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Continued: Winter camping with non-Minnesotans

  • Article by: TOM ANDERSON SPECIAL TO THE STAR TRIBUNE
  • Last update: February 6, 2014 - 1:02 PM

I pointed out the meandering string of chicken-like tracks left by a ruffed grouse. After carefully examining the tracks left by a red squirrel, the brothers could visualize the creature bounding across the snow and disappearing up a spruce tree. We discovered the snow-trough pattern of an otter and the loping prints of a weasel. Daniel was taken by the lacework of trails left by white-footed deer mice that ventured to the snowy surface from a more secure and warmer below. Both brothers were amazed to know that the frigid forest was not as empty as it looked.

We guided our sleds to the frozen Poplar River and headed upstream for nearly a mile. We found a wind-protected site to make camp in a dense forest of black spruce and white cedar.

The sun marched low across the sky. I appreciated the brothers’ previous camping experience. They took directions well and eagerly helped make camp and cut firewood.

Standing outside the tent, I lowered the telescoping stovepipe through the chimney hole to the stove. Candles were lit, and I began cooking bannock, a simple camp bread, to complement the venison and beans in bourbon sauce. I explained how over the next three days the brothers would be on their way toward earning their winter camping stripes.

Teaching the next generation

After fortifying ourselves with the hot supper, we scooted our folding chairs close to the stove. Satiated and warm, it was time to spin yarns and ask questions. Ben started.

“What’s the coldest night you’ve experienced winter camping?”

“Thirty-eight below,” I answered before filling in the rest of the story.

“What’s in the small survival pack you always carry?”

“Matches in a waterproof container, a lighter, a whistle, a knife and a compass.”

The question I appreciated most came from Daniel. “What was your father like?”

I explained that my dad had accompanied me on my first winter camping experience. “Besides being a scoutmaster, he took me hunting and fishing. He introduced me to the outdoors.”

Each night we strolled away from the heated sanctuary to assess the night sky. We deciphered bright constellations and hoped for shimmering northern lights.

One of the greatest tests in winter camping happens when you transition from a warm fire to a sleeping bag. The heated tent was too cramped for three adults. We opted instead for the lean-to.

With headlamps shining through clouds of breath, the brothers giggled like schoolboys at a sleepover. I think the laughter helped shed a nervousness that we were deliberately sleeping outside in the frigid embrace of January.

The chortling was short-lived. Soon each of us curled into solitude. Simply waking up is a victory when the cold is fended off.

 

Tom Anderson splits his time between North Branch and northern Canada’s Yukon Territory. He is a freelance writer and the author of “Things that Bite: The Truth about Critters that Scare People” and other books. Find him at www.aligningwithnature.com.

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  • The camp stove glowed inside this tent, where the author prepared a hot supper of venison, beans in bourbon sauce and a simple flat bread called bannock.

  • The camp stove glowed inside this tent, where the author prepared a hot supper of venison, beans in bourbon sauce and a simple flat bread called bannock.

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