EDIT: This story is pretty long and pretty boring -- consider yourself warned! -Brian
I left for Garibaldi Park on Saturday morning; it was a last minute change-of-plans as Manning Park was in the rain. I wasn't relishing the thought of snowshoeing in the rain for two days!
I got to the trailhead at about 2pm; lots of time to climb up to Taylor Meadows and if I went slowly there were plenty of other places to camp along the way if I got tired or the light went away too quickly.
The trail is about 9.5 km or 6 miles. Vertical is around 1000m or 3000 feet; a fairly respectable afternoon jaunt but nothing too taxing. I'd been up there as a dayhike three weeks before so I knew the distances and obstacles.
I started my walk and immediately felt my pack weight. Heavyweight backpacking *sucks*! After a summer of light and UL packing, I'd forgotten just how miserable those huge internal frame packs are. Mine weighs 6 lbs alone, and most of my winter gear is old-school with a few notable exceptions. Thus my full skin-out weight (measured when I got home) was 57 lbs! That's a lot for a 190 lb guy, especially when lots of it is in the form of boots and snowshoes.
Anyway my thighs burned and I had to pause a few times at the start to catch my breath... I finally remembered the old heavyweight rhythm and settled into it. Small, heavy steps, conserving energy and being mindful of balance. The skin wearing off your feet, the straps digging into your shoulders and hips, your back sweating a litre an hour. But I was glad to be in the bush!
The trail is nothing but climbing. 3 hours of intense switchback and then it levels out into a more straightforward and less intense climb. I was in a good mood and feeling strong, so I soldiered on and in my classic solo hiking style I forgot/didn't want to take breaks. I passed a couple who were on their way down; they had looks of mild concern in their eyes due to the lateness of the hour and, I would later find out, the approaching weather system.
Sure enough, after a couple of hours of climbing I started to feel raindrops. They were cold, though, and I theorized that if I could just get high enough they would become snow. I was right, and when I finally got to the first junction I was in wet blowing snow. Oh yeah: the wind had come up. Yech.
At the junction you have 1 mile left to walk. I considered making camp there as the light was fading and the wind was picking up and carrying more snow. I had visions of other campers at Taylor meadows, though, and so I decided to press on and race the fading light.
After making that decision, I started off only to find that the trail was unbroken. I theorized that 1 mile is about 2000 steps when breaking trail uphill, so I started counting and went for it. Sure enough, 2200 steps later I was there. The last 1000 steps were hard: I had to search hard in the fading light to find the trail markers, and I was tired and wet from the inside. By the end I was resting every 50 steps. I even had to rest when I was about 20 yards from the cook shelter.
When I entered the cook shelter, the first thing that struck me was how wet I was. I had soaked my base layer and windshirt and the blowing snow had wetted my softshell pants. I decided to pull on a Primaloft jacket overtop and try to drive the moisture out with body heat, not realizing how fatigued I was. I am a very warm person (human furnace) all the time except for when I am highly fatigued. When I wear myself down, the furnace goes to low and I have to get warm fast!
I started melting snow and then began to fuss with the tent. I inflated my new Exped Downmat 7 and laid out my bag to loft.
Dinner was something like Lipton Sidekicks: quick-cooking tortellini and sauce that I love to eat at home. I brewed up 2 packages (1150 calories) and a mug of home made cocoa with powdered whole milk. I started eating and was hit by two things: 1) I was cold and having a hard time maintaining my temperature, and 2) the food was making me feel sick. My body was too stressed; the food tasted fine in my mouth but made me feel queasy in my guts. Hmm.
I thanked the stars I was only out for one night and changed in to a fresh, dry base layer, fresh 3-oz Primaloft hooded jacket, thick wool toque and gloves, and Montane eVent shell. Instant warmth.
I had a huge sack of cashews, so I tried them and they tasted just fine. It was something about the pasta or the sauce that my body just rejected; weird. So I ate a tonne of cashews and finished the hot chocolate and then boiled a bunch more water. I didn't know how cold it was going to get and/or how much ability I had left in me to produce warmth. I filled a 1.4L nalgene with boiling water and stuck it in my sleeping bag.
The another feeling of uneasiness/discomfort came over me, and once again I was concerned trying to identify it. I was warm, despite the dropping temperatures, so what could be making me feel crappy? Was I sick?
Then I figured it out: My feet were wet, as were my boots from walking through miles and miles of sloppy wet snow. It was weird that despite my core being warm to the point of almost sweating, having a chill come in through my feet could permeate my body. (This was a very unusual an unsettling feeling for me. It had to do with the combination of fatigue and wet.)
