Climbing through a snowstorm.

Camping outside in January in the Northeast in a foot of snow with nothing but a foam pad and sleeping bag separating you from the cold earth might not appeal to many people.  But this past winter break, seven students braved the frigid Adirondack winter for five days in the Adirondacks High Peaks Wilderness the week before the new semester began.  This camping trip was “designed for Outing Club leaders who want to build their skill set and lead trips in a variety of conditions,” according to one of the trip’s leaders, Annie Emanuels ’16. 

Along with Emanuels, Alex Doig ’16 taught five Outing Club student leaders how to safely lead their own future winter trips.  They also focused a lot of the trip on teaching the students how to deal with dangerous winter conditions like hypothermia, blizzards, and sub-freezing temperatures.  In addition to the trip leaders participants in the week-long training seminar were Olivia Box ’17, Anna Mowat ‘18, Elise LePage ’18, Alex Holmwood ’19 and Sophie Zacharakis ’19. 

Though the majority of the trips offered by the Outing Club are facilitated by students, Andrew Jillings, director of outdoor leadership, spoke to the winter camping seminar about how serious hypothermia is and what they as leaders can do to prevent it in the backcountry. Before setting off into the woods, Emanuels and Doig also taught the student participants how to plan meals and snacks so they are packed with calories. Since winter camping requires staying warm in weather that ranges anywhere from -30°F to 20°F, depending on the year, the Outing Club relies heavily on the constant internal heat produced from metabolizing calorie-dense foods to help campers stay warm.

The trip departed with a total of 10 pounds of cheese, a gallon of trail mix per person, two pounds of butter, and five cans of sweet and condensed milk.  These ingredients and many more were turned into delicious concoctions such as cheesy-fried bagels, macaroni and cheese and burritos.  However, according to Emanuels, the biggest tragedy of the trip was forgetting the hot chocolate to make the traditional Outing Club buttery hot cocoa. The campers instead had to settle for hot Gatorade to warm them up.

The backpackers set off on Wednesday with food and gear in tow, literally, pulled in plastic sleds by two of the team members.  They hiked from the Adirondack Loj into Marcy Dam, where they spent two nights sleeping in a wooden lean-to.  Using this site as a base camp, the seven students set out to hike Tabletop Mountain on Thursday. 

The next day, the campers packed up the entire camp, left the comfort of the lean-to, and pulled their gear up the shoulder of Wright Peak to their new campsite.  It was here Emanuels and Doig taught them how to pitch tents with only the rain-fly as protection from snow and wind.  The waterproof body of the tent is essentially useless during the winter, since all the moisture is locked up in frozen snow form.  So instead, the campers slept with only their sleeping bags and foam pads between themselves and the snow.  They also manufactured a kitchen entirely out of compacted snow — shelves and stovetop included — to make the forest their home.

Since this campsite was positioned directly under the summit of Wright Peak, the seven students set out on the fourth morning with the intention of reaching the top.  Though the bald summit was icy, and snow and wind attempted to bring a chill through their many layers of clothes, the entire team was able to safely summit the peak.

As many in Hamilton’s Outing Club would say: “All good trips end in pie.”  Besides buttery hot cocoa, a staple for all trips to the High Peaks is a slice of pie from Noonmark Diner in Keene Valley.  But do not be mistaken, it often doesn’t stop with just one slice.  This year’s winter camping seminar made sure to leave the High Peaks with an entire raspberry rhubarb pie for the drive home to Hamilton.

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