Well, we did it.
Dec 22, Ryan and I struck out into Cedar Creek National Forest on a day we expected 40 degrees and rain all day. Changing to sleet and freezing rain and snow in the evening. Down to 20 degrees by morning.
Well we caught a break. For our hike in it was around 60 degrees. The worst thing about it was it was muddy. Deep, slippery mud that clung to our boots like some sort of peanut butter/pudding concoction that was lonely for boot companionship.
At about 12:20 pm, under an hour after we got to the site, without the slightest gust of wind, the temperature seemed to instantly drop about 5 degrees. Sure enough, the light breeze had shifted to the northwest. Still (thankfully) not a drop of rain.
We put up the tents and the canopy that Ryan had fashioned from a Wal-Mart kids tent he had cut the bottom out of. We suspended it between two trees and two stakes in the ground a few feet in front of the fire pit, and then set about gathering wood and filtering water from the seep at the bottom of the bluff. Boiled up the traditional dogs and it started to rain by 3:30.
It was wet. We spent a lot of time sitting under the canopy, feeding the fire and preparing for darkness - getting organized so things wouldn't get lost in the sleet and so that going to bed would be uncomplicated (keeping mud and snow out of the sleeping spaces, mainly).
It was 37 degrees by 6:00 and, being the Winter Solstice, also very dark. By 8:00 we had rain, freezing rain, and ice pellets, which quickly changed to snow-pellet sleet and then snow. Once the liquid precipitation stopped we were free to wander around the camp at will. My drover coat was completely wet and parts of it had frozen stiff. Still, water hadn't gotten through it and I was warm and dry underneath. We had rain pants which we left on as wind breakers, and we cooked up some jambalaya for dinner around 9:00. We used ice pellets to wash the dishes. We kept the fire roaring with a little help from a stiff northwesterly breeze.
We stayed up with our flasks, some quiet Christmas music on the MP3 player while it snowed, and went to bed around 1:00.
My new Campmor 0 degree rectangular down sleeping bag worked quite well -- I just wore E.C.W.C.S. long underwear with the head covering and wool socks and I was never cold. I slept well in my Swiss Gear Hiker tent (in which I had installed a couple of curtains since it really isn't designed for winter. Ryan apparently did as well in his Eureka Solitaire. Probably warmer in there since it is smaller.... but ... it's also .... smaller.
I woke up to a thin layer of frost on the inside of the tent from condensation and the temperature inside was 25 degrees. Outside there were about 2" of snow and sleet and it was 20 degrees.
We broke down camp and hiked the 2.5 miles out over the now snow-covered mud, and drove home over icy roads. I dropped Ryan off around noon and headed home for a shower... and a nap.
Why? Why would we do this?
To prove to ourselves we can. To get outside of our comfort zone to put life in perspective. To see bare trees in the snow in the faint moonlight that filtered through the thick clouds. To feel cold wind and sleet on our faces and feel the satisfaction of having to work to stay comfortable -- and succeeding. To push ourselves. To learn about the world around us without looking through a TV screen. To touch it and to be a part of it.