Monday, November 10, 2014

52. When There's a Tarp at the Shelter

Here is how I once described shelters:

A word regarding the nature of "shelters" on the trail. Shelters are NOT lodges, hotels, or anything other than a cobbled together mountain shoebox. There is no heat, water, bathroom or any amenity other than mice, who will cuddle with you for the low, low cost of the privilege of destroying all your food supplies and toilet paper. Shelters are little more than stone or wooden lean-tos. Sleeping in a shelter is like sleeping in a marginally drier tent, alongside 10 of your new best friends, all of whom were strangers to you earlier in the day, 3 of whom snore like oncoming freight trains and 1 of whom is more gaseous than the Hindenburg. Shelters have only 3 walls and are drafty and freezing, but they provide some slight protection from the more intense elements. There are usually one or two wooden floors, where everyone jams their sleeping bags together and settles in for a cozy night of getting routinely kicked in the nuts.

I rather liked shelters in the winter, as it became very quickly apparent that setting up and taking down one's tent when it's below freezing is extremely unpleasant. Trying to disassemble a frigid metal tent skeleton feels like trying to hold hands with an ice demon. Not to mention the fact that you can get completely buried in snow in your tent and have to dig your way out or suffocate.

Shelters are great!

However, as I mentioned, they're only 3 sided. Which means that if the weather is bad enough, the shelter just becomes a funnel for wind and snow. However, in some of the worst weather, we got lucky enough to come across shelters with a tarp hung up over the opening. How much different would a tarp make? You ask, or so I imagine, because I cannot see you, and it's possible you are reading this from a different dimension where tarps are 6-inch thick blankets made of the finest, most robust alpaca hair. But assuming you're from this dimension, where tarps are just made of, well, tarp, then you might want to know how much difference they would make. 

The answer is: quite a lot of difference.

Here is Mollie's Ridge Shelter from the outside:

Here it is on the inside:

Here is the inside again, where you can see the small opening where the tarp does not completely cover the opening:

Let's look at that again, a little more closely:

Again, outside:


Look at the steam coming off those guys!

Now, I should clarify that the tarp did not make anything any warmer, but it did take away the wind chill and wetness factor, which makes a difference when there's a blizzard going on. I was always so grateful whenever we pulled up on a shelter, shivering and damp, to find that at least we were going to be able to spend the night in something that had some vague approximation of 4 walls. 

This made a huge difference the night that 10 people all had to squeeze into a 6 person shelter in the middle of an ice storm. Hotdog only had a hammock, which means that she had no sleeping pad, which means that sleeping on the wooden planks of a shelter would probably cause her bum to freeze solid, fall off her backside, pack a suitcase and skip town, leaving Hotdog sadly bumless for the rest of her life. In the other shelters there had been enough space for her to be able to hang up her hammock across the open space in front of the sleeping platforms. However, in this 6-person shelter, there was just barely enough space for her to hang across the opening of the shelter, against the tarp. The wind was blowing so hard all night that the tarp was routinely bending in and out, causing her hammock to rock back and forth... like a baby being rocked to sleep, if the baby was being rocked to sleep by a monster.

The tarp is blown-out with light in the photo, but you can kinda see it!

A different angle on this. Otto actually hiked on! This was before we knew him
very well.
At another point, the weather had let up a bit, and we came across a shelter early in the day. Not wanting to risk it, we decided to stop early and take advantage of the sunshine.

Having a tarp also made it possible to be able to build a fire in the small fireplaces that some of the stone shelters had. Without the tarp, the winds would be far too strong to be able to make a decent fire. Fires were absolutely necessary to be able to literally unfreeze soaked and frozen solid hiking boots.

If you ever do any winter hiking in an area with shelters, and you have space in your pack, bring a tarp. It's possible you could save someone's life. Or at least, make a very nice sailboat.

Clever Girl

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