My family went car camping at Guanella Pass last weekend and here’s what I discovered: You should take your tent poles and not your Ford Mustang.

Well, I didn’t take a Mustang. Don’t have one. I took my truck. But someone from Georgia (I saw the plates) drove a late model green Mustang up the high-clearance road to the campsite next to us. It was one of the neo-retro Mustangs that sound awesome in the lane next to you at the stop light. I like those Mustangs a lot.

But it was not made for 4WD roads. I can only imagine what the big stumpy rocks and deep potholes did to the tender underside of that sweet ride. Did it make it back to Georgia without a detour to the Ford dealer along the way? I kinda doubt it.

Moral of the story #1: Don’t take the Mustang camping.

But do take your tent poles. You know, the things that make the tent stand up. The things that transform your tent from a fried egg into a cozy dome. THE THINGS I FORGOT.

Yup. So when we had our tent all laid out, we realized that the poles were back in the garage, or somewhere other than in the flippin’ bag with the rest of the tent. I was not pleased. Not pleased!

But my smart daughter noticed that there was a loop on the top of the tent and proposed a workaround. We used some truck-scrounged cord and comealong straps and two fir trees to lift the center of the tent up pretty well. Then my other smart daughter figured out that we could bungee the tent’s side seam loops to our center rope and get more of the tent up off the ground.

The tent then worked. It looked somehow like a tiny, flimsy buddhist temple set in the deep woods; its top layer hung just so. But it was a success in outdoor improvisation. And don’t you think that improvisation is close to the heart of camping anyway?

Moral of the story #2: Take your tent poles camping. And your daughters.

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About one century ago, Sir Ernest Shackleton explored the antarctic continent. Clothed in reindeer fur, wearing boots insulated with grass, and with the help of sled dogs and Mongolian ponies, he and his team were the first to reach the magnetic south pole. They were the first to climb Mount Erebus (Antartica’s highest peak). And although he fell short of being the first to reach the South Pole, he voyaged further south than anyone before him had gone.

He then wrote about his adventures. It is compelling reading.

“Degrees of frost” is a phrase he used to describe temperature in Antarctica. It is a poetic way of saying “below freezing” degrees (in Fahrenheit scale, of course. Shackleton was an Englishman).

I took a walk with my daughter earlier this month when it was -22F (-30C). That’s 54 degrees of frost, according to Shackleton. Here’s what that looked like.

54 degrees of frost
54 degrees of frost in central Colorado

54 degrees of frost is as far below freezing as 86 degrees Fahrenheit is above freezing.

That was the coldest temperature we had ever experienced. But those temperatures (and worse) were commonplace for Shackleton and his team in the days of their explorations. You’ve got to admire the tenacity and hard purposefulness of those frosty men.

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What’s this? A humble old aluminum percolator coffee pot. Nothing special.

Oh, but it is.

You see, Bob Martin used this percolator when he went camping, in preparation for his mountaineering expeditions. When he passed away in 2008, he had climbed every mountain in Colorado that stands over 11,000 feet. That’s over 2,000 mountains. Add 2,000+ peaks in Arizona. Over 5,000 peaks worldwide. Wow. I remember reading an article about him in the Denver Post a few years ago, that he had climbed more Colorado mountains than anybody, save one other mountaineer.

Bob Martin used to be my neighbor, and I have his old coffee pot. I bought it at a garage sale at his house. I think I paid 25 cents for it.

When my family and I go camping in the mountains, or I go backpacking with my fishing buddy up to high alpine lakes, I take the old percolator with me. I like to think that it gives me a little of Martin’s old mountain mojo, but in reality it just makes a good pot of coarse-ground morning coffee under the firs and pines.

I guess I’m sentimental, but I think about the hundreds of pots of coffee Bob made in preparation for climbing another mountain. Made in the old percolator. In my mind’s eye I see him pouring a cup, and then studying a topo map spread over his camp table, planning his climbing route for the day.

I actually did go climbing with him once, at his invitation — a neighborly gesture. We climbed an unnamed 11’er in Pitkin county. But that’s another story.

“If these walls could talk”…sure. What about a coffee pot? I wish it could tell me a few stories about adventures above treeline in the mountain West.

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