Saturday, December 20, 2014

12th Night

♪ On the twelfth night of camping,
Mother Nature gave to me
a blanket of freshly fallen snow... 


With the last of my year-long series of camping expeditions coming so close to Christmas, it only seemed appropriate to head into the woods near the North Pole.  North Pole, NY, that is.  (Not to mention that, since much of my winter gear just happens to be either red or green, a camping companion had already called them my "elf outfit.")  While the original plan for December camping had been elsewhere, trail conditions and the forecast tempered enthusiasm with prudence, and Fr. Scott Belina and I headed midday Wednesday into Cooper Kiln Pond.  The trailhead is not far outside of Wilmington, just up from the Santa's Workshop theme park.  It's a 2.7 mile hike in from the road to the lean-to. "Gentle" and "easy" climbing, the guidebook said, to a spot where "solitude is just about guaranteed."

At least they got that last part right!

The trail conditions were the second worst I'd encountered all year.  Temperatures were in the mid-thirties, which had the snow in the trees melting down on us, and the snow on the trail rather  heavy and gloppy.  The snowshoeing was a difficult slog, taking us two and quarter hours to reach the lean-to.  Since the grade was a good bit steeper than the authorities suggested, we were wet from both the inside and out.

When we arrived at the lean-to, so did a change in the weather: the wind picked up strongly, and it started to snow.   (The forecast had been for very little of either.)  The real trick was, this wind was blowing the snow right over the pond and into the lean-to.  Having packed for the forecast, we had neither tent not tarp...which meant we were likely to have a problem.

I had gotten rather chilled after arriving at the pond, so after eating my sandwich I climbed into my sleeping bag to warm up for a spell.  (Truth be told: I dozed for a bit, too.  The trip in had been a hard one!)  Fr. Scott decided to deal with things in an altogether different fashion: he built a snow wall.

He dubbed it: The Great Wall of Cooper Kiln.

Despite all the abuse he took from me during its construction ("You're ruining the view!" I called out from the warmth of my sleeping bag), his efforts made a big difference for the night.  (Yes, I later said, "Thank you!")

Here we are around supper time:

That snow on the lean-to floor is what made it over and around the wall.  (We'd scraped the floor clean when we arrived around 2:30pm.)  And here's how things looked after we crawled out of bed in the morning:

Like I said: a blanket of snow!  (Much of it had already been shaken off our bags.)

A couple of other shots of Fr. Scott's handiwork:

Yes, there's a lean-to somewhere behind there!

It was 25˚ F when we got up on Thursday, and the temperature hadn't risen a bit when we left Cooper Kiln at 11:15am.  The lower temperature and the fresh snow improved the trail conditions immensely.  It was actually a fun snowshoe out, and we shaved nearly an hour off our time coming in.

Not an easy trek in...but another fine night in the woods.  Is there any other kind?

*  *  *

This wasn't actually my 12th night of camping out this year...but my 15th.  (I had a couple of "bonus" trips in there, too.)  Over the course of 2014, I stayed in 10 different lean-tos (with a couple of repeat visits), and spent 3 nights in a tent.  I traveled on foot, by snowshoe, XC skis, and canoe.  I had a few different camping companions (Fr. Scott on six of my trips), and spent four nights out all on my own.  I even spent my 40th birthday sleeping out in the woods.  It wasn't always easy.  But I don't regret a moment of it.

The most common question folks have asked this year (especially when hearing about cold and snowy nights like this most recent one) is, "Why?"  That's a hard question to answer.  Fr. Scott and I usually respond by simply saying, "Because we can!"  True, a big part of it is about testing your mettle and proving yourself.  But it runs a good bit deeper, too.  I'll borrow an answer from another clergyman enamored by these mountains--the Rev. Joel Tyler Headley, from his 1849 book, The Adirondack; or Life in the Woods:

I love nature and all things as God has made them.  I love the freedom of the wilderness and the absence of conventional forms there.  I love the long stretch through the forest on foot, and the thrilling, glorious prospect from some hoary mountain top.  I love it, and I know it is better for me than the thronged city, aye, better for soul and body both.  How is it that even good men have come to think so little of nature, as if to love her and seek her haunts and companionship were a waste of time?  I have been astonished at the remarks sometimes made to me on my long jaunts in the woods, as if it were almost wicked to cast off the gravity of society, and wander like a child amid the beauty which God has spread out with such a lavish hand over the earth.  Why, I should as soon think of feeling reproved for gazing at the midnight heavens, gorgeous with stars, and fearful with its mysterious floating worlds.  I believe that every man degenerates without frequent communion with nature.  It is one of the open books of God...  (167-168)

I've also been asked, "So, does this mean you'll stop camping?"  Of course not!  I love it.  (And I've also got way too much money invested in cool gear to quit now!)

And then I've been asked, "So what will you do next?"  That, my friends, is still to be determined...

1 comment:

BloggerBill said...

Simply AWESOME! Thank you for sharing your story! I LOVE hearing about the woods.