THE NIGHT I MET THE COLDEST MOMENT IN MY ENTIRE LIFE.
The Nyquil gel tablets I choked down with boiled-snow-noodle-water kicked in around 1am.
This was AFTER our exploding dinner catastrophe* (stupid, embarrassing, dangerous- more on this below),
AFTER crying actual frozen tears because I was surely going to die (again, I’ll elaborate below),
and AFTER the realization that I would never summit the next day without at least a tiny wink of sleep.
Thus the decision to self-medicate.
Almost exactly 1 hour after I had finally fallen into a drug induced slumber, I was awakened by *POP* and a sting across my face like someone had reared back a leather bullwhip.
My groggy eyes scanned our tent.
It was shaking fiercely like we were being tossed about in a stampede.
Richard was hovering over me with his 6’8” wingspan stretched out, literally giving his all to hold the walls back as they were rampaging.
A tent pole had snapped past his attempts scalding my cheek.
With the wind roaring like a wild beast ripping our tent to shreds, Richard finally accepted defeat in the reality that a severe storm had moved upon the mountain and was absolutely owning us.
In all his trademark “everything’s fine” Richardy calmness, he gazed down upon my welted face, arms still spread amidst the chaotic spiraling backdrop, with a simple “Think it’s a good time for us to head on home now.”
You know, no big deal, like in those high dollar action movies when your favorite antagonist just slow motion walks away, carefully applying swag sunglasses, and checking his dimples in a passing airborne windshield, while the whole world is apocalyptically exploding behind him. 💁That's Richard.
The weather worsened and staying here could equal the ULTIMATE defeat for us. And I don´t mean not summiting. I mean.. defeated forever...
There was no time to pack up, so we hastily agreed to zip up our packs, sleeping bags, and everything else inside the tent, turning it into a quasi sled. This way we could huck it all back to a concrete bathroom we had passed farther down the trail.
We suited up, Richard held at the door, gloved hand at zipper, then intently looked at me through his goggles and bakalave,
“Ok. You Ready?”
I laugh excitedly…(maybe nervously) and nod, we both rush out.
Then- I’ll never forget this moment as long as I live- just as I stepped out of the flapping door, the ferocious wind reached in, snatched our water boiling pot from inside our tent and sucked it up into the air. The two of us hunkered there in the snow, speechless, as our pot hurled up and away into oblivion, flipping and spinning out of control into the distance until we could no longer see it. It was like one of those huge junkyard magnets had activated above the mountain ridge.
Richard grabbed the tent in the front and I clutched on in the rear.
That was the extent of our plan.
The wind gusts were 75 mph. (In my amateur weather-lady estimate)
It took all the might I had in me to keep gripped to our flailing tent-turned-parachute.
Shrapnel was flinging off our tent like confetti. At times I would unexpectedly drop down between rocks under the snow, tread my way back to my feet, and continue to hustle forward refusing to lose our gear to the wind.
A gust filled with ice shards would blast through so strong it would swipe BOTH my feet out from under me, catching air with my parasail-tent, and belly flopping onto the snow.
Loosing my breath.
Still I clenched onto our precious camping goods.
I remember everything was so jumbled and dark- besides the snow. I wasn’t able to see anything around or in front of me. Just darkness, intensity, and confusion. (Which, by the way, is a recipe straight out of the Cookbook for Disasters.)
We could not communicate with each other at all because the flapping and raging wind was so intensely deafening.
With barely any awareness of which way was up, I was just following on blind faith that Richard was leading us to safety….
I mean, considering Richard was even still there at all, and not hurled into the sky like our pot!
I also vividly remember a long, thick, frozen segment of my hair that had escaped my hat and was incessantly slapping me over and over and over in a very violent manner as if the wild wind gave it a demon possessed mind of its own.
I remember this because the more it slapped, the more it hurt, not to mention was also incredibly annoying.
There was a split second when I thought to myself, surely this must be a tactic used when torturing someone…
We finally made it to the small 6x6 bathroom barricade and rushed in.
At this point the struggle had been so extreme that my hair under my hat was dripping with sweat and I was boiling hot inside my mountaineering gear.
SWEAT, that evil villain that can sneak in and kill you when cold weather camping if you're not careful.
I quickly stripped down a bit and popped my mask off, heavily inhaling hordes of a thick stench seeping from the public poop hole 1 foot away from me.
I could literally TASTE hundreds of people’s excrement while trying to catch my breath.
It was better in here than out there.
Other than the MASSIVE GRIZZLY we quickly realized was hunkered in the corner sharing our shelter!
(OK not really. Just making sure you’re still with me.)
So, we waited out the storm here in the bathroom for a bit, protected (and bearless), still in one piece. Which is more than I can say for our poor little tent. (That thing had been murdered 10 times over.)
Soon the hot, steamy, sweat on my body was becoming exothermic. (That’s the fancy way of saying FRICKIN COLD).
