The Arctic Front

The slap woke me out of a sound slumber.

Another slap smacked the outside of the sleeping bag. I stirred and opened the top of the sleeping bag just enough to see the edge of my cot in the dark. A blast of icy wind jetted through the hole as another slap blasted the sleeping bag. This time I heard the pop and smack that went with the slap. Was that a tarp?

I burst out of the top of the bag, sitting up on the cot, and sure enough a tarp slapped me in the face! It knocked me back down onto the cot, and then I heard the wind howling up the canyon and through our camp. The walls of the canvas wall tent I was sleeping behind popped in and out. The tarp that went over the top of the wall tent had slid down the back of the tent and several of the ropes had come loose. The tarp took another shot at me, but this time I grabbed it and held on. What was with this wind?! The wind filled the tarp and pulled, almost yanking me right off the cot. I managed to get the air spilled out of the parachute-like tarp and rolled over on top of it. The high end of the tarp still attached to the tent bucked and pulled, but it stayed under control. I pulled more of the loose tarp down and stuffed it under my sleeping bag.

I had never heard such a wind as the one roaring up the canyon that night. I heard tarps blowing all over camp. This was crazy! It was too dark to see much of anything. I didn’t hear anybody else up. I started to get up, but the tarp I was on top of started to slip loose…and it was cold out there in the wind! I didn’t think there was much I was going to be able to do about it by myself tonight. I made sure the tarp was bunched under my sleeping bag and under control, and then retreated back down into the dark blue nylon cocoon. It was going to be a long night. I listened to the wind howling up the canyon and shivered until my body heat warmed the air in the bag again.

Sunrise couldn’t come early enough. I must have drifted back to sleep at some point. When I opened my eyes, I could tell it was light outside. I peaked outside of my sleeping bag. It looked to be a little before six. I could hear the KP or the cook working inside the cook tent I was sleeping behind. I’d had marmot watch and was on the cot behind the cook tent. All was still. The wind had gone.

I sat up and looked around. The sky was cloudless and bright, even though the sun had not yet cleared Fletcher Peak. Camp looked different. The maintenance area rain fly was gone. The canvas wall tents were sagging, but it looked like they were all standing. Well, time to get up.

I reached down into the bottom of the bag for my brown CCC work pants. This was one of the tricks I had learned so far this summer. If you put the clothes you were going to be wearing the next day at the bottom of your sleeping bag, they would be nice and toasty warm in the morning. I got fully dressed before I got out of the sleeping bag. I swung my feet over the side of the cot and reached for my scuffed up, hard leather boots. I hadn’t been oiling them enough. Maybe this weekend…

I turned my boots upside down and shook them out. Then I reached inside them one at a time, inspecting for critters that might have crawled in overnight. They were clear, and I put them on. Then I just sat on the edge of the cot, gazing generally in the direction of Choo-Choo Ridge. I was tired. I didn’t want to move, but I eventually did. There really were no options…other than quitting. Even quitting would involve getting up and hiking out.

I walked around to the front of the cook tent. Our cook area had been destroyed by the wind. The rain fly that extended out from the tent like a porch awning was gone. The pot rack stood empty, the pots scattered all around camp. Kitchen equipment that was normally neatly arranged on shelves had been thrown back up onto the shelves in piles. Patti, the cook, stood over the propane stove bundled from head to toe. She had wrapped a scarf around her face and had big thick mittens on her hands. She stirred the eggs and looked up to see me coming around the tent.

“Good morning!” I think she said through the scarf. Her words were kinda muffled.

“Good morning!” I replied.

The coffee mugs had been blown off the rack, as well. I picked one up from the ground and checked it for critters. It was clean, so I headed for the coffee pot at the camp fire. Several crewmembers already stood huddled around the fire, shivering and holding their hands out to the warmth. I elbowed my way through the crowd to the coffee pot and poured myself a cup of the hot, thick cowboy coffee. I stood and joined the huddled circle.

