I was over at Aspenglen Campground in Rocky Mountain National Park tonight to do the evening program there. We’d had the normal inclement afternoon July weather, where several rounds of thunderstorms had moved through the area, as well as temperatures cooling off. This made for sort of a raw and unpleasant evening for the campers who seemed to be either hiding out in their tents or huddled around a campfire that was sputtering due to the rain that was still falling. Seeing the campers struggling to stay warm brought back a couple of stories from my past of my own camping adventures.
While I was hiking the John Muir Trail in California in September, 2005, we had an early season storm move in with just 2 1/2 days left to finish the trail. The first night, it rained all night, but we were on a schedule, so we packed up camp and headed out to our next campsite. As we were hiking, the weather worsened, with temperatures plummeting to just above freezing. As we hiked on, it alternated between sleet, snow, and rain all day long. We tried to stop at one point to eat something, knowing that was important. But standing still meant that my fingers and toes instantly started to go numb. If there ever was a perfect circumstance for hypothermia, this was it. The one thing that kept us going was knowing there was a back country ranger patrol cabin at the next destination. We thought surely the ranger would take pity on us and allow us to take shelter with him, even if it was just for a short time. But alas, when we arrived, we found the cabin locked with a short and simple note saying “Out on patrol.” We set up our tents nearby and huddled inside drinking hot tea. It felt like everything I was wearing was sopping wet. The Gods must have taken pity on us, because in the late afternoon/early evening, the skies finally cleared, and the sun came out. There were three parties of campers who all emerged out of our tents at the same time, and just sat in that mountain meadow, taking in the warmth of the sun. It only lasted about an hour or so until sunset, but it really picked up our spirits.
The Sierra was also the sight of one of my more memorable camping trips with Bryon. We were out in California to see Yosemite in mid-May several years ago. Bryon had never been there, and I was excited to show him the beauty and majesty of the park. Well, our trip coincided with a bout of nasty, rainy weather, where all those glorious granite walls like El Cap and Half Dome were completely shrouded in clouds. We were camping the whole time, and there were no showers nearby. Each day brought more cold and rain, and I was about ready to give up and just get the heck out of there. Finally, the last night we were there, I was buried deep into my sleeping bag with the hood pulled over my head, and I felt Bryon poking me, saying “Wake up!” I pulled my head out of the sleeping bag with the tent collapsing on top of us! Turns out the rain had turned to a heavy, wet snow, and our little 3-season tent wasn’t enough to support the weight of all the snow. We quickly pulled our clothes and boots on clambering out of the wet fabric to clear the snow off before it snapped the poles.
Despite all of this, there’s nothing I love more than camping. One of my favorite birthdays was spent camping at the Amphitheater Campground outside of Ouray, Colorado. It is one of the prettiest campgrounds I have ever seen anywhere in the country, with the sites perched on the hillside above the valley of Ouray, with soaring 13,000-foot peaks surrounding it on three sides. All the challenging camping days make me appreciate those pristine star-lit nights that much more.