Foolishly not daunted by our midweek near death camping experience, Barbara and I set out on a grand winter camping adventure one weekend in March. This time however it wasn’t just two optimistic greenhorns and one reluctant dog taking on the elements. We were invited to join some seasoned locals at a proper winter camp out on the land. Dana’s family had pitched a winter camp out on Island lake for the week of spring break. Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate and the night time temperatures dropped that week to an unfriendly minus 25 degrees at night. Dana and her family spent one night in their own giant prospector tent, with their own hippie killer stove, and while they didn’t get smoked out, they had to load the thing every 90 minutes to keep the place reasonably warm. In a Prospector tent in winter, you can be warm, or asleep, but not both.
As we were going out with Dana and Jenn, who both have wonderful winter camping friendly husbands, complete with the all important winter camping accessory, snowmobiles, we were lucky enough to be able to sleep in an Arctic Oven tent. This is a dream of a tent with a proper non hippie killer stove, which warms up the tent in no time. It’s constructed of some magic fabric that absorbs moisture and keeps everything dry, even if there’s a pot of boiling water on the stove. Sort of like those magic clothes for cleaning the kitchen. But the Arctic Oven tent is a much more fun use of the material. I’ve been hearing about these tents all winter, and of course I want one, so it was really great to try it out.
As the weather was going to be cold, really really cold, I wimped out at the last minute and ran to Overlander, the local gear store, to buy a cushy new thermarest. This one is really thick, and even has some down in it. It is supposed to help keep you warm at night, and now that I’m nearly 50, I think its time I’m comfortable when camping in any case. I’m glad I did – it’s great! It’s funny how sometimes we just need to let go of an idea to make a change. I let go of the idea that I’m a hard core minimalist who doesn’t need a thick sleeping pad. In reality, I’m a middle aged woman with a tricky back who likes a comfortable bed. I’m much more likely to go camping now. I’m realizing that wisdom, or small steps towards it, is often more about undoing something, than doing something.
So four women set off one morning from Pontoon Lake, some 30 km from Yellowknife. It was a fine day and the ski to the camp on Island Lake was lovely, perhaps the most scenic ski I’ve been on up here. We crossed lakes and meandered through beautiful open forests. Aside from its beauty, the ski was memorable for one other reason. Jenn skied down a small hill and had an unfortunate encounter with a tree. The tree won. She maintains she didn’t fall, but somehow she hit the tree with her hand at a bad angle and twisted it. She also maintains I pushed her over, because I am jealous of the fact that she’s a better skier than me, so how can we really believe anything she says? In any case, it led to a sore and swollen hand. I think she was just trying to get out of cooking dinner. And working for the next 2 months.
We had a great evening around the fire. Wonderful risotto, the ultimate comfort food, a good bottle of wine, and the warm of a campfire. Life wasn’t entirely without hardship however – the marshmallows were frozen solid. The Arctic Oven was everything it promised to be – after lighting a small and smoke free fire for about 10 minutes, it was toasty inside, room temperature. We settled into a mountain of warm clothes and winter bags in preparation for a cold night, as we thought we’d opt for sleep over warmth, and let the stove go out overnight. Jenn lent me one of her splendid camping minks for the occasion. Now while I do think style is important, in this case it was for warmth. There is nothing warmer than fur, it turns out. Although it was – 25 that night, we were warm and cozy and comfortable – it was altogether an entirely different experience from the prospector tent sleep a few days before.
One last look before bed revealed that we were again in the company of northern lights. There can’t be a more fantastic place to view them than from a sleeping bag in the middle of the wilderness. I wished I could lay out in my bag on the snow and watch them for hours, but the cold quickly put that thought out of my head.
In the morning we languished in bed while the stove warmed up the tent, and drank espresso coffee with Baileys while we waited for the day to warm up. (And for the water bottles and contact lenses to thaw.) We set off at 11 am for the 20 km ski back to town and it was a wonderful day. Warm and sunny. One handed Jenn elected to take a snowmobile back to town to get her hand x-rayed. She claims it’s broken, but I don’t believe her.
Stylish, snowmobile supported, high end winter tent camping doesn’t really seem like camping at all. Not a hardship. It’s essential however to have a team of devoted followers to support the endeavour. Thanks to Chris and Jenn, Fred and Dana, Olivia, Rose and Mike for making it happen!