Sunday, February 5, 2012

moon, stars, snow

Let's start with this: the moon hung suspended over the ridge that runs between the two canyons, illuminating the night. Stars glittered in the extreme cold. Trees popped as their bark expanded, sounding like distant explosions in the forest. The meadow was alive with snow shining like diamonds.

my camera wasn't working that well, a casualty of the cold weather, but you get the idea.

This was why I wanted to come here in winter, to feel the difference between the meadow I know in summer and this one, where once the sun dipped behind the Hurwal divide, the chill set in, a cold so strong that it felt like a presence. When I stomped out a campsite with my snowshoes, it was just above freezing, warm enough to slog a little further up the trail. But summer trails vanish in winter and soon I was floundering in deep snow, far off the path, but not so far that I couldn't see Polaris Pass and the valley opening up towards Frazier Lake. Too far to hike today, with untracked snow. It took me three and a half hours to make it to the meadow, a hike I can do in two hours in summer. My snowshoes sunk deep in the baseless snow, making each step like this: step. sink. breathe.

I was alone in the meadow, the way I had planned it. I knew that if I brought someone along, the temptation would be there to rely on someone else to do the hard things. There's a time to be a wilderness princess and there's a time to rely on yourself to survive.

And that's what it felt like, survival. My feet would not warm up, despite my -20 bag. Everything froze: saline solution, boots, snowshoe bindings, even the tent poles. On the way out I had to fasten them to my pack like an oversized antenna, since they refused to bend apart. High above my head, the poles caught on every overhanging branch.

Waiting for the sun would have been the ideal solution, but after being trapped in the tent for hours I was eager to move. I jumped up and down in an unattractive dance, my feet in agony. The chemical packs I had brought along were lukewarm, a casualty of age perhaps. There was the wrestle with the frosty tent, the prying out of stakes frozen in the snow, the forcing of boots into snowshoes in a temperature perhaps at zero, perhaps lower.

So why do this? The only answer I have is this: moon and stars, reflected in snow. Does there have to be another reason?


  1. Nope! We were out on Tunnel Mountain last night. We're plotting a full moon somethin' on Tuesday night...

  2. Ah, the dreaded cold feet. That's something I always battle when winter camping, too. I now bring a ridiculous amount of chemical warmers with me (and my down booties!), as there's nothing worse than feeling your feet turn into a couple of ice blocks. Like you said, though, it's still worth going. :)

  3. When it comes to winter camping, I am totally the Wilderness Princess. haha. :)

    I use down booties (or those super fuzzy socks that are for sale only around Christmas time) and chemical warmers as backup. Or I wrap my feet in any spare clothing I brought along.

    That's the toughest part of winter camping: the sleeping warmly part.


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