Meteors in the Mountains

Car Camping in the White Mountains

Car Camping in the White Mountains

My wife likes to watch meteor showers so we popped up the the White Mountains last Thursday to watch the Geminids without any urban light pollution. There was no visible moon or clouds that evening so we had a fantastic view of the winter starry sky in addition to the meteor shower. This was the first time, I’d ever seen a meteor shower (my wife goes without me), and I think it’s something I’ll want to do again.

This trip was also special because my wife, aka Captain Mouse, and I car camped together for the first time. You’d figure living with me, she’s an old hand at this by now, but she’s never shown any interest in hiking, backpacking, or camping before. But she had a good time and now wants to do it more.

Even more amazing is the fact that it was winter on this trip and temperatures dipped close to the single digits at night. The largest tent I own is a Black Diamond First Light, single wall, 4-season tent and it’s not exactly large for two people. I usually use it solo in winter because it’s so light weight.

Still, it turned out to be near perfect for meteor watching because we could lay inside the tent, on our backs and in our sleeping bags, and still see most of the sky out of the front door. This tent doesn’t have a rain fly so there’s nothing to obstruct the view. Earlier in the evening we’d sat on lawn chairs and with down quilts over our legs and foam pads under our butts, which was nice, but nowhere as comfortable as lying in our down sleeping bags.

 A side sleeper, my wife found that her sleeping pad was too thin to keep her comfortable, and she’s already talking about upgrading to something very thick, wide and luxurious for our next car camping trip. Between a pad and a bigger tent, I have a feeling this is going to be a costly investment, but being able to go car camping with my wife will be priceless. I am hopeful that this will turn into something we can do together more often and combine with road trips throughout the Northeast.

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30 Responses to Meteors in the Mountains

  1. Keith Rayeski December 21, 2012 at 2:32 am #

    ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL!! A great report~~~ LOVE IT!! It may sound corny, but that was so Christmasy! I don’t know why….just was…..thanks for sharing Phil!!

    • Earlylite December 21, 2012 at 8:30 am #

      Wait til you see my Christmas Eve post!

  2. Raymond December 21, 2012 at 3:16 am #

    “upgrading to something very thick, wide and luxurious for our next car camping trip”
    I wonder what that will be because I am also looking for a sleeping pad for car camping (or for visitors at home). I have been looking at the Therm-A-Rest Luxury Map. Do you have any thoughts about that?

    • Earlylite December 21, 2012 at 8:30 am #

      I haven’t seen that one. I will probably steer her to an expedition downmat 9. But definitely an area to research. Let me know what you find.

      • PhilipS December 22, 2012 at 1:49 pm #

        +1 on the Exped Downmat 9. Outstanding for side sleepers .. I sometimes even carry it in my backpack on Winter outings. Pricey and heavy yes, but *bliss*.

  3. Marco December 21, 2012 at 7:30 am #

    Good for you guys!
    Yeah, some people do not really like the outdoors. They start missing things like the bathroom, comfortable bed, etc… I’m glad she liked it. You really only need three things for a second person (besides whatever else she wants to bring):
    Sleeping gear, a slightly larger tent, and camp food. Oops, I forgot the extra cup and spoon.

    Enjoy! If she really likes it, you will be in trouble because you need to buy two of whatever it is…she needs one, too!

  4. Sean December 21, 2012 at 8:22 am #

    It’s a slippery slope, before you know it she’ll be backpacking with you. ;^)

    I tell you, sleeping on my neoair I get better sleep than at home often.

    • Earlylite December 21, 2012 at 8:27 am #

      No, she really likes having the car to bring whatever she wants. We have discussed going to a four season hut, but I’d need to carry all the gear!

  5. JJ Mathes December 21, 2012 at 9:27 am #

    I saw my first meteorite shower when I was hiking through the GSMNP from Mt Cammerer fire tower…SPECTACULAR!

  6. bernadette December 21, 2012 at 10:46 am #

    car camping is so much fun!!

    my husband and i backpack all the time but i do love to car camp….it’s so much fun!

    a great way to spend time together!!

    enjoy!

  7. Grandpa December 21, 2012 at 1:01 pm #

    I’ve watched many a meteor shower from my sleeping bag. Lying on your back is the best way because you get such a large view of the sky.

    The large size NeoAir mattresses are 25″ x 77″ and the XTherm has an R value of 5.7. They are a bit pricey but might be the ticket for the Captain.

    I love backpacking but I also love car camping. I guess I just love camping, period! My wife’s health (artificial knees, arthritis in hips and back) no longer allows her to backpack or sleep on the ground so we’ve done quite a bit of car camping the last couple years. I have a large family tent and put in a cot for my wife to sleep on. It’s also been a base camp for me to take off on a short backpacking trip.

    We bought a small RV about a decade ago and have used it quite often, however, with our personal finances the way they are, I haven’t had it out much the last year or two because I can’t afford the gas. I’m glad my wife has agreed to some car and tent camping in the mean time.

    I’ve been experimenting with hammock hangs for her and we camped in pouring rain and cold over Thanksgiving with her in the hammock and me on the ground underneath, both of us protected by the sylnylon tarp I bought from Philip. The first night (40ºF, lots of wind and rain) worked very well, the second night (26ºF, windy and clear) she bailed on the hammock and slept in the car. I hope to get an underquilt before long.

  8. Dan December 21, 2012 at 2:28 pm #

    Hi Philip, Fun post! Sounds exciting that you’ll get to enjoy the mountains more with your wife. The Geminids show over the couple of days was great. The first night, I was in the backyard and saw about 10 in about an hour and half, and the second day, I took a late night stroll down to a pond near my house, but only saw one amazingly bright one. All I could think about is what it might be like to be up in the mountains.

