Thursday, January 8, 2015
Snow flurries darken the skies to the east as we ascend Starr Mountain.
It’s colder than the ice cubes in a glass;
It’s colder than the hair on a polar bear’s ass;
It’s colder than the nipple on a witch’s left tit;
It’s colder than a box full of penguin shit.
Man, it’s cold!
- Eli, hizzownself
Many are cold, but few are frozen.
You know it’s cold when you pour a shot of Scotch whisky out of your metal flask and it flows with the viscosity of maple syrup. Water, when added to this ferociously chilly brew, doesn’t do much more than lay on top, seemingly as immiscible as oil and vinegar.
That’s how cold it was when Eric and I went camping last night, the night of a huge Polar Express system that chilled vast swaths of North America to ridiculous levels. The forecast called for it to drop down to 5°F atop Starr Mountain, with windy conditions that would bring the effective temperature to somewhere between -10 and -20°F... so of course that is the night we selected for our overnight camping trip. This is because we are Manly Men. Or fucking idiots. (Some would contend that that is a distinction without a difference.)
Our little home away from home.
We’ve gotten the Cold Weather Camping thing down to a science. Drive halfway up the mountain and park. Schlep our gear the remainder of the way to the top, then cast about for a suitable spot to pitch our tent. Set up the tent and start a campfire. At sunset, heat up two quarts of Eric’s tasty pot roast on the camp stove. Enjoy several wee drams of Scottish antifreeze. Crawl into the tent, get into our respective sleeping bags, and sleep. As necessary, get out of the tent to urinate. Wake up, heat water for coffee and oatmeal, build a new campfire. Clean up, pack up, break camp, and head down the mountain. Easy-peasy, right?
When the sun goes down, shit be gettin’ serious.
Well, that’s all well and good when you’re dealing with regular ol’ Cold Weather. Snow? Love it. Freezing conditions? No prob. But when the mercury drops into the single digits and below, it’s a whole different ball game. It’s hazardous to one’s health.
It was sometime around 1:00 am that we both awakened, roused by a Call of Nature. The winds had died down by this time - the campfire long since had gone out - and in the silence of the deep night we could both feel the heat being sucked from our bodies through all our layers of clothing and sleeping baggage. Fortunately, we had a couple of extra layers with which to insulate ourselves: Eric’s Gore-Tex coat, which served to cover our feet, and a fleecy blanket huge enough to completely fill the tent. With these in place, we were protected enough to be safe, if not entirely comfortable.
As the eastern sky began brightening sometime around six - sunrise would not come for yet another hour - we awakened to the lowest temperatures of the past 24 hours. The tent’s interior and fly were encrusted with a thick coating of rime from our exhaled moisture, while our bottles of water had frozen solid. It took an effort of will to put on our frozen hiking boots and venture outside to build a new campfire, but it was worth it: A few cups of hot coffee did wonders to elevate our mood as Eric warmed his numb toes near the flames.
We broke camp and hiked the mile or so back to the car, whose thermometer registered a frigid 11°F despite its being mid-morning. Oof.
It’s hard to explain the allure of cold-weather camping to most people. Saddled with the veneer of civilized rationality with which most of us conduct our lives, they wonder why anyone in his right mind would voluntarily forsake the comforts of a cozy house, a warm bed, and indoor plumbing to bed down in a tent and sleeping bag on a frigid mountaintop. And perhaps it is completely nutty... but there is a quiet power in knowing that one is able to face adverse conditions, and that power fuels a fuller appreciation of one’s everyday life.