tent set up. Honestly, I wasn’t sure how I was going to stake out the tent. Dave came over to check on me and offered to show me how to stake the tent in snow, I gladly accepted his help. After the tent was set up I changed into warmer gear than headed over to the kitchen area, where Ross had started melting snow to fill empty water bottles and rehydrate dinners. After I ate my dinner I started to feel humane again. We stood around talking and stomping are feet to stay warm. Dave shared some blueberry gin concoction and Ross boiled more water for a hot Jello drink, delightful! Dave, Ross, Joe and Paul all slept under the overhang where they had tried to dig a snow cave. Megan and Chris had a tent, and I had my tent. I wanted to snap some pictures of us at dinner but found it too much effort to retrieve my camera before we all retired to bed.
I was shivering as I crawled into my sleeping bag. To keep my boots from freezing they were tossed into a bag and shoved to the bottom of my of the bag along with my water bottle and camera. My hair was wet and frozen from sweating while hiking. I tried to brush it out and dry it with a small towel I had. No such luck, I finally managed to comb it into a ponytail on top of my head, that I secured into a make shift bun with a hair band and pulled my beanie over the top of it. I was sure I would just fall to sleep from sheer exhaustion, but my feet were too cold, even with good wool socks on they felt like ice cubes. I finally pulled out the hand warmers I brought and tucked them into the toes of my socks. It helped a bit. I still shivered most of the night but slept off and on. My legs cramped from time to time, I did not drink enough water on the hike up, the worst was when my inner thigh on my right leg would cramp. The wind picked up and mentally that made me colder so I put my ear plugs in. With all that I managed to get a few fitful winks of sleep.
I woke up at 6:30 AM. Poked my head out to see one big monotone disorienting white world, with visibility no further than Chris and Megan’s tent, gawd I had to pee. I laid there for a little bit longer trying to muster the desire to get out of the sleeping bag. I was 100% sure I was making no attempt to finish hiking up Mount Baird, my goal of sleeping in a tent in the snow was complete, the snow cave would have to wait indefinitely. My legs ached and I was content to hike down the mountain by myself, giving the group a better chance at completing the goal. The rest of the group talked about finishing up the Mount Baird hike, the conditions were not ideal and in the end they decided it was best to head back down with me.
We had camp cleaned up and ready to head out by 9:30 AM. Hiking down was much easier than cursing my way up. I had fun sliding down on my butt when it was steep enough. I took it easy hiking downhill because I do have a knee that gives me trouble, so once again I was the slow one. My boots started rubbing my pinky toes the wrong way as I hiked downhill. I am certain I will lose the nail on both pinky toes. If it wasn’t for that annoyance the boots would have been perfect. The rest of the hike was pretty uneventful.
What would I change?
1. I will be buy better boots. As of last night (5 days later) I did lose one pinky toenail already.
2. Eat a better breakfast and lunch before starting a snowshoe trip at 2PM.
· I won’t include a beer; it was not desirable as I stood around shivering. I shall save that treat for normal backpacking and bikepacking trips.
· Conveniently pack snacks, and more snacks for hiking uphill.
· Buy a 2-liter water bottle; I did not drink enough water hiking up. I only consumed one liter because I chose not to use a water bladder, I had my dromedary bag full of water but again, as with food, I never stopped to fill my water bottle up.
4. Longer snowshoes, I am sure that my weight plus the weight of the pack exceeded the recommended carrying capacity. I have two options here:
· Longer snowshoes or,
· Lose weight and get in better shape.
5. Bring a liner for between the sleeping pad and my sleeping bag. My bag is rated 15F and the sleeping pad R4.5. But I naturally sleep cold. I think the thin matt I have used in the past with my other sleeping pad would have been perfect for this trip. But I forgot I had the thin pad until I was shivering that night.
6. Shave my head bald….. okay realistically I probably won’t do that. Sleeping with wet hair in freezing temperatures did not help me to stay warm. I am not sure how to combat this one. Thanks to genetics I have ridiculously thick hair that soaks up every ounce of sweat.
However, the number one thing I would change is, to stop being stubborn! Honestly, I needed to not worry about how much further behind the group I was falling. I needed to take the pack off, fill my water bottle up, take a good long sip, and eat lunch. This would have given me the energy I needed to deal with sliding backwards over and over again. I was falling further and further behind or holding the group up and I hate that. I hate being the weak link. It happens from time to time, sometimes I am the stronger one, and sometimes I am just not. I was tired and struggling with the concept of pulling my pack off and digging through everything when it was cold, wet, and wind blowing. I just wanted to keep moving. I think I was a little worried that if I actually stopped I wouldn’t start again. I just kept thinking, it isn’t that much further, and it wasn’t. But lack of energy and snowshoeing with a 40 lb pack up a steep hill, made it a more difficult hike than if I were on dry ground.
There you have my first experience camping in a tent in winter conditions. Will I do it again? Under the right circumstances, probably. As I have proven time and time again I secretly like the sufferfest adventures. Besides I still need to build a snow cave and sleep inside, there will be at least ONE more winter camping adventure in my future.