Our first day on the trail was fairly quick and painless. The group did well, even though most of the trail was buried in several inches of snow. We had two people lead and break the trail with snow shoes. I hung out in front for the first part of the day, and felt quite stressed by continuing to have to lightly suggest that we make sure we stay together as a group and feeling unable to say, 'there is no heroism in charging ahead,' in Albanian.
Our goal was a tarn that cozied up to the border of Montenegro. When we reached our goal boys ran out across snowy hills to discover our campsite. A flat area, beneath trees, on top of a knoll. As we set out to build a campsite, digging out layers of snow to pitch tents and make a fire pit. I volunteered to go with the group to fill up water bottles in the nearby spring. When I came back with full water receptacles (there had been much discussion and attempts to open and fill a participants Camelback) people were hard at work gathering firewood, shoveling snow, pitching tents, and building a quinzy (a snow shelter) I had a hard time finding anything to do.
Impressed and pleased, my mood slowely began to go south as it started to snow. I started to shiver and feared the upcoming night. On my first backpacking trip in a surprise spring snow shower I got hypothermia, because of a poorly built shelter my sleeping bag got slowly soaked throughout the night. I was awake all night and in the morning exited my tent pulling on wet pants and announcing to my leaders that I coudn't get warm. I fear the cold. Deeply.
As Scott and I took a moment to discuss the various temporary structures that were going up for our night's stay I noticed that some of the balls of hail-like snow were actually snowflakes. As I lifted my gloved hands up under my nose I noticed that they truly did look like those paper cut-outs I had made in elementary school in San Diego. A quick moment of beauty during my inner panic about the oncoming cold night.
Dinner was cooked quickly, with much deliberation on how to balance a pot on some rocks. I was non-directive and allowed participants to figure it out. Or I was tired and clueless. Read my decision however you want. We devoured a dinner of pasta, smoked sausage, and green beans and dived into our tents. I was sharing our two man tent with the only female participant, a teenage girl named Yvonne. I had brought a sleeping pad with me, a rare treat in my backpacking experience. I almost gave it away but a the last moment decided that I carried the damn thing up, it was mine. All night long Yvonne wiggled, like a fish out of water. I was hesitant to say anything because I wasn't sure if she was awake or not, was it some strange sleep tick or what? I actually slept well, I was not cold at all, if not for the wriggling of my tent mate I believe I would have slept all night long.
In the morning I asked Yvonne how she had slept,
"Horrible, I was freezing, I kept putting clothes in my sleeping bag between me and the ground." I felt a pang of guilt, but then thought, 'I've served enough freezing sleepless nights in my life.' Selfish, maybe? Redemptive, yes.
As I unzipped my tent into the frozen world I was greeted by more falling flakes. I crouched in knee deep snow to pee and thought, 'We're going home today.' We had one more night planned. Most of us were frozen and had not slept a wink. Those in the snow shelter had fled half way through the night and made one tent overcrowded. Scott reported that he had slept with his arms squeezed together and on the diagonal (this seems to happen to him a lot, I don't know why).
We checked around and found most people with wet boots and socks. We made it official, back to camp. Scott looked at the mountain that bordered Montenegro and gritted his fists in mock frustration that we weren't going to make that border crossing. I was fairly grateful to head for the relative warmth of camp.