Saturday, February 22, 2014

Out On My Own

February is getting on, and the forecast is making snow conditions for the rest of the month a bit of a wildcard, so securing the second month of my year-long challenge was getting crucial.  I checked in with Fr. Scott Belina, who had expressed interest in camping out again...but we just couldn't make our schedules line up with the time we each had available.  (We may explore some backcountry next week...but not overnight.)  So if I was going to spend a night out in February, it looked like I would have to do it solo...and that's just what I did on Wednesday-Thursday.  I'd just re-watched Into the Wild on Sunday evening, so I was pumped to give this a try.  (Don't worry: I have NO plans to take off for Alaska!)

My destination was the Grass Pond lean to, along the Hays Brook horse/XC ski trails in the Debar Mountain Wild Forest (named for the summit I mostly climbed a week earlier)--about 30 miles south of here, not too far outside of Paul Smiths.  It's an area I've skied and snowshoed before several times, as well as hiked through in warmer seasons: very familiar turf for my first night alone in the woods.

It's about 2 miles in from the parking area to the lean to (although the DEC sign at the register says it's 3, and I've seen other sources that cut it down to about 1.75).  About 3:30pm Wednesday afternoon, I strapped on my snowshoes, hitched up my pack, and headed in.

The trail soon crosses a narrow portion of the Osgood River (flowing northward out of Osgood Pond, where last March I went ice fishing) and then winds just a bit through rather gentle terrain on its way to Grass Pond.

I got to my home-away-from-home nearly exactly an hour later.  My first task was to gather some firewood while daylight was on my side.  This would be much more for ambiance than to provide a necessary heat source.  After all, the forecast was for the upper teens above zero overnight--almost 30 degrees warmer than my last camping expedition--and very little wind.  After that, I unpacked all my gear and started to settle in.

I really had deluxe accommodations: there was a comfy bed and a gourmet kitchen...

...plenty of storage and a private bath...

...and then, of course, there was the lovely view right out the front window...I mean the front door...I mean...whatever...

And did I mention the beautiful fireplace?

I passed the evening by saying my prayers (there's no vacation from one's vocation) and reading--great ways to soak up the peace and quiet--and took my leisure in the morning, enjoying a second cup of tea after breakfast.

(If you're wondering where I got such unique tea, Fr. Tom brought it back for me from Alabama.  "It Just Soothes My Soul.")

But my full time occupation really was staying warm, a task for which I was given invaluable assistance by my down filled booties:

You may mock them for their "moon boot" appearance...but they sure get the job done when you're winter camping!

When everything was all packed up again late Thursday morning, I took a few steps out onto the frozen pond to take in the sights...

...and then it was back on the trail, making the two-mile return trip to the trailhead and my car.  I shaved about 10 minutes off my time walking in...but probably because I'd also shaved about 10 pounds from the weight of my pack, having eaten my food and used 3/4 of my water.

Of course, after enjoying such deluxe accommodations, one must be sure to sign the guest book.

On the way out, I met up with a family on skis: mom, three kids, and dad bringing up the rear.  He and I stopped for moment to make small talk.  He inquired a bit about my overnight, and we then chatted about the weather and what it was doing to the trail conditions.  He then asked, "So you're headed back to work tomorrow?"  I barely stopped myself from answering, "Yup!  Back to the real world!"  

I thought about that comment all the rest of the way.  

People keep asking, "Why?" when they hear about my short forays into the wilderness. I think I'd have to say, "It's to stay in touch with the real world."  So much of our day-to-day existence has gotten so very artificial: from the food we eat to the environments in which we live to the ways we communicate with one another.  When you're camping, everything necessarily stays pretty real.  Life is reduced to the essentials, and there's not much room for pretense.

I'll hopefully have another overnight to report to you in March.

In the meantime, keep it real.

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