Despite the rest of the country being stuck in a state of everlasting permafrost, we’ve been left high and dry here in California. After attempting to learn snowshoeing and other winter skills in the dirt during a recent trip to dusty Mt. Pinos, I crossed my fingers until they doubled back, wishing and hoping for a bit of magical mountain precipitation in advance of our final WTC field trip, a three-day backpack in the Rock Creek Lake area of the Eastern Sierras….
…and oh, did my dreams come true! There was snow! So much beautiful, unspoiled, fluffy white snow!
With a hulking forty-six pounds of winter-proofed tent, foods, liquids, layers, and camping ephemera lashed to my back, I strapped on my snowshoes, held aloft my snow-basketed trekking poles, and danced a very awkward jig. LET US COMMENCE TO THE SNOW CAMPING!
My excitement was soon tempered by the realization that hiking in snow, in high elevation, whilst wearing snowshoes, with the equivalent of a grade schooler draped across my back was not the easiest of chores. Still, I fell into line with my buddies, ate a few select snacks, slowed my roll, and enjoyed the alpine scenery on our way up to Rock Creek Lake.
After some time, we stumbled into camp, dropped our packs, threw on a few more layers, and began setting up shop. We all carried shovels (an essential tool when traveling in snowy mountains, especially in avalanche territory) and used them to create platforms for our tents. For winter camping, you need the 4-season kind that seals up completely, protecting you against any blowing drifts.
The catch is that you need to unzip a bit somewhere to vent that sucker out, because when you sleep, your moist little exhalations create condensation, and condensation creates things like The Wets, The Frosties, and The Flakes, all of which made their presence known during the middle of our EIGHT DEGREE evening slumber. In layman’s speak, there was snow in our tent THAT I MADE WITH MY BREATH.
Yeah, it got pretty darn cold. Morale was low and Nalgenes were frozen that next single-digit morning, but as soon as the sun pushed over a nearby ridge, we all fanned out like a group of Gore-Texed lizards, soaking in its spirit-lifting, body-warming, life-affirming rays. I’m pretty sure someone actually said of this experience, “That was the moment I knew that I was going to make it out alive,” but perhaps I’m being a bit dramatic.
Recharged and basking in that solar glow, we set off on a hike that served as a showcase for the gorgeous mountains circling our camp:
We also had a bit of fun. Ok – a LOT of fun. We took turns glissading down a hill. We learned how to build various snow caves.
And some of the overachieveriest of us dug out a new fire pit and built a snow lounge:
The temperature that second night was a positively balmy twenty-seven degrees, and we made good use of that snow lounge for hours on end. One of the WTC campout traditions that I’ve come to absolutely love is “Happy Hour,” which is a potluck-style pre-dinner hang that truthfully just morphs into an all-night snackfest and social shindig. We ate, we sang, we shared stories, we laughed, and we made promises to stay in touch after this whole experience is over.
I felt nostalgic that night around our campfire – not just for my summer camp past, but also for the prior ten weeks of learning, laughing, and realizing that these strangers had become comrades in adventure. I felt like I’d been on a really amazing journey – or really, just the start of one. In fact, despite our classroom sessions ending, WTC isn’t over by a long shot – we still have to complete two “experience trips” before our official graduation in October, plus I decided to pursue training to become a trip leader with the Sierra Club – that’s just how awesome this whole course was for me.
So this isn’t the last you’ll hear of my WTC adventures – I shall continue to let my hiking freak flag fly high and proud, filling you in on my alpine adventures from time to time. Until then, my friends, happy trails!