Dazed and confused? Not me. I’m just Lost in the Cheese Aisle.

Monday, February 14, 2011


Down the Trail
“Mother Gue, the Rocky Mountains is the marrow of the world.” - Del Gue, in Jeremiah Johnson (1972)

Actually, it was a night on Starr Mountain, but I’m sure Mussorgsky - were he still walking the planet - would not mind the hat-tip.

Yes, Starr Mountain. Some of my Esteemed Readers will remember last year’s cold-weather camping adventure with Eric, the Tennessee Renaissance Man. For sure, one person did... and, in a veritable barrage of text messages, expressed his desire to be In On The Deal this year.

That’s when we realized that the window for getting in some decent cold-weather camping was getting smaller by the minute. And so we made some hasty plans to do the Mountainy Thing while there was still frost on the pumpkin. Alas, the Veloci-Instigator bailed out at the last minute, leaving Eric and me to our own devices.

There were only two problems. One, the night we selected to be on the mountain was the very same night a winter storm was supposed to sweep through the entire area, depositing anywhere from one to three inches of White Stuff from Tennessee all the way to Atlanta and southwards. She Who Must Be Obeyed was skeptical. “You’re gonna get up there on that mountain and you won’t be able to get down!”

Women, practical beasts that they are, have no Spirit of Adventure. They’re also not Bull-Goose Loony.

The other issue was that Eric had somehow contrived to pull a shoulder muscle, not a helpful thing to have happen right before you plan to lug thirty or forty pounds of gear up a mountain trail. But Eric, being a Marine, wanted to tough it out: “Pain is just fear leaving your body.”

And so it was that, throwing any possible residuum of common sense and caution to the winds, Eric and I arrived at Starr Mountain Wednesday afternoon. As we did last year, we drove a few hundred yards up the dirt-paved mountain road until we reached the foot of a dirt bike trail - a convenient parking alcove. We shouldered our packs, then, and marched up to the summit of the mountain, well past last year’s campsite. At some point we realized that if we continued much farther down the trail, we would be losing altitude that we would only have to make up later, and so we made camp in an area where a recent tornado had laid waste to numerous trees. What our campsite lacked in scenery (last year we had a beautiful view toward the east) it more than made up for with plentiful firewood.

Within minutes we had pitched our tent and Eric had started a campfire - this time without the help of the trioxane accelerant he used last year. All we had to do then was crack open our jars of pot roast and start warming them up on the portable propane stove.

Pot roast, SWG-style.
Nothing sharpens the appetite like a hike up a mountainside on a chilly day... but Eric’s pot roast and the cornbread that accompanied it would have been delicious under even the mildest conditions. And to help wash it down we had an ample supply of single malt.

Came nightfall, and the crackling fire (along with the Scotch) kept us warm and comfortable as occasional flakes of snow began drifting down. Then, at 9:00 p.m., right in accordance with the weather forecast, the snow arrived for real.

Night Fire
Eric surveys the fire by the light of his headlamp.

We abandoned our campfire (and a half-full jar of leftover pot roast) to the tender mercies of the storm and clambered into the tent, settling into our respective sleeping bags. Snow pattered on the fly of the tent; we would dislodge the accumulation with an occasional thump of the thumb. And in the morning, we awoke to see the world transformed by an inch-thick blanket of fluffy, crystalline snow.

A restorative cup of hot coffee and Eric was ready to set about the business of rebuilding the campfire... fast work, thanks to a chunk of trioxane this time, and the extra firewood we had stockpiled the night before. After breakfast - a rock-hard Clif bar in lieu of oatmeal - it was time to break camp and head on down the snow-shrouded mountain. The roadways were clear at the bottom, the snow having been of the accommodating sort that is enough to be beautiful but not enough to be dangerous or annoying.

“Mother Gue, the Rocky Mountains is the marrow of the world.” Thus spoke Del Gue in Jeremiah Johnson, and thus spoke Eric as we hiked down that frozen trail. Starr Mountain is no Rocky, but it is, nevertheless, at a healthy remove from our quotidian lives: marrow enough.

Back at Eric’s place, we thawed out the remains of the previous night’s pot roast and devoured it happily. Another fine day of cold-weather camping was now in the Memory Book. A few hours later, back home in Atlanta, a few traces of that same snowfall remained... a quiet reminder.

More photos below the fold.

Snowy Cedar
Snow frosts the mountain trees.

Icicles forming in a mountain stream.

Eric and Tent
Eric enjoys a refreshing sip of water.

East View - Afternoon
Eastern view, Wednesday afternoon.

East View - Morning
Thursday morning, the same view transformed by an inch of snow.

Snowy Tent
Home away from home.

Gear, good to go.

Grizzly Elisson
No, that’s not snow encrusting my beard... just grey hair.


Anonymous said...

Cold weather camping is my favorite (as long as one can stay dry that is).

Dude, you lost serious weight. Looking pretty spry, indeed.

og said...

We used to do igloos when we were kids. I thought about making one this year, lord knows we had plenty of snow. Never developed the ambition.

Cold weather camping, with the right gear, can be fun. Not into sitting on the ground, though. Always pack in a good folding chair.

Laura said...

I did Basic Training in the military at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri in the middle of winter. I spent one week in the field in a pup tent where the temps ranged from 35 below with wind chill factor, up to a balmy 3 degrees. I never want to camp out in the winter again.

Fiona Kathleen Hogan said...

And here I am in Singapore, admiring all the pictures :)

I'm glad you shared'em!

PS the goatee is looking spiffy!

Anonymous said...

.... dude, I loved every second....... what a blast....