Lessons Learned From Snow Camp
- Single-walled tents -- one of our gear-crazed instructors lent us a single-wall tent. It was warm and toasty, and the price was right. We had no problem with leakage or ventilation, although we had so much wet junk in the tent that we wound up getting everything wet. This was definitely a comfy way to go in the snow (and the tent also seemed to work great in Joshua Tree in fairly heavy rain).
- Down booties -- these were completely comfortable, and I could let my boots dry while I padded around the campsite, warm and toasty. They eventually absorbed some moisture from the wet snow, but they were certainly good for the two days I was out.
- Silk sleeping bag liner -- this was expensive, but I could feel the difference when I used it. It did a great job of extending the range of my sleeping bag, even if it wasn't cold enough to really need it.
- Laid-back leadership style -- I wasn't wild about it when I showed up to a hike at 4:45AM, only to find us dawdling our way to the trailhead at 6AM, but by the time it was all over, I really came to respect the laid-back, confident style of our leaders. When I found myself sick and miserable, I really appreciated the support and help. I was happy that the leaders were willing to change their plans on the spot, rather than sticking to some preconceived notion of what we should do. Big win!
- Isobutane stoves -- I had the impression that white gas was the way to go for cold, high-altitude camping, but our isobutane stove (borrowed from the same gear-crazed instructor, who has something like 12 stoves) kicked major ass. Sure, we had a hard time starting it after abusing it in the snow, but at the same time, other folks with white gas stoves were similarly stuck. I'm totally sold, and plan to buy a JetBoil before my next camping trip.
- Altitude sickness -- there's not much to be done about this, and I seem to be particularly susceptible to this. I had it when going from sea-level to 14,900 feet in Venezuela, when hiking up to 10,000 foot Mt. Baldy, and even while driving over some 10,000 passes in Yosemite. I guess I just need to get acclimated more carefully, and perhaps get some prescription diomox (sp?).
- Lack of personal organization -- from now on, my motto for camping will be: a place for everything and everything in its place. I kept just throwing my mittens and gloves and liners into the tent, and couldn't find anything when I needed it. I misplaced my wonderful silk liners the first night, and didn't find them until cleaning up this morning. I also need to label everything, as lots of folks have the same kind of REI gear!
- Small tents -- our tent was far too small. My tentmate was very mellow, and just put in ear plugs when I snored, but there simply wasn't enough room for us both. I crowded him out, without meaning to (and he never complained -- what a saint). There was just room for the two of us to lie down; there wasn't room for gear or anything else, and the vestibule was so small we couldn't really use it for anything. I definitely will rent a tent with more room the next time I go on one of these trips.
- My lousy conditioning -- I have a bad back, and I ached by the end. I really wasn't ready to hump around a 45 to 50 pound pack, and it showed. I should've spent more time conditioning myself, taking a few simple 5 mile hikes with a 30 to 35 pound pack, until I got used to it. I'll do this now.
- Breaking in my boots on the trip -- words cannot explain how stupid this was, and I know it, but I had to travel out of town and was sick when I came back. Fortunately, it all worked out (see "down booties", above), but it could've been a disaster.
- Thermarest -- I really didn't need the full-length pad, and it was heavy. Even though I overinflated it, I still think that it was bugging my back to be on that soft surface for two days. On the other hand, I've found that sleeping on the my Ridgerest on the floor at home helps on those nights when my back is acting up. Oh, and taking my 2.5 pound yoga pad was a complete bust. That was useless weight -- I could've taken a full-length Ridgerest at half that weight.
- Too much food -- I really didn't need a pound of chocolate and two pounds of nuts, in addition to nearly a dozen granola bars plus raman, tuna fish, oatmeal, and hot chocolate. OTOH, three hot chocolate envelopes were too few -- I could've used six or more, especially since I shared one with my tentmate.
- 1.1 liter pot-- I wanted something lightweight, and 1 liter was quick to boil, but it meant that I took a million trips to the river for more water just fill a couple bottles and cook some food. Oh, well, I guess I'll go with a JetBoil anyway, even if it only boils 1-liter at a time
- Handwarmers -- maybe my $0.50 handwarmers were too cheap, but they never got more than lukewarm. I'd hoped to dry out my boots with the handwarmers, but they just never seemed to generate any heat. I had better luck putting Nalgene bottles full of boiling water into the boots. Bummer.