January 23, 2013; Day five of our Winter Bushcraft And Snowshoe Expedition Intensive. The weather has been cold; we haven’t seen positive temperatures in four days. The last two nights, the temperatures have been colder than 35 degrees below zero, and colder than -55 with the wind chill.
We’ve got two 8-sided, 12′ diameter Ungava tents, each outfitted with a wood stove. Each tent has four people in it.
We cooked supper outside last night, after which people retreated one-by-one to their tent. As I walked the packed snowshoe trail through the balsam fir trees to my tent, before I could see it I could hear my tent mates; their laughter coming through the trees. They’re learning to be comfortable and at home in the harsh, unforgiving cold, and with the right approach, it can be enjoyable. By the time I crested the hill and saw the light of the tent, my beard and shirt were covered with frost.
Entering the tent I was surrounded by a bubble of warmth; the temperature difference between outside and inside neared 90 degrees F. With my warm and dry sleeping bag draped over me I read for a bit and joked around with my tent mates.
After four hours of darkness, 8:30 pm was as late as we lasted – the lights were put out and we all drifted off to sleep. The stove burned through its final fill of wood for the night and the temperature began to drop in the tent. We were prepared. Each of us, warm, dry and contented, climbed into our sleeping bags. Before the tent was cold I was asleep, waking only once in the middle of the night to exit my warm cocoon, and the tent, to void my bladder.
On cold nights, the stars look like they’re just above the tops of the trees; if you climbed the tallest white pine, you could reach up from its top branches and touch a low-hanging Capella or Algol. With my outside business completed I returned to my bag to dream the rest of the night away.
This morning as light crept back over the land and the mercury bottomed out, I loaded the stove with twigs and lit them with a match. Soon life was returning to our tent as the warmth coaxed people from their sleeping bags. Our water pot (and everything else) had frozen solid, but after sitting on the stove the ice melted and soon there was hot water for coffee or tea.
Even in the bitter grip of winter, with our simple gear the forest is home, providing for our needs. A tent, a stove, an axe, a saw, snowshoes; a life in the cold.