The game-plan was to leave Denver mid-day on Monday, find a good spot in the campground to set up camp in the daylight, camp out over night there, then fish the next day. If only I had read the dates right for the fly tying night… I had thought that the 14th was a Tuesday evening but after further observation I realized that I had matched the date listed for the fly tying night and with the wrong day of the week. Plans had to change. This caused me to leave Denver at 9pm, arrive at the campsite in the dark, and then setup camp in the dark. It wasn’t ideal but I went with it.
When I left, Denver was hovering comfortably in the low-mid 30’s. I checked the projected temperature for the area that I was camping at it showed an overnight low in the mid 20’s. Looking back now I should have checked the pin a little closer as the weather app I had used gave a reading for a city miles away from where I camped and not even in the mountains.
I drove south of Denver on the interstate for a little ways then turned right on a smaller road that headed into the mountains. As I neared the foothills I watch the outside thermometer reading in my car drop from the 30’s into the 20’s and then finally into the teens. I thought about it for a minute and figured that it would make sense for cold air to collect at the base of the mountains as cold air is heavy and sinks below warmer air. As the road twisted and winded up into the mountains the temperatures went up as well, back into the 20’s. This rapidly changed again though as I descended down into the river valley that I was going to camp in. I watched the thermometer plummet down and this time it settled into single digits. When I arrived at the campsite the temp was a brisk 3°F degrees. As far as winter hammocking goes, things just went from 0 to 100 real quick.
My first priority once I parked was to find a good campsite with somewhere to hang my hammock and get a fire going. In looking at areal photography of the campsite I had seen that it was mostly tree covered and I had figured that most sites would have hammockable trees but after looking through the majority of the sites I had only found 2 sites with suitable trees and these sites were at the far end of the campsite about 100 yards from the car. With the already low temperatures and a feeling that temps would drop more I didn’t think that it would be safe to camp this far away from the car. I ended up settling on the closest campsite to the car (about 20 yards away) which happened to be an “accessible” site that was build up on a cement slab and had a railing around it. The railing was configured in such a manor that I knew I would be able to setup my hammock on it and that is what I ended up doing.
Once I had moved my hammocking and camping gear from the car to the campsite I built up a nice fire and cooked up a fine dining dinner of beer boiled jalapeño cheddar Johnsonville brats and Ramon Noodles.
After dinner it was nearing midnight so I got the hammock strung up and began setting it up for the cold night ahead. I had done some research on my “Hammocking” sleeping bag and I found out that it actually has zippers at the top and bottom of the hammock meant for the hammock to be strung through the middle of the sleeping bag. Once I had the hammock set how I wanted it I loosened one end up and unclipped it from the straps then fed it through the sleeping back before re-attaching it to the strap. With the hammock and sleeping bag set up I unzipped and flipped the topside of the sleeping bag over then slipped my Therm-a-Rest Z Lite foam pad into the hammock and un-rolled and inflated my Therm-a-Rest Basecamp inflatable pad and slid that into the hammock as well. To finish off the hammocking setup I put my two double black diamond down blankets into the sleeping bag and put a small pillow at the top of the bag. As far as clothing went I had on a thick pair of marino-wool socks, pants, a sweatshirt with the hoodie pulled over my head, a warm down jacket, and a winter hat on. I quickly shed my boots off and crawled inside then zipped the bag up and over my head.
My initial thoughts of the hammock/sleeping bag setup were pleasant and I was surprised with how comfortable and warm I was. It didn’t take long for me to be out like a light-switch.
I slept solidly for the first couple hours before waking up to shift around in the bag sightly. A couple more hours of solid sleep went by and all seemed well until my feet began to get cold and woke me up. I think that the shifting around may have moved the down blanket off of my feet and exposed them more to the cold. I didn’t sleep all that great after they got cold but fortunately it was only for the last couple hours of the night.
A 6am wake up alarm rang and I began to stir in my sleeping bag. I grabbed for the zipper at the top of the sleeping bag and noticed that the sleeping bag was really wet up there, almost soaked due to condensation from my breath. I unzipped the top of the bag and the cold air slapped me in the face much harder than I had expected. I unzipped the bag all the way down and swung my legs down to my boots sitting below the hammock and strapped them up. I got up and jogged over to the car quickly and got it blasting hot air. I looked up at the cars outside thermometer reading and saw that it was -4°F. I had just survived a night hammocking in below-zero weather. I was pretty excited. After getting the car going and a little organized I broke down camp, packed up, then headed to Cheeseman Canyon to spend the day trying to fool a few trout. Here is how that fishing trip went: Say Cheese | 1/15/2019
Thoughts for next time:
Things worked out surprisingly well during this sub-zero night in the hammock. I had drastically improved my sleeping conditions from the week before when I spend my first winter night in the hammock.
The one factor that has effected me the most during my two winter nights in the hammock has been cold feet. I need to do some research on what people do to keep their puppies warm through a cold night in a hammock. A couple days ago my roommate and I were bumming around downtown Denver and we stopped into Wilderness Exchange to check out some shoes for him. While we were in there I spent the majority of my time in the camping area checking out sleeping bags, sleeping pads, and other camping gear that I could upgrade. I found some down booties that would be perfect for my situation but unfortunately they cost $75 a pair… This did give me some insight on foot warming possibilities though and made me ponder if just wrapping my feet in one of my down blankets the next time I go hammocking would help out my situation.
The next issue that I need to do some research on is how other people deal with covering their head and how to deal with breath condensation. In my opinion, from my minimal experience winter hammocking, there is no way to be in the sleeping bag without covering your face due to the cold but I also worry about sealing the top of the sleeping bag too tight and not allowing fresh air in. I have a feeling that some research on the matter will shed some light on how to deal with covering my head effectively.
My last thought deals with backpack camping. My current gear works and has proven to be efficient enough to keep me warm in the winter but where it doesn’t shine is in its packability. The two sleeping pads that I use both take up a considerable amount of space and would be bulky to take on a backpack camping trip. It could be done but at some point I would like to replace these two pads with a single, much more packable pad such as the Nemo Tensor Insulated Sleeping Pad.