Land of a Thousand Icy Pricks

Ah, the face of someone who insists snowstorms never happen in the desert.

Coincidentally also the face of someone learning a valuable lesson. Why, as it turns out snowstorms can, and do, happen in the desert. Funny one guys, a real knee slapper!

So, the age old adage ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes’ is probably applicable here. What led me to this grave misfortune, you may ask?

We start at trip planning.

Stuff be gettin’ you down

To close out 2016 (boy, bye!) I hit the road on a two week trip across the American Southwest to explore some of the most remote parts of the country.

Although leaving family behind during the holidays was tough (and not an overly popular decision for the Mom-ster, sorry!), it’s hardly unexpected given that the holidays are a killer time to travel!

Taking a ‘timeout’ from traditional end-of-year hoopla is a valuable exercise in priorities and values. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about ‘what and who owns you’ and have grown increasingly disenfranchised with consumerist culture.

I’m striving (with mixed results, but notable progress!) to live my life simply and to only own and surround myself with stuff that enables me to do things that bring me joy! I’m finding that the more things you have the harder it is to be spontaneous and explore groovy stuff like nature and freezing your nipples off in the desert.

Calm before the…

First stop on the trip after a beasty 12-hour drive dodging kamikaze bunnies and eating questionable roadside Chinese buffets is Tucson, Arizona.

Ooooh! Also worth mentioning is I’m extra ready to capture #allthethings with my new Sony a6000 camera! Lucky you continuing to experience my mediocre photography skills now featuring a fancier camera! Good omen for 2017.

Catching a sunrise photo.
The sunrise photo!

Rolling hills turn into striking mountain ranges that sweep us across New Mexico toward Arizona. After a quick drive-through a pop-up border patrol station (and delightful exchange about my immigration status which was far more interesting than the joint hanging out in my glove-box) I’m thankfully not deported and can continue — extra legally — along the journey. Tax dollars hard at work!

Saguaro

The morning of the expedition happened to coincide with Jesus’ birthday, so one can only assume that too was a good omen. But, as fate would have it, my lack of belief bit me square in the butt. Probably inevitable. I’ll definitely be skipping Sunday morning service in favor of Saturday benders from now on! 

Tucson splits Saguaro National Park into two sections — East and West — and provides a spectacular panoramic view of the mountains surrounding the city. The peaks are dusted with a hint of snow but surely the hot desert sun will erase any trace of the elusive white powder by the time we’re at altitude!

Over the course of seven grueling miles uphill the park’s namesake cactus grow taller and taller, fifty feet or more, and I grow colder and colder.

What appears to be a thin dusting from below turns out to be ‘bitching powder’ as dope-smoking-snowboard-riding types would claim. By the time I reach camp, exhausted and wondering where all the campers are (hello? guys?), it dawns on me that for the first time in my life I’ll be setting up camp in snow higher than my flask of Fireball. This is absolutely not part of the plan.

Unprepared snow camping = (blue) balls

To add insult to frostbite, I discover multiple sets of fresh cougar tracks dotting the campsite. One cruises around by the river, the next bounces over some deer tracks, and others circle around the site as if to corral poor, cold, unprepared campers.

Trying to look at the positive side, I decide that a tent on top of fluffy snow will provide insulation and cushion — a natural Tempur-pedic in the woods, how divine! Unfortunately any remaining comfort comes to an abrupt stop, most sadly, with my last sip of Fireball and as I sink into my sleeping bag wearing every (desert-themed!) article of clothes I’ve bought. Bollocks! I’m in for a long night.

The morning after

Thank god there isn’t a check-out time at camp, because it took three goddamned hours to become a functioning human after a record-breaking frigid night from hell. Every single movement is delayed in large part because of my Raynaud’s Syndrome (it’s called being extra cold when it’s cold out, haters) and because all of  my gear is frozen solid. We’re talking shoes, backpacks and water bottles — hard as a board. It takes an hour of alternating sprints and squats to finally pry my foot into each shoe, and another hour to tackle the laces.

At last, under the delightful light of the mid-day sun, my frozen little body is loaded with equally as frozen gear and off I go on a mad dash down the mountain in search of ‘desert-y’ conditions… which I wrongly assumed happen everywhere in the desert. With every step the sun grows warmer, snow melts away, my cold heart thaws… and you can’t see the cougar tracks any more. I’m sure that means they decided to stay chillin’ at camp.

The scenery really is stunning, and much more enjoyable at reasonable temperatures. Birds of prey circle, swaths of cactus tower over the prickly undergrowth, and the view of Tucson is simply breathtaking.

I’m looking forward to returning to Saguaro again, but with a touch more preparation. Although I’ve been camping in the snow before, I learned a valuable lesson that I’ll lean on for future adventure packing — a) be prepared for the worst case weather scenario, and b) remember Fireball and double the quantity you think you need.

Off to explore Carlsbad and tackle the highest peak in Texas!

BRB just doing stuff for a bit k?

x V

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9 Comments

    1. Thanks Victor, all thawed finally! You’re a 12 hour drive from the Saguaros — it may seem like a lot but I think you would absolutely love it!

  1. Ah-ha, I love this! Those frozen socks would have been my demise. You’re a bad ass. xo

    Ps. I also just bought the a6000! Yuss.

    1. The frozen socks were almost my demise! My humble recommendation? Always sleep with your socks no matter what the temperature outside. Not worth the risk! Can’t wait to hear how the a6000 works — I think you’ll love it! I expect a blog post with lots of delicious imagery from your trip! <3

  2. I guess I can be the first to say..the snow was just a reminder that you are truly a Canadian and what are the holidays without snow! I am so proud of you and the way you are enjoying life and trying to keep things simple. As always I enjoyed your story and thanks for taking me away for a few minutes from my not so simple day. Safe travels.

    1. Thanks for the sweet comment Grant, I love reminders of my Canadian-ness so long as they don’t include frozen socks 😉

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