Could you survive a winter night camping at Peter Sinks?

The Peter Sinks areas on Jan. 1, 2015. A temperature recorded there in 1985 remains the coldest in Utah's history.

The Peter Sinks areas on Jan. 1, 2015. A temperature recorded there in 1985 remains the coldest in Utah's history. (Mike Anderson, KSL-TV)



Estimated read time: 8-9 minutes

LOGAN — Fresh arctic air is so hard to find unless you are familiar with Peter Sinks up Logan Canyon.

Peter Sinks has some of the coldest measured temperatures in the contiguous states. In fact, a temperature of minus 69.3-degree Fahrenheit was recorded on Feb. 1, 1985, which is the lowest recorded temperature in Utah and the second-lowest temperature recorded in the continental United States. That's cold!

Peter Sinks is a limestone sinkhole approximately a half-mile wide that sits at 8,134 feet elevation. The sinkhole feature has no outlet, so cold air settles into the bottom and can stay there until enough wind comes through to move it. It's similar to the winter inversions in the Salt Lake Valley, only Peter Sinks air is much cleaner.

Zane Stephens, USU PHD student in Meteorology, in file photo at the Logan Canyon Peter Sinks during -45 degrees temperature.
Zane Stephens, USU PHD student in Meteorology, in file photo at the Logan Canyon Peter Sinks during -45 degrees temperature. (Photo: Craig LaRocco)

This cold air phenomenon was first discovered in 1983 by Zane Stephens, a student at Utah State University, as noted by the Deseret News. Stephens and the Utah Climate Center placed weather measuring devices in the sinks in 1984; the following winter, the instruments recorded that record-low minus 69.3-degree temperature.

Stephens then hiked into the sinks with Burns Israelsen to personally record the temperature. The knowledge of how cold Peter Sinks can get has been a favorite mention every winter by meteorologists on Utah's local television news broadcasts since then.

So why would you want to camp in Peter Sinks?

Some people are adventurists and some just like a challenge. Camping in an area that is considered the coldest spot in Utah — one of the coldest spots in the continental U.S. — will fill the desire for a challenging adventure for the hardiest of outdoor recreationists.

If spending a winter night or two, outdoors, in one of the coldest winter areas is on your bucket list, here is the basic information you need to know:

Attitude

First and foremost, you need to respect this environment. Camping in winter in Peter Sinks or the surrounding area is not for the casual winter camping enthusiast. This area can have deep snow and blizzard conditions any given day throughout the winter months.

Watching winter weather forecasts for optimal times to be in the sinks area are a must. Know your strengths and limitations and act accordingly.

Accessing the Peter Sinks area

Snowmobile, cross-country ski or snowshoe are essentially the only ways to access to Peter Sinks in winter. Carrying in the proper gear and supplies for an overnight adventure can be problematic. Pulling a snowmobile sled or a cross-country sled may be the only way to get the proper supplies into the area.

Safety plan

All outdoor recreationists should have a safety plan in place. Since winter conditions can be less forgiving, a safety plan is a must and should be followed. Family or friends should know your intentions. They should know where you plan to camp, how long you plan to be there, the route you are taking to and from the designated camp area and who is in your group. Have the current rescue technology available for the conditions you will encounter.

Always check with experts before venturing out in extreme conditions. Get the latest weather information and seek the best gear and advice from guides and outfitters in the outdoor recreation field, if possible.

Gear and supplies

A good winter tent is not cheap and a summer tent is really not sufficient.

Winter camping gear has come a long way. While it is possible to really rough it and dig a snow cave shelter or make an igloo, today's four-season tents are made to provide reasonable comfort and shelter. Choose a tent that is rated for harsh winter conditions and one that is easy to set up.

Fumbling with a bunch of intricate poles, parts and ropes in cold weather is never easy. And the more parts the easier to lose them in the snow. Winter tents need to be breathable, yet wind resistant. Having ventilation will allow body moisture to exit the tent and not freeze on the inside where it can drop onto sleeping bags.

