Winter Camping – A Southern Boy in the Western Mountains

Being born and raised in central Virginia, my entire outdoor experience was based solely around that climate. Although it does occasionally snow there in the winter, anything over a foot is practically unheard of.

So upon moving to Utah, I couldn’t wait to get out and experience some serious snow. With my wife out of town for work, and the weather starting to break, the timing was perfect to set out for a camping adventure with my dog, Leonidas.

Before hitting the trail, I needed to upgrade my gear so I made a quick stop by TETON SPORTS for a new sleeping bag. Satisfied with my latest acquisition, we headed up the canyon where there was plenty of snow and mountains to explore.

Into the wild white yonder

After a quick gear check at the trail head, we climbed the steep ascent heading towards Gobblers Knob Peak. It wasn’t long before I had to throw on my snowshoes, as the well packed trail turned into a faint path through deep fluffy snow. No longer content to follow behind, Leonidas took the lead and served as trail breaker for most of the way up.

After cresting a ridge line with a spectacular view, I decided this would make for a decent campsite. Dumping most of my gear under a large spruce tree, we continued towards the summit, following the faint remnant of snowshoe prints.

From this point on there was no longer a discernible trail. Foolishly, I had assumed that the route would be easy to follow and therefore did not bring a map. Not willing to give up our quest, we picked our way through the woods until we broke through the timberline. From here there was nowhere to go but up, and we switch-backed the side of the mountain until time and exhaustion required us to stop.


Getting back to camp

After a quick snack and taking in the view at just over 10,000 ft, I surveyed our surroundings. Since we were running out of daylight, I decided to follow a different and hopefully shorter route back to camp.

Without any kind of map, this was a bit of gamble. Thankfully, I had marked our camp elevation of 8100 ft, using the altimeter on my watch. Knowing this and using a few landmarks that I had scouted from our resting spot, we actually made it back quicker than expected.

Having a little extra time before nightfall proved very fortuitous, because my faithful companion wanted to claim every piece of firewood for himself. After wrestling the sticks away, I gathered some stones and placed them on the snow as a fire base. Basking in the glow of the flickering flames, we enjoyed a peaceful sunset which gave way to a crystal clear night.

The nice part about not having a tent, is the serenity of sleeping under the stars. The downside is that at this time of year it can get pretty cold, and apparently far too chilly for a pup to sleep uncovered in the elements.

a long cold night

Not wanting Leonidas to shiver all night, I opened my mummy shaped bag so he could share the warmth. This proved quite comfortable for the dog, but it was certainly not the best sleeping arrangement for me. By myself, the zero degree bag was plenty warm. However, leaving it open to accommodate a 50 lb dog drastically decreased its ability to retain heat.

In addition to needing a separate bag for Leonidas, my selection for a campsite was also less than ideal. By choosing a location based predominately on the views, I neglected to realize I had placed us on an exposed ridge line. This meant that when the wind picked up to a sustained 30 mph around 2 AM, there was no cover to protect us in our half open sleeping bag.

Rise and Shine

Bright and early the next morning, I was “gently” roused by a sensation that can only be described as a stick being dropped on my face. Apparently, Leonidas had crawled out of the sleeping bag and decided the extra firewood would be better suited to play fetch with, at 6 in the morning.

Rolling over and covering myself in the bag, I withstood his bombardments for another hour before reluctantly getting up. After a quick breakfast, we packed up and headed back down the trail.


Having been my very first time camping solo in the mountains, I felt a strong sense of accomplishment (and a healthy dose of thankfulness). Both for the good weather, as well as the overall success of the trip. Despite making several mistakes, I was able to come away with some new knowledge and a overall great experience. To me, you can’t really ask for much more out of a camping adventure. 

While it did prove to be quite challenging at times, I learned a lot about myself and my abilities on this trip. With these lessons and the new skills I have gained since becoming a ReadyMan, I am really looking forward to camping again this upcoming winter.


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