The plan seemed simple. A Valentine’s Day-kick the winter blues-overnight in the Catskills. Head two miles up the Kelly Hollow Cross Country Ski Trail to a lean-to shelter, make some killer romantic food and spend the night in zip together sleeping bags in the back country. If the going was too rough, or it got too cold for out taste, it was only two miles…an easy hike out and back to the car. The plan seemed so simple.
Things started going wrong the day before the trip. Graham was going to pick up some last minute essentials (and a Valentine’s gift of an REI Habanara winter sleeping bag for Cheryl) before leaving work. Distracted right before he left, he accidentally left the sleeping bag behind. Now instead of methodically packing, that night found them running back to REI to grab the forgotten sleeping bag and eating a less than romantic dinner at the bar of Applebees. No worries, we’ll just wake up early, pack our packs, and roll out for the ‘Skills. After all we’re seasoned professionals, we’ve packed for trips a thousand times before.
We woke up early…ish. Hoping, to be packed and on the road by 11:00am. Instead, at 11:00 Graham is sounding stressed and irritable, “It’s a two and a half hour drive, and we’re not even finished packing yet.”
Cheryl knows whats going on here, “I’m finished packing except for the food so I’m going to go out and get some egg sandwiches, you’re starting to get cranky” (After all Graham must have his morning zen).
Finally, two hours behind schedule, we loaded Graham’s Subaru Impreza (aka the Adventure Mobile) with cross country skis, snow shoes and all the other gear we thought we would need for a winter overnight. At last, somewhere about 1:00pm we were on the road, and it was snowing.
After negotiating the interstates North and some sketchy-at-best local roads we reached the trail head. Two days ago, a storm had brought well over a foot of snow and we had driven through on going snow to reach the beginning of our two mile trip. It was 5:00pm, the snow was deep, and we assessed our situation. We decided it was so deep we would ditch the skis for snow shoes and push forward, after all it was only two miles to our destination and we still had at least an hour of daylight.
Cheryl was the first into her snow shoes and to test the trail, “It’s deep, but there are plenty of trail blazes.”
“Are you sure your comfortable?”, Graham asked. “It’s going to be full on dark soon.”
“I’m good.”, she replied.
Out on the trail it was clear it was going to be tough going. There were no previous tracks the snow. Even in snow shoes, we were post holing shin deep. We pushed on, taking turns breaking trail, as dark closed in. At first we were grasped by the sense of adventure, and our usual promise of a good meal at trail’s end. In the dark we continued, following trail blazes that reflected the glow of our head lamps. Our pace eventually slowed, set back by deep snow, cold appendages, and (ironically), lack of caloric intake. At every switch of leader, we checked with each other; “How are you feeling?” ,“Are you cold?”, “Are you comfortable with the situation?”
Three hours out, we had not yet found the lean to and had reached a point where no clear way was discernible ahead. Not a trail blaze was to be seen and in the dark there where no landscape contours that would give us a bearing on a map. It was hard to tell exactly where we were or how far we had come to get there. The wind was freshening and puffing our words into the cold, we discussed our options; 1.) Continue on, hopefully finding trail blazes again that would lead us to the shelter in the dark. 2.) Find a level spot, off the ridge line with some wind protection, set up our tent and bivy for the night. 3.) Head back along the already broken trail to the car.
We decided to back track and make our way to the car. Graham set a quick tempo back, head down, putting each foot into the foot print already placed in the snow. He was focused only on the halo of his headlamp, and how the “sluff-whump” sound of his snow shoes combined with the rhythm of his breathing. When Cheryl lead, she did the same, dragging her trekking poles carelessly behind her. Thanks to the “ let’s get the H-E-Double-Toothpicks outta here!” pace what had taken three hours out, miraculously took only 45 minutes to get back. With Graham’s head lamp on it’s last leg, and Cheryl’s left leg cramping we had made it back to the trail head and the car. Now what?
We started the Impreza for a quick blast of heat, changed into some dry layers and starting arranging gear so we could sleep inside. Soon, settled and warm in the the back, Cheryl sliced our appetizer of Chorico Sausage and Manchego Cheese paired with a Spanish Riojo. Meanwhile, between bites and sips, Graham was putting the finishing touches on a Chicken Mole that not only satisfied our hunger, but touched on the romantic with it’s combination of aphrodisiac ingredients. We loaded the Mole with rice into ingeniously folded tortillas and put them in our faces. The use of tortillas meant that there were no bowls to wash, and the pots were easily scrubbed out with snow. All cleaned up, we settled into our sleeping bags in the back of the “Adventure Wagon” and slept as well as if we were in our own bed.
Around 8:00 the next morning we poked our heads from the warmth of our sleeping bags into the 13 degree morning. With a smile at each other we reviewed the lessons learned. Don’t under estimate how long it will take you to pack, how hard it will be to travel in the snow, or the ability to navigate in the dark. We learned in an emergency situation the Subie will work as a temporary shelter. The most important lesson, though not just for the trail, is to remember to communicate often and honestly. Without that communication, any trip has the potential to be a disaster. Instead we woke up cozy and warm and able to laugh about our not so epic adventure. Happy Valentine’s Day!
- 2 Cups of Water
- 1/2 Cup of quick cook rice
- 1/4 Cup Freeze Dried Tomatoes
- 1 Tblsp. Freeze Dried Onion
- 1 Tblsp. Freeze Dried Sweet Peppers
- 1 Teasp. Freeze Dried Chilis (we used jalapanos)
- 1 Teasp. Dried Cilantro
- 1/2 Teasp. Granulated Garlic
- 1/2 Teasp. Dried Oregano
- 1/2 Teasp. Ground Cumin
- 1/2 Teasp. Sesame Seeds
- 1/4 Teasp. Ground Cinnamon
- 1/4 Teasp. Chili Powder
- 1 Tblsp. Unsweetened Cocoa Powder (use a high quality cocoa, it’s worth it!)
- 1 Chipolte Pepper in Adobo-Diced Fine
- 1 Tblsp. Tomato Paste
- 1 squeeze package of Peanut Butter with Chocolate (we used Peanut Butter & Co. Dark Chocolate Dreams, you could use Justin’s Nut Butter too)
- 1 pkg (.49 oz.) Concentrated Chicken Broth (we use Swanson Flavor Boost-no msg, you could also use a bullion cube)
- 4 oz Canned Chicken (pre cooked chicken used to come in a pouch, but we haven’t seen it in a while, you could substitute freeze dried)
Before you head out: Put the rice in a zip lock bag. In another zip lock you can combine the rest of the dry ingredients. In a small sealable container you can put the diced chipolte and tomato paste. The other ingredients all pack just fine.
At camp: This is a two stover. In one stove start your rice with 1 cup of water. In the other stove (one that has a good simmer) bring the other cup of water to a boil and add all you other ingredients. Reduce to a simmer and cook until your freeze dried veggies are tender, about 10-15 minutes. If it looks like the sauce is getting too thick just add some water. When everything is done, serve the Mole over rice. For easy clean up spoon everything into tortillas and wrap it up.
One stove option: Put both cups of water into your pot, bring to a boil and add ALL of your ingredients. Reduce to a simmer and cook until your rice and veggies are tender. If things start looking too goopy, adjust by adding water as needed.