Trip date: March 05-06 2017
Granted I haven't spent much time in RMNP in the summer in ~7 years, winter seems like it might be the best time of year to visit. The crowds are much smaller (most facilities are actually closed) and the scenery is absolutely majestic. I liked the taste of winter camping I got as a kid and wanted to give backpacking in the snow a shot. After being turned back by Sky Pond almost exactly a month prior, I looked up backcountry campsites in the area and settled on 'Andrews Creek' between Loch Vale and Sky Pond.
When I talked to the ranger in the Wilderness Office in RMNP about the campsite he said "there'll be so much snow you won't see the sign. Just get close and find some place out of the wind and away from dead trees". It was the most professional way I can think of to say "camp anywhere you damn well please". Turns out not many other people want to do this...there's no charge for a backcountry camping permit in the winter and the guy said there were only 5-6 other parties camping in the whole park that night.
This was gonna be the first time I'd been backpacking in about 15 years so as expected some things didn't go perfectly. The biggest mistake was the food to water ratio I brought. I had no intention of cooking a meal so I didn't want to bring a stove. I just brought dry food: nuts, jerkey, protein bars and some cheese (it was cold so I didn't worry about refrigeration). I probably brought at least 3 times as much food as I actually needed and wound up eating.
On previous trips I'd remembered seeing small gaps in the 6 foot deep snow above a stream with running water below it. I had heard great things about these cheap water filtration pumps so I picked one the store with the plan of using this as a water source instead of melting/boiling snow. I brought 2 liters of water figuring this would be a minimum "in case" supply that would still allow me to get lots of hiking in. On my usual alpine hikes I could drink almost a gallon over the course of the day (this gets heavy...) so I was counting on being able to refill my supply. Once I made it to Loch Vale I didn't see any running water...this has rather obvious consequences...
When I reached the 'campsite' I found two young women also looking for a good spot near Andrews Creek. I was surprised at the odds that one of the other 5-6 parties had wound up in the same place but Sky Pond is pretty popular. They said they'd tried to camp up at Sky Pond was had to retreat because it was too windy and that they worried about their tent surviving the night. This was, I'm sure, a very wise decision.
I picked a spot several hundred yards away from their orange tent and started to dig a tent sized hole for some wind protection. I'm not sure this really helped too much but it was a good excuse to dig a hole.
The guylines on my tent wouldn't reach in between trees so I had to use the dead mans anchor approach which actually worked really well.
I also didn't have footprint for this tent so I had to lug up a blue tarp I bought at home depot. This wound up taking up a significant amount of room in my pack.
I sat in the snow and watched the snow and ice blowing across Sky Pond for about 25 minutes. My (poor) attempt to film it is below.