A week ago Will and I had our sixth winter camping adventure together. We’ve had all sorts of experiences out there. Warm years, wet years, hard years, easy years… It’s always interesting. This year we took Annalesa and I’m working on telling that story. In the meanwhile…
There are two types of people when I share that I winter camp:
Some people are immediately horrified by the concept. They recoil when I tell them as if I was sharing that for my vacation I was going to be suspended on cliff edge in a tank of snakes and spiders while publicly speaking naked. Not only can they not imagine wanting to do something like winter camp, they don’t even want to hear about it.
Some people are intrigued and drawn to the idea. These are the people I’m nervous will get inspired and head out there unprepared and end up in Type 3 fun (where someone dies, or close to it.) They ask what it’s like and how things work and I often struggle to explain how much work it is.
Perhaps a timeline of a typical day would help.
I always have to pee in the middle of the night. It’s extra hard if it’s -30º out there. I got mentally prepared, and then found and put on my liner gloves (so not to get contact frost bite from touching things outside my sleeping bag) I unzipped both zippers of my sleeping bag, slid out of my liner bag, pulled out my big puffy jacket and put it on, swiveled around and slid my boots on, wobbled over to my pee spot, undid my fleece onesie, peed. Then reversed the whole process, pausing only to reinflate my therm-a-rest. Back in my bag I released one of my two hot water bottles (Nalgeens that were filled with boiling hot water right before bedtime) from their fully encapsulating koozies. Ahhhhh. So warm and cozy! I fell back to sleep.
I woke up because I’d been sleeping for over eight hours. But was still dark. My hot water bottles were no longer hot. I ate one of my two fun sized snicker bars kept in my breast pocket. I knew my sleep systems were beginning to get cold because the candy bar was kinda firm and not squishy and melty. I did toe crunches and full body crunches. Or I might have started crying first before Will re-inflated my Therm-a-rest and told me to eat my snickers and do the crunches. Then Annalesa and Will laughed that I reported “2 sets of 100 toe crunches” Either way I was rewarmed. Then we all drifted back asleep.
Awake, again. But it was still close to -20ºF and Will said we had to wait until the sun hit our campsite to get up. Grrrrr. I ate my other snickers. Did another set of crunches. Watched frost form from my breath in the low light of morning. Closed my eyes for a while.
The sun hit the tarp, the temperature started to rise. After 10 hours in our sleeping bags it was time to get up! First I found all the things I kept warm in my bag: liner gloves, chopper mittens, socks, big puffy jacket. Then as quickly as I could bear it (which is all too often not very quick) I put my Nalgeens back in their koozies, put on my liner gloves, got out of my sleep system, put on my over pants, put on puffy jacket, put on my anorak, put on my VBs (vapor barrier, a plastic bag for feet that is critical) put on my wool socks, put on my boots. Stumbled out of the tarp, while brining out the z-rests for sitting on and my day pack of personal items. Immediately started on drinking and finishing the Nalgene that was still warm from being in the sleeping bag with me.
These were the morning tasks:
- Start and maintain the fire. (Will already did this while I was still getting my shit together).
- Get out the breakfast stuff. Start frying over the fire the frozen breakfast foods. These would be the precooked breakfast sausages and breakfast pastries. This year was toaster pastries filled with egg, cheese, and bacon. Also portion out the granola and coffee
- Re-open the ice hole, get water, start boiling water over the fire. (This gets repeated)
- Use fire to dry things that got damp with breath frost overnight.
- With boiling water from the fire – pour over granola and coffee.
- Start filling up all the bottles with the boiling water for the day. (96oz per-person)
- Hopefully, after coffee, go poop.
- Warm up by fire after pooping and using hand sanitizer. Cause pouring cold alcohol on bare skin in freezing air is a recipe for pain.
- Brush teeth and do other self care tasks.
- Put trail lunch in daily portion ziplock bags to go in pockets to be snacked on throughout the day.
Now, assuming it was a day to move sites… it would be time to break camp. Much of this looks like any other camping trip. But it takes three times as long. The zillion little easy tasks of packing up the kitchen or packing up the bedroom are now extra hard because I’d be trying to keep my hands warm. Which could mean I’d be wearing my chopper mittens which are super comical to do things with dexterity. Or I’d be wearing my liner gloves which then sometimes get stuck in things. Or I’d risked it and gone bare. And then I’d have to spend time warming up at the fire. Meanwhile the day was warming and even if my hands were getting chilled the rest of me was getting warmer. So packing up was interrupted by gradually shedding my warmest night time layers for my active day time layers.
Pulks were finally loaded and tied down. We scanned to make sure nothing was left behind. We took a final look at the map and planned route, keeping wind direction in mind. Strapped on skis (and snowshoes) and we were off!
Very slowly. As to not work up a sweat.
OMG. I’m exhausted just from describing the morning. But I swear, it’s fun! In a special kind of way.