Castle Crag SP 01/2008

9:13 p.m. on January 12, 2008 (EST)
9 reviewer rep
37 forum posts

Castle Crag State Park

I admit I am new to backpacking. I am even less experienced with winter backpacking. With my limited experience, I thought it would be wise to do research and read about proper gear and get as many survival tips and tricks as possible. After spending much time reading the different discussions on gear and tips on this site, I felt that I had a good handle on what I needed and what I should expect when camping in colder or snowy conditions.

Instead of just getting out in it and praying that my gear was adequate enough,
I decided to do a shorter trip that involved some snow and colder conditions to test my gear. (as somebody in these forums suggested that I do).
Looking over different parks and wilderness areas around me (within 3 hour drive) I settled on Castle Crag State Park here in California, about 2 and a-half hours outside of Sacramento. The park is a smaller park, about a 3 to 4 mile trek out of the park and your in the Castle Crag Wilderness. I-5 Splits the park almost in two pieces. This park was ideal because of its proximity to the freeway, and the way I-5 runs through there, if all else failed we could always just walk East until we ran into the freeway.

My vehicle (Saturn car) would never make it in the snow, so the weather had to be right also. We were going to go last week (first week of Jan), but that huge storm came through. We sat back and waited for this weekend (Jan 10th 11th and 12th), the weather was more promising easily in the week. Called for 3 strait days of clouds and some sun. Well as the week drew on, the forecast for the weekend kept changing, now Friday night and Saturday morning there was a chance of rain/snow. We decided to go anyway.

There were three of us going. Myself, my brother and my good buddy Scott. Two of us thought we were prepared (myself and Scott), one of us knew that he was not prepared well enough. The plan was to test gear, and we should be able to get out of there fairly fast,so having one person not prepared shouldn't be a huge problem. By not prepared I mean, my brother packed two pairs of running shoes, and two pairs of everything else (cotton). He knew the problems he was going to have, as Scott and I kept warning him. He didn't see the need to be spending money on the right type of gear.

When we got there the area was deeply overcast with some low clouds. We got there around 10am. Started hiking up the fire road out of the park HQ around 10:30. Leaving park HQ, its a slow climb up a fire road for about 2 miles. At the start the fire road had about 2-3 inches of snow. 2 Miles up the road, we were in snow up to our knees. It was about 2:30pm by then and we had covered very little ground. We were also taking our time, inspecting different animal (bear, deer and something else) tracks and looking around. Still on the fire-road, we found a nice area to stop and snack. Then we continued working
our way up the road.

We finally got to the main foot trail that leads towards to the crags. By now it was about 3:15pm. The terrain had changed considerably. Now off the road and on the trail, the area was rough and sloped greatly. We took a minute to discuss the situation, and decided that if we continued we might not find a decent spot to camp in. Taking into account that night fall was coming around 5pm, we wanted to at least find a spot by 4pm, to make camp. I suggested that we go back down the road to the one area that we had stopped for a snack. Just off the road was a nice flat area, that would make a decent camp. So we headed back.

We setup camp - while setting up camp I had packed the "butane propane" under my shirt to keep it warm. After everything was settled we cooked some food with the stove I had borrowed for the trip. To my surprise the stove worked great, heating up the food and even burning some of the oatmeal. I was halfway expecting the stove to not work in the cold climate. I had brought enough bars and extra food that we could all survive off without
having the heat.

Scott and I were both completely dry and warm. We had actually stripped down to our base layers because of the warmth from hiking. I had my base layer as a shirt and snow pants for my legs - I knew I would get warm so I didn't even bother with my pants base layer. My brother (Matt) on the other hand was cold, his core was fine and warm, with some light sweat, but his feet were soaked as well as his pants up to his knees. Scott and I stomped out a path for Matt to take when he needed to pee, so that he could walk on his dry shoes with his dry gear without getting it wet. We also stomped out an area for the tent and
cooking. My brother changed into his dry clothes, but kept complaining his feet were cold. He insisted that they were not real cold, but weren't warming up. We sent him to bed in the other half of my Kelty double wide 20F rated bag, telling him to hold his feet with his hands to warm them.

