On a cold late January day Ben and I were on our way to a little adventure. We drove up a canyon kept open through the winter, only because it was the only connection between distant communities to the East and the city to the Northwest. Up and up the canyon we drove till we reached the ridge, at this point the road turned and following the ridge took us to nearly 10,000 feet, before beginning a long slow descent.
Not much below the summit lay our destination. The road winding along the floor of the canyon. To our right as far as one could see was the summit ridge, partially obscured by the blowing snow as the wind carried it, creating huge cornices on our side of the mountains.
I pulled the truck off the road and into a small plowed area kept to enable ice fishermen access to the lake. It was late afternoon as we arrived. Looking out the windshield I could see the furious wind blowing in front of us, snow horizontal as it whipped by, at times impossible to see very far.
We pulled on our gear as we got out of the truck, it was nothing conventional for sure, but what would be the point in that, no adventure was ever conventional nor attempted by normal people. A person has to have a bit of the eccentric in him to do some of these types of things. We weren’t climbing any mountain, nor were we heading for the poles, we weren’t even exploring some vast unknown place. We were just piling out into the winter with our unconventional gear, just because.
Ben and I were wearing our Wilderness Innovation PSS Ponchos as winter coat shells, there was no rain in these conditions. Under our ponchos we had a new item at the time, a Fleece Poncho Liner, thus we created a long winter coat out of these two items.
Having our winter coverings on, Ben pulled the sled out of the back of the truck and we began loading our supplies. Soon we were on our way, heading off across the gravel dam a half mile to the other side.
Travel across the dam was more difficult than anticipated. I had to lean well into the wind to keep my balance, the ski poles I had brought along were nearly useless as the force of the wind kept me from planting them where I intended. At times a sudden drop in the wind meant I nearly fell off the dam due to how much I was leaning. To make matters worse, conditions were not ideal for pulling a heavy sled. The constant wind meant there was little snow, so we were pulling the sled on rocks and gravel most of the way. Finally after what seemed like forever and having negotiated the spillway. which was another challenge in itself, we were on regular ground.
We headed toward the canyon ahead. After a bit of time we came upon a hill and looking down one side saw a small alcove that looked like it could serve as a sheltered area for our campsite. It was nearly dark now, so we really did need to decide on a spot to settle into, we couldn’t really see much anyway at this point. Ben selected a site for camp about halfway in the length of the alcove.
First order of business was making a fire and after gathering a few resources and getting the lay organized properly I got out my Doan Magnesium bar and got things going. We had a simple dinner and some hot chocolate. Now a reality set in, we were going to need to get some wood for the fire, enough for the whole night. Our intention was to keep warm by the fire all night, which of course meant a good amount of wood was needed.
We soon discovered that there was not nearly as much dead wood in that area as we originally thought, this partly due to the settling darkness at the time we found the camp location. Ben and I worked well into the night getting firewood, and hauling it from farther and farther away. It became apparent that we were not going to get all we needed for the cold situation we were in at the rate we were going, and neither of us had any desire to spend the whole night hauling wood. We needed the fire however, as we had purposely not brought much along with us in the way of sleeping gear. It was then that I proposed that we burn half dry wood and half green wood as there was plenty of that near camp.
Our fire was a parallel log fire about 8 feet long so that we could both get enough emitted heat to warm us. Behind the fire we built a log wall about three feet high, that most people would think was a reflector, but of course that does not really work, our purpose was to create and direct an airflow from the snow in front of the fire to the back of the fire and then up the wall, this effect made for a sheet of flame the length of the fire. The IR from the flames is what heats us. We did not need a big tall fire, just a few logs and that sheet of flame to keep warm.
With the fire in place we decided to build a platform above the snow to lay on, which we did with logs and boughs. Next we decided to notch some more logs and build up some sides and a back, funny, it looked like an over sized couch, realizing this we piled more boughs on like stuffed pillows, for a nice cozy factor.
This was in the days before the cell phone cameras, and we didn’t worry much about taking pictures, we were just out to have a good time, and indeed we did.
Until next time this is Perry Peacock for, “Simplifying Survival”