Winter camping with Edison High School's Outdoor Club

  • Article by: AMY GOETZMAN , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 16, 2014 - 3:44 PM

Members of the school’s Outdoor Club recently tried winter camping for the first time.


Xeng Lee, left, and George Vang spent the night resting comfortably in a quinzee of their own design.

Photo: Wilderness Inquiry,

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

I don’t know about you, but when temperatures dipped to 26 below the other day, my first thought was not, “Hey, let’s go camping!” Yet that’s exactly what a group of students from Edison High School in northeast Minneapolis thought, and they were serious. They signed up to spend an entire day and night outside at Fort Snelling State Park, sleeping under the stars (and the 747s from the nearby airport roaring overheard). Lucky for them, temperatures soared into the 20s just in time for their trip, so the campers didn’t even get cold — or so they said.

These students are part of the school’s Outdoor Club, which aims to pull kids from their studies (and yes, from their screens) for some classic Minnesota activities in the parks. So far this winter, the group has gone ice skating, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, and many of the kids who took part were trying these activities for the first time. No one, including the teacher guide, had slept outside in January before.

“Winter camping is the edgiest activity we do, so I admit I was a little worried that the kids would get cold. But no one did,” said John Strand, an English teacher at Edison and Outdoor Club leader. That’s in large part due to the assistance of Wilderness Inquiry, an organization that helps introduce people to the joys and occasional physical challenges of outdoor recreation in Minnesota. Wilderness Inquiry is best known for its work with people with disabilities; you may have seen their giant green canoes on the Mississippi. They also work with at-risk youths and with kids who simply don’t have the family tradition of playing in the snow.

“We call it the ‘opportunity gap,’ when kids come from families who just don’t know how to enjoy the outdoors, due to culture, ethnicity, income or lifestyle,” said Greg Lais, executive director with Wilderness Inquiry. “Just getting them out into the parks opens up a whole new world to them. When they realize how much fun they can have, they want to do it again. And that creates the next generations of Minnesotans who know how to play or hunt or fish and take care of our outdoors heritage.”

Saturday morning, the kids gathered at the Wilderness Inquiry offices in Dinkytown with their best winter wear. Those clothes, for the most part, weren’t good enough for this particular adventure, so the staff helped fill in the gaps from its gear library, fitting campers with technical essentials like moisture-wicking long underwear, expedition-weight fleece pants, good wind-blocking jackets and heavy snow gauntlets with leather palms and cuffs that laced high up the kids’ arms.

The geared-up group then boarded a bus, along with a couple of experienced guides from Wilderness Inquiry, and headed to Fort Snelling State Park, which just happened to be hosting National Winter Trails Day. Across the park, hundreds of people were trying out various winter games and sports, including skiing, skijoring, snowshoeing and ice fishing, so the Edison students weren’t alone in their quest to learn how to make the most of a Minnesota winter.

George Vang, an Edison junior, recently tried cross-country skiing and took to it like a natural. Camping seemed like a good next step. “I just thought it would be fun to try something new. I like everything I’ve done in the Outdoors Club, so why not?” He wasn’t as worried about the cold as he was about the fact that he’d never walked on a frozen lake before. Would it hold? Was it safe? It was somewhat reassuring that dozens of other people were doing the same thing and staying on top of the water.

These winter activities are strange rituals, to be sure. To supply the ice needed for the ice sculpture demos, volunteers had spent the night sawing through ice on Snelling Lake and pulling out monolithic cubes. The Edison crew volunteered to slide the ice blocks across the lake and then spent some time rolling around in the snow like puppies, making snow angels (face down and face up) and tossing the white stuff around. Everyone forgot about their cellphones.

The group spent the rest of the day either working or playing in the snow, beginning with the construction of their camp, a collection of quinzee huts, or snow caves. Volunteers had heaped up piles of snow the day before, giving it just enough time to settle. When the campers arrived, they excavated the center of the snow piles, using foot-long sticks to measure the ideal depth for the walls. Too thick and the “room” in the hut would be claustrophobic for the two or three campers inside. Too thin and the ceiling might collapse. Twelve inches is just right. At night, as the campers slept, their breath melted the surface inside the hut, which then hardened to a tough, insulating ice skin.

That evening, after all the Trails Day crowds went home, the Edison campers ate a well-earned dinner of chicken burritos, watched a group of deer on the edge of the woods, took a night hike and saw a few stars emerge from the urban light haze. They sat for a long time around a roaring bonfire, just as summer campers love to do. Then everyone grabbed their sleeping bags and tucked into their quinzees for a long winter’s rest.

Everyone was warm enough and everyone slept well, Strand reported. In fact, when morning came and it was time to break camp, a few kids protested because they wanted to sleep in. Imagine that.

Amy Goetzman is a Twin Cities writer.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

Click here to send us your hunting or fishing photos – and to see what others are showing off from around the region.


