Just Jeff's Hiking Page

"Going to the woods is going home, for I suppose
we came from the woods originally."

- John Muir

Rampart Range Road near Woodland Park, Colorado
23-24 December 2009

Wednesday, 23 December 2009
We're in the middle of a move from Fayetteville, NC, to Colorado Springs, CO...all of our belongings are in transit with the moving company, and a cold front is moving in with forecasted temps below zero in the mountains. What else is there to do but go camping? As I discussed on HammockForums, Jennifer had agreed to open presents in the mountains on Christmas morning, but we decided to have a more traditional Christmas (albeit at the Residence Inn) so Joker and I spent the 23rd at a campsite just off of Rampart Range Road outside of Woodland Park, CO.

Lowest recorded temp was -1.7 F...temps hovered between +2 and -2 for most of the night. Steady light snow all night. Winds estimated at 8-10 kts...snow was consistently blowing into the tarp until I put up the MacCat as an end cover.

Biggest take-away for me on this trip was the performance of the JRB Mt Washington 4-Season Underquilt...I'm usually a cold sleeper so bags and quilts don't take me as low as their ratings, but I was very comfortable all night in the MWUQ4 even though I was slightly below the stated temp range (0-10 F), with wind coming thru the end of the tarp all night and a suboptimal hammock hang (see below for details on that). I have complete confidence in this underquilt!


I had ordered the Warbonnet Winter Yeti and was hoping to take it on this trip, but with the holidays it didn't come in time. I found out that it arrived about two hours after I left on this trip! But I'm glad it worked out that way b/c this is the lowest temp I've had the Mt Washington on and I was completely comfortable in it.

Discuss this trip HERE.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Rampart Range Road, looking North from the campsite

My Jeep at our campsite

Since we were car camping, I just threw everything in the car and put it all together when we got there. I found a good place about 30 feet from where we parked and set up the JRB 11' x 10' Cat Tarp perpendicular to the wind while Joker shot stumps with the BB gun. Found a great sheltered site...and just as I got the second hammock up, I noticed snow coming right thru the end of the tarp. The wind had changed directions! So I took everything down and pitched it all again right next to the Jeep...tarp is now oriented exactly 90 degrees from the last setup, and blocking the wind perfectly. I pitched the tarp in A-Frame, with the sides touching the ground, and the slightly windward end with the corners folded in like doors. I couldn't get a really steep pitch b/c we were side-by-side under the tarp, but it was enough to shed the relatively dry snow this night.
I tore up some stakes trying to pitch the tarp, too...not enough snow for snow stakes, and the frozen ground bent them and my Y-stakes. I won't skimp on winter stakes anymore...gonna research some good ones, but when we got back I returned the snow stakes to REI and got some MSR Groundhogs and more beefy needle stakes (the big hollow kind).

It was already dark (only about 6:30 pm) and in the teens, so Joker and I had dinner in the Jeep with the heater on. I flicked on the headlights to check out the snow and Joker pointed out that the snow was blowing directly into tarp...the wind switched again! I didn't feel like setting up camp again so I compensated for the snow by putting the MacCat on like an end cap, and zipping my Packa over my hammock.

I think this sold me on Grizz's tarp doors for winter trips. (Read about them here and definitely check out the video.) I don't think I'll always carry a big tarp when I go solo, but tarp doors would have been a welcome addition no matter what size tarp I had this time.

By the way, this tarp was pretty taut when I hung it...it sagged quite a bit overnight and flapped in the breeze. I tightened it up once while I was adjusting the underquilt, but no strong gusts were coming so I wasn't too concerned about it. One of the disadvantages of silnylon, I guess.

After dinner, Joker and I went on a ~3 mile night hike. Temp was dropping to the low teens but we weren't cold at all, except for the wind nipping at our noses. This trip was pretty cool b/c Joker was scared at first...new environment, hiking at night, trees look like people, etc. But after about half a mile he figured out there was nothing to be scared of and got over his fear, then asked to keep hiking. So I taught him about pace count (which is difficult to keep when a 10 y/o keeps asking "Dad, is it true that...?" about everything that pops into his head), and how to estimate your distance based on time. Good stuff...I really like night hikes and snow hikes b/c everything is different - sights, sounds, smells, etc - and you have the woods all to yourself. Combining the two is even better - this is the first snow night hike I've taken where I didn't have a destination in mind (last few times I was hiking into Mt Rogers for the Hammock Forums winter hangs).
Once we got settled in bed, we were toasty warm. There's really no feeling like hearing your 10 y/o start snoring a few minutes after snuggling into his hammock when it's already in single digits outside.