  9. Walter Underwood December 21, 2012 at 3:33 pm #

    If you’d like a car camping tent that can stand up to some weather, take a look at tents with pole systems like the REI Base Camp 4. A lot of car camping tents are fair-weather designs.

    We have a Base Camp 6, and it is very similar to the Sierra Designs Kingdome that we finally wore out. Sierra Designs makes nice car camping tents, too, generally a bit lighter than the REI, but more expensive. The white fabric that SD uses is nice when you have a tent lantern.

    http://www.rei.com/product/777753/rei-base-camp-4-tent

    If you don’t care about weight for the car camping sleeping pad, get a big, thick Therm-a-Rest, like the BaseCamp — two inches thick, 3.5 pounds, R-value of 5, around $70.

    • Walter Underwood December 21, 2012 at 3:37 pm #

      And if you want more insulation than R-5, put a blue foam pad or two underneath.

    • Earlylite December 21, 2012 at 8:54 pm #

      A free standing is a must have for winter car camping.

      • Walter Underwood December 22, 2012 at 1:00 am #

        The REI Base Camp series is essentially freestanding. The front vestibule needs two stakes, but gives a nice chunk of space, or you can fold it back against the tent for watching the sky.

        You should guy out the sides for rough weather, but that is only a few deadman placements.

        Of course, you could always get a TNF VE25. Decent room for two people and you can sleep securely.

  10. DaniLou22 December 21, 2012 at 7:34 pm #

    A very sweet post, I love to go car camping with my husband (especially in winter when we’re guaranteed a quiet night in a campground).

    My recommendation for pure luxury car camping would be the REI Camp Bed 2.5 or 3.5 depending on the desired R-value. I have the 2.5 and it’s never left me cold. I also have an Exped DownMat7 that I really like, but the comfort of the camp bed is ridiculous (and at a better price). I’ve recently gone back to self-inflating foam (even for backpacking) after using the NeoAir since it came out–just too hard on my hips since I’m a side sleeper–so that could be an issue for the Mrs. as well with an air pad. Even my dyed in the wool minimalist husband eyes my Camp Bed longingly when we car camp!

    • Earlylite December 21, 2012 at 8:53 pm #

      She definitely had issues with the pad. Hurt her back…side sleeper, and she got cold although she was on a pair of pads with a combined r value of 6.

  11. Sean December 21, 2012 at 8:00 pm #

    DaniLou, you had problems with the neoair? Maybe it’s not inflated enough? I’m a side sleeper and weigh around 250lbs and it’s awesome for me.

    • DaniLou22 December 22, 2012 at 12:43 pm #

      Sean, I finally figured it out this year when we took a week-long canoe trip in place of our usual week-long hike in August. I’ve always assumed the soreness in my hips during the night was attributable to the hiking, but I felt the same soreness starting on night two or three of our canoe trip as well. I’m comfortable when I go to bed, but by about 2 or 3 am I start to toss and turn and am incredibly sore the rest of the night. I’ve tried making the NeoAir really firm, I’ve tried letting out some of the air, I’ve tried letting out a lot of air…I feel like I’ve tried it all! Then one night on our canoe trip my husband let me use his ProLite Plus (it was my birthday!) and it was a blissful sleep.

      I’m not sure what it is, my husband (who sounds to be about your size) doesn’t have issues with his NeoAir at all and sleeps on his back and side (though he does admittedly prefer the Prolite except that it’s comparatively heavy). I guess for me it’s just one of those things, I even upgraded to the women’s X-lite this year for the extra warmth but I think it’s time to pay the weight penalty and go back to the self-inflatable. At least the newest Prolites have reduced their weight quite well, and I’d rather carry an extra half pound and sleep well after a long day on the trail!

      • Earlylite December 22, 2012 at 3:49 pm #

        I think there is a case to make for sleeping pads that are designed for side sleepers, deeper than 3.5 in, possibly narrower, with a higher side to provide a bit of back insulation and to keep the sleeper from ending up on their back at night.

        • Sean December 27, 2012 at 3:20 pm #

          Cool idea having a high side to keep the back warm.

      • Sean December 27, 2012 at 3:20 pm #

        DaniLou22, that’s good info. As good as I sleep on the neoair, I might have to give the Prolite a look. Thanks for the tip.

  12. Tom Murphy December 21, 2012 at 8:02 pm #

    Black Mountain Cabin might fit the bill.

    From Carter Notch Road, the trail reaches Black Mountain Cabin in 1.4 miles via a moderate grade.

    And if it is less than stellar experience, you can bail to one of the B&Bs in Jackson.

    • Earlylite December 21, 2012 at 8:51 pm #

      Too much uphill. Sugarloaf campground can be nice in winter. Short walk from the road.

  13. Dan December 22, 2012 at 3:37 pm #

    My wife never had any interest in camping until I convinced her to try it once. We went to Arcadia for a few days and she loved it. Now she’s the one always asking, “When can we go camping?”

  14. ronda December 23, 2012 at 8:55 pm #

    Fun blog – I look forward to having Captain Mouse share her journey into camping.

    Merry Christmas!

  15. mazzachusetts December 27, 2012 at 3:52 pm #

    Single digits for a First time car camper? You Werners are hearty folk!

  16. Gmmmmmm January 1, 2013 at 6:48 pm #

    Have a look at the Big Agnes Insulated Q-Core air mattress. I used it all year backpacking (and car camping) and loved it. 26 oz and not cheap, but I’m reaching the age where I want that “luxuriousness”. I’m a side sleeper also. Does take 2-3 minutes to inflate, but that didn’t bother me at all.

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