The other evening, my son, Joseph suggested that we head out the next morning for some kayaking. Those who know me know that I am always up for a good adventure, even in colder months. However, at this time, those of us who live in Wilmington are experience some fabulous weather, especially for being the middle of January. So the next morning we loaded up our kayaks and headed out for a early morning “Father & Son” adventure on the Cape Fear River. We got to River Road Park just about 7:45 AM and set everything down at the river’s edge and began soaking up the Majesty of God’s Creation! The morning was cool, but it was a bright and sunny morning that gives you a promise of a warmer day ahead.
Once we got to the park and set the kayaks down at the water’s edge, we quickly noticed the stillness of the water. This was one of these rare mornings here in the Cape Fear area that we did not have any wind blowing. When this happens, the water in the Cape Fear River is very calm and smooth as glass. The reflections on the water a breath taking as you paddle are breath taking. A couple of other benefits of having this kind of stillness is paddling is easier and one hears sounds that you would not normally hear.
This morning we decided to head north on the river to take advantage of the incoming tide. As we paddles out we quickly notices how much warmer it was on the water. With no clouds or wind this morning, we were able to feel the warmth of the sun’s reflection of the water. This made it quite nice and comfortable for us on this cool morning. Truly this is a rear morning here in Wilmington.
The stillness of the wind and water allow you to notice wildlife off in the distance quickly. We had not paddled for then 5 minutes when I noticed a pie-billed grebe diving along the marsh grasses at the edge of the water. The grebe kept diving for his breakfast meal, but kept a close eye on Joseph and I. As we paddled closer he would dive down and come up 20 or so yards further away from us. It was kind of cool watching this little bird.
Later on as we paddled our way back to the boat ramp, we spotted a pod of dolphin about a hundred years off. This was so very cool seeing these beautiful animals. They did not let us get close, but we were able to sit still and observer them from that distance. The wind and the water remained just like it was when we started so it was easy to view them. As we sat there we counted 7 in the pod that included 2 calf’s that stayed close to their mothers. Maybe this was why they stayed away from us. Anyway we sat there floating on the water for 15 minutes watching them play in the water and chase there breakfast meal.
Both Joseph and I reflected on our morning spent paddling on the Cape Fear River. It was so cool to watch the wildlife together. It was simply amazing to take advantage of this beautiful morning and to enjoy it together. It was also a great experience just to get out and paddle together as, father & son. We both agreed that we have to take advantage of the next time we have such nice conditions.
Why do some people consider it unthinkable to spend time in the outdoors during colder months? Yea, it can be cold, but don’t let that stop you for enjoying outdoor adventures when the thermometer drops below 45 degrees? Consider the reverse of that situation; when that thermometer rises to high 90’s during the summer? There is not much keeping people from heading out to a mountain lake and enjoy some camping and other outdoor adventure. What about the people who head to the beach with all those other tourist? During the summer months, it is almost impossible to get a last minute camping site at your favorite camp site at Carolina Beach State Park. Yet in the colder months, you get your choice of site and if you are lucky, there are no more than a half dozen sites filled in the whole campground.
I think part of the reason is a fear of the cold and not knowing how to deal with it. I hear from people who worry that their children will get sick if they camp outside during the colder months. Granted, I’m sure this can plays a role in how we get sick, but we are probably just as likely to get sick by being cooped up inside all winter also. As a parent of three kids, my wonderful wife and I wondered the same when our kids were smaller. I also must admit that it is harder to winter camping, but the rewards and memories have been priceless.
Over this past Thanksgiving Holiday’s our family went camping once again. Each morning, it was in the upper 30’s at Carolina Beach State Park, and then warmed up into the higher 50’s on Thanksgiving Day. So in my opinion the temperatures were just perfect. Yet, we were prepared and knew what to expect in the way of weather for this adventure.
So you ask; how to you prepare for cold weather camping? Well here are a few important tips that will help you when you want to attempt to try a colder weather camping expedition.
The first tip is to make sure that you layer you clothing when you go out. Layering is the best way to stay warm as the temps cool off at night. It is also important to properly layer so that as the temps change throughout your cold weather adventures, you can adjust your layers for comfort. More layers as it cools down and fewer layers as it warms up. Remember, layering allows you to control your warmth level by adjusting your clothing. Another important fact is that you can also have too many layers on. You can get warm quickly by properly layering but you can also get over heated quickly. Why over heated? Because with too many layers you will begin to sweat and once you start sweating, your clothing gets wet. With these damp or wet clothing from sweat, as the temps drop you will get colder. If you have a full day of activities planned, you may want to change clothing, getting out of the damp sweaty clothing.
