Snow Walking is Alive and Well…

..even if the book is still out of print.

This past week I have been re-reading Garret and Alexandra Conover’s definitive Snow Walker’s Companion: Winter Camping Skills for the Far North.

Snow Walker's Companion

Snow Walker’s Companion

Reading it again makes me wonder if I was paying attention the first few times I read the book, which is currently out of print. There is so much to be learned from the pages of this book. Coming off a 4 day winter trip of my own earlier this month on the Moose River near the Canada border, I appreciate filling in my knowledge gaps with the details that are laden onto each page. If you can find a copy at a used book store, snag it.

Over to Youtube.  I have been tagging potential videos for the past few months and took some time last night to view some of them on my TV set by the glow of the wood stove. 

I stumbled onto this gem, which is a MUST VIEW for all lovers of boreal trekking in the wintertime. It is stellar 50-minute piece of work entitled “Snowwalkers”.

This was a 10-day, 100km ( 62 miles) trip down the historic Missinaibi River in mid-winter. Released on Youtube on Feb 24, 2014, the video is to you by Laurentian University, the LU Alumni Association and Lure of the North. The video features Garrett Conover in action, portrayed here with justified reverence and capturing him in his usual, low key, hard-to-squeeze-anything-out-of-him style of leadership. I remember asking him numerous questions on the few trips that i had the fortune to take with him, and the answers were always preceded by, “Well, it depends….” I now realize how right he was.

See for yourself- invite some friends over, grab some popcorn and take notes until the book is republished.

Day 5 Moose River Winter Walk

Map of the area.

Map of the area.

Finishing any multiple day walk ramps my excitement up a notch.  On last days, I have always acted like a horse getting closer to the barn, often speeding up and taking on longer mileage days as the idea of coming home catches fire inside of me.  I like being in the outdoors, and this trip has only confirmed my desire to get back somewhere in Maine for another longer winter walk in 2015.
Several things stand out about these past few days:
First, we had no set itinerary to stick to- something that is difficult for me.  I’m goal oriented, however a fresh goal is embracing improvisation. If you want to explore how improvisation can improve your outlook on the inevitable changes in life- here it is-Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up by Patricia Ryan Madson.  Thanks to Brad Purdy for bringing me this information!
There was serious democracy in action out here. By the third day, no one had to talk about what to do – cutting firewood, splitting it, fetching water, cooking, washing up.  It just got done.  Fine men around me, all. The best example of this was our “rest day”  where each person was free to walk all day on a day hike, or to lay around inside the sleeping bags and read and sleep.
I learned that cold hands are inevitable when it gets below zero and there is close handwork to do, like packing toboggans, and cinching ropes.
Despite being one of the top snowmobiling capitals of Maine, Jackman is still far away from civilization.  We were surprised to see just a half dozen sleds on the Pond.  Consider midweek vacations if you want to avoid crowds.
 Old stuff works.  Old snowshoes, traditional cotton tents, mukluks, axes, saws.

Just yesterday I read a interesting story that came to me from my stove/fire guru and proprietor of Four Dog Stove,  Don Kivelus.  Fresh from Minnesota Public Radio, it’s about one man’s shift from cold to warm winter camping–>click on the hotlink below for a superb article about another guy doing just what we what we did.

Why would you camp in the winter?”

Here’s one reason why ( from the MPR article)!

photo by Chris Gibbs/For MPR News

photo by Chris Gibbs/For MPR News

Day 3 Moose River Walk

Day 3 Moose River Walk
Early morning rising is easy when the lights are out at 7 PM.     Hard to believe but it was even colder last night.

Sunrise over the freeze

Sunrise over the freeze

Pat was up first – his coffee Jones propelling him to head down to the open lead and fetch water, and then kindle the wood stove and start the coffee percolating.
By 8:30 AM, the bacon was ready, and the rime frost that lined the acreage of the 9 x 12 Egyptian cotton tent had already thawed, so the thin fabric was dry again.  The double whammy of bacon and coffee fragrances makes the heart want to reach out again and embrace the frozen world around us.
Who knows what adventures the day may bring?   There are no set plans.  We have a big pile of firewood that we worked up yesterday so I might just hang out and stoke the fire and eat, read, and write. Or I could head back to Attean Pond and explore along the shore, or pack a track partway back to the car in order to make our exit easier.  Or we could move back up river over the superhighway that we laid down yesterday and set up there.

In the end, I spent a few hours stoking the stove while finishing up Journal of A Trapper: A Hunter’s Rambles Among the Wild Regions of the Rocky Mountains, 1834-1843.

Diary of a Trapper

Diary of a Trapper

If you feel like it is a big deal to be out and live in the cold for a few days, read this.  Nine years of wandering around the Yellowstone region trapping beavers, eating basically nothing but meat, and befriending or, if that fails, getting Indian arrows stuck into you.  Unbelievable.  I was reading from this book and came up with a passage that had Osborne eating pemmican.  IMG_2574  I had some  with me made by my friend Craig and we snacked on that .

Pat and Matt went back up the river for a six mile walk.  Bad Influence and I walked across the frozen river to a small bog where we sawed down three dead, standing spruce, delimbed them with the axe, and then hauled them back to our firewood processing yard.

Bad Influence sawing our fuel

Bad Influence sawing our fuel

We worked quickly with two saws and then I split up the larger pieces while BI stacked them inside and more outside the tent.

We then did some architectural renovations to the heating system, adding extra crib work under the stove, shoveled more chunks of ice and snow into the pit that had melted under the stove, and secured some of the two foot sections of 4″ stove pipe that had come loose during the day’s wind and stove’s settling into the pit.

Pat was on for supper tonight, which we put off as long as possible yet commenced at 4:40 PM. Carr’s Crackers with cheddar cheese and pepper salami made up the appetizer, with chili and cornbread, and home made chocolate cookies for dessert.

The cold doesn’t seem so formidable to me tonight.  I must be getting used to it.

Packing up , Stressing out…

photo by Dave Wilkinson, UK

photo by Dave Wilkinson, UK

The following is based on work taken from The Snow Walker’s Companion, by Garrett and Alexander Conover and a web packing/report from Northlands, a Uk based adventure group who has expeditioned here in Maine. I want to thank these folks for excellent, proven info, as four of us prepare to head up north for our own winter walk.

A Typical day on expedition
Our days start in the warm wall tents- breakfast can be cooked on the wood stove. Camp is then broken down, equipment packed onto toboggans and its time to hit the trail. In camp, we heat the tent to comfortable temps. A drying line is strung up high for clothing. We will not run the stove while we sleep- not safe, nor will it be practical to cut the wood we’d need to keep it
We will snowshoe along the wind-packed waterways, which provide ideal travel for us. As well as ‘easy going’, one of the main reasons to stick to these riparian corridors is to maximise our chances of seeing wildlife.
Lunches of cheese, salami, crackers, dried fruits, and sweets as well as cups of steaming hot teas are enjoyed along the trail. Then we will continue trekking, trying to pitch camp early, chop our wood,in the candle lit tents. Best are usually precooked meals that can be thawed on the stove. I find it best to spread one pot creations on a flat cookie sheet, then freeze and after it’s solid break it into smaller pieces. It is just too much work to cook a meal from scratch in the jtent.

I will bring group gear such as toboggans, tarps for wrapping gear on the toboggans, a wall tent, and titanium box stove and stovepipe. I will also bring along an axe, and a couple of saws for processing firewood. I have a big chisel for chipping a hole in the ice for water, along with a bucket, an scoop for rmoving ice from the water hole. I will bring a larger cooking pot set, and a griddle, so that we can boil water for meals and washing, if desired.

Equipment Checklist:
Wind-proof shell parka with hood. This may be a lined or un-lined parka, surplus anorak (if you can find one), or best of all an expedition style anorak in high count cotton.
several Pairs of socks (use with silk or synthetic liner socks if you can’t wear wool directly on skin.
I 1 x Wool or synthetic hat that can completely cover head and ears, or alternatively a Balaclava style hat.
o 1 x Pair wool mittens with leather ‘chopper” mitt shells. A spare set of liners is not overdoing things for back up, or having a different weight for extreme cold..
o 1 x Down or synthetic filled parka. This should be carried in it’s own stuff sack for easy access during the day for lunch stops.
o 1 x Scarf. Long enough to wrap face and ears in extreme cold or wind.
o 1 x Pair wind pants to be worn over pants in windy conditions. Preferably ventile or quality cotton, rain pants can serve in a pinch, but won’t breath, and skier’s warm-up pants work. Full side-zippers allow them to be put on or removed while wearing snowshoes.
o Several bandanas or Buffs, primarily as nose wiping equipment.
o Rain gear (jacket and pants). We hope to never need these, but if we do, we’ll really need them. Also rubber bottomed boots in the event that we encounter overflow water or
o Knit headband to keep ears warm when a full hat is too hot, and as a nose warmer at night in the sleeping bag.
Bring along warm boots for walking in. I prefer mukluks with 2 pairs felt
boot liners.
– traction devices for the bottom of your footwear should we encounter sheer ice.
Sleeping System
• Sleeping bag, preferably a good quality expedition / 4 season bag (or two 3 season bags).
• Full length self-inflating sleeping mat- you will be sleeping on a tarp placed directly on snow or ice. Be sure that your pads work on ice.
• A full length closed-cell foam mat does an excellent job of adding insulation to a softer pad on top
Carrying System
• Daypack, to be lashed to top of loads with all small frequently used items and extras for ready access, and use on side trips on layover days.
Cooking System- bring your own utensils and silverware
• Knife, fork and spoon
• Large stainless steel or insulated mug
• Stainless steel bowl / deep plate
Sun Protection System
• Eye protection for sun on snow, and wind protection. Goggles are best, glacier glasses, or good dark glasses are suitable.
• Sun block
• Lip balm
Lighting / Location System
• Headlamp (and spare batteries)
• Small LED torch
• Whistle
Water System

