“Whatcha doin’?” I asked my cousin Paul, as I sat down by the fire.
“Cookin’ socks,” he replied.
Some people roast marshmallows, or cook hot dogs, but Paul was holding our socks over the fire, cooking socks, in attempt to dry them. The trek up to the Ice Lakes had involved lots of snow getting into our boots. Paul had a found a tree branch laying around which curved in such a manner that it was perfect for laying our socks across and holding over the fire.
Everyone had volunteered their socks including myself. We also set our boots next to the fire to try and dry them. Sadly Mary’s boots were a little too close and got singed.
It was early evening, but the temperature had already dropped greatly. We were all in our hoodies and jackets and had our bare feet propped up against rocks next to the fire, inviting the soothing heat to keep them warm.
Paul handed off the sock roasting responsibility to me and went in search of more wood for the fire. It was a very hungry fire, burning things up quickly. I found a place to prop up the sock drying branch so I could be hands free.
We all had contributed to finding firewood and kindling, but Paul won the prize for this. There was a pattern. He’d disappear. We would carry on conversation, and, after a while, he would return with arms full of wood and kindling. At one point I remember we all laughed. Paul had found an enormous piece of tree trunk and was carrying it to camp over his head, seemingly effortlessly, like an experienced woodsman. He had a grin on his face seeping from his sense of personal accomplishment, I would assume. The question on all our minds was where did he find that, and how did he resolve to lift it?
“That’s so Paul,” Jonathan commented.
There had clearly been a place set up to have a fire prior to our arrival. Paul had taken the lead in renovating the area. He found logs and rocks and assembled them to create a bench with a backrest and armrests. We had our own living room set. Eventually everyone discovered they could put rocks close to the fire to heat them up and then remove them from the fires edge to warm their feet. I initially had the best seat. I was tucked in the corner of the constructed bench, sitting on the log, my back resting against a broken piece of timber, and my feet on a smooth rock warmed to the perfect temperature by the fire. In due time I rotated out from my comfortable corner to let someone else enjoy the prime sitting spot.
There was still quite a bit of day left, but no one had plans to leave the fire. The air around us was just too cold and wet, and some of us were sore from the hikes of carrying all our supplies for camping up the mountains and then trekking up snow to the Ice Lakes.
As we sat there poking around the fire a Marmot probably thirty feet away would crawl up out of its burrow, take a few steps forward, shout at us, and then run back into his hole. It happened a few times. Sometimes he wouldn’t make a noise but would just watch us. He was probably trying to figure out what we were and what we were doing here.
Jonathan had brought some sort of soup to cook by the fire for himself, but the rest of us just snacked on dry goods. Jonathan also heated a Clif Bar over the fire, which is a tactic I’ve now adopted. The bars become pleasantly soft and warm. However, they do absorb really well a smoky flavor which takes some getting used to.
After we were by the fire for many hours, the conversation died down, and I decided to open a round of Would You Rather, something I learned from my younger brother, Timothy. You go around in a circle taking turns, posing ridiculous questions like “Would you rather jump out of an airplane or plummet down Yosemite Falls?”
When night had fallen and the fire turned to glowing embers, we checked into our tents for the night. I was unprepared, not knowing this would be the coldest night of my existence.
I had fallen asleep okay, but in the middle of the night I awoke freezing. I was very uncomfortable. I had only packed one sleeping bag, a small lightweight one that’s packaging stated it was good for temperatures down to forty degrees. It was for sure below forty degrees. I would assume the temperature had plummeted below freezing. The sweatshirt I was wearing and my lightweight sleeping bag was not enough. I should have known better. On top of that, my head had no warmth to sink into. I had only brought my very small trunk pillow which seemed to absorb the cool air. And here I was in Kelty, my lightweight and airy tent. I should have been more prepared, but, aside from the Rocky Mountains, I had spent weeks in the desert and temperatures like this were unimaginable.
There were a couple things I could do. First, I took the nylon bag which the sleeping bag is stored in and I put it over my head, trying to capture the heat of my breath. Secondly, I put my hands in my pants, for they were growing numb. There was a third option too. I could climb into another tent, but there were questions on my mind:, First, would that be socially acceptable? Even if it’s not, isn’t it okay in dire situations like this? Is this an emergency? Will I be ok? Which tent would be the less awkward one to climb into, the tent with my Aunt Mary and Jonathan or the tent with Paul and Ines? I unzipped my tent and looked outside contemplating going over to one of their tents. I couldn’t pull myself to do it. I’ll suffer, I concluded. So with my head in a bag and my hands in my pants, I slept on and off, waking up cold and uncomfortable, and reminding myself that the night will end. Warmth will come in the morning. Never before was I more glad for the morning’s arrival.
That morning we didn’t stay long in the basin. We were all cold and hungry. As the others were slowly waking up and putting themselves together, I walked around camp, admiring the expanse of the basin waking up. It was beautiful. The sun was golden and caused everything that was wet and frozen to shimmer in its light. Paul and Ines also walked around and sat together on a fallen tree trunk, looking out into the basin. No one said anything. I suppose we were all taking in the awe of our surroundings and trying to thaw out. I walked out from the shade to feel the slightest bit of warmth falling from the sun. It wasn’t much, but I’d take it.
I remember when we were packing up, Jonathan was shaking off the morning due from his tent, neatly folding it, making sure every corner matched. I, on the other hand, am much more haphazard when packing my tent. I live in the fine line between the type A and type B personalities. Tent packing, just not on the top of my priorities. To each his own, and I should learn to keep better care of some of my things.
When we were all packed up, we hiked back across the basin, crossed over the streams and rivers, down the forests and prairies, and made it back to the car. I talked with Ines a lot on the hike down. I didn’t know her very well. I had only met her briefly in a couple of family occasions. I was very pleased to get to know her. We got to talking about life in Germany, and I was extended the offer to come visit.
Back at the cars, there was talk by my cousins of bathing in the river, but I knew I didn’t have much time to spare and needed to get on my way. My goal was to drive 7 hours to the western side of Utah, to Yuba Lake State Park. Aunt Mary and my cousins would continue their adventure on to Arches National Park. I brought out my map and spread it across the top of my car and explained some of the features worth seeing, and recommended a stop at the Moab diner.
Then it was time to part ways. It was sad, to leave, but I felt so thankful for the experiences shared together. From Mesa Verde to the Ice Lakes, the adventures with this bunch are truly unique and special. They will last with me forever.
Read the next entry, “Assaulted at Yuba Lake,” here:
Read the previous entry “When Life’s Path is Frozen Over,” here: