December 07, 2013

Winter Camping in the Age of Ignorance

I was skimming this article (and its informed comments) about temperature rating on winter
This looks like my childhood sleeping bag.
sleeping bags
and how many manufacturers (in the writer's opinion) overstate them. In other words, a bag rated to -20° F (-28° C) is really more like a -10° bag for a man — maybe a -5° bag for a woman.

With the temperatures hovering around 0° F. outdoors, I remembered my first serious winter camping trip and sleeping in a Korean War-surplus M1949 "down and feathers" mummy bag.

That was not the worst of it. Compared to the rest of my gear, that was a high-tech sleeping bag.

My Boy Scout troop went to the annual Winter Camporee, held in Rocky Mountain National Park — near Bear Lake, I think. I was about 12 years old.

The troop supplied canvas tents, while we Scouts brought our own personal gear. Maybe if Dad had been around, he could have offered good advice and some of his own stuff — he got me started on camping and backpacking, after all — but at this point, the marriage was dissolving, and he was living elsewhere.

As I recall, I was equipped with cotton long underwear, probably cotton socks, cotton blue jeans, some kind of shirt and sweater (?), a not-great ski parka, knit hat, and mittens. On my feet were oiled leather pull-on boots, "Wellingtons" in the American sense of the word. They leaked.

If you had a down parka back then, you were probably a pro mountaineer, like Jim Whittaker on Mount Everest, or else had the money to pretend to be one.

Under my M1949 sleeping bag was a plastic-covered foam-rubber pad off a patio chaise longue. And maybe a GI poncho.

I shivered through the night and spent part of the morning standing next to the campfire that was slowly sinking down, down into the snow. (We "cooked" on campfires, as I recall).

I learned some things right away, such as that blue jeans freeze, and since there were no outhouses, just the woods, you can spend hours working up the courage to take a shit in the snow.

On the plus side, I spent a lot of time snowshoeing, and that plus the bright Colorado sunshine warmed me up. The snowshoes kept my inadequate boots up out of the snow as well.

The second evening, the Scout leaders loaded us into their cars and took us to some Park Service building where we watched a natural-history movie. I suspected even at the time that the real reason for the trip was to let us spend a couple of hours inside a heated structure.

I made a few improvements to my bed, survived the second night, and ran in the snowshoe races the next day. And then it was time to head home. I thought that I had had a good time overall, and I proudly sewed the Winter Camporee patch onto my uniform.

4 comments:

Barb said...

I have a bag from Mountain Equipment Coop that is rated to -7 C, which I've tested down to -6 and found to be warm. It is bulky to pack though.

Heather Houlahan said...

I had that EXACT SLEEPING BAG.

And nearly froze to death on the side of Camel's Hump.

No snowshoes. Postholing.

Lesson learned.

Chas Clifton said...

@Barb, that's the trade-off, isn't it.

@Heather, it surprised me to see a number of the for sale on eBay, which is where I lifted the photo. Why??? Who but a Korean War-reenactor would want one?

mdmnm said...

Somewhere in the garage I have one of those bags- a gift from my grandad (who purchased it as surplus) when my LL Bean 20 degree bag was inadequate for late November deer hunts. It was inadequate, too.