Surviving The Snow Storm in the Catskills (or how 3 idiots picked the worst day in the year to go camping)

18 03 2007

I think that the first sign that something was off occurred on Thursday, when 2 (Dimka and Tania) out of 5 people that were planning to go hiking and camping in the Catskills for 3 days, said that they were sick and were unable to go with us.

While it was certainly a big shame, as we were looking forward to having them onboard, the rest of us – me, Gerakakl’, i Ania – decided to proceed with the trip. In all fairness, Ania didn’t know about the smaller group until we picked her up on Friday morning, but I feel that the end (still getting her to go) justified the means.

Just to recap, me and Gera spend the entire Thursday night from 10pm until 3am feverishly running around, collecting stuff and equipment from people, packing everything in and just getting ready. Because of that, we were only able to leave New York at about 11am. Right about that time, it was becoming clear for the reason behind the statewide Snow Storm warning.

Day 1

The first few hours on the road went by pretty quickly. It was only 120 miles until our first destination – a camping supplies store where we had to rent snow shoes, which would allow us to walk in the snow. That part of the trip took a little longer than expected because of the increasing amount of snow on the road, but we got there at about 5pm (6 hours to cover 120 miles).

Over there, we met the person to whom we are responsible for being safe and surviving this weekend. The store owner now only rented us the snow shoes, but also gave us invaluable advice and provided us with a bit of additional poles. Although she did seem a little weirded out about us going at this time, she was a huge help.

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In addition to renting the equipment, I also purchased a pair of winter boots, since the shoes I came in were already getting a bit wet on the inside. Ultimately, I have to say that it was one of the smartest decisions (if there were any this weekend) that I made, as they saved me from getting frostbite. Gera was a living proof of how bad it could’ve been. But more about that later.

Anyways, after leaving the store at about 6pm, we had another 48 miles to go until the Burroughs Trail parking area, where we planned to leave our car and do a ~15 mile hike through a few mountains over the course of 2 days.

As we began driving, we encountered some difficulties. The first one was that the windshield on my car wound up covered in ice on the inside and out thus obstructing my view.

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Back Window of the Car

It became so bad that Gera had to stick his head out the passenger’s window and I had to lean over to his side (while driving!) in order to be able to see any road through the only clear patch of the window that was available.

While his commands – “nalevo, vapravo, NAPRAVO BORIAAAAA!” were indispensable, we decided to stop for a minute to clean up the window. Big mistake! Within minutes, we realized that our car got stuck in the snow. And since the Altima is not known for it’s horsepower… or any kind of power for that matter… the situation wound up to be pretty problematic.

No matter what we did, we couldn’t get the car out. In fact, it was just digging itself deeper. At some point, I already began thinking that we’d just have to leave the car on the side of the road and just setup the tent right then and there and deal with this in the morning. Fortunately, due to the Hercules-like strength of Gera and Ania pushing the car and me maneuvering it, we got the car moving again. Afraid to get it stuck again, Gera and Ania had to run along the car until they were able to jump in – while it was in motion.

However, our happiness was short lived. Shortly afterwards – about 25 miles through out of 48 that we had to do – we encountered so much snow that eventually our car got stuck again. This time, no matter what we did, we could not get it to move.

To our great luck, a plow truck was coming our way. After a bit of convincing, they agreed to plow the way for our car for 2 miles until we would reach a trailhead parking area. It wasn’t where we intended to go, but we realized that we wouldn’t get there tonight anyway. They did exactly that and even plowed through the parking area, so we were able to move our car off the road.

The worst was over… or so we though.

It seemed that we have underestimated the snow storm. When we began setting up our tent, we began to feel its fury. Several times, we came close to having it fly away. And when you’re doing this in the freezing cold, pitch-black darkness and without a soul in miles, you can’t afford to screw up.

Eventually, we managed to get the tent setup. Unfortunately, Gera’s tent is not really a winter one. The way it was setup allowed wind to bend it all kinds of ways and even let some of the falling snow get through (although he still claims it was from condensation). However, in spite of that, the tent served us very well and was our home for those 3 days, so we owe it quite a bit.

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Afterwards, we made some delicious hot soup on an amazing “extreme conditions” stove, along with some sandwiches and hot tea and refilled our energy. The stove also was responsible for helping us survive this weekend, so it really deserves a lot of praise.

Eventually, we headed to bed. The night was a difficult one, as the wind was really brutal on the tent. While it was certainly not too warm – even in the sleeping bags – we slept for a few good hours, drifting in and out of consciousness.

