Peter Sinks Regions January 1, 2015. A temperature recorded there in 1985 remains the coldest in Utah history. (Mike Anderson, KSL-TV)
Estimated reading time: 8-9 minutes
LOGAN – The fresh arctic air is so hard to find unless you know Peter Sinks all the way to Logan Canyon.
Peter Sinks has some of the coldest measured temperatures in the contiguous states. In fact, a temperature of minus 69.3 degrees Fahrenheit was recorded on February 1, 1985, which is the lowest temperature recorded in Utah and the second lowest recorded temperature in the continental United States. It’s cold!
Peter Sinks is a limestone sinkhole about half a mile wide that sits 8,134 feet above sea level. The sinkhole feature has no outlet, so cold air settles at the bottom and can stay there until there is enough wind to move it. It’s similar to winter inversions in the Salt Lake Valley, only the air from Peter Sinks is much cleaner.
This cold air phenomenon was first discovered in 1983 by Zane Stephens, a student at Utah State University, as the Deseret News noted. Stephens and the Utah Climate Center placed weather measuring devices in sinks in 1984; the following winter, the instruments recorded this record temperature of minus 69.3 degrees.
Stephens then walked through the sinks with Burns Israelsen to personally record the temperature. Since then, knowing how cold Peter Sinks can be has been a favorite mention of meteorologists on local Utah TV shows.
So why would you want to camp at Peter Sinks?
Some people are adventurers and others just like a challenge. Camping in an area considered to be the coldest place in Utah – one of the coldest places in the continental United States – will satisfy the desire for a stimulating adventure for the more adventurous outdoor enthusiast.
If spending a winter night or two, outdoors, in one of the coldest parts of winter is on your to-do list, here is the basics you need to know:
Above all, you must respect this environment. Winter camping in or around Peter Sinks is not for the casual winter camping enthusiast. This area can have heavy snow and blizzard conditions any day during the winter months.
It is essential to look at the winter weather forecast to know the optimal times to be in the sink area. Know your strengths and limitations and act upon them.
Access the Peter Sinks area
Snowmobiling, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing are basically the only ways to access Peter Sinks in the winter. Carrying the proper equipment and supplies for an overnight adventure can be problematic. Pulling a snowmobile sled or cross-country ski sled may be the only way to get the proper supplies in the area.
All outdoor enthusiasts should have a safety plan in place. Since winter conditions can be less forgiving, a safety plan is essential and should be followed. Family or friends should know your intentions. They should know where you plan to camp, how long you plan to stay there, the route you take to and from the designated camp area and who is in your party. Have the latest rescue technology available for the conditions you will encounter.
Always consult with experts before venturing into extreme conditions. Get the latest weather information and seek out the best gear and advice from outdoor recreation guides and outfitters, if possible.
Equipment and supplies
A good winter tent is not cheap and a summer tent is really not enough.
Winter camping gear has come a long way. While it’s possible to do it all the way and dig a shelter in a snow cave or make an igloo, today’s four-season tents are designed to provide reasonable comfort and shelter. Choose a tent designed for harsh winter conditions and easy to set up.
It’s never easy to grope around with a bunch of intricate poles, parts and ropes in cold weather. And the more coins there are, the easier it is to lose them in the snow. Winter tents should be breathable, but wind resistant. Having ventilation will allow body moisture to escape from the tent and not freeze inside where it can fall on the 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’s sleeping area. The floor of a winter tent should not allow moisture to enter from below. It is a good idea to use a separate tarp under the tent floor for added security.
Sleeping bags, mattresses and sleeping clothes
Do your research when looking for a winter sleeping bag and sleeping mat. There have been great technological advances in this area. The 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 padding can provide a very warm and comfortable night’s sleep. You will have to choose the style: rectangular, tapered or mummy. Mummy bags are more effective at retaining body heat. The drawstring allows the bag to be tightened around the head with only the face exposed.
If you’re claustrophobic and tend to get restless at night, a mummy bag might not be the best option. It could keep you awake most of the night with its restriction of movement. Tapered bags and rectangular bags have more room for movement and can be a bit bulkier.
There are also a variety of sleeping mats available for winter camping. Again, do your research and find one that will give you the warmth and comfort you need, as a summer type air mattress will not usually provide insulation from cold snow covered ground, as the air will will only transfer the cold.
There are inflatable mats that have insulation on them and some that have heat reflective material to prevent body heat from dissipating. Familiarize yourself with the R rating on carpet, which is a scale used to determine the insulating capacity of a carpet. The higher the value, the better the insulating value. The range of values is usually between 2 and 5.
Closed cell foam mats are also good for winter camping as they provide good insulation against cold ground. If you are used to using a camp bed, you will need additional insulation as the flow of cold air under the bed will really remove body heat.
For sleepwear, a good pair of thermal underwear is preferable. A good pair of wool, wool-blend, or insulating synthetic socks will help keep feet and toes warm at the end of your sleeping bag.
A fair amount of heat can be lost through the top of the head; If a mummy bag tight around your head is too restrictive for you, a good beanie made of good insulating material is very helpful in keeping warm. Some people will wear a warm hoodie and also use it on their head while sleeping.
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 cool, dry sleepwear. Climbing into your sleeping bag with wet, sweaty clothes can make the night very chilly.
Moisturizing and calorific foods
You need to drink plenty of fluids during the day. Hot drinks are always good in cold weather. Make sure you always drink plenty of water even if you might not be so thirsty in the winter. Slow down your water intake after dinner. Getting up at 4 a.m. for a wash break in cold weather is no fun.
While eating before bed is not the norm, eating foods high in protein a little before bedtime in winter camps can help the body generate heat overnight.
Lightweight and reliable backpack stoves and fuel will be enough to provide hot dehydrated meals and boil water for hot drinks. High-end lighters can be used to ignite the flame. Having multiple lighters is a good idea in case one of them breaks down.
Winter day clothes
As discussed in Outside, we’ve all been taught that layering our clothes in the winter is the best way to regulate our heat. Layers should at least include a good thermal underwear, a base layer and a good track parka.
Winter specific clothing is available in wool, wool blend and synthetic varieties; Breathable and water resistant clothing is preferable. Diapers can be adjusted based on temperature fluctuations and your activity level. A warm hat will minimize heat loss through your head.
The hands and feet are the areas that tend to get the coldest. Well-insulated socks and good boots will keep feet dry and warm. Make sure the boots are large enough to allow the toes to move around and get good blood circulation. Good insulated gloves or mittens will keep hands and fingers warm.
Respect the area
Make sure you put away the things you pack. Never leave litter and practice camping without a trace. The surest way to lose access or have areas closed is to disrespect an area.
Know the rules and follow them. This includes cutting firewood. You may need to pack your own firewood if a fire is even allowed. In winter, it would be difficult to use a designated ring of fire. You may need to use other means to stay warm.