I live in Alaska and I’ve never been winter camping until this weekend. A few words for it- DEATHLY COLD and DISTURBINGLY LOUD! An apt comparison would be like trying to sleep in a blender while being made into a smoothie.
My old roommates showed up with their baby in tow (baby was not responsible for the noise factor) and asked if I wanted to accompany them to the yurt they had rented in Eagle River. I’ve been a bit down lately but I thought, ” Hey, if a baby can winter camp so can I.” I grabbed my sleeping bag, a pad, some food, water and off we went, half cocked. If you have winter camped before you may realize that this is not a thing to take lightly even when staying in a yurt with a stove. I found out slowly while considering my death that I might do things differently next time.
This was actually a very nice weekend for camping as the temperature has risen to 32 F (0 C for you Brits). We just had a long cold spell o f – 10F (-25C) so the walking in a couple of miles was pleasant. When we reached the yurt we remembered that the water source was not only frozen but down an icy cliff. No problem we had plenty of snow, a wood stove and firewood.
It was just about dusk so we began to heat the snow which took it’s time while we amused ourselves setting up and reading the notes from the guests the night before. “Winds of 80 mph…” Interesting, glad we missed that because a yurt is afterall just a tent. Nevertheless M. had me go out and check the flaps on the not-really-windows. They were not very functional as they were tied down loosely and ripped in some places but what can you do? Baby was a little restless in the dark so we lit the fire and put up a tiny pen light pretending we were in a New York restaurant. We sang both Kumbaya with special verses for peeing and pooping. Baby ate an entire can of sardines, a first time spectacle and we all imagined the results in tomorrow’s diaper. I discovered that my old roommate A., a man, knew every single lyric to “Wouldn’t it be lovely.” Then it started.
The wind. I can not really describe it except Katrina/holocaust/firestorm like. M. wanted to leave, A. confessed that he laid awake for 4 hours considering that we were all going to die. The gusts would scream down the Eagle River, you could hear them coming like some kind of army cargo plane and then hit the cliff and the yurt shaking the walls, lifting the roof and boomeranging around the trees nearby. Then another gust would hit within 10 seconds all night. The little family had packed much better than I with winter sleeping bags and blankets. I soon realized that my toes were numb and that my nose and ears were going to get frostbit if I didn’t feed the fire. I knew the place wasn’t going to blow away because I saw it was bolted into concrete pilings. I focused my anxiety on my own stupidity. I was using my light bicycle weight summer sleeping bag, the only one I have. Now I was going to die for my foolhardiness. I forced myself to go to the outhouse despite having to hold on to trees and slide around the ice. It was quieter in there because it was downhill a bit. If you are from Anchorage I can best describe the yurt as like an overnight flight on Alaska Air which is packed with the person in front of you pushing their seat all the way back with the person in the next seat listening to horribly loud music on their ipod. The outhouse was, well, familiar, comfortable and reassuring since all the bears were sleeping.
If you live in Great Britain I have another description for you Corryvreckan! I only know about this from the wonderful Powell & Pressburger film “I Know Where I’m Going.” This is one of my favorite movies of all time due to the stubborn heroine named Joan, the WWII storyline, the celtic music & language as well as the fierce-some whirlpool. This clip is not from the film but captures the sound quite nicely.
The next day we celebrated life.
spoke about our fears of death as the wet snow blew through the trees. We drank our last Coca Cola, ate our chocolate and walked quietly out, not speaking for miles. We needed quiet.
We got soaking wet but at least we figured we would live. The sad thing is that little baby will never remember the source of her anxiety in later years. But do any of us?