Pine and rock cascaded all around me as I trekked up along a steep, slippery pass until an overlook expanded before me. The clouds parted, revealing a brilliant blue expanse that extended over the mountains and beyond for as far as I could see. Mountain peeks and crags littered the picturesque landscape, providing a deep contrast against the elements. The break in the weather filled me with a renewed energy and my pace quickened.
Eventually, I found a safe place beneath a patch of aspen trees. I unloaded my pack, then began clearing the snow from the area. I setup my Access 2 Tent quick, then rolled out my bedding before getting to work on a fire. I searched the area in a circle around my camp, finding fallen limbs and logs for firewood. I cleared a patch, pulling up the frozen grass and dead wildflowers, then I gathered bundles of brown pine needles and twigs, and arranged them on a patch of uncovered earth. I used flint and steel and struck them hard against one another to ignite a spark, which fell onto a ball of unwound jute twine. I cupped the jute in my hands and exhaled steadily until the ball burst into a reeling mass of flame. I placed the ball on the ground and covered it in dry needles and twigs, until the flame turned into a mini fire. From there, I worked the fire until it was large enough to cook a meal.
I spent the rest of the night enjoying the fire, and the stars. I came all this way to sit beneath the night sky, to experience the natural world, to see wildlife, and to simply find peace. The hustle and bustle of modern lifestyles had worn me thin, stressing my body and pushing my mind into a place I didn’t want to be. Depression and anxiety, and tension had worked its way in my life, controlling me until it had poisoned my very outlook on life. So I laid there, on the cold ground, beneath the trees and the cosmos, and I breathed in slow, meditating with each long drawn breath. I reconnected, feeling at peace, and filled with a deep sense of belonging.
I laid there for ages, taking in each twinkle the stars gifted me, and with each meteor that sliced the black sky, and with each, I said a prayer and thanked the animate force that’s in all life. Eventually, the stars blurred and my eyes grew heavy. Before retiring into the confines of my MSR 4-season tent, I covered my dwindling fire with a campfire defender cloth to keep the coals alive. I retreated into my -15 sleeping bag and let the sounds of the howling winds, the creaking trees, and the singing coyotes loll me into a peaceful sleep.
In the morning, it wasn’t the wind that woke me, nor a winter storm, but the snorting of a large creature outside the walls of my tent. I had missed the sunrise and cursed myself for it. The sun streamed in through the aspens and flooded my MSR tent with orange light that illuminated the silhouette of a huge, mammoth moose. His wide antlers were tremendous, and with each turn of his head they seemed to grow and elongate against the fabric of my tent. I feared he might trample me, but fear was overcome by curiosity and awe. I sat still, listening to his grunts, snorts and call until my eyes watered with the beauty of simply being near something so wonderful, powerful and enchanting.
The natural world is the most beautiful and powerful thing we have in this world, and even though humans have made an unconscious attempt at rivaling her, Mother Nature persists and will always persist, with or without us. Through the experience of fighting through the snowy mountains, experiencing the clear night sky at elevation, and being mere feet from something as miraculous and impressive as a bull moose. I am filled with wonder, that quickly turned to sadness, as I wonder if this place will be here next year, and the year after that. And the year after that…
When I travel like this in winter extremes, I always take an absolute approach to planning, and packing, because one forgotten item and one mistake can have drastic consequences. So I plan for anything that could happen. I go so far that I pack a 2-way radio with weather alerts, a tent that can handle the extremes, multiple blades, and beyond. Basically, I come ready to stay awhile, just in case something major arises like taking one bad step and hurting myself, or being attacked by an wild animal, or being stuck in a freak flash storm.
I reached out to MSR before my latest winter trip and they were excited to team up on this story feature, and were willing to let me try out their Access 2 two-person, four-season tent, which is advertised as a ski touring tent, but is capable of being the perfect year round tent for anyone who backpacks, hikes the backcountry, and simply wants to grab this lightweight tent and wander the forest for a few days. The Access 2 is a versatile tent that’s built to be carried through the backcountry, for with its lightweight build, strong frame, quality fabric, and for how small it breaks down to, it’s a very capable extreme weather and extreme sports tent.
The Access 2 was built with creating the ultimate shelter for backcountry skiers, splitboarders, snowshoers and backpackers, and after working with this fine tent, I can see why they arrived at this design as their final creation. The limited mesh of the tent body offers greater warmth on frigid nights, while the ability to strip the cover allows for use during the warmer months. The first major detail is that the Access 2 only weighs a minuscule 4-pounds and packs up to 18x6-inches. But beyond that, I was surprised by the interior and how it’s spacious enough for two along with some additional gear, but what really took me by surprise was how quick the setup was. Overall, I found the Access 2 to be just the tent to get me through a winter backcountry trip, and I’ve returned safely, with a balanced mind and another wild experience under my belt.
If you would like to learn more about MSR, click here.
(Moose photo by tuchodi via Flickr)