The date of this weekend long trip to the Charles Deam Wilderness in the Hoosier National Forestry south of Bloomington, Indiana was chosen before the full extent of the weather was forecast. And as our trip date approached it became apparent that only two words were needed to describe our weekend: very cold. The high was forecast in the low 20’s F and the low was forecast in the single digits.
We arrived on a dark Friday evening at about 7:30pm and were already in the midst of a moderate snowfall with a temperature just below freezing. Obviously our main priorities for the night were to get to our camping location, set up our tents, and start a fire.
Our hike started in the parking lot east of Sycamore Trail. We wanted to get a little more than a couple of miles into Sycamore Trail before setting up for the night.
Our excitement and energy were more intense than the snow and cold. We jumped on the trail and got moving. The trail condition was as good as it could have been considering the conditions. Since the temperature had just fallen below freezing, and being that we have had an unseasonably warm winter in Indiana, the trail was a bit muddy… but not inhibiting. It didn’t slow our pace as far as I could tell. As would be the case throughout our hike, the elevation changes were minimal, but very enjoyable.
The next 100 minutes of hiking really flew by. The only stop we made along the way was to look at a mouse that had climbed up a small tree. He was just chillin’ and watching it snow. We left him in peace and made our way to our camping destination. We quickly removed the debris from the area and set up our tents. We knew the more difficult task would be getting a fire started when everything was relatively wet. We began gathering as much dry material as we could, from the ground and our packs, and within 10 minutes we had a really nice 3-foot fire.
We ate a bit, chatted, and warmed up. Even though the temperature and snow were falling around us, spirits were high and we looked forward to a productive hike the next morning.
We woke up Saturday morning to a bone-chilling 11 degrees. My mummy bag worked well but for some reason my toes were really frozen. We crept from our tombs and made our way to the once raging fire pit and began to stoke it back to life. It wasn’t long before we were warming up and enjoying some breakfast and coffee.
The truth is that what REALLY warms a person up is…hiking. We broke down camp, put the site back to it’s original form, and then geared up. We hit the trail and it wasn’t but ten minutes before my blood was pumping…warming everyone extremity on my body.
We follow the remainder of Sycamore Trail loop, which was comprised of a relatively flat, wide trails, a few downhill switchbacks, and one steep ascent. The beauty of Sycamore Trail and Axsom Trail, which we would be connecting to later, is the stunning pines that line the trails. Even in the cold of winter the pine smell is just refreshing and reminds me why I am enduring the cold. It is a magnificence and a beauty that is uniquely different than spring, summer, or fall. It would be a mistake to avoid winter hiking for fear of being cold. Closing your eyes, breathing deep the cold air, smelling the crisp, clean pine, and feeling the blood warmly pulsate through your body in the frigidness of winter reminds me that I am alive. It is good.
In total we had covered roughly 7.5 miles before we settled on a campsite on Axsom Trail. We found an extremely nice spot in the middle of some pines right next to a small pond. Before setting up the tent we made a huge bed of pine needles as a cushion and then set the tent up on it. We got another raging fire going and settled in for the evening meal and conversation. Wild mushroom and herb couscous was on the menu for me…and I was really excited about it. Two days of Clif Bars, almonds, and cranberries makes one crave some flavor!
Before I went to bed the last night, I took a large rock that had been next to the fire with me to bed. The rock was very hot and would be hot for quite some time. I figured that I would put it in my sleeping bag and the radiant heat would keep me toasty warm for hours. I was right! For a little over three hours I was toasty, toasty warm in my sleeping bag. I slept like a baby. I was still relatively warm the rest of the night, but I highly recommend sleeping with a warm rock (and peeing twice before you go to bed). You DO NOT want to get out of your bag when it is single digits outside! : )