Scott and I were off to hang the food bag from a tree branch. We found a spot a good 200 yards from our camp. This perhaps was the most entertaining aspect of this trip. We tried the underhanded tosses to get the bag of snow with a rope attached over a decent branch, but kept failing at this miserably. It was not until I threw it baseball style that I actually got the bag over the part we wanted. We tied the food bag on to the rope along with the bag of cooking utensils (pots and pans), as well as any lip balm, deorderent and just about anything that had any type of scent on it. When we started pulling the bag of
food up, the rope snapped. So after tying a better knot, we tried again. We got it over! Then the knot that we had tied together the two pieces of rope got stuck. So we pulled the rope out again and tried with the different (longer section). Finally we got it. We were having a good time.

When we got back to camp, my brother was asleep, so I woke him up, to check on him and to see how his feet were doing. He and his feet were both fine. He stayed in his bag for the night. Scott and I still wanting to test our gear, just sat down outside and talked, seeing if we were going to get cold or not. We didn't. I assume and according to weather sites, it got down to 33F that night.

The tent I brought is a Kelty Gunnison2, 2 person backpacking tent, yet there were three grown-men to our group. We laid down our foam sleeping pads. 2 of them side by side, length ways in the tent and one at the end of them cross ways. Then we laid a fleece blanket over all 3 pads. We slept two people the same way, with the third person between them sleeping head to toe. We were snug!

About 12:30 in the morning it started raining. The rain did not let up till about 5am. I was impressed with my tent. Then I had to pee. It was still coming down but not to hard. I wasn't going to bother putting my snow pants back on. So I hopped out of the tent, stepped into my hiking shoes and walked down the path we had made, with my flash light in hand. It was bright enough that I didn't actually turn it on. I have to admit, I was spooked. With the bear prints we had seen earlier, at any sound I was turning around
expecting a black bear to be there. The pee went fine and I headed back to bed. I didn't sleep real well that night, because my head was downhill on the little slope we were on, and because every time I heard something outside the tent, I expect a bear to attack the tent and drag my body out to be eaten.

Something I failed to notice when I came back in the tent, was that the vestibules tent stake had been staked into the snow by somebody (not me) and had come un-done. This allowed the tents rain fly to collapse and sit against the tent. This allowed for the transfer of moisture between the tent and the rain fly. In the early morning we all were awake the tent had just begun to get went on the inside. We all got up quickly and dressed, rolled our bags up and started taking down the tent. At this time, we also discovered that the vestibules do little to keep water out of your gear. They protect it from rain coming down but not water seeming underneath. All of our packs were soaked through, to some degree.

We decided that with the wet tent, my brothers only dry pair of clothes he was wearing, that we were not going to stay another night, and not going to push on farther up the trail. We had tested our gear as we had planned to. We had proven all the information that I had researched and gathered from this site to be correct and accurate. It was time to head back. Scott and I went and got the food bag (didn't notice any bear prints around the area). We ate some snack bars and decided that we would eat something warm later down the trail. But I am stubborn and wanted some coffee. So I once again warmed up the fuel
canister, by shoving it in my shirt and warming it with my hands. When I went to heat up some water, I noticed that even with the valve fully open, we were barely getting a flame.I spent this time to point out that flaws of using compressed gas to heat in the cold.

In the 3 hours of hiking up the trail that we did the day before, it took us only about 45 minutes to get down it and back to the car. Everybody had enjoyed the trip, even my brother, who had knew he was going un-prepared.

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FACTS LEARNED:

Most the advice if not all - from trailspace.com that you can gather from the forums, can take a city kid (like me) and prepare him adequately enough to survive a night in reasonable comfort, that a normal person would never in their right mind think of going on a hike and camping in.

I need a light down sleeping bag, that packs up small. The synthetic I have is warm, but no good for backpacking, to heavy and large.

I also need to get a liquid fuel stove!

A two person tent, should never sleep more then 2 people. 1 person is perfect with gear!

