I must admit I was a tad nervous heading out winter camping when the weather reports had temperatures set between -28 to -32 degrees Celsius. Problem was, Andy and I had confirmed a date to go and didn't have another free weekend for quite some time - and we both really wanted to get out into the woods for a bit, cold temperatures or not. The good news was that I had purchased a new stove tent - a Snowtrekker Expedition Shortwall Snowtrekker Tents That meant we had somewhere to keep warm. I've cold camped many times and using a four-season tent is fine when temperatures stay higher than -12 or so, but after they reach the -20 degrees I'd prefer to have a good solid heat source.
Funny part of the trip was that Andy slept in the first day - he never sleeps in - and my six year old daughter claimed it was a sign he really didn't want to go. I gave him an hour extra to pack his gear and I arrived at his door with my vehicle puttering away due to the extreme cold.
It wasn't a long drive to our destination; just a piece of Crown land bush in the Kawarthas, north of Peterborough, Ontario. We didn't even finish our Tim's before we got there. When I cracked open the truck door and felt the cold air hit my face, I slipped back into the drivers seat to finish my coffee and soak in the remaining heat from the vehicle.
What kept our spirits up, and what eventually pushed us out on the trail, was the scenic splendor around us. Snow had fallen the night before and it was sunny. Basically, we were walking through a winter wonderland; something you envision while reading old books of winter trekking lore. And twenty-minutes of hauling our homemade pulk sleds down the snow-covered trail we began heating up and taking layers off to avoid sweating (if you sweat out in in extreme cold you'll definitely pay for it when you slow down and begin feeling chilled).
The distance traveled wasn't too far. It never is when I go winter camping. We just looked for a place we wouldn't see anyone and had lots of dry wood to cut. And we found it, less than an hour away from the vehicle and near a swamp circled by a stand of dead cedar and birch snags.
The Snowtrekker tent only took half-an-hour or so to set up, which wasn't bad since I was a complete novice setting one up. Andy and I first had to stomp the snow down with our snowshoes to make a solid base. He wore traditional shoes and I wore my new MSR lightweight models. He stomped more snow but I didn't walk around camp later looking as if I rode a horse all day. We also made a tripod to hold up the stove pipe and then began the chore of cutting wood. Lots of wood. Paranoia set in just before dark when the temperatures began to drop. By 6:00 p.m. it was -28. The fact is, we cut too much wood though. To quote Thoreau "Chop your own wood and it will warm you twice." We heated up by cutting it, then burning it.
By 9:00 p.m. it was past the -30 mark and sheer panic set in. I had rented a sleeping bag that was rated -25 and Andy, being too cheap to rent a winter bag, packed three summer/fall bags to layer together. We were screwed if it got any colder and the fire went out. At first our plan was simple. Andy and I decided we'd stay awake all night and stoke the fire. Problem was, we ran out of rum by 11:00 p.m. and got tired of stories we'd already told time and time again on previous trips. So we went to bed and prayed our Christmas turkey weight would keep us warm until morning. An hour into our bags the flames died and we quickly became frozen popsicles waiting for morning. I was better off than Andy since I rented a winter bag but ran into some bad luck when the chili dinner I cooked us had me crawling out of the tent before sunrise to go poop. That wasn't a pleasant experience!
Andy had the fire going when I came back and all was good with the world again. We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast of bacon and eggs (powdered eggs because I learned from past experience that real eggs freeze on winter camping trips). We also drank four coffees before braving the morning temperatures to walk out of the tent to dust the night's snow off the pulk sleds and begin packing up.
Andy and I came back with stories of coyotes wandering into camp, owls hooting above the tent, snowshoe hares crossing our path on the trail - but most of all we had bragging rights that we slept in the woods the same night our entire neighborhood was complaining about the cold snap while they sat comfortably in their heated homes and watched television.
We were pure Canadians and proud of it.