Snow Camping With Theresa & Cassie
- Erin Swanson
The crisp morning air jolted me awake after a fitful night of sleeping in the snow. I took a deep breath, exhaling a misty cloud before pulling my sleeping bag even more tightly over my face. My dog, Cassie, lay beside me, snug and warm in her Powder Hound™ Jacket, cozily pressed up against my sleeping bag for extra insulation.
The sun had yet to rise, but our position at Artist Point meant glorious views of Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan bathed in predawn alpenglow, especially following a calm, clear night. It was just enough motivation to force me out of my warm bag and into my frigid mountaineering boots.
I gently nudged Cassie and Mack awake, too, hoping they wouldn’t be terribly grouchy with me. I selfishly wanted to experience the first magical hours of 2018 together as a family.
Our overnight snow camping adventure began the day before at the very crowded Mount Baker Ski Area parking lot on New Year’s Eve 2017. It was our – including Cassie’s – second winter snow camping trip ever and the first one that we’d be experiencing with a group of people!
I’d been invited by an acquaintance a few weeks earlier and accepted with almost no hesitation, but now, standing in this chaotic parking area, trying to calm an overstimulated Cassie, I was feeling a little anxious.
My nerves gradually subsided once we strapped on our snowshoes and started up the trail with new friends, moving farther away from the hectic noise below.
Once we were spread out from other snowshoers and backcountry skiers, I let Cassie off her leash. She quickly scampered up the trail, biting at the soft, untouched powder along the path, her tongue hanging out with excitement and tail waving eagerly each time she looked back to check on us.
Mack and I moved slowly, laden with the heaviest backpacking packs we’d ever carried. Cassie, on the other hand, sprinted up and down the trail, racking up extra mileage, seemingly unbothered by the kibble and water jostling around in her Approach™ Backpack.
Two miles (likely more for Cassie thanks to her zoomies) and roughly 1.000 feet of climbing brought us to the spacious plateau of Artist Point and a panoramic view of Mount Baker and the Mount Shuksan massif, with its long arm extending out from the dramatic summit pyramid and icy cliffs into the ski area below.
After finding a section where we could fit 5 or 6 tents for our group, we quickly got to work digging out a spot for ourselves. We tucked Cassie into her Highlands™ Sleeping Bag and pad so she could stay warm while we set up the tent. We’d learned from our previous snow camping trip that she would get cold (and cranky!) and start shivering otherwise.
Being New Year’s Eve, it was predictably crowded, but after setting up camp we found a bit of solitude just a short (but post-holey) jaunt away at Huntoon Point.
Cassie happily tuckered herself out swimming through and rolling around in the deeper, untracked snow. I regretted not bringing one of her glow-in-the-dark balls to toss around for her with all the space and soft snow around us! I was glad to see her enjoying herself even without her favorite toy.
Back in camp, we greeted the rest of our New Year’s Eve squad who had arrived after us on skis. It was my first time meeting these folks in person, though we were almost all acquainted with each other from social media.
Just a short distance from our group site a surprise, pop-up backcountry concert by The Musical Mountaineers (Anastasia Allison, violin, and Rose Freeman, pianist) was taking place! Could our first visit here get any more memorable?
The sun dipped behind Mount Baker just as Anastasia and Rose were wrapping up and the small crowd that had gathered for the impromptu concert began to thin out. As the sky went dark and the temperature dropped, our group of 13 gathered in the snow for a hot dinner, warm drinks, and a shared bottle of celebratory whisky by headlamp.
Mack and I neglected to bring a closed-cell foam pad to sit on and had to make do sitting on our hardshell jackets, which were ultimately unsuccessful in keeping us warm for a prolonged amount of time. Cassie used her puppy dog eyes to earn herself a spot in someone’s lap (in addition to some human food), snuggled beneath a thick belay parka. It pays to be a cute dog sometimes.
Good conversation and laughter kept me distracted from the cold for some time, but eventually I found myself wiggling my toes constantly to keep them from going numb, and the desire to crawl into my zero degree bag outweighed being outside beneath the stars chatting with new friends.
We hadn’t quite made it to midnight, but after a long day of driving (from Portland to Mount Baker) and snowshoeing with heavy packs, turning in a little early felt much needed and well deserved.
Our lack of winter rated sleeping pads made it difficult to sleep comfortably, but we all squeezed together to keep each other warm. Cassie of course had the best (and most insulated) position curled up between me and Mack in the middle of the tent and slept soundly that night.
It was quiet and still when we stepped outside of the tent. The sky was just starting to light up with the soft pastel colors I’ve come to associate with alpenglow. Only two other people in our large group were awake and getting out of their tent as well.
We all walked over to Huntoon Point to catch the first sunrise of the new year, arriving just in time to see rays of light cascading over the long southern ridge on Shuksan. No one said a word. I imagine we were all still pretty tired and not in the mood for lively conversation just yet, but our silence definitely added to the serenity of the moment.
Of course, barely a minute had passed before Cassie’s longing eyes and dangling tongue signaled a desire to play or, perhaps, a desire for treats. She led the way back, her fluffy white tail raised high in excitement, ready to take on this new year and, more likely, ready to devour the New Year’s Day bacon being cooked up in camp.
Ruffwear Ambassador Theresa Silveyra is the founder of Color the Cascades, a gear scholarship program for women of color. She and her canine sidekick, Cassie, enjoy trail running, backpacking, climbing, and skiing together in the Pacific Northwest. Follow their journey at @theresasilveyra.
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