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.
|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.
|Diamond Notch Leanto (note frozen water)|
|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.|
|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.
Go To Catskill Hikes Page