Growing up, I didn’t camp. Up until a few years ago the idea of camping turned me completely off. But one day I got it in my head that I needed to try camping. After suggesting it to my always-up-for-anything husband, we began collecting the basic camping gear needed and before I knew it we were hiking into the woods for our first camping experience. I loved it. Turns out I’m a natural camper. I like poking at the fire, setting up the tent, and I sleep like the dead when I’m in nature. Of course it took a few tries for us to get the hang of it.
Our first night camping took place in May at White Ranch Park in my home state of Colorado. We hiked in about a mile and set up camp. The campfire was fantastic! We walked around since we were the only people there, which was curious. Neither of us had camped before, so we didn’t know most Coloradans start camping in June, because there are still winter temperatures in May. It was cold, like freezing, and there was a hail storm. We also didn’t know that sleeping pads are not just an option, they are a necessity. My husband brought an old piece of thick foam to sleep on. I did not. So I awoke shaking in the middle of the night. (Yay, hypothermia!) I crawled next to my husband on his pad and warmed up enough to go to sleep. Our alarm clock the next morning was a frisky grouse doing a wild dance around the campsite for his potential mate. (Adorable) We watched him for a while then hopped up, made a fire and breakfast, then hiked out. We had a great time, hypothermia and all. Lesson learned: Do not camp without a sleeping pad.
We were more prepared for our next camping trip with new gear. We decided to hike Conundrum Creek Trail in Aspen, CO, up to Conundrum Hot Springs. The trail is about eight miles uphill to the springs. With 35-pound packs, the hike was challenging, beautiful, but challenging. The views were amazing. Every mile or so the landscape completely changes, from grassy plains, to Lord of the Rings woodsy, to streams you have to cross by walking on narrow planks, to bouldering over stretches of rock. By the time we made it to the lower campsite we were both pooped (okay, I was almost crying). We made haste setting up camp, then had a quick dinner (with a cocktail), and eventually passed out. I don’t know that I’ve ever slept as soundly as I did that night. In the morning we hiked another half mile to the springs and soaked for a while (it was lukewarm and muddy, so I don’t recommend it), then it was back to camp for breakfast and a five-hour hike out. Lesson learned: Unless my life is on the line, I’m not willing to hike uphill with a 35-pound backpack for eight hours ever again.
Next we tried winter camping at Reynold’s Park in Conifer, CO. Armed with REI’s warmest everything, we hiked in a mile to the campsite and set up. Yes, there was ice and snow, but the campsites were empty other than the two of us. We built a fire and had a visit from the park ranger, who was impressed that we were staying overnight. It was definitely cold, but we had a quiet, peaceful night. The scenery was wintery beautiful and it’s one of my favorite memories. Lesson learned: When winter camping take your bottle of water to bed with you and keep it in your sleeping bag, lest you wake up to a bottle of ice.
Our latest camping trip was to Venable & Comanche Trail loop in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. This was going to be a three-day backpacking trip, stopping every two to three miles to camp. Notice I said “going to be”. We had whittled our packs down about five pounds from the Conundrum trip and thought we were prepared to go the distance. Starting on the Comanche side of the loop, supposedly the easier way up, the trail was very steep but gorgeous. No wildlife that we saw, but it’s a pretty busy trail so not really a surprise. Occasionally we took breaks to enjoy the streams and being in nature. However, after two hours we were exhausted from the weight of the packs and the climb, and had only gone about two miles. That’s when my husband and I looked at each other and said, “What the fuck are we doing? What are we trying to prove? This sucks. Let’s go home.” So we did. Lesson learned: We are not backpackers. We are campers.