Winter Camping
Credit: Kevin Callan

Melted snow has a weird burnt taste to it—something between overdone toast and charred meat fat. If you have to melt snow for water while winter camping, then add a bit of water in the pot first. This reduces the bad taste—but doesn’t eliminate it. Melting snow also wastes valuable fuel, and you’ll need handfuls of snow to make a single cup of water. If you’re lucky, really lucky, you’ll be camped beside an open section of water. Or a layer of slush is covering the lake you’ve camped near. It’s more common, however, to cut a hole in the ice to gather fresh water. An ice auger is the quickest way. They are bulky and heavy, though.

The best choices of augers are the fold-up models, with an extension-shaft if the ice is extra thick. Generally, it needs to go through at least one metre of ice without using the extension. A dull auger blade makes it a real chore. Keep your blades sharp. They become close to useless if you hit a rock while going through the ice. Just make sure to keep the blade-guard on. A new blade is razor sharp.

An ice chisel is more traditional and, when used properly, it becomes a very efficient way to retrieve water. The chisel is a heavy steel blade (beveled on one side is best) with a steel sleeve in which to fit a long wooden pole into, which is, in turn, held in place by a screw.

You carry the chisel with you, which you'll attach to the elongated pole when you get to camp. It takes time, patience and skill to use the well-sharpened chisel to cut through to open water. It’s a skill you either wear with pride or something you end up despising.

My group of winter campers play a game of paper, rock, scissors to choose who’s going down to the lake to chisel the hole. I’ve lost more often than not. It’s not bad once you get the hang of it, though. Sometimes it’s even a nice peaceful time; hard labour mixed with tranquility.

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