Sunday, December 29, 2013

Lessons Learned During a Winter Camping Trip

It has been a while since I last went camping and even longer since I last wrote a blog. So this weekend makes for two things I haven't done in a while.

I don't get the opportunity to go camping all that often, especially in the winter. This trip had some pretty interesting obstacles and discoveries as most trips do.

Late night + Wet wood = No fire
It was 9:30 Friday night before we arrived at Petit Jean State Park. By that time it was dark and cold outside. I chose a campsite close to the showers and bathroom where at least there would be some escaping the elements if worse came to worst. Luckily, because we weren't on a peninsula surrounded by water and a cold breeze blowing across it, I didn't suffer quite as much as one night at Lake Ouachita State Park.

Unfortunately, by the time we got camp set up it was already getting fairly late. We still had to gather small kindling to start a fire. Usually it is pretty easy but that night I wasn't quite prepared for the obstacle in front of me: wet kindling and wet firewood. I would need a lot more small stuff to get the bigger stuff to ignite. After a half hour I called it quits for the night and went to bed. Little did I know, it wasn't going to be a good night's sleep at all.

Cold night + Two people + Small tent + 0ยบ sleeping bag ≠ Warmth / Sometimes, bigger is better
In the summer, a sleeping bag rated to 0 degrees is plenty warm, even with two people crowded in a small tent. I have a small, two man tent and a larger five man tent. Knowing it would be cold I thought the small tent would trap more body heat and help keep it warmer at night. What actually happened is I slept too close to the tent wall (keeping in mind I am 5'8" in a 6'x6' tent). Even in the summer I know to try and stay clear of the sides of the tent, but with bulkier gear it became more difficult. In the night I would roll over and find myself in the corner. That's not all I found either; each time I woke up I was reminded that cold outside air, warmer inside air, a nylon sleeping bag on a floor made out of tarp material and being too close to the sides of the tent meant I found my gear growing wetter and colder. I guess I was still in a better situation than my friend who only had a lightweight sleeping bag with him. He ended up sleeping in the car.

On the bright (and early) side, since we arrived after office hours we had to wake up early the next morning to go check in. I had to debate whether I was willing to stay a second night. In the end we decided to go ahead and pay for two nights. I set up a clothes line and hanged the blanket and bag up to dry while we went for a hike.

If the weather men can be wrong, they will be wrong / Geocaching community
Saturday morning seemed like it would be a nice day. Before going on the camping trip I checked the weather and it was supposed to be cloudy but precipitation free the entire weekend. Another plus was I had picked up hot chocolate at the store before going -- nothing like a hot drink after a cold night. By 10 a.m. we were on the trail down to Cedar Falls. 

Close to the waterfall we searched for a geocache. We looked for quite a while on both sides of the trail. The GPS was leading me in different directions every couple of seconds as the signal bounced of the canyon walls on both sides. At one point, I thought I had found the geocache when I spotted a man-made pile of rocks. I began lifting rocks but quickly noticed a cross sticking out of the top and stopped. I found an open spot and sure enough there was a small skeleton inside -- that wasn't the geocache.

Eventually we decided to head on over to the waterfall and try again later. Sitting near the waterfall, the sun was shining in to the canyon which was colder by the water. After relaxing in the sun for a while we returned to the search. Eventually I took one of the hints literal and decided to go look half-way to the grave. In the end the terrain and difficulty rating turned out to be the most useful hint. While looking in the correct area another group of geocachers arrived. This was the first time I have met another geocacher looking for the exact same geocache. Instant conversation starter.

The one we were looking for contained half of the coordinates for a third geocache we would be looking for. In order to find the other half of the coordinates we had to hike roughly another 1.5 miles in the other direction.We found it much easier and assembled the coordinates to the "mystery" cache. During all of this excitement it began to rain. My mind went to the my camera and GPS and then to my sleeping bag and blanket hanging outside back up at camp. "Looks like I may be sleeping in my car tonight," I told him. Fortunately it didn't last long and my stuff stayed dry/dried on the line. About 4 a.m. it sprinkled some more, just enough to get everything wet and ensure the weather forecasters were wrong yet again.

What goes up must come down. And sometimes what goes down must go back up.
I think I am in worse shape every trip I take to Petit Jean. And every time I hike to Cedar Falls and it comes time to hike back to the top I began asking myself why I came back down into the canyon; much like I tell myself every time I hike Pinnacle Mountain I will never do it again, but I always seem to go back.

After four miles of hiking in the canyon at Petit Jean we drove to Mount Magazine State Park, about an hour and a half away. It turns out all of the trails there were closed due to damage from the ice storm (not that I was up for more hiking). Driving up the mountain I could tell the weather had taken it's toll on the area. The bare trees lay broken on the ground and the ones still standing provided little to block the view of the surrounding valley. I was glad to be on the inside part of the road going up but knew I wouldn't be so lucky coming down. Eventually I was going to have to face the curvy, steep, high road down the mountain with no guard rails and nothing to block the view of how far down it was. (It may be time for me to reconsider how badly I want to do some things/travel some places...)

The speed limit on the road was 55 miles per hour but I think I went less than 20 most of the way down the mountain. From the area hang gliders launch, where we viewed the sunset, it took somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes to get down the mountain where I could finally breathe again.

Eating local is always a good option
The last three times I have been to Petit Jean we have eaten in the restaurant at Mather Lodge. It is becoming somewhat of a tradition and I haven't been disappointed so far. The last two times I have had beef which is raised just down the road at Winrock Farms. Good food from a local source. It is always nice to eat local food.

If I am going to go backpacking, I have a LOT of work to do
I've been saying for years now that I want to go on a backpacking trip. When I was in college, a friend and I said we would hike the Appalachian Trail after we graduated. That never happened. Now I want to hike in the Smokey Mountains and the Appalachian Mountains. That could be a while though -- it will involve a lot of work:

  • I am way out of shape and need to not only loose weight but build a lot of endurance
  • I have got to learn how to pack my backpack better and lighter
  • I have got to learn how to overcome my fear of heights -- there is no telling what adventure awaits in some locations
  • I have to find a way to keep all of my gear dry in the rain (or when it decides to sweat)
  • I have to buy new gear
  • I have a lot of emergency skills that are important to learn before embarking on the journey

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please leave your comments about the topic or post!!! :)