Another part of layering is to stay away from cotton clothing in the winter months. Why? Because cotton dose not wick away your sweat, causing your clothing to remain damp. So when you are packing make sure you pack plenty of clothing that will keep you dry. Clothing made out of quick dry nylons, polypropylene, suplex, polar fleece, wool, thermax and other materials are great for layering.
When getting in your sleeping bags at night, also remember the layering principle. On cold weather adventures with my scouts, often I hear the next morning that a scout was cold. When asked what he wore to bed, I get this layer and that layer of clothing, or the clothing I wore yesterday. WRONG answer. The same layering principle applies when sleeping. First, find out what your sleeping bag is rated for. A 30 degree bag is designed to keep a person warm down to 30 degrees. The problem is that too often what happened is people will have two layers on and then get into their bag and get warm quickly. In the middle of the night the bag gets damp from the sweat and you get cold. In most instances a single layer of dry clothing or long underwear worn in the bag is just fine.
One last thing, dry socks are critical to saying warm. Don’t make the mistake of wearing the same socks you had on that evening in your shoes to bed. These socks are damp and your feet will get cold. We teach our scouts to take off their socks, dry their feet and place on dry socks. When you do this, you will be surprised how warm your feet stay.
The second important item to have is a good sleeping pad. A good sleeping pad between you and the ground is critical. You can have a 5 degree bag and still get cold without insulation between you and the ground. A good closed cell pad or a Therm-a-Rest type backpacking pad are great to use. If you don’t have one of those, you can use wool blankets or even several comforters from you linen closet at home will also work. The key here is getting a good layer of insulation between you and the ground. One last thing about standard air mattresses, they do not insulate you against the cold from the ground. These types of mattresses will allow the air in them to get cold, creating cold mattress for you to sleep on.
Third thing to have is a pair of warm gloves and a warm hat to wear. I typically carry two winter type hats to wear, one for the day’s activities and one to wear at night, even while sleeping. Enough said.
Lastly is a warm fire and warm drink. Having a nice warm cup of hot tea or hot cocoa by the fire at night is warming and cozy. The added benefit is that the fire is something special at camp that no camping adventure is complete without. You don’t have to have a huge bonfire to keep warm, but plan accordingly. Remember don’t let your fire burn unattended in camp, even when you head to the tents for sleep.
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Ah, what comes to your mind when you hear about someone going backpacking? I am not sure about you, but I think about experiencing God’s created world and all its natural beauty and wonder. My most recent adventure with my son, Lawrence Lee and his son Joe was no different.
Our adventure began early on December 20th as I was driving to pick up Lawrence and Joe. It was a cold frosty morning here in Wilmington and the weather forecast for the next three days was going to be “Cold”! It was not the first time I have been backpacking in cold weather like this, but this was going to be the first time for the other three on this trip. I could not help but wonder if Lawrence and his son followed the instruction I had given them about how to pack for a cold weather backpacking trip. I made sure my Joseph had packed everything he many need, without bringing too much.
The challenge with cold weather backpacking is that if you pack to little, the cold will hurt you and place you at greater risk of getting hypothermia. On the other end of the spectrum, it is carrying too much extra clothing and supplies. This mistake will keep you warmer, but carrying all the extra weigh will make the hike very unpleasant. There is nothing like being too cold or carrying about 30 pounds more than needed and I wanted to avoid both.
Anyway, after our 3 hour drive to the Uwharrie Forest, Woodrun Trial Head just to the west of Troy, NC, we were ready to begin our three day adventures. The sky was clear and we had a cold wind blowing steady from the NW, so we were anxious about getting on the trail to get warmed up. After about a mile of hiking, we pulled over at a nice stream crossing to adjust our packs and for a quick drink of water. After about 10 minutes of adjustments and arranging items in our packs, we were back on the trail hiking. We hiked another mile and half and found a nice large flat area overlooking a forest service road below. This spot was perfect for lunch.
