Cuyamaca Peak January 2013 Trip Report
Snowless Winter Camp
© January 2013 Adam Helman

Note: Mouse-click images for enlargement.


As noted in my October Cuyamaca Peak report I shall return to Denali in June. Not wishing to spend gasoline on another 1,000 mile journey to and from Flagstaff (for colder overnight temperatures), I entertain multiple trips to Cuyamaca Peak for both a review of winter camping methods and to snowshoe with sled and a full-size pack. For all of these desirables the peak's 6,512 foot summit and an area surrounding the campground parking lot, some 1,650 feet below, are deficient substitutes for colder venues - venues that sadly cost a lot more to reach. A tradeoff.

There is no snow. I will "pretend", going through the same motions as if there were snow on the ground, including an overnight camp. I have chosen the best weather day in several, and anticipate no issues in that regard.

Trip Details

Campsite 21 is selected, and despite the 50° F temperature of late morning erect the three season tent wearing gloves. Then too I am wearing double plastic mountaineering boots with gaiters as garnish. They are surely ungainly, and I am concerned that extensive walking could bring hot spots to my feet.

At 12:40 p.m. I depart uphill, towing a nearly empty orange expedition sled secured to my overnight pack with a pair of nonlocking carabiners. There's a climbing rope inside the sled duffel. Pack weight is 30 pounds or just a bit more. Adding to the craziness I am wearing glacier glasses and have a pair of ski poles as I hike up the asphalted fire road to the summit - again, without any snow whatsover!

This IS nuts. However it's also great exercise as I break my own promise, to myself, of enjoying the affair by not overdoing the speed. Instead I reach the top in 1.2 hours, corresponding to a 1,375 feet / hour ascent rate - not too shabby for carrying 30 pounds, wearing those ridiculous heavy boots, and the small load behind me.

The day is gorgeous. I spend a most leisurely time enjoying views on-top (actually, 20 feet lower in a wide, flat area with new buildings), having peanut butter with honey inside a large French roll.

Leaving after a half hour I am back at camp around 3:30 p.m. - and continue in pretend mode by offloading stuff into my tent for the night. I have triaged items into a stuff sack for just items that only get used in the tent; dry clothing in a plastic bag that get swapped for damp clothing after activity (this will be a dedicated stuff sack on Denali); a stuff sack for extra clothing used the next morning.

Eyeglasses, headlamp and climbing harness are special cases. Regular eyeglasses might be worn in the relatively dark hours of early morning while in-motion, yet are essential for inside the tent. I want the climbing harness available inside the tent for putting on the next day (with supple fingers), yet it could be wet and thus improper to place in a (dry clothing) sack. The headlamp is simply not taken onto Denali, yet essential tonight beginning soon after sundown.

I am trying to make winter camping exercise details something I am so used to
performing that it becomes automatic - like brushing one's teeth in the morning.

Email is checked on my smartphone around 4 p.m, learning the latest updates from Rob Woodall as we continue to plan for South America in one year. Then too there's still discussion of how to best compensate one another for the recent Hawaii trip. I call mother.

A bag of store-purchased crushed ice is used to produce water, consuming both fuel and time - yet simulating what's required on a glacier where snow is an abundant resource. Thereby around 5:30 p.m. I enjoy a filling supper with "stroganoff beef" pasta and creamy Velveeta cheese sauce. Some onion is sliced in, and I experiment even with dill pickle into the mix. Honestly, the pickles are better by themselves!

Advance Base Camp (ABC) on
Everest's north side (21,000 feet).

Now it's getting dark, and with nothing left to do outdoors dive into the tent where I have a real treat in store - a new DVD player as Hanukkah gift from my parents! There's a DVD with two episodes of the series "Everest - Beyond the Limit", and both are enjoyed through 7:45 p.m. I've encircled myself with electronic gadgets, they just keep on accumulating in my life without a purposeful effort to do such.

Email is once again checked, and I prepare milk to have with cookies and candy from a small plastic jar that I've dubbed "mini Cozy".

I cannot actually sleep until after midnight, it's hard to do such before my normal bedtime. The cube root of 37 is determined in a most fascinating and clever manner, once again, and the result is verified using a (free) scientific calculator application on my smartphone.

After midnight a coyote starts howling maybe 1,000 feet away in the direction of Highway 79. It continues unabated for over one half hour - most annoying when I am trying to finally sleep.

Jacketed water bottles lay inside the bag along with the smartphone in my jacket's zippered pocket. I forget to also insulate the urine bottle - also inside. The bag is rated to -20° F so I am quite warm.

Generic climber at Mount Everest
as seen on tonight's entertainment.

I plan to arise at 6 a.m. by first light. Yet after checking Email around 5 a.m. (I am sleeping very poorly) and calling mother I exit this cocoon at 5:48 a.m. and commence the ritual of getting ready to break down camp and "move".

Damp clothing, drying overnight atop the sleeping bag's base are placed into the plastic clothing bag; while donning the fresh, dry clothing (socks, innermost shirt and pants, thigh support). The (dry) weightlifting belt was put on soon after returning from the summit.

The seat harness is put on before wearing a heavy outer pants layer that, with side-zippers, will be removed before moving out. These items are ingested - vitamin pills, aspirin, Diamox (in 'pretend' mode) and a pill of the amino acid lysine (antiviral, also not actually eaten). Anti-fogging chemical is supposedly applied to my glacier glasses, while also liberally using lip balm and sunscreen lotion.

Damn plastic boots are again worn. How absurd. I am temped to eat breakfast yet just want to get going. So I stuff all of those sacks and my sleeping bag into the backpack, break down the tent and then place everything back into the camper shell. The entire affair consumes two hours.

Back home by around 10:30 a.m. I reorganize, perform errands, and, being very tired, don't accomplish much at all apart from eating a lot of orange chicken with stir-fried cabbage and plenty of cashews. A bottle of Manischewitz cherry wine guarantees that today is indeed one of enjoyment and relaxation. It's extremely sweet, enjoyed with dark chocolate chips and assorted cookies.

The lessons learned from this short excursion -