By: Steve Gillman
Is lightweight hiking and backpacking viable in cold weather? I think so. Last Fall I was in four feet of snow at 13,000 feet – in my running shoes and with just 11 pounds on my back for an overnighter. Crazy? I don’t think so. Anyhow, I have been going lightweight for too many years to want to go back to a heavy pack and hiking boots.
Heading For Crestone Peak
It was September 2006. I was in the Sangre De Christo Mountains in Colorado, hiking up the trail to South Colony Lakes. I just surprised a large buck, who snorted and ran off. I started to see more patches of snow as I went higher. I poked at the frozen puddles with my walking stick.
I had hoped to climb Crestone Peak and Crestone Needle earlier in the month, but was rained out. Then it snowed heavily in the high country on September 18. I started checking the online forums to see if anyone was still climbing these « fourteeners » (mountains higher than 14,000 feet). Someone did mentioned climbing Crestone through the snow – which I didn’t want to do.
However, by the 28th there had been several warm days, so maybe the snow melted. It had where I parked the car. But by the time I hiked to South Colony Lakes a few hours later, I was almost knee-deep in it. Then, up above the lakes and beyond the last of the trees, the snow was even deeper.
My shoes and socks were soaked, but the sun and the climb kept me warm. I continued because it really looked like there was bare rock up near the peaks. Eventually I adjusted my goal to just getting to Broken-Hand Pass, where I could look down into the San Luis Valley. I made it to within 100 yards.
It was so steep and the snow so deep, that I slid back at least as far as I stepped each time. Then I slipped and needed to self-arrest with my walking stick to keep from sliding down a few hundred feet. It was clear that I was under-equipped for climbing any further.
Hiking down was worse (it often is). I sunk into the snow and hit my shins against rocks hidden there. I walked on top of the snow crust at times, until I suddenly broke through – which I did when I stopped to look at some bobcat tracks. At least I didn’t have much weight on my back.
I had 11 pounds, to be exact. The pack itself weighed a pound or so. My down sleeping bag weighed 17 ounces, and the tarp 16 ounces. I also had food and water and dry socks. Going lightweight meant I hardly even noticed the pack – even after 13 miles of hiking.
Back down near the lakes it was time to put my lightweight hiking and backpacking skills and equipment to the test. It would be about 24 degrees Fahrenheit that night.
I found a nice grassy area where the snow had melted away. The sun was still bright and warm, so I laid out my wet socks and shoes to dry on a large log while I ate mixed nuts, wrote some notes, and then took a nap. Several deer walked by an hour later. I woke up gripping my walking stick like a weapon.
Everything was dry, so I put on my shoes and got busy. It took about 20 minutes to collect dry grass and old thistle stalks to make a thick mattress. This was for comfort as well as for insulation to keep me warm. I set a piece of plastic over this, and strung the tarp overhead. Then I laid out the sleeping bag to fluff it up.
I collected some dry wood and tinder and laid a fire, just in case I needed it later (I never did). I covered this with a few pieces of bark to keep frost, snow or rain off of it. I ate some wild currants and rose hips. I saved my corn chips for a bedtime meal. The fat would heat me up as it digested. I used my walking stick to lift the bag with the rest of the food up to a high branch where it would hang for the night.
I put on my thermal underwear, hat and gloves. I used my shoes with the backpack on top of them for a pillow. The wind started blowing, so I lowered one side of the tarp before going to sleep.
The frost was heavy and the ice was thick on the puddles in the morning, but I had managed to sleep well. I packed up, scattered the mattress materials so they wouldn’t smother the plants underneath, and I ate some crackers. The sun was just rising as I hit the trail.
I probably had just 9 pounds total on my back by now. That may seem very lightweight for backpacking, but I had everything I needed. I even had a camera with me. I stopped hiking long enough to take a photo of Crestone Needle in the morning sun. I’ll be on top of it this summer.
About the Author
Copyright Steve Gillman. To get the ebook « Ultralight Backpacking Secrets (And Wilderness Survival Tips) » for FREE, as well as photos, gear recommendations, and a new wilderness survival section, visit: http://www.The-Ultralight-Site.com
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