I really suck at the cold. In addition to the all-too-common seasonal depression and the frustrations of short, avalanche prone days, for me winter brings so much discomfort. I have a pretty weak metabolism and terrible circulation, so existing while exerting anything short of significant effort is painful for me in the cold. Others are still taking out their granola bars, I’ve immediately put on two puffies and am already actively shivering.
For this reason, I get a lot less ambitious and spunky in the winter. It just doesn’t feel prudent to take risks or make big plans, and camping has frequently been an exercise in wishing-for-it-to-end for me. I know I get hypothermia pretty easily (I’ve definitely gotten wacky and had the impulse to just give up and go to sleep), so I also know my caution is pretty justified. It sucks that other people can spend less money than me on gear and have less trouble, but the least I can do is prevent them from needing to rescue me. I can honestly say standing still to take an AIARE class or for a full day of ice cragging feels like more of an accomplishment to me than a strenuous 18 hour day in the summer, and takes more emotional energy.
However, this particular weekend I was coming off of being sick for a long time, and I felt left out. I wanted to do something. Rebecca invited me to join her and Ryan on an ambitious trip, and I invited Eva and went along. I dreaded it in some ways, wondering how it was possible I would sleep. I didn’t even really think about how slightly unreasonable the distance of snowshoeing was because I was just so worried about staying warm long enough to help set up the shelter.
We got to the forest service road to the trailhead, and immediately the car stuck in the snow. After a friendly encounter with a snowplow driver, we parked 2 miles farther from our objective than we intended. Also, it was snowing? It was kind of raining. It was about 34 degrees, AKA the worst temperature to stay warm. I was honestly not stoked. Eva seemed half-asleep still. The sky seemed half-asleep still; the light of day was honestly pretty half-assed. We all hiked down the road, past some trucks and a UHaul that appeared very stuck. It was a bit apocalyptic.
After 2 miles, our intended parking spot appeared, a bible camp that let me use their bathroom. A bunch of kids yelled “unaccompanied minor!” at me. We put on the snowshoes.
The first part of the intended route was a snowed-over road, which made for pleasant snowshoeing, except that the snow was SO WET. I was wearing a raincoat, but by the time we got to the actual trailhead, all of my clothes were already wet. (I only had a dry parka and base layer in my bag.) This didn’t seem ideal. How was I supposed to hang out at 8000 feet the next day, in wet clothes? How was I supposed to wake up, and put all of this wet stuff back on, and step back out into the cold?
But then it got fun. We started along a river trail, which had (I counted) 35 stream crossings each way. Each one was either covered by a partial snow bridge we could play snowshoe roulette with, or not covered and bordered by awkwardly tall and steep walls of snow on either side. Ryan was on skis and the rest of us were on snowshoes. Sometimes, he could bridge the gap and we would struggle. Sometimes, he would try to sidestep up the other side for 5 minutes while we laughed at him. We all fell over, untangled each other’s ice axes from trees, and just got rain/snowed on even more. Every so often, Ryan would say “things are going well.” Around 3:30, I mentioned that we should pick a campsite pretty soon if we didn’t want to dig our shelter in the dark.
I felt lame being the only one concerned about my safety and apparently unable to dress properly, but I knew being out after dark in my wet clothes was going to be a bad time. No one seemed to object much, and we found a flat spot and started building a shelter with Ryan’s tent. It was based on the “literature” he had sent us before the trip, but which no one had read. Building the shelter was so fun! I tried to learn to dig snow blocks, and Eva brought out a passion for shoveling and building snow people I never knew she had. We cut a pit and built walls, put the tent/tarp over it, and staked it around the wall. We undercut the walls and built a step to get out. It was so warm! We all settled down and discussed personality tests and drank hot chocolate for hours, but still went to bed by 9PM.
The next morning, we were honestly quite far from Snowgrass. Eva didn’t feel physically like continuing, I didn’t feel like risking being extremely cold for an unlikely objective, and no one else seemed to care that much. I felt better than expected, though, after a night of cuddling with a hot water bottle Ryan loaned me and pushing snow off the tarp a few times. We noticed that there was a small unnamed peak really close to our tent, and we made that our new “objective.”
It wasn’t raining any more, but it was grey. Outside our tent, Eva’s snowman had become an eroded cone. Skis and poles were buried. We got some of our stuff and headed to the top of the little hill. Spirits seemed pretty high, and at one point we could even see glimpses of the ridge a few hundred feet in front of us. Little breaks in the clouds were welcomed, even though we could have been really anywhere in Washington and not know, based on the visibility.
Ryan skied down, and we giggled and posthole-shoed down the slope. We packed up Damp Camp and started on the way out. This was when I counted the stream crossings. It was a pretty long way back, but at least we got to watch Ryan struggle with his skins getting soaked and trying to ski the small downhill parts with them on. I didn’t like to think of how late we would have been out had we gone to the summit. Back out through the camp (where no one else braved the questioning children to use the bathroom) and down the road, where some of the vehicles had been moved!
When we got in the car, we “debriefed.” This is a new concept to me, and when Ryan first mentioned it, I thought it would be some overly analytical “this is what could have made us faster” commentary. Instead, we all shared our favorite parts of the trip (shoveling, small amounts of sun), and our least favorite parts (almost entirely our own equipment failures). I liked this idea, as I felt happy to have some insight into my friends’ experiences. And no matter how much in my head I was about the cold, the trip definitely increased my confidence!