Nobody spoke. Some people cupped hot mugs of coffee in their hands. Others held their hands out to the fire. Winter clothing was the norm today, even though there was no snow to be seen. I looked across the fire at Chris. He was from Maine. I was from northern Illinois, outside of Chicago. We had both laughed at weather the other Corpies thought was cold earlier in the season. His red rimmed eyes looked haggard this morning. A cigarette dangled from his lips, and the smoke wreathed up around his face and away.

“Hey, Chris,” I said. He just raised his eyes to me and squinted at me through the cigarette smoke. “Are you cold?”

Chris snorted and said “Yeah! I’m cold!”

I reached out with my foot and tapped my toe against the metal jungle can. “Excuse me. Excuse me!”

Everybody looked up at me.

“The boys from back East have determined that it is now officially cold. You may begin shivering.”

The groans and boos made me chuckle.

About then Patti called out “BREA-A-A-AKFA-A-A-A-AST!”

Ahhh! Hot food! We lined up and served ourselves. I grabbed one bowl and one spoon. I ladled some oatmeal and scrambled eggs into my bowl, laid a couple of bacon strips across the top, and then a cinnamon roll, and retreated to my favorite breakfast rock. It was a huge granite boulder sticking up out of the ground. It was just flat enough on top to make a comfortable seat. When the sun came up, solar heating would make the rock quite comfortable. It was a little early for a warm seat right now, though, but it was still my favorite spot. I laid my roll on the rock next to me and crumbled the bacon into the bowl, then stirred the oatmeal, eggs, and bacon all together. Delicious! And the best part…I would only have one bowl and one spoon to wash later! I had given up using a separate bowl and spoon for my oatmeal, and plate and fork for my eggs and bacon weeks ago. The fewer utensils to wash, the better.

Everyone was almost done eating when I saw Tammi drawing hot water from the jungle cans for dishes. Almost the entire crew headed over to the dish line this morning without being told to. Unusual! Then I saw the steam rising from the first dish pan. That explained it. The hot water in the dish line was the warmest place in camp right now. I joined them.

When the dishes were all washed and put away, the crew gathered our hard hats and daypacks and assembled for the days’ work assignments. We figured that some of us would be repairing camp, but that some of us would be going out on the trail. But Erin had a little surprise for us.

“The first priority for today is…to rebuild camp! The kitchen area needs to be rebuilt. The tents need to be straightened out. The maintenance area needs to be sorted out, and we need to find the fly and get it back up. So…let’s go to work!”

Nobody was going out on the trail yet! Well…okay!

We made short work out of repairing camp. By mid-morning, we were all assembled and ready to hit the trail.

Erin told us, ”Camp looks pretty good. Good job! But…it’s still pretty Arctic out there. Cold fingers and rockwork don’t mix. Cold fingers lead to smashed fingers. So…let’s take the rest of today off!”

We couldn’t believe our ears! We had never even heard of this before! Moose brought us back down to Earth a little bit, though.

“I haven’t collected your journals in a while. Write in those and turn them in. This would also be a good time to work on a crew newsletter. Let’s go!”

I went back to the canvas wall tent that I shared with Glenn and Mark. Well…when I wasn’t sleeping out in my ‘cave’ anyway! Chris and Dewey joined us, and we did our favorite Backcountry activity for a couple of hours…shooting the breeze! Moose came by at one point and stuck her head in our tent. We all picked up our journals and pretended to be writing in them. She looked at the mess…scattered dirty uniforms, books, camping gear…and chuckled. She said, “I always just need to peek in here when I need a good laugh!” She walked away chuckling.

The other guys decided to go work on newsletter article by the cook tent. I stayed in the tent. When they were gone, I laid back in my cot and stared up at the ceiling. At orientation, Peter Lewis had talked about hitting a ‘wall’ at some point in the season. ‘The wall’ is the point at which you would do almost anything to walk out of camp and go back down to civilization. He said we would be tired beyond belief, dirty, cold. We would question in our minds whether continuing was worth it or not.

“I think I’ve hit my wall,” I said to the empty tent.

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Categories: Backcountry, Camping, CCC, Vogelsang, Yosemite | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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