Friday, February 11, 2011

Snow, after hours

The idea of camping in the snow had never occurred to me. Lugging a pack heavier than I am while trudging up steep hills, digging a pit for the tent, collecting moss and dry branches for a fire, hunkering down while wild winds blow the top of the tent every which way - all of this was foreign to me.

Since I was a newbie, we settled on spending the weekend in Silver Basin, which is a few short miles above the ski runs at Crystal Mountain. I had no qualms about shoving extra items into my bulging pack as we stood in the parking. Of course I needed fleece pants, two bags of Dove chocolate, hand soap and lotion… But as soon as that bag was strapped onto my back, my entire body pitched backward and I nearly toppled over. I stubbornly readjusted and started hoofing it up the ski run, careful to avoid the speeding snowboarders as they came around corners.

I can now say from an entirely new perspective, ski runs are steep. Even bunny slopes are a challenge if you’re heading up instead of down. The snow was icy and my boots didn’t have much traction, causing me to repeatedly slip and silently pray that my overloaded pack wouldn’t knock me over. On one of our several stops heading uphill, I gulped from my water bottle before handing it to a friend to shove back in one of my side pockets. I let it go before his fingers grasped it and the bottle dropped and started sliding. My reflexes had me lunging forward. Thankfully, he snatched the back of my bag and pulled me upright before I tumbled down the slope after the bottle.

We eventually made it up the ski slopes, and after another mile or so, ended up in Silver Basin. It’s a wide valley with Three Way Peak looming above and a mostly covered creek following the path. We set up camp in a stand of trees to keep us hidden from passersby, though there weren’t many since a storm was forecast to hit that night. Several feet of powder fell that evening and the winds (we later learned) were gusting more than 70 mph, but I had cabin fever so I went for the most magical walk of my life. There was something about being completely alone in the wilderness, snow swirling all around me, with only the moonlight to guide my steps as I headed up the middle of the valley toward a hill I was dying to glissade down.

Hiking took a backseat this weekend while I learned how to build a snow cave, shovel a campsite and start fires au natural. But the experience was more fulfilling than most of the sights I’ve discovered so far.

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