Tuttle Creek Shakedown — Page 6

Nightfall in the Sierra

The Long Night

Things are different in winter. Quieter. Colder. Mistakes are amplified and thoughts of vulnerability whisper in your ears. I'm dehydrated and hungry.

I drink a healthy portion of water mixed with ice, rationing the rest for tomorrow. As for the hunger, there's nothing to be done about it. I take a final look outside: the stars are brilliant diamonds against black. The night will be clear and cold. With my lantern still glowing, my tent is a yellow beacon against the night—a fine photo opportunity.

I sleep fitfully, drifting in and out, waking to moonlight, endless moonlight, and ice. Everything inside my tent is frozen solid...

But there's no way I'm going outside with a camera, no way I'm getting out of my sleeping bag, even.

I put on every bit of clothing I've got: shell jacket and pants, double long underwear, fleece jacket, gloves, hat, double socks.

I blow out the lantern and lie back. The darkness is absolute.

Cold presses up from below despite the combination of two sleeping pads. I've closed the door and the ventilation window of my tent, hoping the temperature inside will stay near freezing. With the drawstring pulled tight on my 15° down bag, I'm just on the edge of shivering. There is nothing to do but try to sleep, wait out this long darkness, wait for the glow of dawn to spread from the east and cheer the landscape.

It is soon apparent there will be no sleep for me tonight. The cold air against my face, the cold seeping up from below, the cold water bottle against my hip, the wetness of my breath on my sleeping bag, the not-quite-shivering tremors through the muscles of my back, all will conspire to keep me wide awake all night long.

I lie with my eyes closed, breathing deeply to keep the oxygen in my blood, waiting. Hunger creeps in, adding another voice to keep me awake. The sky lightens, and for a moment I foolishly think dawn is coming. But no, it is the bright spotlight of the moon. I envision my cook pot, sitting at home in my closet. Hours creep past. Or has it been that long?

My sleeping bag grows crinkly with ice. The temperature inside the tent is falling, falling. My feet are cold. The tent is just a little too short; the bottom of my sleeping bag brushes the wall no matter how I shift. I pull the drawstring of my bag tighter, so that only my nose pokes out. Got to keep my breath off the bag, keep it dry.

All of this is a test, in a way. A 15° down bag with Pertex. A single-wall Epic fabric tent. My clothing. My gear. All of it—and me!—is being assessed by the most ruthless of judges, and I'm taking notes, taking notes, as one by one, things are found wanting. A violent, involuntary flinch startles me. Was I asleep just now? The glow in the sky is still the moon, just the moon. What time is it? What's the temperature?

I know what I want to see. I want to see the roof of my tent turn yellow as the sun breaks upon it. Not this nebulous gray of moonlight and darkness. I'm tempted to get up, put on my boots and skis, and start skinning uphill, an uber-alpine start to stop this awful waiting. Though they're inside my tent, however, my boots are certainly frozen.

There...I was asleep for a moment. I'm sure of it. I shift around again, thinking I've drifted off my insulating pads, but no, they're still beneath me. It's just the cold coming through. The moon is still up, still providing that fake glow. How long can this night go on?

More fitful sleep, drifting in and out, waking to moonlight, moonlight and ice. Everything inside my tent is frozen solid, covered in frost. I'm so glad there's no wind. Thinking of the pioneers now, trying to get through winter in leaky cabins in Montana, lying in bed in endless darkness, hungry and cold, just like me. Only they have cause to wonder if they'll make it to dawn, and if they do, there's another long night just around the corner.

Would a fleece blanket help? How can anyone make themselves comfortable under these conditions? How, indeed? Wait...there it is. The roof of the tent is starting to turn yellow. Oh, thank god. Dawn is coming. My long night is nearly over.

next: A Short Tour

About SierraDescents

When there is snow, SierraDescents is Andy Lewicky's California backcountry skiing and mountaineering website. Without snow, sierradescents becomes an ill-tempered hiking and climbing blog.

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