After my leg of driving, I relegated to the back seat and intermittenly read and dozed off.
As usual, the growing pressure in my bladder dragged me out of a fitful nap. Opening my eyes, I was startled to find that we had left behind the endless fields of dry, tired yellow brush. Sometime, between one shut eye and the next, we had entered Narnia.
The lands around us – even the road – were blanketed in a thick, glorious white, a fluffly pure white that I have not seen in Chicago this winter.
Rows of Christmas trees lined the road, their sturdy pine branches seeming to bend under the heavy weight of the snow. I was excited – we all were. There was no more doubt that there wouldn’t be enough snow/ice for us this weekend. As it were, it was starting to snow out – heavily. The howling winds churned up those fat wet flakes that had just settled onto the ground, and sent them twirling in mad spirals in front of us, around us, such that visibility quickly fell to a mere 10 feet.
Our planned 7.5 hour drive was stretching out into a 11 hour marathon before us. No matter though, we were still excited; I forgot my usual attempts to spare the others from my singing and started belting out all the camping songs I could remember.
Finally, finally, we pulled into the parking lot by our trail head. Remembering the ranger’s backcountry camping directions, we each shouldered our camping gear and set off on the trail to find a nice sheltered spot to pitch tent. The wind had by now picked up, and screeched and yowled while sending snow flying directly into our eyes. With bent heads, we struggled our way across the foot of snow, slowly raising one leg and sinking it knee-deep into the snow, and then even more slowly raising the other to step forward. Balance is key, especially with a heavy backpack on your back; doing regular workouts on a Stairmaster helps definitely helps too.
We found a more sheltered spot as the daylight drew to a close. Hastily, we worked in unison to set up our two tents. Because the snow was too loosely packed to support all our weight, we had to spend a good 5 minutes making snow angels to try pack the snow together.
With the tents both up and ready, we trekked back the 1.5 miles to the car, hurrying to get ourselves registered for the Ice Festival.
Because we only just arrived, we had missed out a whole day’s of climbing – and in line with that, socializing. Everyone else at the Ice Festival seemed to know one another, and while they waited for the talks and slide presentations to start, they mingled around and exchanged stories about their fun day on the ice. Naturally, we were envious, and only became more so when the slide shows started. The organizers had managed to gather a couple professional climbers – from outfitters like Mountain Madness no less! – to share with us their alpine experiences. Quite a surreal experience really. So far, I’ve only read of their exploits in books; it was quite another thing to have them standing in front of me, enthusiastically recollecting how they’d survived seven days without food just so they could try pioneer this new route in the French Alps, how they’d work summers on the Alaskan trawlers, just so they could tag some unclimbed peaks in the harsh Alaskan landscape.
We stayed for only a couple presentations, and skipped the rest – it was already 10pm Michigan time, and besides the couple beers we’d knocked down, we hadn’t eaten in hours. It was a good call too. It had been snowing steadily outside, and in a couple hours, there was already a half foot of snow in the carpark. My poor TSO’s really not built for such conditions – Aza and I had to get out a couple of times to push the car while Andy played with the accelerator…
Trying to find our way back to our tents too, was quite an excursion. Because our trail was right by the lake, the wind was at its most ferocious there. Most of the trail was completely covered – and along some sections a good 2 feet of snow drift obscured our way and we had to sort of bulldoze our way through it. Thankfully, fearing that such a situation might occur, I’d taken some pains to memorize our route, and so we were able to traverse our way back to the tent without too much difficulty.
Perhaps because we were all starving, we worked together seamlessly to get our cooking going. While Pauline and Andy busied around our designated kitchen area, Aza and I started building a wall of ice around it, to protect our stove from the wind:
Building our own Great Wall
After my last winter camping experience with Paul, Minghao etc, I was a little leery of trying to warm up even pre-cooked pasta. Happily though, Pauline had bought us instant chili, and mmm, those were really good stuff. Even better, was dessert: Canadian maple syrup-toffee on snow! Heh, it took us a couple attempts before we finally figured that we needed to get the syrup really warm before we could pour it on the snow and have it solidify instantly.
I was dying to warm up some glogg, but we were all stuffed from all the food and beer, and starting to freeze, so we quickly packed up – i.e. kicked snow over our kitchen and stuffed handfuls of snow into our pots and pans – and retreated into our tent. Can I just say again for posterity – I LOVE MY REI ZEPHYR SLEEPING BAG! I was totally snug in my little cocoon, nevermind the sub zero temperatures, nevermind the roar of the wind outside pretending to be a jet plane. Within minutes, I was out cold, in my little dream world of climbing on ice.
Fastfoward to 6am the next morning. Andy’s alarm clock went off, same time my bladder was rousing me up from sleep again. Much to my relief, the tent was pretty good insulation from the cold, so unzipping myself from my bag wasn’t the torture I’d so dreaded.