Cold weather camping is not my favorite. As temperatures have been flirting with the freezing mark recently, the idea of finding a campsite to pitch the tent and take in a few invigorating nights outside hasn’t really inspired me to action.
Truth be told, it’s really never been a favorite activity although I have several experiences of sleeping outside in cold weather. And, truth also be told, I never really planned adequately each time but always survived it without any severe consequences.
My first cold weather camping trip was in the Rocky Mountains in a section in Southwestern Wyoming known as the Unita-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, specifically near the Dead Horse Trailhead or campsite near Mountain View. The elevation is about 8,500 feet there. Compare that with an elevation of about 1,300 feet in Elgin. It’s roughly the equivalent of being about a mile higher than we are now.
Yes, it was absolutely beautiful. After 15 years or so, I don’t remember the exact temperature but I do remember having on jackets by early evening. It was summertime; however, we were in an area where residents bragged about being snowed on during a 4th of July parade just a few years prior. Night fell on a clear, cold night. The stars loomed large and I felt like I could almost climb into the Big Dipper.
We had our tent, sleeping bags, blankets and extra clothing, but it wasn’t the cold that kept me up that night. It was the thought of bears. We had taken all the precautions on the “Bear Aware” poster, but I don’t think I got a wink of sleep that night! We survived and I do have great memories of the trip.
In Oklahoma, my oldest son and I used to participate in an annual camping retreat at the end of October near Lake Tenkiller State Park. Well, we camped in a tent while everyone else was snug as a bug in the cabins. It was their loss. I’ve lost track of how many years we camped there in all kinds of crazy Oklahoma weather. My thoughts at night were more about skunks and snakes than about bears.
We’ve been at Lake Tenkiller at the end of October when we sweated and slept on top of our sleeping bags. There were times when I thought it was going to be warmer than it turned out and I retreated to the truck to sleep. My son had bought a new sleeping bag made for below freezing temperatures and slept just fine. We’ve camped there when somehow a monsoon moved in overnight and we were in the old tent with the hole in the side and … yes … the tent flooded! All good memories that I wouldn’t trade.
The first year we went with everyone the temperatures were projected to be near or right below freezing and they tried to get us to come in and sleep on their coaches. I proclaimed we were experienced cold weather campers because we had slept out in cold weather in Wyoming. I didn’t mention we only did that one time. “The key,” I confidently proclaimed, “is to dress warm and have plenty of blankets and covers.” We actually slept just fine and it was (that time) invigorating. Everyone came out the next morning to see if we were still alive.
Okay, yes I am leading up to the cold weather camping trip that was the end of my cold weather camping expeditions. This particular trip we camped at Fort Cobb State Park by ourselves. It was winter time and we just wanted to get out because the weather had been unseasonably warm during the day. We still took our sleeping bags, blankets and extra clothes but that night seemed to be unseasonably colder than normal. Yes, I had checked the weather forecast although I still confess I’m a wing-it kind of person not a plan-it-to-death and choke all the spontaneity and fun out of it person. I actually was so cold I started running the signs of hypothermia through my mind.
I woke my son up and said we should pack it up and go home. It was about two o’clock in the morning. He’s hard enough to get up at a normal, decent hour and he was rolled up in his subzero sleeping bag snug as a bug. I had him unzip it and share it with me like a blanket and, yes, I survived the night with all fingers and toes intact.
And, I’ve never been cold weather camping again.