Sleep in the Snow? Why Not
Updated: Sep 8, 2019
Years ago, when I first caught the travel bug, I had bad gear, and even worse plans, but if you don't have the best guidance, trial by fire can be a good option to get moving. The day started like any other adventure for Sam and I. We woke up with fogged windows crammed in our car snuggled into our sleeping bags with a smile on our face. The sun was shining, my energy was high and when I'm on a trip, especially in Arizona, my goal is to see and do as much as possible. And I'm not talking about the the kind of activity where you're stressed and feel you have to do a bunch of things but the kind of activity where you're motivated and want to get out and experience the world because you can!
Rewinding to the night before, after research, some discussion and a couple McChickens we decided to hike to the top of Bear Mountain in the Coconino National Forest. It turns out according to the 2016 FS map, the peak is outside the restricted camping area so we were good to sleep at the top. With a plan in mind and young blood running through our hearts we drove through the beautiful town of Sedona before landing at our designated trailhead. This is when our poor planning came into play for the first time, when we got there it was still really early in the morning so we nonchalantly decided to do a quick two mile trail that was nearby. I generally carry a really easy going attitude, I was in great shape, knew my limits, kept an open mind, and the combination of these things made saying yes to our first climb of the day really simple. When we got to the top, the view was better than we could have ever imagined. I'd only been to Arizona once before this trip but had yet to experienced the magic of the red rocks. Every mountain range, landscape, and place on this earth seem to have their own personality so it's always an underlying inspiration that keeps me hiking. New places and new perspectives have a way of centering the thought process by which coming out the other end leaves you feeling leveled up. I whole heartedly believe every place and trip can have a revitalization effect and if you're not experiencing that consistently it might be time to stop analyzing the where but the who.
We joyfully circled the ridge along the plateau and climbed up and down the newfound mars looking rock face. After about an hour of exploration, we joked about sleeping a top this towering beauty but in the end, couldn't breach our epic plans contract so it was time to get down to our car and fast. We flew down the mile and half trail, officially clocking in our first trail run and began getting stoked for the climb ahead of us. We got to our car and were almost ready to head out when an example of poor planning number two came flying in. Sam looks over to me and in disbelief explains he had left his gloves at the top. With some groups this might be something to get worked up about especially with the limited daylight but with Sam and I, we always seem to make it work. Without an ounce of sarcasm in my intent, I respond,"Go get'em," and without a second thought, he took off some layers and went for an unexpected leg blast of a workout. We like to keep things fun so I literally turned it into a game and got the stopwatch rolling. I chilled out and within a half an hour he managed to find his gloves and make his way up and down the mountain. Like I said before, if you keep an open mind and stay in shape, life's curveballs start to seem a little straighter. Now we were officially set to hike to the top of Bear Mountain!
The beginning and perceived flat part of the trail turned out to be roller coaster of a hike weaving up and down between deep-ditch-erosion but we were eventually met by the elevation change of the mountain. With amazing red rock monuments surrounding us within the first mile, this Coconino geology lesson will leave you more than satisfied with views the entire way up. We enjoyed the refreshing nature of a small waterfall and were blown away as we hiked higher to witness the distinct sandstone color change from red to orange. As the trail surface slowly turned into ice and later into snow I knew yet again, we did a poor job planning this hike. Make sure to keep in mind, at this point I was wearing Nike Flyknits and as you can imagine I was experiencing terrible traction and insulation. Then a moment later we found ourselves in a foot of unpacked snow completely covering the trail. We didn't know how to finish the hike. A little disappointed now, we were going to turn back but fortunately out of nowhere a veteran hiker of the area mentioned he had blazed the trail before so we gave him the reigns to lead us to the top.
Long before I knew about the functionality of clamp-ons there were a few spots along the trail I didn't think I was going to make it to the top. The rocks were steep, flat, and had a fresh layer of ice on them and my soaking wet Nikes were not cutting it. When we finally breached the peak, I hurried to set up my tent in the snow so I could put on a fresh pair of socks before losing a toe to hypothermia. After switching my socks out with a fresh pair, I felt like a new man and was ready to settle in for the night. With the sun just high enough in the sky, it almost immediately toasted my tent up to about 70+ degrees. Now this was living.
Even with the comforts of home now in place, of course It wasn't an option to just sit in our tent all night so after warming up our chilled bodies a bit, I made sure to head back out onto the elevated snowy island to shoot the scenic valley as the sun was setting. When nightfall finally came, I was surprised by how comfortable I was. I forgot how well the the snow packed around a tent would act as an isolator. Shielded from the outside elements, I stuffed a few hand warmers by my feet and was now fully cocooned in my sleeping bag. I was in my own little world of darkness left to be amused by the inter-workings of my mind. The current place and time created a unique feeling within me. The air stood still with light wind gusts periodically breezing through. I felt peer solitude and tranquility for the first time in my life. Just me on top of a mountain in my own space. My mind went clear. I made it. I was going to sleep in a foot of snow in a state I'd never been to before. Sounds like my type of adventure.
Nick Uthe is a travel photographer, writer, and digital entrepreneur in Salt Lake City. He is the Owner of outdoor apparel and media brand GrandTaiga, and a Contributor for Outside TV, and HUMANFITPROJECT.
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