• 2 x 1-Litre strong water bottles
• personal water purification system
First Aid System
• Small first aid kit, including safety pins, plasters, blister kit, tweezers, foot powder and any personal medication.
• Emergency food e.g. a power bar
Tool System
• A fixed blade sheath knife
Hygiene System
• Wash kit, preferably containing biodegradable soap, wet wipes.
• Towel
• Bring your own toilet paper
Optional Extras
• Notebook and pencils
• Sewing kit
• Camera
• Binoculars
• 10 meters of parachute cord
• A folding saw
• Large Ziploc Bags
• Mobile phone
• Foam sit-mat

Clothing: The major consideration regarding clothing is that it be thought of in terms of breathability, and for the outermost layer in some conditions – wind-proofness. Layering maximizes ones ability to thermo-regulate and facilitates faster drying should anything become wet. As many items as possible should be wool. Despite the recent infatuation with ‘vapour barrier” systems, natural breathable materials are safer, warmer, easier to maintain and regulate, cleaner, and on all counts easier to manage in the field. One should always adjust their
clothing to the level of activity and wind conditions. Over-heating to the point of sweating is the first step toward being cold. Maintain warmth without being hot. If you sweat you will have wet clothing that will cool by evaporation. Transpiration should be maintained at a level, which passes moisture through your clothing as a gas. In this way you cannot get cold even if the level of exertion changes because there will be no wetness in the clothing to rob you of heat.

Sleeping Bags: Goose down is lightest, warmest, compacts the smallest, breathes the best. However, if you are new to winter camping, are not sure of your commitment, or simply don’t
have the loads of money to invest in a winter expedition bag, there are some alternatives. You may be able to borrow a second bag to double with what you may already have as a three season bag. If you already own a good three season bag and wish to winterise it with a minimum investment, you have the option of buying fairly light bag that is intended to be used double with a full bag. Many of these serve as a hot weather bag by themselves.


How To Live In A Heated Tent

Three buddies are heading up with me to the Jackman, Maine wilds next week for a five day winter camping trip.

Photo by Paul KIrtley

Read another superb blog post from UK’s Paul Kirtley, blogger, wilderness bushcraft instructor, and general expert in outdoor skills.

Paul’s blog entry has loads of info about how we will survive, in style.

Click it!  – How To Live In A Heated Tent.

Tim Smith at Snow Walker’s Rendezvous

The 2013 edition of the Snow Walkers’ Rendezvous in Fairlee, VT was a superb.  Many tents were set up with wood smoke puffing out of 4″  stovepipes. Over 100 people attended the sold out weekend.

We opted for a heated bunk room, took in the displays at the vendor tables, and scored up front row seats in the big room for Friday night’s  program.

Willem Lange kicked off the program with a reading of a couple of his highly entertaining Vermont- based stories. Will’s vitae includes 8 books, numerous careers, and founding the Geriatric Adventure Society.

For me, the highlight of the evening was Tim Smith‘s talk-  “Nature as Wallpaper” .  Tim is a nationally known bushcraft and survival skills instructor, with his Jack Mountain Bushcraft School running courses out of Marsadis, Maine.  He posted an entry about his talk on his blog.

Tim  told attendees that his talk would be on the web, soon.   Here is the podcast of that presentation-  it’s short, but drives right to the point.  Tim is an authentic voice connecting people to the natural world.  I hope to take a course with him.

iTunes Link | Play, Download Or Subscribe In iTunes
Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 13:45 — 15.7MB)

‘North Pond Hermit’ a ‘model prisoner,’ bail set at $5,000 — Augusta — Bangor Daily News — BDN Maine

I’ve received numerous comments from my post about the arrest of Christopher Knight, now dubbed “The North Pond Hermit”. Here’s an update on his continued resistance to connecting to a society he walked away from decades ago.

Photo courtesy of Maine State Police

Photo courtesy of Maine State Police

The link brings you to additional new stories about this most unusual situation.

‘North Pond Hermit’ a ‘model prisoner,’ bail set at $5,000 — Augusta — Bangor Daily News — BDN Maine.