Winter Camping

While my friends in Nelson have been biking for some weeks now, until recently its still been darned cold up here.  The days are long however, and the sun is always shining, so the wilderness has been calling.  I had some time a few weeks ago to get out and do two camping trips in one week.  As with most things up here, they were both memorable and legendary.

Come out and play!

Come out and play!

The first camping trip was with my friend Barbara, also referred to on this blog as Camping Barbara, because of her plan to camp out once a week for a whole year.  She was  in Yellowknife in March, and so we planned an adventure.  I had a perfect little camping spot in mind, just waiting for such an occasion.  When I came up to look Yellowknife over last February, prior to moving here, we explored some ski trails neat town, but across the main lake.  Along one trail, we came across what I thought was the most romantic camping spot ever.  A white canvas walled Prospector Tent, of gold rush style fame, was tucked in amongst the trees, beside a small lake.  Inside was a small stove and a raised sleeping platform (hence off the cold ground).  The floor was carpeted with sweet smelling fir boughs and there was even a Caribou fur rug.   I eventually was able to discover its owner, and get permission to spend a night there.  Neither Barbara or I thought it would be very much fun at minus 30, but as the temperatures had risen to the minus teens we thought we might brave it.

Note smoke rising out of chimney...for now

Who could resist such a cute tent?

What followed is a classic example of how as humans we hear and see what we want, what we are looking for, rather than what actually happened.  The sages know this fact well of course, and I know of it too, but this trip was a great lesson in my own selective hearing.

I was telling a seasoned camping friend about the site, and our plans, and she asked what type of stove the tent had.  I described it, and she say “Oh yes, the hippie killer variety of stove”.  What I heard of course was ‘nice and warm and snug stove’, and what she meant of course was ‘killer stove’.  You can just imagine where this story is going.

Before it all went horribly wrong

Before it all went horribly wrong

Barbara and I loaded up our sleds later one evening, complete with some firewood, and walked the 30 minutes or so across the lake and through the forest trails to the tent.  The walk was pure magic.  There was a full moon before us, and arcing across the sky, seeming arising from the moon, was a thin bright green band of dancing northern lights, reaching across the sky from horizon to horizon, encircling us like the great comforting arm of God.  And perhaps indeed it was.


It didn’t take long to set up our sleeping bags and get a cheery fire going, and the tent warmed up in no time.  We settled into our bags, and Kona the dog sprawled across the caribou fur rug.  Barbara, having just come off a very busy work week, fell into a deep sleep immediately.  I was reading and drifting off to sleep when I realized the smoke was getting a bit irritating on my eyes.  I tried to ignore it, but shortly thereafter Kona exited the tent, squeezing his way out under the zippered door.  This dog likes to sleep for 15 hours straight, so this was decided not normal behaviour.  Nor was he at all interested in coming back in.  At this point I realized the tent was so full of smoke it was hard to see across it.  Barbara was still sleeping happily and deeply, but eventually woke when I opened the tent flap to let fresh air in.   Then I realized that there was no smoke coming out the chimney – instead the air was coming down the chimney and out into the tent via the air intake.   After trying various things we realized we weren’t going to be able to reverse this killer direction of air flow, and had to douse the flames with snow.  After severely airing out the tent, we were able to go back to bed, now at outside temperatures.  We had winter bags and were warm enough, but it wasn’t the cozy and romantic sleep I’d pictured from the first time I’d seen the tent.  So much of life is like that – what you think will be wonderful is often not, and yet a seemingly prosaic experience can be sublimely meaningful.  I imagine this has to do with expectation, which perhaps dulls our sense of being in the moment.

Can we please go home now?

Can we please go home now?
photo credit – Barbara Young

Barbara, a champion sleeper, credits me with saving her life, as she was so tired she thinks she might not have woken up.  I find that hard to believe, but am happy not to know for sure.  I do know I won’t be getting that smoke smell out of my winter sleeping bag any time soon!


The sunrise helped make it all worthwhile

The sunrise helped make it all worthwhile

About Tandi

I love my morning coffee, reading, the wilderness, paddling, poetry, my Spanish husband, and being a doctor. I also love writing my blog, and reading yours.
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9 Responses to Winter Camping

  1. Amazing – as per usual for you Tandi. Glad you have a built in smoke alarm. Love and WARM hugs, Karen

  2. Lee-Anne Laverty says:

    Thank you Tandi for saving Barbara’s life!!!! That is also the sweetest picture of Kona and it should be titled ‘Pleading’. Again it is so wonderful to read your blog. Hugs to you and Martin. Lee-Anne Date: Tue, 16 Apr 2013 16:17:33 +0000 To:

  3. shoreacres says:

    That is a wonderful photo of Kona. And of course, a not-so wonderful experience.

    When I began “camping” up in the Texas hill country, the cabin had a wood stove. No one every had taught me about dampers. That was lesson #1. Next came the lesson called “even with the damper open, you sometimes might want to check for bird’s nests or squirrel caches if it isn’t drawing properly”. I think there was a third lesson, but I can’t remember what it was.

    The sailor’s analogy to your experience, of course, is waking to the sound of water dripping. Water sluicing along the (out)side of the boat is good. Dripdripdrip inside the boat, not so much.

    And you’re exactly right about expectations shaping what we hear.

    • Tandi says:

      If you ever remember lesson 3, let me know! I may need to know that one some time.

      You are right – everything has its place. Both smoke and water. Let’s hope things stay where they should, or at least, where we intend them too!

  4. Kyle Kelly says:

    Quite enjoy reading your blog. I go winter camping often and am curious as to what caused the smoke to come back into the tent?

    • Tandi says:

      Hi Kyle,

      Thanks for stopping by. There were a number of problems I think. The stove didn’t draw well as the tent was fairly airtight. As well the stovepipe didn’t go up, but had a 90 degree bend to go out the side wall. Alas, it was right under a tree laden with snow, and after a while I think some of the snow melted and fell into the pipe. Even in our houseboat, with a better stove and proper, clean chimney, we had some problems with venting. Its all about the airflow into the house.


  5. Kyle Kelly says:

    Thanks Tandi for your clear explanation.

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