March 2006 - Westkill

I have been trying to practice my winter camping skills, but have had trouble finding the time.  It looks like this will be my only chance this winter.  I am still learning how, by staying at leantos.  This time I decide to camp at Diamond Notch leanto, stay overnight, and climb Westkill the next day.

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I got to the trailhead well ahead of darkness, and started up through a few inches of fresh snow.  The weather was not too cold, probably in the mid twenties, but the wind was blowing.  As usual, as long as I was climbing I was quite warm, but as I reached the leanto the sun went behind the hill and the air felt distnctly colder.
Trail To Diamond Notch
From Diamond Notch Road


I set up my stove, but found that both my water bottle and water bag were frozen shut.  With a great effort I managed to open the bottle, but the bag was hopeless.  Unfortunately, most of my water is in that bag.  I made some Top Ramen, then melted enough snow to fill the bottle again.  I put the bottle in my sleeping bag, figuring we could keep each other warm.  I decided to deal with the bag tomorrow.

I crawled into my sleeping bag at 7:30, and shivered for an hour or so before drifting off to sleep.  The wind picked up, but I was mostly protected at the back of the shelter.  I woke up a few times, but managed to more or less stay warm with three layers of thermal undergarments.

I think this is the coldest I have ever slept out.  I am grateful for my winter bag.  I discovered several nifty features during the night, that I had not known about before.  It was a long night.

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Diamond Notch Leanto (note frozen water)


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The next morning I woke to fnd the water bag frozen solid, all the way through.  I learned my lesson -- bags are pretty much useless in the winter.  I heated up some water from the bottle, ate a little breakfast, and melted enough snow to refill the it. I packed up everything, but left my sleeping bag,  pad, and the frozen water at the leanto. I thought about whether to leave the snowshoes behind, but remembered the time on Graham when I climbed for an hour before the snow became to deep, and I had to return for the snowshoes.

I left the leanto a little before seven AM, and descended to the junction.  There I found steps in the snow, the first I had seen.  They led up the Westkill trail.  The footing was good, with the snow depth increasing to about 8 inches as the elevation increased.  I never did need the snowshoes. Although I was quite warm from the exertion, it as windy enough, and cold enough, that I could not confortably take off my gloves or hat.

View East From Buck Ridge


I made slow but steady progress up the ridge thanks to the firm snow and the footsteps pointing the way.  I finally arrived at the lookout point at about ten o'cock.  I snapped a few pictures, and pushed on to the official peak. The broken trail stopped abruptly at the peak. P3050691.jpg (106373 bytes)
Lunch Spot


P3050698.jpg (73073 bytes) Returning to the lookout, I stopped to have a quick bite and a drink. I had made it this far with bare boots, but the snow was getting a little slippery, so I put on crampons for the return.
Upper Westkill Basin


The return journey was pleasant, but not especialy quick.  I was back at the leanto by 12:30.  I was out of water by this time, so I melted some more snow, had a big drink, and picked up the rest of my gear. As I headed back down, I noticed several other sets of footprints other than my own.  The snow thinned out on the north side of the ridge, so I took off the crampons, but there were still patches of ice uner the snow, making footing treacherous in places.  I got back to the car at about two o'clock.  Surprisingly, all the water I had stored in the car was free of ice.  I drank several bottles right away, and several more on the way home.

I learned several things on this trip:  

keep the water warm
a stove is very useful in cold weather
protection from the wind is really important

I am really glad I was sleeping in a leanto.  Maybe next winter I will try sleeping in a tent, or out in the open. 

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