Our recent excursion to the Wyoming Wind River mountains was different than many of our August trips of the past, in that we had a day of horrific weather during our hike-in on the Bears Ears Trail to Valentine Lake. Fifteen miles of trekking in freezing rain tested the limits of our hard shells and synthetic insulation layers.
|During a rare "dry" spell on the Bears Ears Trail. Buffalo Head at center, South Fork Lakes to right. Our route eventually passed by the lakes and went over Washakie Pass.|
Overall the performance of our clothing was amazing. The Marmot PreCip jacket Louie used kept him totally dry and thus safe. It had no wet-through or leaks, even under the pack straps. I was using a super lightweight Mountain Hardware shell, and it performed flawlessly as well. How harsh were the conditions? Let’s put it this way, after a few hours of such wind and rain, we were even being careful of how our pockets zipped as the water was finding any path it could.
If we’d been lazy and brought dirty and worn-out hard shells, things might have turned out different. To that end, remember that wash-in and spray-on treatments such as Revivex will give you peace of mind (and could save your life) when your cherished waterproof-breathable garments are getting a bit tarnished.
Our legs were well protected as well. I wore the Cloudveil Drizzle hardshell pant, which again kept me TOTALLY dry, and Louie used a pair of generic non-breathable nylon/urethane rain pants that sweat up a bit sometimes, but work fine in windy cold conditions. I was also amazed at how dry my feet stayed in my Scarpa Charmoz boots (again, Gortex did the trick).
When a cold rain is blasting your face at 30 mph, but you’re hiking hard, it is tough to stay dry and warm without sweating too much. For insulation we both used synthetics such as my Cloudveil soft shell and Louie’s synthetic filled puff jacket from North Face. We found ourselves stopping and fine tuning our layering way too many times, but fiddling with clothing ’till you get it right makes the day safer in such conditions, when hypothermia is a very real possibility.
Our big mistake was leaving our wool knit gloves with the horse packer who was doing our first-night drop camp. Talk about cold hands! But we had our knit hats, plenty of food, and almost nothing in our packs, so we kept on truckin’. And with Danno the Diamond 4 wrangler behind us we could have always hiked back down the trail and grabbed some more gear from him (though he was at best about an hour’s hike away).
Even after years of winter mountaineering, a long hike in cold wind and rain, mostly above timberline, was quite the exciting and challenging experience. It gave me new faith in the lightweight synthetic hard shell jackets and pants that we’re counting on to actually keep us alive if things get really harsh. Hats off to modern gear! Indeed, as one who suffered through the early failures of waterproof-breathable fabrics, I say AMAZING.