I need to pack my pack better, so that what I need is reachable when I need it. Having the huge sleeping bag did make this harder then it should have been.

When people say "doesn't work well" or chance of failure - bet on that item failing completely or not working at all.

Fear of death is healthy, fear of getting attacked by bears or other wild animals when all precautions are taken, doesn't make for a good nights sleep.
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MY GEAR LIST:

Jansport Endevor 88 Pack - $60 sports chalet
Kelty Gunnison2 Tent - $90 sports chalet
Kelty Stratosphere Doublewide Sleeping bag 20F rate
(for the trip we split it in two) - $80 reioutlet.com
Some Primus compressed fuel stove. - $free (borrowed)
GSI bugaboo camp cook set. $40 campmor.com

Wicking underwear. $5 target
PepperSkin long sleeve base layer. $16 campmor.com
PepperSkin pants base layer. $12 sports chalet
Wigwam wicking/wool hiking socks. $8 a pair - campmor.com
Generic Merino wool hiking socks (over the wigwams) $8 a pair from big5
Merrel Switchback waterproof leather hiking shoe. $125 - altreck
Snowboarding pants with vents on inner theigh, and built-in snow gators. - $50 sports chalet
Thinner wool sweater. - $20 Gotchocs
Columbia fleece. - $15 ROSS
Columbia rain jacket (has many vents but not insulating). - $15 ROSS
Campmor bennie. - $5
Sirus Ninja Mask!! - actually a neck gator or face guard. - $11 campmor.com
Generic wool fingerless gloves from Campmor! - $6 campmor.com
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I plan on writing reviews on the equipment that I have used for this trip. Also sorry about any spelling errors or type'o's. And poor English usage. I don't have MS word to check spelling and I have generally poor English word usage.

I will also post some pictures from the trip, once my hosting site is back up again!

2:18 a.m. on January 13, 2008 (EST)
9 reviewer rep
37 forum posts

Wow! That was a rather lengthy trip report.

But as promised here are the photo's. (some of them anyway).

I will try to shorten the reports up some in the future.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/hazex3/sets/72157603699321778/show/

10:51 a.m. on January 14, 2008 (EST)
0 reviewer rep
169 forum posts

Nice trip report! Your lessons learned section will doubtless be of value to other inexperienced folks looking to head out into the winter!

I think some of your vestibule observations can be attributed to a) you were on snow b) it was above freezing - so the weight of the packs on the snow melted it - soaking your stuff. A plastic sheet under your gear would have kept it dry.

Your decision to head out of the woods was wise indeed - had you stayed out the ill prepared member of your party may well have gotten in trouble - which really would have added stress to your situation. Most people are stubborn and will try to "tough it out" - sometimes with tragic or at least darned uncomfortable consequences.

As for the tent - you'll read (fairly often) of high altitude mountaineers packing 3+ people into a 2 person tent - typically at "high" camps - in this instance comfort really isn't an issue - you're just trying to shelter yourself and others from the wind and cold - it's more survival than anything else - so you're willing to play sardine for a night or two - but for backpacking - especially when the weather is going to be wet and cold - I'd stick with a larger tent for three people.

Your report, by the way, wasn't to long - you covered your points well, gave background information and included a good lessons learned section - kudos for doing a good job!

So - when are you headed out into the snow again?

1:50 p.m. on January 14, 2008 (EST)
9 reviewer rep
37 forum posts

"So - when are you headed out into the snow again?"

Well there are only 3 of us that are prepared for the snow, myself, my buddy scott and my lady. At this point, I think its going to be as soon as posible.

Only problem is, my lady cannot get off work (waitress) unless she requests 2 weeks in advance. With the weather conditions during winter and the posibility of bad weather coming in with less then a weeks notice makes it hard to plan. This trip was actually planned for last week, but that bad storm hit California. My lady had requested the time off, and spent that weekend just sitting around doing nothing (I did take her to a movie and indoor ice skating). I think that experience made her more weary of requesting time off to go camping in winter (money is tight).

October 20, 2014
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