This was a first for me. I’ve done plenty of snowshoeing and camping but had never skied and camped. I’m not that great a XC skier to begin with so I wanted to go somewhere relatively close to home to practice skiing with a pack on and testing out my new winter pack. Ultimately I decided on going to Jay Cooke State Park and booked the Ash Ridge backpack site. You had to get to this site via XC skis, no snowshoeing or hiking to the site.
I crossed the iconic swinging bridge and climbed up a quick hill that leads you to a split in the trail. One way lies the West Ridge Trail, the other the Silver Creek Trail. I was supposed to take the Silver Creek trail to get to my campsite. The ski trails were beautifully groomed. Looking at the map it was supposed to be an easy trail. I’m sure for better skiers it would be but I thought this trail was hard as hell! I fell repeatedly down some pretty good size hills with turns. If you take this trail be prepared for some pretty good size downhills with twists and turns.
After a couple of miles of skiing I came to an ungroomed portion of the trail that went up hill towards my campsite for the night.
I ditched my skis at this point and switched to my snowshoes which was a mistake. I should’ve kept my skis on as it was further than I thought to my campsite. I eventually made it but it was a slog.
It was a pretty nice campsite. Nestled right along the river. A fire ring, bear box, two picnic tables, and a vault toilet nestled a ways back in the woods. It was super nice! I’d love to come back in the summer.
After I got my camp all setup. I put on my snowshoes and hiked up and down the river bank. It was a very overcast and foggy day, didnt see a lot of wildlife activity while I was out.
I think I cooked dinner around 6, had a small fire, then retired for the night. I was dead tired! That ski in with a pack took a whole lot out of me. Between all of the falls and the snowshoeing I was exhausted. After dinner I decided to read for a while. One thing I tried out that worked pretty well was hanging a dry line in my Eureka Timberline tent, hanging my candle lantern, and drying out some socks next to it. That candle lantern doesnt put out a ton of heat but it was enough to dry out my socks.
I got up early, and made some coffee and breakfast. I decided I wanted to forgo instant coffee this trip. Instead I ground some beans the night before, and brought my Ultralight drip filter. My recommendation would be to only make 8oz of coffee at a time. I tried doing 16oz and the coffee was starting to get cool by the time it finished brewing.
Since I was up so early (after sleeping nearly 12 hours) I decided to take my time heading back.
Above is a map of the park and my route. Yellow was my way in, red was the way back, and blue was the approximate snowshoeing that I did.
Overall I had a really good time. My new winter pack performed well. I definitely need more practice skiing with a pack on. Ideally I could use a pulk, but aside from not owning one, these were groomed trails that I wouldnt be able to use one on anyway.
Things That Worked & Didnt Work:
- The modified Granite Gear pack worked great. Stiffening the back panel definitely helped carry the load.
- MSR XGK stove worked awesome! I didnt pack a water filter after breaking the one I took on a previous trip (I didnt think to keep it warm and it froze in the night), so I used my stove to melt snow. It took a while but did the job.
- Those red snowshoes I have work really well when not carrying a pack, otherwise they just dont have enough float.
- The Eureka tent I have is fun, super durable, does great in winter. But it is so HEAVY! Close to 7 pounds for one person.
- My sleeping bag and waterbear hood from Timmermade worked really well. I kept super warm the whole night through, and they’re very light weight for how warm it is. But I need to do a better job of handling condensation. A lot of condensation collected on the top of my bag getting the down wet. I need to make something to protect that part of the bag from condensation.