My mid layer hanging over the sink was already forming little ice crystals.
The wind, ice, and snow that smote my entire being was no longer an issue, but NOW potential HYPERTHERMIA was! (HypOthermia? Who knows, never claimed to be a doctor, either way the definition means dangerously cold.)
YET, this wasn’t even the coldest I had ever been in my life.
That had been about 5 hours earlier in our tent.
*Now, you remember how I quickly mentioned our exploding dinner in the second sentence of this story?
Well it was actually one of the biggest FLUBS of my life and it’s taken me the length of this blog to own up to it.
SO let's back up a little..
It was COLD maybe 7 degrees with a negative somethin degree windchill? I don’t remember. I just remember I was nested up in both our sleeping bags shivering inside the tent while Richard successfully boiled a pot of snow, poured it into two large trail meal packets, ziplocked them up as TIGHTLY as he could, and brought them ~boiling hot~ into our tent.
He then inserted each of our meals inside each of our sleeping bags…
It makes sense right? Use the heat of the packets to heat up our bags so they’d be warm, and we’d be warm, and our food would still be warm when we climbed in for dinner.
We decided to enjoy a short trek while our food cooled a bit, since It was a gorgeous night (and we were completely unaware of what was stewing on the other side of the mountain).
Upon arrival back to our tent, I frolicked giddily up to the door (forgetting about our meals snug inside), and impulsively superman dove inside like I was into sliding to second base!
Since we had a tiny one man tent with two sleeping bags laying side by side, there was only ONE spot I could land.
I heard a POW POW below me, and I laid there motionless as if I’d actually been shot by the “pow pow”.
The realization of what I had just done basically paralyzed me in that moment…
yep, you guessed it.
Both of our meals, in all of their chunky soup glory, exploded under the impact of my body weight, and now painted the inside walls of our sleeping bags.
OUR SLEEPING BAGS.
Only our single most important source for warmth here in the wilderness of the Rockies. (insert like 3 “facepalm” emojis….and then insert that one emoji that looks like it's saying a bunch of swears.)
All we could do was take our soupy sleeping bags out into the snow, turn them inside out, and shake them.
Almost immediately the food contents turned to ice.
All we had left for nourishment now was a small packet of precooked noodles.
Richard had to start the boiling snow for water process all over again a second time. (Boiling snow: it’s really not as easy as it sounds when you consider you have no flat surfaces, everything is soft snow, the wind is blowing and it hurts to take your gloves off for too long, causing very limited dexterity)
Finally, we ate the bland noodles and drank the (gag me) noodle water for warmth.
Now attempting sleep in my human Chicken Teriyaki Hot Pocket, formally known as my sleeping bag, I realized the frozen sauce that had sopped into the insulation was melting with my body heat, making it even harder to retain warmth.
☝THIS, MY FRIENDS
✋IS THE PART OF THE STORY WHERE I MET THE COLDEST MOMENT I HAVE EVER EXPERIENCED IN MY ENTIRE LIFE.
The outside temperature was dropping. My body temperature was dropping too. It was like the little shivers had upgraded to full blown, involuntary convulsions, and I just KNEW I would not be able to warm up.
So what’s the right thing to do in this dire situation? Complain to Richard of course!
“Babe. Babe. BAAAABE. WAKE UP.”
“I need you to come in here with me. I’m FREEZING”
(Still salty about the salty explosion) “You’re fiiiiine. I can’t fit in there with you. Go to sleep.”
“I can’t go to sleep, you HAVE to come over here and get in my bag with me…” (getting more elevated now).. “Richard I’m not going to make it, I’m too cold!!”
I legitimately had never felt a cold in my bones like this before. I don’t know how to explain it. I've had a lot of cold (very cold) camping experiences!
But this felt different to me.
This felt dangerous to me.
Finally I resorted to pure, unabashed BEGGING.
“Richard. I’m really going to die tonight. You HAVE TO HELP ME!! I NEED your body warmth!!!”
Panicking and crying icicles now (as mentioned above),
He (who is related to the Abominable Snowman, honestly, unfazed by the cold) reluctantly shimmied out of his Chicken and Wild Rice flavored sleeping bag.
No words whatsoever.
Just heads out into the snow.
“Dang it! That’s it! He’s left me here to DIE alone!! Call my mama tell her I love ‘er!!”
(actual footage of Richard leaving me in the tent)
In reality, he went outside to boil snow for a THIRD TIME.
He carefully fills up 2 Nalgene water bottles with boiling water, tightens the lids, tosses one down at my feet, and hands over the other (wrapped in extra clothes) to hug at my chest.
“You’ll be fine.” He barely grunts out, sleepily. “Unless of course you figure out a way to pop those too.” (wah waaaaah).
Kiss on the cheek.