Anyway, into the sleeping bag I went! I immediately felt normal again, right up until the heat from the hot water bottle hit me. Sweat! Yikes!
I pitched the hot water bottle out of the sleeping bag, did a bellows-action to clear vapour, and pushed my Nunatak Arc Ghost to the footbox for use later in the night. You have to pay soooo much attention in the winter; you really can't lose your focus for an instant.
Aah, finally it was time to sleep. Except that it was 7:55 pm and my body was still jacked with adrenaline. Thankfully, earlier in the evening I noticed that I'd accidentally left my iPod Nano in the pocket of my shell. So I played that until my adrenaline subsided enough to sleep; around 12:30. The Downmat 7 was a dream; it was incredible. It's what let me sleep well (although actually too warm) that night.
The next morning I awoke to a predictably condensation-filled tent. Such is west coast camping, and it's the worst in our spring season. My down was damp; eveything was damp. Since I was sleeping so hard I didn't know if it had come from inside or the outside the bag, but it was a mess.
I made some 9-grain cereal and packed up, all the while wondering if I'd be pinned down by weather for the day or if my tracks had been snowed over. The answers were no -- and yes!
I nervously started down what remained of my trail (i.e. a slight hollow in the snow,) only to turn a corner and see nothing but pure flat snowscape all around me. Not a footprint in sight, despite the fact that I had weighed almost 250 lbs when I walked in and was only on 30" snowshoes. I had been sinking in about 6 inches the day before -- I think it snowed 5 inches overnight with a wind.
I circled the meadow and eventually picked up my own trail again; thankfully it was still visible in the trees! If it hadn't been, I would have been in for a long walk out.
My legs were weaker but the whole walk was downhill, and walk I did. 6 miles of steep switchback (some quite exposed) in 3 hours, and I was back at my truck.
I went on such a short, close, familiar trip to learn, test, and refresh my winter skills. I'm from Alberta, where it's very dry all year round. Dry air simplifies backpacking -- a lot. After years on the coast I am still learning to deal with the wet. Every year I gain more respect for this climate; I'd rather be in Alberta in -30 than here just below zero in the slop. Wet, humid, rainy jungle air is a challenge in all seasons, and in (very) early spring it's probably the toughest of all.
I also really wanted to test out some lightweight principles in the conservative environment of a heavyweight camp:
1) not switching to dry clothes, but instead just layering up and letting your body dry wet layers
-this works better in less humidity, better when it's warmer, better when there's no wet snow falling, and better when you have energy to be the heater in the middle of that wet mess. If you are lacking three or all four of these criteria, you are going to have to have to make some fast, smart calls right away and execute your decisions without delay or error.
2) inverted canister stove
-This worked like a dream. No pumping, no spilling below-freezing liquid fuel on bare hands, no noxious fumes filling up the cook shelter and vestibule.
It *is* disconcerting to constantly hear your stove getting quieter and quieter as you melt snow. I kept having to turn the valve up and up as the canister cooled itself, and it was not a lot below 0C/32F. Every now and then I got annoyed and held the canister in the warm air above the stove; this reheats the canister and makes the stove into a bonfire again so you have to be ready to turn it down quick.
I also learned that not all stoves are equal in efficiency: I burned my entire 8-ounce canister making dinner and breakfast and water for the walk out. Yowza. That's a lot of fuel for less than a days' walking.
-Exped Down Airmat 7
Wow! Wow. What an item. Borrow one; try it! I've been using Prolite 4 pads since the first one I bought in the late 80's. It wasn't until recently that I realized that I've never really *liked* thermarests at all. For side sleepers, your hips and shoulders push the air away. Thus, even though your pad might be R3 or whatever, you hips and shoulders are probably at R1. The comfort isn't that great (for the weight) anyway; I have come back from trips sleep deprived all my life and now I understand why! As a sidesleeper, I basically just "tolerated" until morning all other pads and pad combinations I tried. On the Downmat, I *slept*!
The Downmat 7 was the first mattress I've ever had 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep on. I could have been at home in my bed. It was also dangerously warm; I chose my sleep system based on the expected temps and immediately started sweating. I had to adjust a lot; the entire Arc Ghost remained unused for the night. In that sense alone, the 2 lbs of mattress were justified. I just wish I'd had the wallet to spring for a Stephenson's Downmat.
Anyway that's enough rambling. Anyone else have winter camping stories from southwestern BC or messy messy conditions like that?