It's Cold in Them There Hills

A couple of years ago Gerry camping products came out with this ingenious winter mountaineering pamphlet entitled "If your Feet Get Cold Put a Hat on." Pretty profound stuff for a sporting goods hand-out.

But anybody who has camped out in the cold mountains of the Northeast can attest to Gerry's worthwhile contradiction. The principal Northeastern mountains--the Adirondacks and the Whites--may seem laughable to those who have jogged up the "name" western peaks. But most informed mountain climbers admit that they have encountered embarrassingly low temperatures on Northeastern slopes.

Don't let the skimpy 5000-6000 foot heights fool you either. The long trails take up the slack that the short heights give, and the mountains are amenable to snow-shoeing, skiing, and various other boom outdoor industries.

But regardless of the transportation mode, once you make that first base camp and stop moving around--the cold really sets in--and the novices appear.

There are two types of greenhorns. There's the person who brings the Boy Scout summer bag and squash gloves--a strictly one night proposition. And then there is the hiker with the five pairs of down booties, and a full wardrobe of down pants. You know, that's the one flaunting the Kelty rademark like it's a Yves St. Laurent label--a walking camping supermarket.


But these climbers have their value, if not to the camping stores than to the intrepid ones who get a good laugh at the expense of the new recruits.

But unless you are novice number two, and you are not with an experienced party, your first subzero night might be spent scurrying from tent to tent in your skivies, looking for a samaritan to share a sleeping bag with you.

However, if you still wish to strike out on your own (not a good idea unless your with a group far more experienced than you) and are under a limited budget--it's still possible, provided you do some digging.

Camping equipment is one of the few, if not the only good thing that ever came out of America's armed forces. Although the stuff is getting scarce, an easy way to save money is to go army surplus. The finest pants available are still those army wind pants developed in some Army hinterland testing center. If you plan to hit the frequently wet northeast slopes, then the best bet for boots, is still the army mouse boot--Korean vintage--if you can still find a pair. Some itchy wool thermal underwear and a couple of wool sweaters still do the job better than most commercial products. Wool retains its warmth when wet--as anybody who has awakened to frozen cottom sweat-shirts can tell you. Over all this is once again an army product--the nylon poncho, a $4.98 product that most of the army-navy storeowners jacked-up in price when they found out how good it was.

Unfortunately, the army's sleeping bag, although favored by the same guys who cavorted in shorts during the blizzard of '88, can match up to those expensive down models. But if your stint in the mountains is a short one the renting fees should not be too debilitating. The same thing can apply for tents, foam pads, or any other out-of-your-price-range items.

Fortunately, it's possible to make your own down parka, by ordering the nylon and feathers yourself. Stores also carry kits, to put parkas together--which save you considerably over the pre-made designs.

Of course, don't forget to buy that wool hat. Gerry's right when they warn that 50 per cent of your heat loss is from your head, and a hat is about as good a cap for a leaky head as can be found.

The other big expenditure will be food. The debate to freeze-dry or not to freeze-dry every food now available shows no signs of resolving itself. But while others are debating, it is best to stick with the supermarkets. It is luxury for less, and a light pack is small recompense for a weekend of weird tasting meals. The winter is the one time when all those frozen fruits and vegetables pay off, as well as the canned meat products.

This isn't to say that you should lug one of those ten pound smoked hams in your pack--although its been done--but the calories lost by not being able to get through the inedible, can't be regained no matter how many chocolate bars you're carrying. And your best protection against the cold is the amount of food you can shove down.

Admittedly, the whole thing is an expensive, frivolous escape to the elements. But if you haven't had your quota of extravagance or you can go with a cost-saving group, it is worth it to try winter camping once. At least by buying the more practicle items mentioned here, you'll be prepared to fend off any meterological disturbances Boston might send your way

Recommended Articles