Day 2

In the morning, when we got out, it was a sight to behold. The tent was snowed in and covered with a few feet of snow on every side. The car was snowed in up to its windows. When we took a good look around, we just saw hundreds of trees, a blanket of snow, and nothing else…

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After some pondering, we decided to pack up all of our belongings, leave the car where it is and hike up Slide Mountain – since we wound up to be in the beginning of the trail.

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We packed our stuff, put the 30-40 pound bags on our shoulders and attempted to follow our map.

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Of course, the trail itself was buried under several feet of snow, so after walking in the foods for about an hour or two, we realized that we will not be able to complete the trail no matter how hard we tried.

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VSE SHTO OT GERI OSTALOS’

Another one of our concerns was that if we kept walking and it would begin to snow again, our footsteps would become covered. Thus, it would make it incredibly hard to find out way back, since our maps were rendered useless.

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After walking up a hill, we decided to find a flat surface and setup our tent for the rest of the day and the night. That proved to be quite a challenge. Once we did find the spot, we planned out a perimeter for the tent and had to spend about an hour stomping around on the snow. That was necessary to do as we obviously couldn’t setup the tent on 2 feet of snow.

So, we dug ourselves a little ditch and setup the tent in there. We were planning to use a bit of the leftover time in the day to hike a little more, but these things took surprisingly a lot of time. By the time, we set everything up, tied the tent down, blew up the mattresses and cooked our food, it was already getting dark.

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However, before we could rest, there was one more thing that needed to be done. This area has quite a bit of black bears in it and it’s pretty dangerous to leave any food lying around or inside the tent.

The plan was to put all of the food in a bag, since we did not have a bear canister, and hang it up on a tall branch at least 50 feet away from the ground.

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Easier said than done, though. In order to get our rope over that 50 foot high branch, we had to throw it over it. However, since we could not find any rocks lying around to tie the rope to, we had to resort to using our frying pan as a weight. That actually worked quite well. We got the food up high, tied the rope, and went back to the tent. It was already dark.

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THAT WAS THE ONLY BEAR WE ACTUALLY SAW

After cleaning up, we decided to call it a night. We got into our respective sleeping bags – freezing our tuchuses off. The mattresses and the sleeping bags were a bit wet from the night before, which ultimately turned to cold and icy, which added a bit to our discomfort.

On top of that, Gera lost feeling in one of his feet during the day (that’s where the right gear really makes a huge difference between coming out of this experience OK), so we were all a bit concerned. Getting frostbite and a gangrene was not on our plans. Fortunately, in the middle of the night, the feeling came back to the foot, so we all relaxed afterwards.

The night itself was quite an experience. Being city people, all of the sounds of the forest were foreign to us. Any wind that blew against us, a tree branch that moved, or any other noises seemed to us like bears were surrounding our tent getting ready to attack any minute. On top of all of that, most of the sounds were coming from my side of the tent! And while the sleeping back offers a bit of warmth, it’s hardly any protection against a 300 pound bear that decides that we smell good and wants to try us for dinner.

We spent the night with having a knife, axe, and a laser pointer (it’s a long story) all ready to go to action – if there was a cause for it. Surprisingly, the second night was even a bit more difficult than the first. Partially due to the wet mattresses, the cold and the general uneasiness about being in the middle of nowhere. But everything went well!

Day 3

Getting up in the morning proved to be a difficult task. Getting out of the sleeping bag and putting your feet into the shoes that literally become a block of ice was quite a challenge.

Our goal for the day was to head back and dig the car out of the mountain of snow and get moving back to New York.

On the way back to the campsite, we actually met a small group of guys that were camping out that night, as well. They got in on Saturday and followed our steps for a bit until they set up their camp. However, since they didn’t have the snowshoes, they were unable to continue with the hike.

When we got back to the car, we realized one crucial mistake. The only shovel that we had was 6 inches long! The car wasn’t only covered with snow on the outside, but was also completely snowed in on the inside – the after effect of us getting out and in when it got stuck.

Gera and Ania began cleaning the car on the inside and de-icing the windows, while I went on the road and was lucky enough to stop a plow truck that was coming through. As a testament to how incredibly nice the people out there are, the guy actually plowed a bit of the snow in front of us and even lent us a shovel, so we could dig ourselves out.

The rest is history. A few hours later the car was out in the clear. We had our last meal.

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Then, we headed back to the equipment rental store. There we were met by the store owner, as well as a few other people that were shocked and amazed that we actually made it back. Well, we told them that for us, it was a piece of cakeπŸ™‚ and headed home.

