Up until I hiked the Appalachian Trail, I had only one friend that enjoys hiking and camping outdoors (or at least had the equipment to do it). While I now have a few outdoorsy friends, most of them live pretty far away so I’m basically still in the same lonely position. Don’t get me wrong – I love camping alone, but you can’t beat a campfire with some good friends in my opinion. So, I’ve been bugging two of my friends – Tim and Matt – to get some basic gear in the hopes that they’d come camping with me for nearly a year now. Well, Matt finally did and we had actually scheduled our first camping trip for the first weekend in March. I even convinced Legs and Verge to drive down from Massachusetts to join us.
A few weeks out and the weather forecast looked promising. From there, it deteriorated quickly. Fast forward to a week before the scheduled trip and the forecast called for 15° F at night with 10-20 mph winds. As the week progressed, the temperature kept dropping until it stopped at 8° F with gusting winds. Legs and Verge, having never camped at those temperatures and unsure whether they had the proper equipment, cancelled a few days prior to the trip. I can’t blame them at all. While I have a special love for the cold, I don’t expect people to share that love with me. Matt, on the other hand, had never been camping before and was starting to panic a bit.
I’ve been camping several times in very similar conditions (4° F is my lowest) and I remember those times being freaking cold for lack of a better description. The first time I was wholly unprepared with only a 40° synthetic sleeping bag and a lot of clothing. I managed to make it through the night but, to say the least, I was not comfortable and did not sleep a wink (this just happened to be the first time I had ever gone camping). The second time, I was much more prepared and enjoyed myself quite a bit. However, I understand most people would not have shared my enthusiasm given the extremely low temperatures. Legs and Verge actually canceled.
Anyway, Matt and I went over the necessary equipment early in the week and I made sure he had everything he needed. However, as the temperature continued to drop, I actually told him we should cancel. After all, I wanted him to enjoy the camping trip, not just survive. I explained that while I relish the challenges and small sufferings associated with hiking and camping, especially in extreme environments, I didn’t think he’d enjoy it. I know Matt as a man who likes his creature comforts so his answer startled me: “We’re camping this weekend.”
We drove up to Harriman State Park early on Saturday and set off for Fingerboard Shelter along the AT. It was cold and the wind was definitely blowing, but hiking warmed us up quickly. I took Matt through Lemon Squeezer, which is always a blast and kept moving along the icy trails. We stopped at a small hillock and drank a beer together while the wind ripped through our layers. I don’t care what temperature it is: beer will always be delicious.
We arrived at the shelter around 2 pm and found a warm fire left by people that had just finished lunch. With plenty of time to kill before sunset, we continued stoking the fire and collected fire wood for a solid 2 and a half hours. I mean look at that pile. Matt was excited to use his new tent so he set it up inside the shelter under the correct assumption that no one else would be joining us for the evening. I snagged a small area of floor space behind his tent where I laid out my sleeping bag and pad. The shelter’s was on the lee side of the ridge so it provided excellent natural protection from the wind. That combined with a steady fire would ensure that we’d be plenty warm throughout the night.
Matt’s entire food bag consisted of 4 buffalo chicken wraps that he froze and wrapped in aluminum foil. He planned on just heating them up in the fire. Honestly, I was jealous and am very happy he shared. A couple more beers and some Jim Beam got us through the next few hours as we huddled around the fire. When it was finally time to hit the hay, I crawled into my 0° sleeping bag and slept like a baby, as I usually do in the woods nowadays. I could hear Matt rustling around in his tent every time I woke up. It turns out he didn’t realize that he had to put his torso and shoulders in the sleeping bag until around midnight! Around 3 am, he started to feel the cold slowly encroaching as it usually does with temperatures that low. And, finally, the glorious sun rose – just its presence is enough to make you feel warmer.
As we hiked back to the car, I could tell Matt definitely enjoyed himself even though he didn’t sleep very well. It was also pretty obvious that he does not enjoy the hiking nearly as much as the camping. When we were finally in the car with the heaters blasting warm air, we both felt like we accomplished something. And we can honestly say we were warm the whole time. We finished our trip the only way a camping trip should be completed in the northeast – with a hot meal at the diner down the street!
And that’s how you enjoy an 8° F evening the woods.