Atlanta 2
Philadelphia 3 FINAL
NY Yankees 1
Detroit 5 FINAL
Baltimore 4
Toronto 4 FINAL
Pittsburgh 1
Cincinnati 2 FINAL
Cleveland 4
San Diego 3 FINAL
Seattle 4
Chicago WSox 6 FINAL
Los Angeles 4
Kansas City 13 FINAL
Texas 2
Oakland 9 FINAL
San Francisco 2
Wisc-Milwaukee 0 FINAL
Milwaukee 8
Arizona 6 FINAL
Colorado 3
Univ of Minnesota 1 FINAL
Minnesota 3
New York 82 FINAL
Indiana 105
Phoenix 105 FINAL
Orlando 100
Cleveland 120 FINAL
Toronto 112
Utah 84 FINAL
Boston 85
Charlotte 115 FINAL
Brooklyn 91
Denver 100 FINAL
Minnesota 85
Detroit 85 FINAL
New Orleans 88
LA Lakers 94 FINAL
Miami 100
Philadelphia 118 FINAL
Oklahoma City 123
Memphis 102 FINAL
Houston 100
Sacramento 85 FINAL
San Antonio 112
Milwaukee 93 FINAL
Golden State 102
Portland 98 FINAL
LA Clippers 93
Ottawa 3 FINAL
Winnipeg 1
NY Rangers 1 FINAL(OT)
Detroit 2
Pittsburgh 1 FINAL
Colorado 3
Montreal 1 FINAL
Anaheim 3
Longwood 65 FINAL
Presbyterian 61
Campbell 64 FINAL
Gardner-Webb 72
Liberty 70 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 80
Ohio State 77 FINAL
Penn State 67
Maine 66 FINAL
Albany 83
Duquesne 81 FINAL
Fordham 66
George Washington 67 FINAL
George Mason 51
Tennessee 78 FINAL
LSU 63
Notre Dame 71 FINAL
Louisville 59
SE Missouri St 74 FINAL
Morehead State 79
St Francis-PA 73 FINAL
Mount St Marys 58
Hartford 63 FINAL
New Hampshire 67
Wagner 68 FINAL
Robert Morris 91
Long Island 70 FINAL
St Francis-NY 79
La Salle 50 FINAL
Saint Josephs 55
Providence 79 FINAL
Seton Hall 66
South Florida 74
Binghamton 57 FINAL
Stony Brook 62
Vermont 66
Sacred Heart 85 FINAL
Bryant 91
Richmond 56 FINAL
Massachusetts 53
Wake Forest 51 FINAL
Duke 94
Purdue 66 FINAL
Michigan State 72
Miami-Florida 67 FINAL
Pittsburgh 63
St Bonaventure 64 FINAL
Saint Louis 48
New Mexico St 69 FINAL
TX-Pan American 48
Houston 68 FINAL
Tulane 63
Howard 62 FINAL
Oklahoma State 82
Cincinnati 56 FINAL
Tulsa 47
Miss State 56 FINAL
Vanderbilt 66
Utah State 53 FINAL
Wyoming 76
St Johns 67 FINAL
Marquette 51
SIU Edwardsville 66 FINAL
Eastern Ill 78
Air Force 66 FINAL
Fresno State 68
Nebraska 57 FINAL
Illinois 69
Colorado State 78 FINAL
Nevada 62
Boise State 68 FINAL
San Jose St 51
San Diego St 60 FINAL
Oregon 65 FINAL
Oregon State 62
UC Santa Barbara 98 FINAL
Hawaii 90
Toledo 64 FINAL
Northern Ill 68
Wake Forest 69 FINAL
Boston College 53
Eastern Illinois 35 FINAL
UT Martin 68
Austin Peay 69 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 72
Virginia Tech 57 FINAL
NC State 56
Massachusetts 55 FINAL
St Bonaventure 49
Auburn 71 FINAL
Florida 49
Penn State 63 FINAL
Indiana 68
Clemson 53 FINAL
Georgia Tech 80
Davidson 63 FINAL
La Salle 74
Loyola-Maryland 46 FINAL
Lafayette 58
Boston U 48 FINAL
Colgate 58
Coll of Charleston 58 FINAL
James Madison 107
Delaware 76 FINAL
Elon 77
Drexel 58 FINAL
Northeastern 42
Hofstra 75 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 76
Towson 56 FINAL
William & Mary 68
Miami-Ohio 55 FINAL
Akron 67
Ball State 85 FINAL
Central Michigan 69
Buffalo 55 FINAL
Bowling Green 47
Western Mich 65 FINAL
Eastern Michigan 74
Ohio U 69 FINAL
Kent State 56
Youngstown St 62 FINAL
Cleveland State 73
Illinois-Chicago 54 FINAL
Wright State 74
Alabama 56 FINAL
Vanderbilt 66
Detroit 60 FINAL
Milwaukee 56
Purdue 58 FINAL
Wisconsin 56
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters





question of the day

Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?

Weekly Question