Tuesday, December 29, 2015

"Winter" Camping at Governor Dodge State Park, Dodgeville, WI, December 19-20, 2015

Staying warm
 Regrettably, despite the unseasonably warm November, we didn't make it out camping once because of family obligations, football season and general laziness. As the warm weather continued into December, I began to become more antsy to get out again. Although the temperature would not get above freezing on Saturday, Sunday was forecast to reach the low to mid 40s (F), so I figured this would be our last chance to get out and to test the limits of our current gear.

Stephen's Falls
We arrived at Governor Dodge State Park early Saturday afternoon and picked a walk-site that would offer some privacy but be close enough to the car that we could bring whatever extra gear and clothing we wanted. It also made the chore of fire making easy as we simply carried in bundles of wood we purchased from the park office. We knew we would have plenty of time sitting around since it gets dark around 4:30 this time of year, so we brought a lot of extra layers and some old sleeping bags to use as blankets if necessary. Amber didn't really want to help with chores, so she ended up getting cold quickly. We bundled her up in layers and a sleeping bag, and she managed to stay warm until after dark when her feet got a chill, which was remedied with hot water bottle.After a quick hot dog supper, the ladies couldn't stand the cold much longer and headed to bed with the temperature in the low 20s. I stayed up for a few more hours and enjoyed the peace and quiet by the fire. It was cold but not unbearable.

A large part of my desire for this trip was to test my clothing and sleep systems for cold weather camping. I wanted to wear as few layers as possible to see how warm I would be. Sitting around for hours in the mid 20s wasn't too bad for me with just a couple extra layers. On top, I wore a polyester base layer, a fleece mid layer and fleece jacket. I wore two layers of gloves, which included a lightweight "driving" glove and a leather work-type glove. On my head, I found a Polartec balaclava to be plenty. For bottoms, I wore nylon boxer briefs, lightweight merino wool long underwear and fairly heavy nylon hiking pants. I probably could have used an extra or warmer bottom layer, but I wasn't extremely cold. I wore two pair of medium weight wool blend socks and my feet were a bit chilly. I think my feet are the layer I need to put the most thought into for extending the temperature range of my wardrobe. I never put on my down puffy or second hat. I think with a warmer bottom layer and a down puffy, I can extend my tolerance down to single digit temperatures.

By the time I was ready to crawl in my sleeping bag, the bag and pad were frigid. As soon as I got down to my base layers and slid into the bag, I knew it would take awhile to warm up. After about an hour, I was no longer cold except for my feet. I managed to sleep fine and wasn't cold, but I was not toasty either. According to accuweather.com, the low was about 22 degrees F, so I put the limit of my 10 degree Zpacks sleeping bag at 20 degrees for me with a single base layer. I didn't go to bed warm or do any of the extras, such as a hot water bottle or eating right before bed, that are advised to help keep you warm during cold weather camping.

Lost Canyon trail
On Sunday, we got up to slightly warmer conditions, but it was still near freezing. I asked Lorraine for bacon, eggs and toast for breakfast, but in hindsight, I don't think that's the best cold weather camping breakfast as it's hard to keep everything warm. Next time, I think we should try something that's easy to dehydrate, like a nice stew or something. However, based on my family's reaction, there probably aren't too many more cold weather family camping trips in our future.

After breakfast and packing up, we hiked the Lost Canyon trail, which is a pretty nice and fairly easy trail. It's only about three miles or so and passes by Stephens' Falls and the old Stephens' farmstead.Amber even stopped complaining long enough to call some ice formations pretty and to sit and stare into the canyon for several minutes. 

This definitely wasn't our most fun camping trip, but I learned some things to help me prepare for cold weather camping and hope to begin stretching my overnight outdoor outings to all four seasons.

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