It is amazing how good a simple trail lunch can be when you are in the outdoors. Some granola, gorp, cheese, some crackers and summer sausage make a great filling meal. I really enjoy backpacking in the winter months because you can carry some food items that will not spoil. Summer sausage is one of them. In the colder month, you can enjoy items like this without fear of spoilage. Anyway, we enjoyed about 40 minutes of rest and conversation before we got our packs back on to head out. I was quickly reminded how your muscles can tighten up over a short lunch break.
Now began the real work with our first real climb of the day. The Uwharrie Mountains are more like foothills when compared to the Appalachian Mountains further to the west. But to flat land folk like the four of us, these mountains might as well been the real thing. What made this even more interesting was the trail was covered with a large amount of fallen wet leaves. These wet leaves make the trail somewhat slippery if you were not careful. It was a good thing that there was no ice on the trail, which would have been even more fun. We did see a few places that had some remaining snow from the storm the week before.
I wanted to get to camp quickly this day since this was the shortest day of the year. I was expecting it to get dark quickly after the sun went down. Usually in the winter months when the sun goes down, the temps drop quickly and I expected tonight to be no different. So I wanted to get to camp with enough time to get set up and gather firewood. A fire tonight would be greatly appreciated. So my main focus this afternoon was to keep everybody moving and not wasting too much time. I have experienced getting into camp late on cold afternoons like. It is not much fun rushing to get everything set up, gather firewood, get the fire going and starting dinner. So I wanted to give us as much time as possible to enjoy the evening.
The four of us made it to the first Dutchman Creek campground around 4:10 pm after a 7 mile hike. Lawrence had fun when he took off his pack in camp, showing us his moon walk. Granted, he is no Michael Jackson, but it was funny, well at least it was to me. We quickly set up our tents, stored our gear and started gathering firewood. It is amazing how much a good fire can warm a person. Not only did our fire provide some much needed warmth, but also some great light to finish up cooking our meals that evening.
Today was not only the shorted day of the year, but we also found out that there was to be a full lunar eclipse very early the next morning. It was a first for me to be camping on a lunar eclipse and I was hoping that I would be able to see this wonder. The night was clear and cold. Soon after the sun went down, the “Frost Moon” as the December full moon is called, was up. Wow, it is simply amazing to see how bright the moon can be on a clear night like this. We were able to walk around camp that evening, hang our bear bag and anything else we needed to do without the use of our head lamps. If you have never been in the outdoors on a night like this, you will never be able to appreciate how bright it was.
The moon was so bright it was had from me to go to sleep this evening. Usually I don’t have a hard time falling asleep, but I did this night. I laid there in the tent for what seemed like an eternity listening to the silence of this night. The only thing that I could hear was the soft sounds of the creek that we camped next too. No owls to sing me to sleep tonight, not even the rustling of the leaves by the wind. Sometime later I must have fallen asleep, because I remember waking up in the middle of the night, thinking the lunar eclipse was in full swing. The brightness of the night had faded as if the moon were not out. So I was sure that the eclipse was in full swing, but it was in full swing elsewhere, because here it was behind a thick blanket of cloud cover. Darn!
The next morning came quick enough. It had warmed up a few degrees because of the clouds, but it was still cold. So it was to my best interest to get up and get moving quickly. As we got moving around fixing breakfast, I began hearing and feeling something hitting me and the ground. It was sleet! Nothing new, I have had this happen before, but this was a first for Lawrence and Joe. The sleet lasted for about 10 minutes and then passed by. We didn’t get much, but it was cool to see Joe’s expression on his face as we were preparing breakfast.
This morning we had a decision to make. The day before, my son slipped on some slick leave and fell directly on his knee. He was not hurt bad, but this morning he was very sore and stiff and could hardly walk. The section of trail that we were to take this day was more rugged than we covered the day before, making this a concern for me. So after a group meeting we decided to backtrack to Big Island Creek campsite we hiked past the day before. We could day hike out of here while Joseph remained behind in camp. So that is what we did. Remember, when out in the wilderness, you have to be flexible and adjust your plans according to the circumstances that you have at the moment. When you fail to do this, problems will arise.
So, slowly off we went making it to our new camp 2.5 miles away in just over 90 minutes. Slower that I would have liked, but the time traveled was good since we had a bum knee in the group. We quickly set up camp and off Lawrence, Joe and I went day hiking. It is amazing how much more ground you can cover when you are not lugging a 40 pound pack on your back. After about 3 hours of day hiking, we made it back to camp to find my son, stretched out on his camp map taking a nap! Teenagers!
After gathering firewood and pumping water for the evening meal, we got a fire going once again. Joseph’s knee was still stiff, but he had no problem building a nice fire with Joe. Once again we were in business with a warm glowing fire to gather around for fellowship and some dinner. There is something about sitting around a fire in the great outdoors. Something peaceful and relaxing; something that allows your mind to wonder and settle down; to simply enjoy the moment before you. Now add to the mix a few toasted marshmallows, some graham crackers and a Hersey chocolate bar (hum, I wonder what that makes). These moments simply become magical.
The next morning, Joseph was up early and ready to go. It was funny watching him give the countdown to the time we were to be on the trail. It was almost like watching a rocket lift off at Cape Canaveral. Anyway, the morning was still cold and cloudy with a chance of partly cloudy day ahead. We had an easy 4.5 miles to hike out this morning, so we know we would be on the road home before noon. I think Joseph and Joe were more interested in getting to a Subway to get “Real” food for lunch.
All in all Lawrence and Joe’s first backpacking adventure was a huge success. I have always enjoyed spending time with my son on adventures like this and with good friends. I felt that I had accomplished my mission; it seemed as if Lawrence and his son had a wonderful time. Joe even said that he would do this again. That is good news. It was also good to hear that my son had a good time despite his knee problem and his first desire to stay at home and sleep the Christmas holidays away.
If you are up for creating a memory and an adventure for you and your son or daughter, let me know. It would be a privilege to help you create such a memory for you!
I have been asked many times over the years why I enjoy backpacking so much. Well, I am not sure there is a single answer for that question. There is both the physical and the mental challenge that in like placing myself. Of course, there is the adventure aspect of backpacking. Carrying everything you need for a week on your back while traversing 50+ miles of wilderness. Not knowing from one moment to the next what is up ahead. Maybe it is the friendships that I have developed over the years while backpacking in the wilderness with buddies of mine. Of course, those of you who know me well understand that I really enjoy the whole outdoor experience.
I remember several years ago backpacking in the Pecos Wilderness Areas just outside of Las Vegas, New Mexico. My friend Wayson, his son and I were on a four day hike to Hermits Peak. This is a 10,880 foot peak in the New Mexico Rockies. There are many things that I will always remember about this trip, maybe because this was my first ever backpacking trip in the Rockies. Up until that time, I had only backpacked in the southeast. I remember how cold it got in the mornings and this was in July. I remember the adventure of crossing the same creek 29 times on the 9 mile uphill hike the first day. I remember the painting that God created just for me and my friends as we sat on Hermits Peak watching the sun rise on our last day. What a breath taking view!
This summer I took my son Joseph on his first 50+ mile backpacking trip. What a blessing it was to be with my son his first long backpacking trip. We even covered the same part of the Appalachian Trail that I did on my first 50 mile trip back in the summer of 1974. So there were many story’s that I had forgotten about my first hike on the AT that I got to share with him. Yes, he even laughs at me on some of them. But on this trip, I began to see my son not just as a teenage boy, but as a young man. To watch him struggle and overcome a hard 13 mile day; and be willing to do it all over again the next morning. To see the life lessons he has learned be applied each day with the responsibility he had on the hike. What a wonderful way to spend a week.
The funny things that happen on different backpacking tips that seems to be shared over and over again. To buddies of mine (Jim Sowell and Don Hamlin) and I had hiked into Addis Gap Trail Shelter (Appalachian Trail) on a VERY COLD January night many years ago. The cold was not the funny part nor was the hike that afternoon. I seem to remember it being a really hard hike, maybe due to the extra weight we were carrying because of the extreme cold that weekend. The funny part was as we set around the fire that night trying to warm up. It seems that I got one of my boots so close to the fire that the sole started to pull away from my boot. The heat from the fire has actually heated my boot up so much that the sole completely separated from the boot and fell off. This was quite hilarious to Jim and Don, and eventually I found the humor of it. (Since that trip, I have always carry some duct tape.) I can just here the retelling of this story the next time Jim, Don and I get together for a trip and all the laughter we will have. Oh, then there is the time that I got hit on the head by a falling branch as I was gather in fire wood. I had better stop now with those stories. I can see Jim and Don rolling on the floor in their homes laughing now.
So why do I like backpacking so much. These are just a few of the reasons. If you are looking to create some memories with your family and or fiends, why not try a weekend backpacking trip, who know it could change your life.