Winter Wonderland

  • January 02, 2017
  • Posted by Gabe Brodowy

The weather forecast for Challis, ID, called for temperatures in the 80s all week and the slightest chance of rain over the weekend. Our camp, however, 16 miles outside of Challis and more than 3,000ft above it, may as well have been a different world. The hot, dry desert of the Challis valley slowly fell away as our rig climbed the steep mountain road, and in the end was replaced with lodgepole forests, cool, crisp air, and a network of crystal clear springs and creeks. It was immediately obvious that the forecast for Challis would be completely useless here. The cooler air was more than welcome during the work day, making it easier to work without sweating buckets or risking heat exhaustion. But as the soon as sun sank behind the horizon every night, what little warmth it had brought the forest was sucked away and replaced with an icy chill that bit through even the toughest pair of boots. My “15 degree” down sleeping bag didn’t feel much warmer than an afghan on its own - I had to cover it with a packable down blanket (which I had almost chosen to leave in the rig) and wear a wool shirt, long johns and thick knit socks to be warm enough to catch any Z’s. Cozy as I was in my cocoon of wool and down, everything outside of it was a victim to the cold. My breath condensed and froze onto the walls of my tent, and the water in my nalgene often glistened with shards of ice and froze the cap on to solid to twist off. Cold nights were also clear nights, though, and as far as we were from any city light pollution, the milky way and its billions of stars were visible to those brave enough to leave their warm tents at night (or those who just had to pee). On the other hand, cloudy nights were warmer, the clouds acting as one huge blanket over the whole forest.

The “slight chance” of rain that had been forecasted for Challis turned into much more than a drizzle in our mountain home. It started sprinkling towards the end of work day, and steadily got worse from there. By the time we had eaten dinner and hung the bear hangs, we were all cold and our raincoats were dripping. Once in my tent, I hoped the rain would turn to snow as I read a book. As the hard patter of rain drops finally changed into soft, fluffy snowflakes, I fell asleep with a smile on my face and looked forward to waking up to a winter wonderland. Unfortunately, we got a lot more than I asked for. I woke up in the black of night with something pressing down on my feet, the snow still falling and strange, muffled thumping sounds in the distance. The time was 12:30am. Dazed, confused and half asleep, I fumbled for my lantern to shed some light on the situation. My tent walls were closing in on me, the roof inches from my face. It was the result of snow, I realized, and I joined the chorus of thumping trying to knock it off my rainfly. It wasn’t enough, so I reluctantly donned pants and a rain coat and stepped into the whiteout. Once I had dug my own tent out, I stomped through a half-foot of snow to check on my crewmates, lantern in hand. Most tents had already been freed of snow, but the place Emily’s tent had been was now a white, tent-shaped mound. As I walked over to push the snow off, the tent poles gave in to the heavy, wet snow and her tent collapsed in slow motion. “Welcome to the party!”, I said, scooping the snow off and trying to turn the wet-blanket of a rainfly back into a shelter. Half asleep and as confused as I had been, Emily mistook the light from my lantern for the rising sun and said “good morning”. I filled her in on the cold, wet reality of the situation, made sure she was good to go for the night, and crawled back into my tent, hoping that was the worst of it. Luckily it was, and I slept through the rest of the night, and woke up to the winter wonderland I had originally hoped for.


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