This was her first winter backpacking experience – over five hard earned uphill miles with over 1,400-feet of elevation gain.
Not only that, I thrived on my first ever winter camping trip this past weekend!
I originally schemed this scheme back in the late fall, but since I didn’t know a thing about winter camping, I asked Stacy if she would go with me. She said yes with no hesitation at all. She may have had second thoughts when I told her I wanted to go to the Nameless Lake, but after some discussion, she agreed to give it a shot.
In the spring, summer, and fall the Nameless Lake is a relatively easy 3.5 mile hike into a stunning site just below 10,000 feet. In the winter the road to the trail head is closed, so there’s another 4 miles added to the whole trip. Stacy and I set out from the end of the road yesterday morning. We made decent time on the road and then took a very long break at the trail head to fuel up. No one else had even been in to the trail head so we knew we were going to break trail uphill through very deep snow for the remaining 3.5 miles.
It was tough work. I felt like I was climbing steep mountains above 12,000 feet and fell into the same slow rhythm of putting one foot in front of the other. The trail was visible only as a faint dip in the snow, but the snow formations, the light and shadows in the trees, and endless, unbroken fields of snow were stunningly beautiful. Even as my clothes became soaked with sweat and I gasped for air, I started feeling the same limitless joy I experienced hiking this summer. I realized it didn’t matter if we made it to the Nameless Lake or not. Just being out there was enough.
We made it to the turn off for Opal Lake in good time and decided to take a “quick” side trip to see Opal Lake. We lost the trail, slid down a steep bank into a small stream, and gracelessly thrashed our way up the equally steep far bank before “finding” Opal Lake. It was beautiful – mostly ice covered and backed by rocky, snow-covered cliffs. There was also a flowing stream and a perfect flat spot overlooking the whole scene. We decided to stay rather than struggle through 2.5 more miles of deep snow, hoping to arrive at the Nameless Lake before dark.
We stomped down a flat area for our tent, made paths to our outhouse (a deep hole in the snow) and our cooking area, and then went for a walk without our packs. We had to wait for the snow to sinter (settle and firm up) before we could set up our tent and we needed to stay warm while we waited. We followed our tracks down into the stream and through the woods, and then broke more trail in the direction of the Nameless Lake. After sufficient time had passed, we returned to our campsite and set up our tent. The snow was so fine and powdery we had to use our hiking poles as tent stakes.
We bundled up in all the thick, warm clothes that had made our packs so heavy and bulky on the way in and settled right down to a dinner I had been thinking about for a week – thick, hot soup with decadent, triple cream cheese, homemade bread with butter, chocolate cookies, and hot tea. (Stacy had told me beforehand that we needed fat and protein to help us stay warm at night, so I chose a soup with big chunks of meat and a cheese that the man at the deli counter said was 40% fat. It was divine.) We sat in the snow and ate until the sun went down and it began to get dark. Then we got in the tent and thrashed around for about half an hour getting our clothes and blankets and things-that-needed-to-stay-unfrozen arranged to our liking in our sleeping bags. All that thrashing around (and maybe the 3 hours of snowshoeing uphill) made us hungry and we sat up in our sleeping bags to snack despite the 1200 calories we had devoured just an hour before. About that time, the liter of tea we had had with dinner relieved our dehydration, so we thrashed around some more to get out of our sleeping bags`and put on our cold boots. At least we were rewarded with the sight of the full moon coming up over the cliffs and making moon shadows across the lake. It was every bit as beautiful as I had imagined the Nameless Lake would be.
There were light clouds all night which kept the temperatures moderate, and I was almost hot tucked into my sleeping bag with my blanket, silk liner, wool hat, and multiple heating pads. I woke up shortly before 6 a.m. divinely happy. I had not just lived through the night; I had enjoyed the whole experience. When Stacy woke up some time later, she may have again questioned the wisdom of taking me camping when I greeted her with a super-cheery “Good morning!”
Once it was light, we bundled ourselves back into our snow pants and down coats, ate breakfast, and broke camp. The trip back to the car was much easier because it was almost all downhill, and we had a trail to follow. Of course, we had to stop to talk about the interesting tracks we saw in our path – a small cat of some kind and possibly a coyote – and to take more pictures of the light, the sunrise during a snow squall, and the snow already on the ground. Although we made very good time, I still had plenty of time to reflect on my experience. I still have more to learn, but I can do this! I can carry the gear I need to stay safe in the winter, and I can set up a camp, stay warm and have enough energy left to appreciate the stark beauty of my surroundings. Staying at Opal Lake was the perfect experience this weekend, but I still want to make it into the Nameless Lake. Stacy seems to have been infected my enthusiasm, and we are already talking about when we can go out again.
Photo Credit: Sarah S