"I was, in fact, homesick for wildness, and when I found it I knew how intimately - how resonantly - I belonged there. We are charged with this - all of us. For the human spirit has a primal allegiance to wildness, to really live, to snatch the fruit and suck it, to spill the juice." - Jay Griffiths, Wild: an Elemental Journey

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Wild Cold

Oldman and I spent this past weekend up near Lake Placid - truck camping, snowshoeing, and ice climbing.  And guess what?  It was cold.

(I was considering ending the post there, because that pretty much sums it up, but I guess I'll write a bit more.  I'll probably even draw a life-metaphor-parallel to the cold and make the post all spiritually-inspiring and meaningful, like I do.  Lucky you.)

My goal for this winter was to learn how to ice climb.  Some friends from my backpacking group found out about this event called "Mountainfest" up the Adirondacks, where you get to take classes for a decent rate, demo all kinds of snow gear for free, and watch famous ice climbers give slide shows of their wicked crazy climbs.

I had been signed up for this event for months.  When I met Oldman, I invited him to join my friends and me, and he enthusiastically agreed.

Soon, one day of ice-climbing turned into a whole weekend up in the mountains.  And a shared hotel room with everyone soon turned into camping in the back of Oldman's truck with a complicated propane heater system that he rigged up.  This was to be an adventure for sure.

We drove nine hours on Saturday and made it just in time to meet up with our group, and hear a presentation by some ice climbers about their recent trek to the mountains of Pakistan.

After the presentation, we drove around the tiny town of Keene Valley, NY, looking for the perfect place to park the truck and camp for the night.  We found a place called Marcy's Field, which is a wilderness airstrip.  It's basically a huge field that was covered in snow, surrounded by nothing.  This meant no human lights.  This meant AMAZING stars.

We parked the truck and commenced setting up the heating system in the back.  It was 15 degrees below zero.  It was cold.

Soon, the heater was blazing and we were toasty warm under the blankets in the bed of the truck.  Before nodding right off to sleep, we took some time to stargaze.  We popped down just the tailgate of his truck and slid our heads out from the thermal curtain that hangs in the back to keep us warm at night.  With our bodies layered up and tucked snuggly inside the truck bed, our hat-covered heads peeked out into the night and watched shooting stars for 20 minutes.  It was magical.  All was right with the world.

Then, around 6:30am, the propane heater unexpectedly snapped off.  It must have frozen.  We figured, oh well, we were about to get up for the day anyway.  So we leisurely began putting on our layers and packing our daypacks for the day's activities.  We had no idea just how cold it was, or how quickly that cold would seep into our bones once the heat was gone.  Did I mention that it was 15 degrees below zero?

Within five minutes, the tips of our fingers were burning, and we could no longer move our hands.  Seriously.  We were at stage one of frostbite, and having a hard time even using the key to open the door and get into the cab.  It was scary, and very painful.  This was my first of many lessons this weekend in respecting the cold.

That day, we decided to take advantage of Mountainfest and demo some snowshoes on one of the many local trails.  But first, we needed breakfast.

We went to the Noon Mark Diner, whose hand-painted sign boasted all homemade food.  We headed straight for their bathrooms to brush our teeth, wash our faces, and change our clothes.  To my surprise, my Dr. Bronner's soap was frozen, as were my tube of hand cream and my body wipes, and pretty much everything else.  I sat on my hand cream all through breakfast to warm it up enough to use on my chapped hands.

After a hearty breakfast of homemade, whole wheat banana pancakes with locally-harvested maple syrup and sausage, we headed back out into the cold.

Our day snowshoeing was adventurous, to say the least.  We made it to the top of the mountain just in time to see the sun set, which was beautiful, and meant that we were going to have to snowshoe the whole way down in the dark.  Which, when I stopped being scared, was also beautiful.

That night in the truck was pretty similar to the night before - warm, cozy, exciting, and cut short by a frozen propane tank.  But this time, the night was 27 degrees below zero.  The second we heard it click shut at around 5am, we bolted out of bed and snapped into action.  Motivated by the pre-frostbite incident of the prior morning, we knew that we only had moments to get all of our layers on and get into the cab of the truck with the heat blasting.  We made it, but then had nowhere to go!  We drove back to the diner and sat in their parking lot with the heat on until they opened at 6am.

After another hearty breakfast spent sitting on our toiletries to warm them up enough to use, we headed to our ice-climbing class.  It was a lot of fun, and pretty hard work.  The guide told us that we were lucky to have some sun, and it even got as warm as 9 degrees outside!

It was an exhausting, exhilarating weekend.  I learned a lot from the cold.  I was reminded to move slowly- again and again and again.  I couldn't even "run" out to the car to get something I forgot without layering up and putting on hats and two pairs of gloves.  I couldn't scamper up the mountain like I usually do when hiking, because each step with snowshoes must be carefully considered.  And I certainly couldn't stomp my way up the ice with those pick axes and crampons - attention must be paid.

So as I write this post, I am grateful to the winter for these important lessons, grateful to Oldman and my backpacking friends for accompanying me on this adventure, and mostly, grateful for the warm bed where I sleep soundly each night.

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