I came to early in the morning, as usual. Eyes still closed, my first sense to fire was hearing. Something was pinging off the hydrophobic surface of my tarp. It wasn’t rain. Rain made more of a “splat!” sound. My next instinct was that it was something falling from the trees. Back home, needles falling from tall pines made a similar sound on the thin layer of protection I called a shelter.
We weren’t back home though, and this was the farthest thing from a pine forest I’d ever been in. Curious, I slowly opened my eyes and exposed my sense of vision to the new day. It was cold, but that was nothing new. It had been cold every morning since we’d started. I tried to investigate without getting out of my warm quilt, but I couldn’t see anything falling from the open side of my tarp. Reluctantly, I stuck my hand outside. Still, nothing.
Confused, and maybe a little irritated that I couldn’t figure out what was attacking my roof, I struggled out of my quilt. I haphazardly threw on my Chaco’s, and crawled out from under my tarp to see something entirely unexpected.
A Turn of Weather
Snow flurries followed us all day that day. Instead of the usual warm sun of the desert thawing us out, we remained chilled. Although the flurries would dissipate, the cold would haunt us for the rest of this stretch.
I suppose we should have expected this. It’s February after all, and we’re gaining elevation. It’s bound to be colder up here. Maybe it’s my stubbornness, or maybe I’m a little bit dumb, but I never really had any doubt that we could handle the weather we were faced with. Those two things could certainly be factors in my optimism, but something else was also at play here. We had a plan.
From Lordsburg, it would be a five day resupply to get to Silver City. It was only a 77 mile stretch, and we could theoretically do it in four. We had done our research though, and located two places along the way that would host us indoors. There was potential for a heated space, and certainty for wind protection. Even if it meant two days under ten miles, how could we pass that up?
Despite how great of a plan we had yet again cooked up, there was one hiccup to it. The night before we would get to our first indoor stop would be the coldest one we’ve slept out in yet. With a predicted low of 19 degrees Fahrenheit, I spent most of that day plotting how to keep myself warm in my 20 degree quilt. I braced myself for a cold, unpleasant night, in which I’d probably get very little sleep. I was getting ready to suffer.
Sure, it had been cold most nights so far, and I had been able to sleep just fine. I used a liner for my quilt, put up my tarp to break the wind, and wore my down layers to sleep in. I still had one more trick up my sleeve that I had yet to use. The hot water bottle.
People commonly boil water and put it in a water bottle to keep in their sleeping bags at night during cold spells. I’ve tried it before, and it works really well. I had never put it to the test in weather that would be as cold as was predicted though. Tonight would be an excellent trial.
The Coldest Night on Trail
I sit cross legged atop my sleeping pad, watching the liter of water boil in my Toaks titanium pot just out from under my tarp. The moon was already shining through the desert trees, and the others were already sleeping. I waited as long as I could to make my hot water bottle, so it would last through the coldest part of the night.
For the first time in roughly 36 hours, the air is still and a familiar silence settles over our campsite. I finish boiling my water and take it off my small camp stove. Letting it cool seems counterintuitive, but if I dump boiling water into my thin plastic smart water bottle, it could melt it. The water would escape from its container and soak my down quilt. Then, I’d be cold AND wet, a recipe for disaster in the backcountry.
Carefully I pour the water into the small mouth of the plastic bottle, cap it, wrap it in my mid layer, and pull it into my quilt. I wrap myself around it’s warmth in the fetal position and close my eyes. I’m going to survive this night, I tell myself. Slowly, I drift off to sleep.
I was awoken by my bladder at about 1:30. I argued with myself about getting up to pee, and while I did so a group of coyotes howled at the bright, half full moon. They sounded close, if I had my headlamp on and walked about fifty feet I probably could have seen them. After a few minutes, the ceased howling and I struggled my way out of my warm quilt to relieve myself.
I didn’t bring my headlamp. Even only half full, and covered by a thin layer of cloud, the moon was bright enough to see by. Just a few steps away from my tarp, I bare my ass to empty my bladder. There is no wind, and I think to myself, it’s not nearly as cold as I thought it would be. I don’t bother reheating my water bottle. Turns out, “20 degrees feels like 10” is no big deal for this New Hampshire native.
The next night, we stayed at an RV park known as the Burrow Mountain Homestead. The owner allowed us to sleep on the floor of the (heated!) activity room. He also invited us to a potluck dinner in the homestead building with the winter residents of the park. We gratefully accepted, of course, and we’re blown away with how friendly and charismatic everyone was. The food was also delicious, and we slept warm, safe, and with full bellies that night.
Our next stop was the Ravenswing Farm. They’ve only been open to hikers for one season, but these people have it figured out! Page and Gabe work for themselves, building their dream home and micro brewery on a massive property in the countryside of New Mexico. They share their land with multiple dogs, horses, chickens, goats, and even a goose. The brewery is run out of a large metal building with garage doors, decorated with antiques. Old gas and wood stoves that still function, metal tables and shelves supporting a wide array of canned goods. All of it looked so beautifully rustic. A string of lights stretched out from the building and made a sort of courtyard out front. A fire pit surrounded by stumps would serve as a gathering place in less windy weather. We all indulge in Page and Gabe’s home brew. They even have an Elderberry and Honey fizz drink that’s nonalcoholic for me.
Our hosts allowed us to sleep in another small corrugated metal building on their property. It seemed to serve primarily as a workshop, but it would suit or needs of shelter just fine. It also had a small wood stove in the middle that we could use to keep the place warm.
Northward to Silver City!
Over the next couple days we closed the gap between us and Silver City. We could see some weather moving in, and planned for yet another town vortex. This time, we’d be waiting out snow and rain, and keeping an eye on the height and flow of the Gila River, our next big obstacle.
Until next time, be sure to check out NAMI NH! I will be fundraising for them during this hike. You can learn more about them and donate via the links on my homepage or in the footer!