Not long ago, right after I had received my new Sigma 120-300 f/2.8 lens in the mail, my brother and I decided to go to Shenandoah National Park for some wildlife photography, hiking, and camping. It was the beginning of summer, which we figured was the perfect time to go. It would be warm but there wouldn’t be many other tourists yet.
We packed up the car with enough supplies for three days of camping, though I thought we may be gone for at least a week. Our tent was second-hand, borrowed from our other brother’s Cub Scout camping trips, and the sleeping bags were about twenty-years-old, with memories of childhood sleepovers stuffed inside of them. We packed some of those camping meals in a bag that you see at stores like REI for way too much money, and then we headed out on the two hour drive.
When we arrived in Shenandoah it was as we expected - the campsite was nearly empty and there weren’t many other cars on the road. This was going to be great. We set up our camp and went for a hike.
The hike we chose was a short hike to a short waterfall. Nothing special, just something to get our legs moving and see what type of scenery we could expect. I got some photos of the waterfall and then we hiked back. Overall, it only took a couple of hours.
Back at camp we cursed as we cooked up a couple of those meals-in-a-bag. The were too small for one person despite their claim that they serve two, they tasted like cardboard, and the consistency of the egg meal was more like grits than scrambled eggs. We forced them down anyway.
Soon after lunch, a group of young deer circled our camp, running in circles and chasing each other. We quickly pulled out our cameras and started snapping pictures, excited that the wildlife had come to us. Soon we were lying in the dirt surrounded by curious deer who didn’t seem to mind a three foot proximity to humans. We stayed with them for about an hour until the sun was too low to continue.
After dinner it was off to bed. It had gotten below freezing by this time so we were happy to get out of the wind and into our sleeping bags.
About two hours after getting into our sleeping bags and turning out the lights, I asked Sam if he was still awake. He was. Both of us were so cold we couldn’t sleep. The temperature had dropped to nineteen degrees, despite being in the eighties during the day, and our sleeping bags were not made for this.
Every time I moved and touched a new section of the inside of my sleeping bag my hand nearly froze to it it was so cold. How could something made to keep a person warm get so cold? Sam and I debated going to sleep in the car. We debated driving home right then, at midnight, then again at two a.m. It was only our will not to wimp out that caused us to endure the pain.
That night was by far the coldest night of my life. When we woke up, the water in our bottles was solid ice. We left immediately without doing the other hikes we had planned on. Next time I camp in Shenandoah I will either do it in the summer or bring better gear. Don’t camp at high altitudes in the spring without Winter gear.