So, there you have it. A weekend of survival in its true form. Thanks to Gera and Ania, we all wound up OK… and with a ton of memories to boot.


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6 responses

21 03 2007
Des

Well done Boris.

I’m glad the time I spent training you in all things camping is being put to good use.

Never say die.

Des

6 06 2007
Frances

Yo Boris. Didn’t realize there were continuing adventures. Why oh why the Catskills in a snowstorm???? You guys are lucky you didn’t freeze an appendage off. Have all my years of warning about the grimness of winter in the mountains (okay, hills in your case) meant nothing LOL???? I would have had major words of wisdom on ways to prepare for this adventure, which would not have included throwing a frying pan 50 feet in the air – YIKES – and plenty of bear advice. Nice pictures and I hope you all learned something hehehe.

7 06 2007
Boris Mordkovich

Frances,

Hills? HILLS?

We actually went back there 2 weeks ago and did the hike that we intended to do the snow-storm weekend. We did 3 hil… mountains! 10 hours of hiking one day and 14 the next!πŸ™‚

Truth to be told, I don’t recall any grim warnings of the winter in the woods. Care to refresh my memory?πŸ™‚

Boris

5 07 2007
Frances

OK, I may not have had any words of warning for winter woods walks in past discussions, but if you had told me of your plans, I would have offered plenty. Starting with, JUST DON”T DO IT. It’s cold out there. Very cold. And very dark at night. Think Blair Witch Project (which BTW could apply to winter or summer).

Actually I will tell you a true cautionary tale of winter in the mountains and silly ideas. My younger brother who is an extremely experienced skier likes to heli-ski but can’t always fit a trip into his budget. So his best friend from high school and he meet up in odd places in the mountains, hike in, and ski out. Not as breath-taking as heli-skiing but way way cheaper.

A couple of years ago, they headed out on a three-day trip. On the last day they were skiing down a mountain (no hills for him!) on the last run down to where they had left their car, and along the way, my young brother fell and wound up at the bottom of a tree.

Luckily for him, he didn’t hit the tree at any speed. Unluckily for him, he dislocated his shoulder. Luckily for him, his friend is a licensed physical therapist. Unluckily for both of them, his friend couldn’t get the leverage needed to push my brother’s arm back into its socket since they were in a tree well on the side of a mountain.

So my brother’s friend decides there is no other solution than for him to ski down to the highway, flag down a passing vehicle and get help that way. Experienced skiiers and winter campers that they are, they have packed NO survival gear, NO food, NO water, and have only one small flashlight with unknown battery life left. His friend takes off all the extra clothes he can spare, piles them on my brother laying in agony, leaves him the flashlight, and tells him to shine the light when he hears a helicopter.

For once, things turn in their favor. The friend gets down to the highway safely and it isn’t too long before a car comes along. They actually stop to help (remember this is Canada so it’s reasonable to assume that will happen). They go out of their way to drive the friend to the closest place to contact THE AUTHORITIES and with darkness rapidly approaching, a helicopter rescue is arranged.

It’s now dark, but since the crew knows that my brother has no decent safety gear and he’s pretty much helpless should an animal happen along looking for a snack, and it’s damn cold out, they decide to continue for a bit longer. Thanks to an alert friend who remembered pretty much where they were and the fact that my brother didn’t lose consciousness, they see the flashing light which miraculously my brother is holding and even more miraculouly, still has power.

You can guess the rest. My brother is put in one of those silly basket things, passes out from the pain of the transport, and is dumped at the highway where an ambulance awaits to take him to the nearest hospital. I guess they figured he could suffer the road trip since he was so stupid in the first place, rather than fly him to the hospital.

Everything turned out fine in the end. Well, except for the $1,000 he had to pay for the ambulance ride. Even in a country with national health insurance, we don’t suffer fools too gladly (at least if they have a job so can pay and were born in Canada so they should know better). Oh, and yeah … my mother’s wrath. Nevertheless, this did not stop him from attempting an even sillier stunt the next year which involved a couple of kayaks and rapids – does that sound familiar?

So the moral of the story is … you guys were damn lucky.

The end. πŸ™‚

5 07 2007
Borya The Greatest

Frances,

Ahh, but the key is… your brother was unprepared. Without the proper gear, I would not even dare to think about attempting such a trip.

We were 90% well prepared and overall were pretty comfortable throughout the entire time.

Wait until I tell you about our planned Morocco/Trans-Sahara trip in the WinterπŸ™‚

Boris

12 11 2007
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