Monday, October 22, 2012

The Downsides of Winter Camping

I love being out in the snow.  It's usually gorgeous and if you choose carefully falling down is not that painful.

If you have a shovel you can play house all you like.  You can build walls, a kitchen complete with a basic table or working surface, or a latrine.  You can even build a snow cave if you're feeling ambitious.

But there are some obvious downsides to snow

 - You need to have snow skills.  You should know how to use an ice axe and crampons.  In particular you need to be able to use an ice axe to help you stop ("self-arrest").  This can be done with a trekking pole but trekking poles were not designed for this and those who know how to do this already know about how to use an ice axe.
 - When the weather warms up it's hard to walk on
 - When it's not hard to walk on you might be on ice and that's slick and dangerous
 - The UV rays can cook your skin - You need to be wearing something or have way heavy duty sunscreen.
 - The UV rays can blind you if you lose your sunglasses and you're better off with special glacier glasses.
 - The winds can be decidedly less than fun
 - The weather can suddenly change, but that's true anytime
 - Winter equipment is heavier, more expensive, and there is more of it.
 And the most obvious and often most defeating
 - It gets cold at night

And if you're trying to climb a mountain
 - You often need to start hiking when it's the most cold because this is when the snow is solid and most climbable.  (Called an "alpine start.")

If you're in a 4 season tent and have a nice sleeping pad and bag it can actually be quite nice, but 4 season tents are heavier, more expensive ($450-$600), and get very hot during the day.

If you're climbing by yourself (which you really shouldn't do but you can in popular areas), then you're the only one toting that silly tent.  You could get a 1 person tent but that means you really like your solitude and two person tents are usually much more fun unless you have money to burn and buy both.

Fortunately these days the tents have gotten lighter.  This 2 person 4 season tent is only 5 pounds:

You can climb in the spring time with a 3 season tent if you have a good sleeping bag, but it means you are huddling quite a lot.  This last time I also optimistically went with an air mattress which was fabulous on dirt and an excellent conductor of cold especially when things got down to 20 degrees.  I left a day early.

So now I'm left with - how bad do I want to do this?  There are a whole world of ways to waste your time.

I am more draw these days to cross country skiing with fat (Randonee) skis and maybe do a hut tour as there are some nice Sierra huts.


Elf said...

"It gets cold" being the key phrase.

Yeh, I discovered years ago that an air mattress is lovely during the summer and sucks when it's cold. I pretty much never even use my air mattress any more. Either of them--my big one or my little backpacking one.

Mitch said...

Yeah, tell me about it (the UV rays). First time out I got soooooo sun burned bc WHO THINKS TO PUT IN ON SUNSCREEN to go camping in the snow? Lesson learned!

Ellen said...

Yes Mitch, when the snow is everywhere the UV rays reflect very nicely. One time I tried putting on sunscreen the night before which worked fine until I was glissading back down and noticed that I was frying. Oops.