Sleeping on Rocks

Sleeping on Rocks

By: Olivia Eads

 University of Cincinnati

Sleeping outside is not for all personalities, but I believe anyone participating in JIRP should try it at least once. For me, there is no better pleasure in life than to be exposed to the elements, breathe fresh oxygen, and have wind brush past my cheeks as I fall asleep. It is a humbling feeling to wake up feeling small, totally surrounded by the vastness of the clear night.  There is no better scenery to wake up to than starry skies illuminating clouds moving across the horizon or early morning light gleaming off the glacier and reflecting onto exposed peaks. On such nights and mornings a tarp is not necessary to keep the body confined and the exposed sky allows the mind to be open and to contemplate life and existence. Unfortunately, those nights are few and far between as shifting weather patterns are a reality faced hourly on the Juneau Icefield.  With that being said, there are many things to consider, many of which are learned through trial and error in order to have a comfortable night sleep on the nunataks poking out of the sea of ice.

                The first order of business to set up a tarp city is finding a relatively flat rock. These can be rare especially at camps 17 and 10, due to the highly fractured nature of the nunatak rocks. If a flat platform is found that has a slight slope and there are concerns about waking up to a falling sensation as you slide down a cliff, no worries. This can be avoided, along with waking up at 4:00 AM meters away from the sleeping pad and tarp. Find a large rectangular rock that is about two inches in height and place it beneath your desired foot planting location. This ‘foot rock’ is really effective at keeping the body in place as you sleep. Plus the process of slinking across cold, wet, abrasive, rigid rock after rolling away from the slumber party and snoring comrades, is quite exhausting to say the least.  Best to play it safe on inclined planes and use a foot rock.

                When dealing with the effects of precipitation, look for drainage patterns around the prospected location. If fractures in the rocks look like they could channel rain during a storm event, a stream will surely commence and you can expect drenched gear. On the bright side, one must not stray beyond the boundaries of camp, so it the elements become too much, it is only a few minute walk to infrastructure and relatively warm, wind free buildings. 

Tarp tent trial 1: Tarp fitting 6 people. Not a very successful structure. Eventually it rained that night and there was a wind storm. The open floor plan caused heads and feet to get WET, however the wind later that morning dried everything… Photo credit: Jeffy Gunderson

Tarp tent trial 1: Tarp fitting 6 people. Not a very successful structure. Eventually it rained that night and there was a wind storm. The open floor plan caused heads and feet to get WET, however the wind later that morning dried everything… Photo credit: Jeffy Gunderson

The necessities for sleeping outside include: a warm sleeping bag, pad, headlamp, a tarp, and maybe a bottle of water. When sleeping outside it is important to take into account the tricky weather patterns, as they are ever changing. Some people choose to simply burrito themselves into a tarp, creating a bivy to evade rain. That method is not very effective if the goal is to stay dry. Especially if an opening is left for air flow. Others may decide to build a rock fort and or use existing nunatak infrastructure in order to stay dry. Rock forts are awesome when dressed with a tarp roof. Tarps with little to no holes are preferred for donning roofs considering they allow less precipitation to seep through. The more extravagant the rock fort, the more time consuming and laborious it is to build. Precision stacking is imperative; no one wants a rock to crush them while they are trying to sleep.  Expect about four to six thirty minute sessions of collecting and finagling about a ton of rocks into place to create a sturdy rock fortress. It is important to make sure that the rocks can withstand pressure coming from both sides, otherwise the structure is not terribly safe to slumber within. 

Tarp tent trial 4: The rock fort at camp 10 took many nights and attempts to perfect. By connecting some cord to rocks with a bowline knot and creating tension, a tarp that repelled precipitation was fashioned. People from left to right: James O’Neil, Olivia Eads, and Tadhg Moore. Photo credit: Jeffy Gunderson.

Tarp tent trial 4: The rock fort at camp 10 took many nights and attempts to perfect. By connecting some cord to rocks with a bowline knot and creating tension, a tarp that repelled precipitation was fashioned. People from left to right: James O’Neil, Olivia Eads, and Tadhg Moore. Photo credit: Jeffy Gunderson.

The Juneau Icefield is constantly evolving and there are not many things better in life than existing upon a nunatak. I implore those who have not considered sleeping outside to do so even if rain is imminent. The pitter-pats created on the tarp are one of the most beautiful lullabies sung by the rain. By creating a sound structure and keeping in mind where the water will go during a storming event one can stay dry, warm, and relatively happy.  Insects, birds, and rodents are another reality of sleeping outside and should be respected as we are merely guests in their territory. Just a heads up: there is no morning wake up when camping out. That means that either your internal clock must be on point, or an alarm is necessary, especially when staying by yourself. If sleeping alone, make sure that at least one person knows where your camp is located, for if you happen to snooze through breakfast, a personalized wake up from a friend across camp is much appreciated. .

These are the many aspects to consider when sleeping on the rocks. The next rock fortress to come at camp 18 should be more impressive than camp 10. Stay tuned.