The sun is finally making it’s showing above the expanse of spruce and fir trees here along the shore of the Moose River.
My thumb is already starting to crack in the cold. We spent over 12 hours in the sleeping bags. This morning, no one was up until it was light. I got the stove going and then crept back into my sleeping bag to warm up while I waited for the stove to start radiating heat into our living space. It was very cold. I have no interest in winter camping out of a backpack any more.
Heated tenting is where it is at for me. Pat works outdoors in all seasons and he said it was around 10 below zero. Snow had collected on the 13′ x 13′ plastic tarp in the night and we had to knock it off. The tent’s interior surfaces were covered in a thin layer of ice that built up from the cooking and the moisture that four men create by living in a small heated space.
I suffered through an hour of discomfort while eating supper last night. Stay away from Dave’s Ultimate Insanity Hot Sauce. I shook 4 dabs into last night’s stew and two spoonfuls put my mouth into such a fire that I was unable to eat any more. I should have read the label, which recommended 1 drop at a time. I put hot sauce on just about everything, but this stuff is truly in another universe. I should have read the label, which warned the user to use , at most, one drop at a time, and even suggested diluting the stuff in oil.
We came up with a creative solution to today’s activity. Instead of moving the tent again, we completed a 6 mile round trip walk up the river, taking minimal gear- just 1 toboggan, two saws, and the axe. Our quest was to pack down the fresh 6″ of snow on snowshoes and scout out a potential tent site to use as we move up river tomorrow.
The day was sunny, with a bit of a breeze, however it stayed freakin’ cold. I was terribly frigid at our first snack stop after 2 miles of trudging through the loose powder. I tore open two chemical heat packets and shoved them into my chopper mitts. I put a scarf over my lower face. I pulled up my jacket hood, drank a pint of hot coffee, ate a big Chunky, and trusted that things would turn around while I continued to walk.
We never did find an ideal tent site within those three miles. At the turn around point, Matt suggested that we explore a tributary that came into the river through a marsh. While walking in the frozen swamp, Pat broke through the ice and luckily dove onto shore before he got his feet wet. We all walked over to a single, tall, dead spruce to observe the osprey nest at the very top.
Matt told us that the boggy expanse of swamp would be an ideal place to spot a Snowy Owl, which are overwintering here from their northern reaches in the arctic. No luck with that.
We made great time walking the three miles back to the tent, where the four of us, unspoken, set to work getting a bucket of fresh water, replacing melted snow under the stove, cut and split firewood, and readjusted the tent. No more snow allowed for repositioning some of our outside gear as we settled into Bad Influence’s evening meal of Ranch dip and veggie chips, beef stew, and yummy dessert bars.
We were all in bed by 6:45 PM. I hope I sleep soundly, and pray for no legs cramps tonight. The silence of nature is genuine here, a rare occasion in America in 2014.
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: Clothing:
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. Footwear
Bring along warm boots for walking in. I prefer mukluks with 2 pairs felt
– 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
• 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.
• Bring your own toilet paper Optional Extras
• Notebook and pencils
• Sewing kit
• 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.