Saturday, November 25, 2006

Winter camp below Gunsight Mountain

The tent walls rippled. I lay
on my back, toasty warm with
the mummy sleeping bag
zipped so that only my nose
and cheeks felt the chill air.
I squinted at the darkness
and listened. What woke me?
Then, as my eyelids drifted
down again, I heard it. Rush
ing like a steam-driven loco
motive through the fir trees.
The tent fabric popped. It
rattled. My eyes snapped
wide. The tent jarred, leaned
against my right side and
shivered. A fine mist settled
on my face.
``Whoa!'' I mumbled and
blinked. The wind had
whipped fine snow in under
the vestibule and through the
mesh door. My jaws clinched.
Then the wind eased, and
the tent walls rippled again.
I worked my zipper, found
the LED headlamp near my
left knee (to keep the batter
ies warm) and shined it on the
lump to my left. Sadie the
Dalmatian was covered. And
she hadn't moved.
I pulled my legs from the
bag and felt for my glasses,
also in the sleeping bag so
they wouldn't fog when I put
them on my face. My watch
said 1:42 a.m.
I unzipped the tent's mesh
door and and fetched my
chamber pot, a Gatorade
bottle, from the vestibule.
When I put it back, the ther
mometer said 21 degrees. I
wriggled back into the bag
and zipped it around my face.
Snow pummeled the tent.
Wind shook it. I'd anchored it
by using the shovel to set four
corner snow stakes deep. I'd
stretched the vestibule and
the side panels tight with
dead tree limbs two feet long.
Snow slid down the tent's sides as
my eyes closed. The tent, a
single-walled Eureka! Zeus 2
EXO, would hold, surely?
I was tired. So was Sadie.
Excited, she had broken trail
as I pulled the loaded pulk (a
Ziffco Tow-Boggan Mountain
eering Sled) around for nearly
two hours before pitching the
tent in the shadow of
8,342-foot Gunsight Mountain
at Anthony Lake.
We had started in a snow
storm, but the sun shined
while I put gear into the tent,
stored stuff in the vestibule
and stood the sled in the snow
(so snow wouldn't cover it).
Tiny snowballs fell as I
shoveled a notch into a drift
to protect the stove from the
wind. Then I carved out a
bench to sit on in the Crazy
Creek Chair.
Kitchen set, I strapped on
snowshoes and fanny pack
again, and we hiked toward
the mountain. Sometimes the
sun shined, and sometimes
snow swirled. But the tem
perature remained in the high
30s. I sweated as we climbed.
And we climbed until drifts
became too deep for Sadie,
even if she stayed in my
tracks. My GPS unit said
7,327 feet, about 200 feet up
from camp.
We returned by the scenic
route and reached camp at
4:16 p.m. Sweat dampened
my longjohns, and I put on
another jacket.
Sadie wolfed her dinner
and hurried into the tent.
I sat on the insulated chair,
fired up the stove, emptied my
water bottle into a pot and
slowly added clean (maybe ?) snow.
I dumped a dehydrated Natural
High Honey-Lemon Chicken
with Long Grain and Wild
Rice dinner into the frying
pan poured put Swiss Miss cocoa into a flat-bottomed cup.
Fifteen minutes later I had
the hot chocolate mixed and the
dinner simmering.
With the
aroma of Honey-Lemon
Chicken in the air, I felt a
nudge. Sadie leaned on my
arm and watched the pot.
She ate her share, licked
the pan and scooted back to
the tent.
For another hour, the air
barely stirred, and sun bathed
the high valley. I relaxed on
the chair and melted more
snow. I filled two water
bottles, wrapped them in stuff bags to warm my
sleeping bag.
I chiseled a slot into the
snow bank and set the stove
and pot full of water inside, to
keep it from freezing, with a
block of snow at the opening.
When the sun disappeared
behind a ridge, I moved Sadie
from my Therm-A-Rest mat
tress and spread the insulated
chair beneath her bag.
I zipped into my zero-
degree bag, on my mattress,
and read. When my book-
holding hand chilled, I put on
a glove and read until I
dropped the book.
After the wind woke me, I
slept again until 5:38 a.m.
Wind and snow still pelted the
tent. I listened for awhile.
Then I pulled on pants
while lying on my back. I put
on a shirt, a jacket with a
hood and a second jacket. I
sat with my feet in the vesti
bule to put on boots and gai
ters. On my knees, I stuffed
my sleeping bag itto its stuff sack.
I flattened the mattress and packed it away.
I unzipped the vestibule,
and snow cascaded inside.
When I crawled outside, snow
covered the vents on both
sides of the tent and nearly
covered the tree-limb stakes.
It buried Sadie's bowl.
Snow also buried the stove bur
row. It had seeped inside to
freeze on the stove and pot,
which had ice shards in it.
Snow pelted my coat as I
heated water for hot choc
olate and ate a nature bar.
I packed all but the tent in
about 20 minutes. Sadie
stayed inside until I dug up
the stakes, and the tent fell.
She shivered in the wind. I wrapped her in her coat, which collected snow
while I packed the tent and
fastened it to the pulk.
I removed my extra coat
and strapped it to the sled. I
fastened the sled's har
ness to my waist, and Sadie
dashed ahead. She started on
the long way around the lake.
Why not? We had plenty of
time, and it was a beautiful
See photos at

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