16 December 2014

Three Days of Winter Camping (My son and I messing around in the mountains)

We spent three days camping in the wilderness. It was our first winter camping trip of the year with the new Sierra Designs Mountain Guide tent and the Seek Outside XL Ti stove. It was my son's first time ever hot tenting.

We towed our gear in on sleds. We didn't have a lot of snow but it didn't matter, where there was no snow there seemed to be plenty of ice or slick rocks. Because of an unexpected spike in the temperatures, mid 30s as opposed to the mid 20s we expected we had more snow melt, the ice on the river was under anywhere from two to six inches of water in most places.





While my son has pulled a sled and been camping before this was his first go at trekking into the wilderness with a sled. I let him pack and do his gear selection on his own, I had planned on intervening if his selections had been bad choices but they were not. I think it took him a little time to acclimate to the sled in the rough terrain and he had to re-lash his gear once, but only once.


Once to the camp site we unloaded the sleds and got going on setting up, once the tent was up I grabbed my bow and headed up river to hunt a drainage.







I settled in to wait out the couple hours before dark. Not ten minutes after taking my position a great grey owl landed about thirty yards from my position. It took a minute but I got my camera on him for a few seconds before he took flight, that footage is in the video.

I saw plenty of deer sign, it was everywhere but not bucks passed by though a few doe moved through the trees within bowshot. Had they been legal I'd have taken one and had meat on the ground the first day. As darkness settled I put my headlamp on and headed back to camp.

My son was working wood prep when I arrived. He'd filled a sled with birch bark, some small twigs, then cut some larger chunks and split them. It's nice having another competent person in camp!









Once dinner was done we wolfed it down and spent some time talking about school, the outdoors and what he wants to do with himself. Moments like these are like rare gems that you can't seem to find when you're looking for them. Instead they are the moments we make when we're not trying, memories made that last us a life time.

We drifted off after a while, having spent our currency of words we accepted the silence and were comfortable in it. Sometime in the night I heard the wind shift, I rolled over in my bag and fell back to sleep.

I woke at 5:20, ten minutes before my alarm was set to go off. I don't know why, nor do I know exactly where I picked this little skill up but seemingly irregardless of the time I set the alarm, I nearly always wake up ten minutes prior to that.

Fire was going in short order, coffee on and down quickly along with a couple breakfast skillets. I picked up my bow and shouldered my pack. We'd discussed the plan the night before. We exchanged 'g'lucks' and I went north to the drainage I wanted to hunt, he went south to the big bend in the river. Fox sign had been heavy and he wanted to try calling one in.

I had no reservations about him hunting alone in this terrain and in these weather conditions. He'd put his time in learning the skills and understanding the risks. I was comfortable with it.

I made it to the drainage before dawn, the intent was to hike up about a half a mile to a crossing I'd found previously. The creek had a narrow spot complete covered with thick ice, the banks rose sharp and steep on either side except for the gentle slope of the deer trail. It was a natural crossing point. I went about twenty yards beyond the crossing and climbed the steep bank into a shallow depression surrounded by giant cedars. It gave me elevation and cover at a distance from the crossing that was well within my proficiency range. It felt good to me.




I sat and watched the dawn come, I listened to the birds and the squirrels and the ravens but no deer came my way. About an hour before noon I hiked up the mountain and still hunted across the ridge line to another spot near a rub line that ran into a bedding area. I took a stand and waited but nothing stirred.

For lunch I had an odd creation. I'd first read about these 'sandwiches', the name of which shouldn't be uttered in polite company, on the rokslide.com forums. The original version called for a bagel, peanut butter, honey, and some bacon, then vacuum seal and freeze until you hit the trail. My version is slightly modified, English muffin instead of a bagel, peanut butter, strawberry jam and bacon. While it might not sound all that appetizing I assure you it is quite palatable and packs between 750 and 1000 calories! Perfect for the mountains and the weather we were spending calories on.







I spent the rest of the day still hunting the mountain and saw a lot of sign but I did not find my quarry. I wondered if my son had had any better luck. The weather had turned warm, much warmer than expected as it actually got into low 40s during the day. Snow was melting and a mist had formed through the forests and into the valleys. I had a hunch that not much would be moving.

Before dark I drifted back into camp which was empty. I started in on some additional wood for the fire. We hadn't tried and had no plan to keep a fire in the stove through the night. It was primarily to shake off the cold damp day, dry out our clothing and cook. The Seek Outside stove performed well and was more than capable of heating the tent to temperatures that could run us out if we didn't keep the fire banked down. I found the surface area of the top of the stove adequate for two Ti canteens and a kettle with some room to spare. Fires were easy to get going with proper prep and the stove heated up fast, making the shelter super nice in the cold and the wet that we were experiencing.


I walked down river as I thought I could hear the predator call in the distance. 



I found him crossing the river, he'd been set up on the steep side watching the big bend. He'd thought he'd seen a couple foxes through the day but they were hanging up inside the tree line and not coming out into the open areas. The mist wasn't helping. Once across the river we talked about the day we'd had and took a couple pictures before heading back to camp.



Back in camp we went through the routine, fire, water, food, dishes. Getting water got interesting a couple of times. Walking the ice made for some 'slick moments' one of which my son conveniently caught on film, yours truly seemingly doing a 'robo slide' on the river.




While the days were warm for us, low 40s, the nights were still dropping down into single digits and teens. For bedding I had a casualty blanket for a ground sheet and then a Therm A Rest SOLite pad, a Klymit insulated recon pad on that and the sleeping bag in this case was a Kifaru Slick Bag, one of the earlier 0* wide long models. My son was using a tyvek sheet for a ground cloth, a traditional Therm A Rest Ridgerest and a -20 synthetic monster of a bag I retired a few years ago. He's young and able enough to pack that monster around!




The night went much the same as the first and morning came quickly. When I woke I could feel some 'old stupid' coming on, I refer to 'old stupid', meaning the things I did in my youth that left lasting reminders in my bones and joints. The cold and wet was agitating old injuries. I didn't let it slow me down, we got coffee and breakfast sorted out and hit the woods again.





Unfortunately the mist thickened as the air became saturated with moisture. It was like walking in the clouds at times. Nothing was moving except the two legged fool traipsing about the mountainside. It was like permanent twilight, the sun had deserted us.

Reluctantly we decided to break camp and head out. It was our last day anyway but getting an earlier start seemed wise. The temperatures had caused a lot of melt, visibility was less than 50 yards and less at time, and I had concerns about the down river walk and being able to do it safely. So we packed it up and headed out a little earlier than planned.








The walk out on the river is documented in the video as well as many of the still images and some fire prep and other odds and ends. Thanks for looking!