by Dakota Jones
“This is the most terrified I have ever been to pee.”
Daniel Wakefield Pasley unzipped the door of the tent two inches and we both looked out. For a brief second we saw the imposing outlines of mountains curving toward the sky, twisting upward in dark lines streaked with snow. Then the wind hit. We dove back into our sleeping bags as tiny missiles of snow, ice and gravel hurled themselves in through the tiny hole. The tent inflated with freezing air and we were buffeted back and forth by the force of the blast.
“Zip the tent back up!”
“You do it!”
“You were supposed to zip the damn tent up!”
“If I move my sleeping bag will get wet!”
The standoff lasted two seconds longer, until I caved and dove upward to the tent door. In my haste to zip it closed I knocked Daniel’s glasses from where they were hanging and they were crushed. This didn’t improve the mood. I laid back down in my now-wet sleeping bag and we looked at the roof of the tent as it was hurled back and forth in the gale.
“Sorry about that.”
“It’s alright. Bad placement. I still have to pee.”
We looked at the roof a second longer. Someone sighed. Mountaineering can be tough.
At least, I assume it can be. We didn’t actually do any mountaineering on this trip. We were in what we called “Advanced Base Camp”, which was really just below Chasm Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. Above us curved the infatuating features of the Ship’s Prow, Mt. Meeker, the Notch, and, most imposing, most exciting, most intimidating of all, the Diamond. We were there to climb.
Of course, we didn’t exactly need to be camping there, per se. I mean, we were actually only about four miles from the trailhead, and I was well aware that most parties who come up to climb the Kiener’s or Loft Routes on Longs just hike in the same day. However, in our defense, we were spending the night with the specific purpose to practice winter camping. Winter conditions in the Park can get pretty real, if you know what I mean, and with a trip to Alaska’s Ruth Gorge coming up in April I want to practice my winter camping as much as possible. So on Monday afternoon I hiked in to Chasm Meadows with “Documentarian” Daniel Wakefield Pasley (check out his kickass work here), and we set up camp in a strong breeze.
That strong breeze soon turned into bona fide wind, and over the course of a few hours that wind turned into a straight-up hurricane. A typhoon. I am not exaggerating when I say that we were dealing with winds in excess of 100,000 miles per hour. We cosied up real tight in the 8,000-meter-peak-designed Mountain Hardwear Direkt 2 tent, but even that monster had trouble dealing with the gales. I spent the whole night outwardly laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation while inwardly fearing the seemingly inevitable moment when a seam would rip and suddenly our shelter would no longer offer any distinction between inside and outside. To the tent’s credit, however, that never happened, although the tent poles did impress us with a surprising amount of flex.
The morning was long in coming. I finally slept for about two hours and woke up at 7:30 to find fresh snow falling from grey clouds. The wind was worse than ever and as we dug our packs and gear out of the snow we were constantly getting pummeled by flecks of ice and dirt whizzing through the air at mach 4. I was outside stuffing the last of my gear back into my pack when Daniel stepped outside and the tent inflated and nearly flew away completely. I managed to worm my way back inside and wrestle the thing to the ground before it took off like a great orange parachute. When everything was stuffed and stowed and ready to go, we had a meeting of the minds.
“Let’s get the f*** out of here.”
And three hours later we were sipping hot chocolate in Estes Park. The purpose of the trip had been to climb Longs Peak. The reality turned out to be much less exciting – we simply camped below Chasm Lake. But with the wind and the cold we ended up having a much greater adventure than we would have if we had simply climbed the peak in good conditions. Furthermore, I got the opportunity to test my winter gear, and it came through in the clutch. Mountain Hardwear makes some good stuff; everyone reading this should buy all their products. Honestly though, winter in the mountains can be harsh, mentally and physically, with its long and cold lonely nights. But I found that with the right gear and the right mindset, winter can be very enjoyable.
Read more articles by the one and only Dakota Jones on his blog Living the Dream