Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Priest Backpacking Trip – A Cold Night

So we had reached the top of Priest Mountain and enjoyed the beautiful but cold and windy views from the north rocks. All of the other people admiring the view had left. We now had about 70 minutes of light left to set up camp. After looking around, we settled on a nice, open spot just yards from the rocky view. The big rocks provided some shelter from the wind. Next step – get some water.

We tied our food bags up in a tree and headed back to the Priest Shelter and its putative spring. It was a 0.4 mile walk all downhill, but obviously all uphill coming back to camp. There had to have been at least 30 boy scouts at the shelter area. It looked like a tent city! We filtered about 4 liters of water. I still had two liters in my Camelback in my pack. Then we trudged back uphill in the declining light, and put up our tents.

I picked an open grassy spot with some sparse trees overhead for my tent site. The tent was tiny – about the length of my sleeping bag, maybe 8 inches wider than the bag, and about 24-30 inches high at the very front. There was a small area to put my pack under at the front, although it stuck into the tent just a bit. We lucked out with the dry weather because I could place various gear around while setting up my tent. I had to rummage through my pack to find things I needed. We got the tents up with our sleeping gear organized just before dark. By then, I had also put on long underwear, gloves, a hat, and all my top layers because it got colder and colder.

Chris cooked dinner while I stumbled around in the dark collecting firewood, and after a hot meal that totally hit the spot we got a nice fire going in an existing firepit. Someone had set up big logs around the firepit that made a nice seat for dinner and trying to stay warm. I was coming back to the fire with some more dead branches when I looked up to the north through the trees and saw the stars. They were amazing! The stars in the Big Dipper looked as bright as Jupiter usually does! We walked out on the rocks in the open along the edge of the mountain and gazed up in wonder. I have never seen stars so bright. You could see the entire Milky Way, including its spiral arms. The entire sky was ablaze with stars. If I had 10,000 words to write, I could not adequately describe the scene, but we both agreed it would be our one dominant memory of this trip. We lay on our backs on the rocks for a while, enjoying the view for a few minutes until the continuous winds drove us back to the fire.

The fire burned down about 8:20 and we said goodnight and went to bed. It was just too cold and windy to do otherwise. The little bucket of water that we still had was already coated in thick ice less than three hours after we collected it, so we dumped it to prevent a solid block of ice by morning.

I crawled into my tent. Man, that thing was small – and cold. I took off my trousers, gloves, and boots but left all my other clothing on – even my hat. It took me a good 5 minutes to squirm around and get settled into the sleeping bag liner and into the bag. The wind was roaring outside but the tent was fairly well sheltered. I finally got warm enough but could not sleep. After a couple of hours I got up to visit a tree, then rushed back to bed. I repeated this maneuver, with dread, several more times during the night. It kind of went like this:

Debate whether to get up or not. Finally decide I have to. Put on my headlamp and glasses. Unzip the sleeping bag, usually struggling a bit. Unzip the front of the tent. Realize that although the tent feels cold, it is a lot colder outside. Squirm out of the bag to a kind of crouching – kneeling position: the tent is too short to sit up in. Find my boots and place them outside the tent. Crawl outside and put one foot in a boot, usually tripping in the process. Get the other foot into the other boot, usually tripping again. Walk over to a tree, usually tripping on something, to take care of business. Come back to the tent, shivering. Kneel down and remove boots while crawling into the tent. Place boots in tent. Take what seemed lie 5 minutes to crawl into the sleeping bag and liner and get the bag and tent zipped up. Then lie there at least 15 minutes until I felt more or less warm again.

On one such trip, I nearly screamed like a little girl when I rammed my shin into a shin-high thin stump, ripping a jagged little line along my shin. I suppressed the urge to scream but instead I said – well, never mind what I said, gentle reader! Suffice to say, on my next trip I watched out very carefully for that stump.

I did sleep some but fitfully, as I hate sleeping on my back. Every time I slept on my side, my hip bone would eventually ache from being pressed into the ground. I listened with envy to Chris snoring loudly enough to be heard over the wind in his tent 30 feet away. The wind blew a good 15-25 knots all night but could not suppress Chris’s snoring.

Eventually, daylight came and I ventured out to scrounge up some more firewood. It had to have been around 12-15 degrees F, and I decided it was just too cold, so I went back to bed. I lay in the warm sleeping bag thinking about the hike, thinking about the stars last night, thinking about life. Chris – well, he was snoring. When we both got up for good about 9AM, we had to skip our planned pancake breakfast because we had no water. We had some ice, but no liquid. So we each ate a couple of fig newtons and some trail mix for breakfast, broke camp, and headed down the trail. We would be descending alongside the amazing Crabtree Falls, the highest cascading waterfall east of the Mississippi. We knew that somewhere along the trail, we could get water from the stream and prepare brunch. It was still well below freezing, but it felt great to be moving and the soreness and stiffness from the night in the tent quickly wore off.

To be continued...


  1. I guess there is nothing like a nice warm bed inside! :-)
    You tent LOOKS cozy and warm!

  2. It looks warmer than it was. But it beat being outside.