One of the neat things about winter camping in low humidity areas is the big static light show you get from being surrounded by DWR...little sparks almost every time I rolled over or got out of the hammock! First time I saw that was on the Ten Lakes trip in Yosemite.

My Brunton ADC is packed so I went to Mall-Wart to pick up a new thermometer that records min/max temps overnight. This $12 works very well, and probably better than the Brunton for what we do b/c battery stays inside with you, nice and warm. Just don't lay on it b/c the external sensor's connection to the unit isn't very sturdy.

The thermometer's external sensor is on a 10' wire that I ran up out of the Blackbird's zipper and up the hammock support.
The condensation started early and continued throughout the night. The Serius facemask helped a bit, but I really don't like sleeping with stuff over my mouth. Since this was just a one-night trip I just let it all get wet...we woke up to frost all over the place...inside the tarp, all over the Blackbird's bug net, all over Joker's PeaPod and HammockSock, and on the No Sniveler near my face. I like Shug's idea of a "breath bib" condensation catcher pinned to the quilt near the face...if I were on a multi-night trip, this much condensation could have been dangerous and the bib would have at least kept the top quilt dry.
Our hammocks at sunrise. What looks like a sag in the MWUQ4 is just the Blackbird's shelf hanging down. I hardly ever use tie-outs.

Since I just threw everything together at the site, I had to get up a couple times to adjust the MWUQ4. First I just tightened up the shockcords, and the second time I clipped the MWUQ4's biners together over the BlackBird's ridgeline. This fixed the MWUQ4's fit perfectly and I stayed warm all night. One small issue is that I hung my foot end too low and kept sliding too far into the footbox, making my feet barely stick off the end of the footbox. I adjusted as best as I could w/o re-hanging the hammock, and it was enough to keep me comfortable. So with a sub-optimal hang and snow/wind coming right thru the end of the tarp, I was comfortable all night w/ the JRB MWUQ4 at sub-zero temps in a sub-optimal site. I'm definitely impressed with this product!

Here's how I hung both hammocks off the same tree. If the tree is wide enough, this gives enough separation between the hammocks that we're not bumping into each other all night, but we're still in the same shelter.

You can also see how the tarp is strung lower on the tree than the hammocks are.

Close-up of the Dutch Clip used instead of a carabiner...sold only at the HammockForums store. I'm sold on these now...I'm gonna add the stitch so they can't come off and stop using carabiners on my webbing.
Close-up of the Warbonnet Tri-rings. You can see the shockcord from the JRB underquilt suspension as well.
Glowing trees at sunrise. The little digital camera doesn't do justice to the colors...it was a beautiful site to wake up to.
Frosted webbing

The Hammock Sock at sunrise

Joker waking up after I took down the tarp and my hammock

Joker waking up. He was so warm during the night that he had kicked off the top quilt and taken off his down jacket. He wasn't very happy when I opened up his sock and dropped the frozen condensation all over his face, though...but he got over it when I asked if he wanted to shoot the BB gun again.

Joker in the Serius facemask

My feet

Shortly after we woke up, we started the drive back for Christmas Eve with Mama. The only thing I was really worried about on this trip was getting snowed in at the site...Jennifer told me that if I couldn't make it back by early afternoon, I might as well just keep on driving! :p But it was a pretty light snow all night so the roads were no worse on Thursday morning than the drive up Wednesday afternoon.

Here are some Aspen trees right across Rampart Range Road from the campsite.

Here's another beautiful scene on the drive out where the colors just don't show up on this camera.
If you look really close, you can see Pike's Peak above the treeline. The weather was pretty clear where we were, but there was a layer of clouds between us and the top of Pike's Peak. This is pretty common out here but it still always makes me pause.

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