Back in his bag and fast asleep... ...before I could even start complaining about how unbelievably hot I was now.
The heated Nalgene bottles didn't have an 'on' or 'off' switch. Or differential heat settings. (hint hint see below)**
The boiled water bottle trick did a fantastic job of warming up my sleeping bag initially, but once I was warm, I only got warmer. There was no comfortable in between.
bottles in = too hot,
bottles out = too cold
So yea, I was no longer freezing to death,
💁 which obviously was a good thing,
but I still couldn’t sleep with the inconsistent temperatures and concern that the bottles may leak. So I popped some Nyquil, and now you can refer back to the top of the page for what happens next.
The rest of the story is history.
This was one of many trips that catapulted us into the realization that if we wanted gear that we could completely rely on for absolute, perfect warmth, comfort, and protection in the wild, we would have to make it for ourselves.
We went from cold weather camping ALL THE TIME, pulling various ‘tricks of the trade’ to keep warm in our former collection of “cold weather rated camping gear”
All the while with the common understanding that we're ‘just gonna get cold and you get through it.’
But now equipped with our Warmth Line Up by Sierra Madre , ”just getting through the cold” is a thing of the past.
I think it was the endless “sleeping bag turned edible human Hot Pocket” jokes about the night described above that led us to the actual discovery that the “Hot Pocket” ~ an insulated, heated stuff sack (minus the rice and cream sauce, of course) ~ was just exactly what the camping world was lacking and ABSOLUTELY NEEDED.
With the Hot Pocket, we’ve created the perfect camping companion that can pack, compress, and prewarm your sleeping bag, then open up as your own personal heating pad with 3 different heat settings. Basically the boiled water in a Nalgene trick, without the danger or hassle. Just Instant heat with the push of a button.
The 5 in 1 Puffle is an insulated adventure blanket with so many functional options: Sleeping Bag, Under Quilt, Top Quilt, Indoor/Outdoor Blanket, Stackable and Linkable, incredibly USABLE. We’ve tested this product everywhere from couches to cots, in tents and hammocks, over the river and through the woods to make sure that the Puffle adapts to any environment.
I’ve used mine for couch crashing, company, porch sitting, traveling in a car or airplane, snapping together for a large pic-nic blanket, in my bed as a comforter, on the sidelines at kids games or music fests, all in addition to camping.
I mean, I’m literally using mine this very second cuddled up on the couch writing this blog, after being wrapped up around the fire with my kiddos last night.
Puffle is a wonderful affordable choice for chilly weather camping and just general cozy comfort wherever you are!
The Inferno is a packable, lightweight insulation system designed to Winter-Proof your hammock & keep you toasty warm on any adventure. We designed it to perfectly fit the shape of your hammock with no bunching, clumping down, or gaping open ends like most rectangular shaped under quilts. I’ve used so many types of insulation in my life, but I’ve never experienced such perfect warmth than sleeping in my Inferno.
The Inferno is the first of our Warmth Line Up that changed the game for me. Since I began hammock camping with my Inferno, all of my cold nights are now remembered as just warm, SOLID night’s sleep on the trail in my soft, plush Inferno NEST. (haven't even "almost died" once in it! lol)
We spent such an intense amount of time, research, and testing on this to hone in the innovative technical design so it would cradle and insulate a hammock PERFECTLY, deflect the cold, and defeat the downfalls of typical quilts.
Ember is a lightweight, heated jacket that's 10X more powerful than any heated jacket on the market- that's heat you can ACTUALLY FEEL! Ember flexes and breathes, allowing you to become active outdoors when it’s cold without the thick bulk and restriction of layers. And when you’re immobile or especially cold, it offers instant heat with just the push of a button.
I run in the cold A LOT. So I was JAZZED after my first run in the Ember on a chilly day (38 degrees when this pic was taken). Because of the intelligently placed Flow Vents, my back didn't get swampy like in all my other cold weather running jackets! I was well ventilated yet so warm (never even needed to turn the heat on! But nice having it as an option for when the sweat settles).
Ember’s contoured/athletic design is SUPER FLATTERING, but we took a cue from Apple and other big players in the tech industry and invested in USB-C PD battery technology, with smart chips for regulating heat, a super material for dispersing warmth, and a sleek ergonomic battery, and THAT is what makes it truly remarkable.
So here’s what I’ve learned (and lived).
Being WARM in the chilly outdoors only makes camping MORE ENJOYABLE. Because NOBODY’S too cool to be warm in the wild. I don’t care who you are, or how tough you may be, feeling WARM when you're cold is only a GOOD thing!
Sometimes even NECESSARY for SURVIVAL, (or just to keep your significant other happy in the woods ;)
Either way, we don’t want you to have to “just get through” the cold nights. We want you to sleep through the cold nights HAPPY, WARM, and WELL RESTED.
by Juli Rhett - Sierra Madre Co-Founder, Warmth-lover