The best winter tents will also have a vestibule to provide a place where boots and parkas can be removed without carrying snow and moisture into the tent sleeping area. The floor in a winter tent must not allow moisture to penetrate from the bottom. It's a good idea to use a separate tarp under the tent floor for added security.

Sleeping bags, sleeping mats and sleeping clothes

Do your research when looking for a winter sleeping bag and sleeping mat. There have been great advances in technology in this area. Sleeping bags come with temperature ratings. Find one that will provide warmth in the temperature range you will be camping in.

Sleeping bags with good synthetic fill can make for a very warm and comfortable night's rest. You'll have to choose the style: rectangular, tapered or mummy. Mummy bags are more efficient in retaining body heat. The drawstring allows for the bag to be tightened around the head with just the face being exposed.

If you are claustrophobic and tend to toss at night, a mummy bag might not be the best option. It could keep you up most of the night with its restriction to movement. Tapered bags and rectangular bags have more space for movement and can be a little bulkier.

There are also a variety of sleeping mats available for winter camping. Again, do your research and find one that will provide the warmth and comfort you need because a summer-type air mattress typically will not provide the insulation from the cold snow-covered ground as the air will just transfer the cold.

There are blow-up mats that have insulation on them and some that have heat-reflecting material to keep body heat from dissipating away. Become familiar with the R-rating on mats, which is a scale used to determine the insulating ability of a mat. The higher the value the better the insulating value. The value range is typically between 2 and 5.

Closed-cell foam mats are also good for winter camping as they insulate well from the cold ground. If you are used to using a sleeping cot, you will need to have added insulation as the cold airflow under the cot will really carry away body heat.

For sleeping attire, a good pair of thermal underwear is best. A good pair of wool, wool blend or insulating synthetic socks will help keep the feet and toes warm at the end of your sleeping bag.

A good amount of heat can be lost through the top of the head; if a tight mummy bag around the head is too restrictive for you, a good beanie made of good insulating material is very helpful in staying warm. Some people will wear a warm hoodie and use it over their head while sleeping, too.

The best thing you can do to make sure you stay warm at night is to make sure you dry off any sweat and put on fresh, dry sleeping attire. Climbing into your sleeping bag in sweaty, wet clothing can make for a very chilly night.

Hydrating and heat-producing food

You should drink plenty of fluids during the day. Warm drinks are always good in cold conditions. Make sure to still drink plenty of water even when you might not feel as thirsty in the winter. Slow down the water intake after dinner. Getting up at 4 a.m. for a bathroom break in cold weather is not fun.

While eating before bedtime might not be the norm, eating high protein foods a little before bedtime on winter camps can help the body produce heat during the night.

Lightweight dependable backpack stoves and fuel will be enough to provide some hot dehydrated meals and boil water for hot drinks. High-end lighters can be used to start the flame. Having several lighters is a good idea in case one of them fails.

Winter daytime clothing

As noted in Outside, we've all been taught that layering our clothing in the winter is the best way to regulate our warmth. Layers should at least include a good thermal undergarment, a base layer, and a good outerwear parka.

Winter-specific clothing is available in wool, wool blend and synthetic varieties; breathable wind and water-resistant attire is best. Layers can be adjusted according to the fluctuations in temperature and your activity level. A good warm beanie will keep heat loss through the head to a minimum.

The hands and feet are areas that tend to get cold the easiest. Well insulated socks and good boots will keep the feet dry and warm. Make sure the boots are big enough to allow the toes to move and get the proper blood circulation. Good insulated gloves or mittens will keep hands and fingers warm.

Respect the area

Be sure to pack out the things you pack in. Never leave trash and practice no-trace camping. The surest way to lose access or have areas closed is to disrespect an area.

Know the rules and obey them. This includes the cutting of firewood. You may have to pack your own firewood in if a fire is even allowed. In the winter it would be hard to use a designated fire ring. You may have to use alternative means to stay warm.

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