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Winter Camping Adventures | Nathaniel Lawler

Winter Camping Adventures | Nathaniel Lawler

Introducing an Old Friend to the Magic of Winter Camping

Traveling across icy lake

Winter Camping: It’s Worth the Wind and Cold

With the temperature at -20°F, it turns out to be a bit tough getting a stove lit. My fingertips have become painfully aware of this reality as I strike my lighter, sending sparks towards the stove head. Snow occasionally whips into our snow cave, dousing the flame of my measly lighter, and pelting our faces, reminding us that sleep tonight will be anything but easy. 

Austin, an old friend from Texas, let me know he was coming into town for work and had the long weekend available. 

“I’ve never been snowshoeing; can we go on a winter hike?” I could hear his words weaving through the thick, black mustache that sometimes hung in front of his mouth, a feature that caused none to doubt his Texas residence. 

“How about snow camping instead?” I asked.

“Sure, that sounds great!” Austin might have been more hesitant to accept the offer if he had known that stinging 60 mph winds would be his alarm clock in a few weeks. 

Welcome to winter camping, old friend

Camping in an icy snow cave

The calendar rolls along and the fateful day arrives. Austin, myself, and two of my best friends, Davey and Ryan, all hike into a predetermined high-elevation cirque nestled within Rocky Mountain National Park. 

Having reached our final destination, we pick a hillside away from any avalanche terrain. Davey and I begin digging into the side of the hill, casting our vision for an ice cave that we believe might rival the prowess of Notre Dame, the Duomo, or any horde of other architectural masterpieces which have stood throughout history. 

Our eyes are set on greatness while Ryan is sliding on the nearby ice lake and Austin is miserably regretting his decision to bring wool, fingerless gloves (his obvious reminder that snow camping wasn’t what he imagined).

While it’s no Sistine Chapel, Davey and I declare a grand opening of our icy, four-person rental for the night as we all quickly scurry in. The sun set soon after, leaving our company and apparently asking even more wind to take its place. Amidst blusters and bursts of snow whirling outside our cave, we huddle around my small stove, getting water ready for our Fettuccini Alfredo and Louisiana Red Beans and Rice

Eating well while winter camping

After pouring the boiling water into our meal pouches, we discovered that Backpackers Pantry meals are most definitely better during snow camping when you let them cook for 35 minutes. 

Contrary to popular belief, this wasn’t due to any scientific merit having to do with elevation and dehydration coefficients; Rather, the extra minutes provided even more time to hold the warm meals against our chests for warmth amidst the ice storm swirling around us: an ever-welcomed luxury.

We each slowly eat and chuckle to one another as we consider the hilarity of our current situation: four good friends, tucked away in a high-elevation ice cave during the heart of winter, savoring hot pasta and whiskey when we could have just as easily stayed home and rested in the warmth of covers and blankets. 

The unbeatable joys of camping in the snow

From the retreat of his sleeping bag, we hear Austin mumble, “So, you guys do this for fun? What the heck is wrong with you?” 

We all can’t help but laugh as Austin’s ensuing chuckles escape his bag. There is most definitely discomfort, and not that we’re all a bunch of millennial masochists, but there is something alluring and invitational about the wildness that envelops our current circumstances. 

A few minutes pass as Ryan offers up a question: “How much would you pay for a hot tub right now?” The wind seems to possess a certain disdain for the question as it whips directly into the cave, forcing all of us to take cover for a moment. 

Emerging from the protection of my sleeping bag, I smirk, “Not a dime, bro.” 

In this moment, with four of my best friends, in one of the most beautiful places in the world, in uncomfortable but not unpreferable circumstances, there really is no place I’d rather be.

We’ll see about Austin though; given that he left his fingerless gloves at our house upon our return, that first winter camping trip might be the last time he asks his Colorado friends to take him on an adventure.