Living in Florida there is no way to properly test winter camping equipment. Hence I had booked a 4 day weekend trip to the Grand Targhee skiing region in Idaho near the famous Wyoming ski resort of Jackson. The trip starts out testing patience more than anything, as my last leg from Denver to Idaho Falls was cancelled due to a blizzard in Denver! So I get stuck at the Denver airport for almost 24 hours. Time to sleep and to work on that Panamerican Peaks fund-raising email campaign – courtesy to the free wireless Internet at the Denver airport.
Finally I make it to Idaho Falls on Friday and check out the local ski rental shops. meet some very friendly locals in the ski shops, among them Big Mike (who had been on Denali) and Lars (who had been on Mt. Logan). They give me some good tips for winter camping and also for a good area for my gear shakedown trip. In the hotel I spread out all gear prior to packing it into my Gregory Denali Pro backpack:
Next day I drive up to the Pine Creek Pass (6764ft) and park the rental car. From here I start with snowshoes as nobody around here has the Silvretta Alpine Touring binding I would need for my Scarpa mountaineering boot. (Good to know that ahead of going to Logan.) The 50 pound backback weighs heavy, but otherwise conditions are good as I set out around 2pm.
I hike along a ridge up & down the ridgeline with views down to the Driggs valley. After 2 hours I reach a nice saddle between two high-points and descend into an untouched winter forest. This will be a good spot for the campsite, as there is a severe weather alert for a winter storm moving in with 30mph winds…
I also get out my MSR Dragonfly expedition stove and start to cook some tea and hot soup.
Now I still have some time to explore the ridge line and the nearby surroundings. Without the backpack I feel like I’m flying up the hill. I also take a few pics with my iPhone and from the ridge I have a signal so I can send them to my wife just for fun. Coming back to the tent prior to darkness there is snowfall which makes it eerily quiet in the forest.
After a reasonably good night sleep I prepare to hike out in what has become quite stormy conditions. In the forest there is a foot of fresh powder; crawling uphill with the heavy pack is hard work and you sweat quickly. Then you step out on the ridge and the 30mph wind hits you with blinding snowdrift.
Normally I don’t cherish such conditions, but in this case it is actually a benefit, as the most extreme Idaho weather at 7000ft is still only a warm-up compared to Logan and Denali conditions at 19.000ft.
Back at the parking lot I need to clear the fresh snow off the car and shuffle some snow to get out. But I’m happy about the gear test. Most of my gear is now functional, including my new mountaineering boots, with only minor adjustments around the camping, cooking and some clothing.