Trip Notes: Winter Camping in Southwest Colorado

Photos and words by Deirdre Denali Rosenberg

Each year, my husband and I have a tradition of camping in very epic and peaceful places during New Years. It’s really our only tradition, and we've done it since the year we met. Read on to see why it's so special to us.

New Years Camp, 2015-2016

We camp and backpack often in the winter. Finding peace in the blowing snow and silent moments insulated by white and green; snow and pine and not much else. But our New Years camp is an important one. It gives us time to reflect and hope. Reflecting on the previous year and looking full of hope towards the fresh one we’ve been given.

To say goodbye to 2020 and hello to 2021, we headed into the local mountains-- not far from our home snuggled into the side of a hillside. Usually, we’d be traveling to a different range of peaks, possibly in a different state. But 2020 taught us a lot, and one of those things is how in love we are with our quaint region in southwest Colorado. We haven’t left this pocket of land in nearly a year. As we load up our ski pulk (a small sled for sport or transport) and go over food rations one last time, it feels wonderfully exciting, gearing up to explore even more of the area we call home.

Loaded up and about to head off trail

At 8am we are putting skins (strips of fabric that attach to the bottom of skis to create friction while on ascents) on our skis and strapping on our backpacks, ready to venture into the forest. We skin up fresh snow until we’re a few miles deep. Blue spruce surrounds us and the scent on the air reminds us of the fun times of our previous trips.

My husband setting up our sleeping tent in the snow

Once we’ve determined a camp location, we set up our two tents. The first one is a hot tent for eating, relaxing, and staying cozy. The second is an extremely burley tent that will stand against even the highest wind speeds. The latter is where we sleep and stash our gear.

 

Fire roaring in the stove

The air temperature feels something like 10 degrees Fahrenheit and it’s decided that we should get the stove in the hot tent fired up. My husband chops wood from a fallen beetle-kill tree and I build some back support out of snow inside the soon-to-be hot tent. After some stoking, fire is roaring inside and our tiny keychain thermometer says it’s 75 degrees in the tent. This allows us to take off our jackets and really settle in. As we do, we begin to appreciate our trip so far, and forget about the freezing cold that surrounds us.

 

Our "hot tent" looking cozy

After we relaxed for a couple of hours in our toasty tent, it was time to get a few things ready for the following morning. Preparing the night before makes the intensity of the early morning cold much more bearable. I checked our headlamp batteries, grabbed two wag-bags (human waste must be packed out), a couple hand warmer packets, and two full thermoses of water (snow melting in the hot tent) and arrange these items in the pockets of our sleeping tent. This way, we know right where important things are without having to dig around for them. I also place the clothing we plan to wear tomorrow into the bottom of our respective sleeping bags-- this ensures that we’ll be changing into warm clothing in the dark morning.

 

A sunset to remember 

As the sun sets, stars fill the darkening sky. We bask in stars so bright and so glorious that you cannot help but feel small. These moments looking up at the stars are pure, reminding us that we are tiny in our little place in the universe. Together we get into our tent and melt into our sleeping bags for a night of sleep amongst high peaks and wise trees.

The morning brings adventure and brilliant sunshine. The following few days would hold much the same. Days of play and joy, evenings of thanks and calm. The nights are dark and silent; silent in the way forests are, silent in the way something so alive can be while it slumbers.

When we were kids

When we began this tradition of New Years camp, we were kids. Full of excitement and just happy to be doing this together, as a team. All these years later, we certainly aren’t kids. And life has beaten us up from time to time. We are two humans who’ve decided to walk this life hand in hand. Through all of it. And once every winter, as the years transition, we feel that same excitement and happiness we did when we were young. We reminisce at who we were, who we are, and who we want to be.

 

 

Deirdre Denali is a conservation photographer based in the rugged San Juan Mountains. She spends most of her time with red foxes and American pikas, but can also be found setting up a hot tent or paddling down a river.