Sunday, January 20, 2008

Jan 2008 Overlook Mtn Firetower

I had visited this site back in June, 2007 and catalogued it as a winter camping possibility based on several camping areas, ease of access, and a superior ham radio location because of the “antenna support structure”, errr…. Firetower on the edge of an 1000’ escarpment facing southwest and overlooking the Woodstock Catskills valleys. You can see some site pictures at:
http://www.firelookout.net/Individ_Lookouts/US223_Overlook_Mtn.htm .

The trip goals were to do some more winter camping, hopefully this time with snow since my previous trip to Catfish Firetower on January 4th was without snow. Also I wanted to evaluate a new winter tent, the Hilleberg Soulo. The Hilleberg tents are a bit more expensive but the tent is a true above-treeline winter capable tent used by mountaineers and is renowned for its high wind survivability design. Winter camping, especially in sub-freezing temperatures, requires a much more stringent set of skills and equipment than summer, warm temperature hiking and camping. Hypothermia is an ever-present danger and winter campers must develop and test their skills and equipment to cope and survive in harsh winter conditions. Personal heat management processes of minimizing perspiration due to overexertion or staying dry in wet, snowy conditions are critical survival skills. In winter, once you get wet there often is no opportunity to dry out and that can be fatal. And once you become cold in sub freezing temperatures you often can not get warm again. Furthermore any clothes that become wet become unusable because they freeze! You can see the pictures at: http://picasaweb.google.com/Hamblen9/OverlookMtnCampOut

So my winter hiking friend, Joel W2TQ and I set out from the Overlook Mtn parking area around noon, Jan. 18th. Although sunny and blue-sky clear, the temps were in the low 20’s with forecasted near O f. overnight temps. The last snowfall was a week or so ago and the trail was snow packed and icy in spots. I had my Kahtoolas but did not bring the snowshoes.

The 2.5 mile hike and 1,500 foot elevation gain to the top was beautiful, passing the skeleton of the Old Overlook Mountain House (
http://www.hudsonvalleyruins.org/yasinsac/overlook/overlook.html) at the two mile mark. This link has some great pictures of this magnificent hotel. A short time later, we were at the Overlook Firetower, a 60’ Aeromoter steel cabin structure. The winds were out of the northwest at 10-15 mph but harsh on any exposed skin. We set up camp about 200 yds east of the tower near the Overlook escarpment to the east that provided great vistas of Kingston NY and the Hudson River valley. After getting my tent up in the 6” of snow, I went up to the tower to hang my multiband dipole from the 60’ level to the 20’ top of a nearby tree. The dipole center was at about 35’ and oriented southwest-northeast. The tower is perched on an escarpment that drops 750 to 1000 feet to the south and overlooks the nearby town of Woodstock, NY. So the HAAT couldn’t be better for my QRP K1 signal to the southwest.

However by 4 pm the temps were in the teens and the wind was still gusting to 20 mph, making the windchills “challenging!” I was setup on a picnic table and bundled up with all my clothes to stay warm. Operating my HandiKey with gloves on is a skill I haven’t quite mastered yet, but I mustered several good qsos and always to the amazement of those in 70-deg shacks. “You’re doing what?” “You must be crazy!” are typical comments but always offering encouragement of “keep warm” and thanks for the field efforts.

Sunset was near and I packed up the K1 but left the antenna in place as I wanted to operate again in the morning. Without any protection from the now-steady 20 mph winds and temps dropping into the mid-teens, it was just too difficult to stay warm and continue to operate. I went back to camp and took a number of pictures of the sunset. Joel is a much more dedicated photographer and had his Canon Digital SLR setup on a tripod to record the sunset panorama unfolding to the west. By 5:30 it was dark and dinner preparation began. Heat! And my cold hands enjoyed the trace warmth from my MSR gas stove. Freeze-dried Turkey Tettracini was on the evening menu…yuummmm! I recently discovered the value of heating your extra water, storing it in your cozie-wrapped water bottle and putting it at the bottom of your sleeping bag as a footwarmer. What joy! And it stays warm all night long. It’s surprising what an impact warm feet can have on your overall camping experience!

One other challenge with winter camping is that it is dark by 5pm, dinner by 6pm and then what? So you stand around in the cold talking until 8 pm then out of boredom you crawl into the bag for warmth. It’s probably the only time I get 10 hrs of sleep! Overnite temps were down to nearly 5f. So it was cold but the tent stayed much warmer than I expected…in the high teens!

I was up at 7 am to see the sunrise but unfortunately low-level clouds obscured the eastern light show this morning. With occasional snow flakes, we cooked breakfast. My breakfast menu choices were gourmet oatmeal seasoned with brown sugar and hot tea. Can it get any better than oatmeal and tea?

I packed up everything and then went up to the firetower to operate Saturday morning. Fast moving clouds occasionally obscured the sun coupled with the single-digit temps and the 10 mph winds that cut into any exposed skin. I pulled the K1 out for duty (always amazed how well it operates in these temperatures!) and made a few qsos with folks in the midwest and southeast. After an hour I was too cold to continue so packed up the antenna and gear to start the trip back to the pickup. It was Saturday morning so we were seeing a number of folks on the trail who were out for a quick morning dayhike.

What fun! And we were already planning our next winter camping trip in mid February. Hopefully it will snow this time! And I already have ideas for adapting a winter sled (“pulk”) to take the winter pack off my back! So the adventures and of course the stories continue….

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