Greetings, good reader! Well, made it back to White Rock in one piece – all digits still attached, so as promised, here’s what I got up to this weekend…
It was actually quite a mild camp as far as snow camps go. It never got above freezing, but the coldest night (Saturday) only dropped to about -8C. Positively balmy by snow camp standards. We got there after dark, and it was a steady -3C, clear and dry. Near perfect for setting up camp. Normal practice is to dig down through the snow until you either get to a firm layer of snow in which you can anchor your snow pegs (they just pull through soft powder), or alternatively all the way down to the ground, when you can use standard pegs. You’re also looking for level enough ground to sleep on, and if it’s not firm enough, your body heat melts a coffin-shaped indent by morning. So, armed with a snow shovel, I started to dig. Within about an inch, there was a layer of SOLID ice. We’d had a mild week, and the site had been wet and muddy. With the recent cold snap, that was now a reasonably deep layer of ice, and the recent sprinkle of snow was barely covering it. This was actually a good thing! Water is excellent at finding a level, which means that when it then freezes, it’s a good and level place to sleep (assuming it stays that way!). The thin layer of snow meant there was next to no digging to do, and the rock-hard ice meant I could use standard steel pegs (I use 10″ nails with an orange hook at the top… they go through ANYTHING without bending!) and nylon pegs, without them pulling through the ice.
I have a “classic” Vango Force 10 cotton ridge tent, and it requires tension to remain upright, unlike the more modern self-supporting dome tents. This makes me dependent on proper pegging-out in order to stay comfy at night. Once up though… I have the benefit of the breathable cotton to avoid the problem of freezing condensation that plagues the nylon tents. I’m also immune from the “squashed tent syndrome”, where the weight of snow can bend fibreglass poles into a twisted mess, and leave the occupants with a face full of nylon.
So, though it was dark, the tent was up in quick sticks, and my home for the weekend was looking n-i-i-i-c-e!
You can just see the min/max thermometer hanging by the entrance. I always take this with me on winter camps, as it can drop significantly colder over night, and it’s nice to know how far it went, when you get up in the morning. That’s how I know it only dropped to -8C all weekend. Now this tent has served me faithfully since about 1986. It’s not one I’d want to backpack with, but it’s unbeatable for snow camps. It should be good in foul weather… it’s not called “Force 10” for nothing! Allegedly used by Chris Bonington on his Everest conquest. So anyway, it’d been a stressful day one way and another (Friday the 13th by coincidence), and I turned in early to contemplate my sins and snuggle into my -20C rated Chinook Everest Peak sleeping bag.
Experience has taught me to be generous in my under-bag insulation for this type of camping, and I typically use a three-layer system.
First I use hot-water tank lagging. This is essentially bubble-wrap, but with a silvered coating. Silver-side up, it reflects any heat that makes it through the other two layers, and the bubble wrap (if you can resist popping it!) gives a bit more padding. Mine was from Rona, but I’m sure you can get it in most DIY stores. It was conveniently already in 6′ lengths, and one pack provided enough for father and son.
On top of that, I use another bit of vintage kit that has served me since youth: a Karrimat.
I’m not sure these are even still available, but Karrimor were the first to introduce these closed cell foam sleeping pads in 1966. Being closed cell, they don’t soak up water like a regular foam, so give protection from damp as well as providing a measure of comfort and heat insulation. Cheaper, less capable products are still easily available, but I won’t give up my Karrimat for anything. Well, except perhaps sexual favours.
Finally, I top the whole stack off with my basic MEC self-inflating sleeping mat. Unless there’s a pea accidentally introduced into the pile, I usually have a very comfy, warm night. On this particular occasion, I was awoken by what I thought was an alarm clock at about 4am. It later turned out (once a few more neurons were firing and I could build a mental model of what was going on) it was actually the snow plough on the near-by road and car-park, and the beeping was its backing-up warning.
Being there as a parent rather than leader for once, I took the option of a lie-in, and waited for room service to deliver my tea and kedgeree. Around 8am, reality kicked in, and I got up to join the happy voices playing in the snow. First thing I noticed was it seemed a little dark in the tent for the late hour. I then dressed for the conditions: several layers of clothing, each of which can be zipped/unzipped as well as added/removed to avoid the bane of the winter camper… sweat. (Sweat = water, which when mixed with cold = ice, which when mixed with a human body = hypothermia… or at the very least, grumpiness). My first hint, as I put on my boots, was that there seemed to be a lot more snow on the ice-bed than when I put the tent up…
Reversing out of the tent revealed the full extent of the night’s snowfall… a good 6″ of fresh powder. No breeze, not too cold… excellent hiking conditions!
We had a great day’s hiking around the trails with the Scouts, and were back for a late lunch, which the lads cooked very well considering their tender years. (The young lady in Troop this year couldn’t make the trip).
We had some inquisitive, if slightly annoying visitors to camp. I’m told they are formally called Gray Jays, but locally they’re known as Whiskeyjacks. “Bloody nuisance” would be another term…
Basically if it was edible (or just looked that way – soap went missing too!), these flying thieves would be off with it. They were tame enough to eat from your hand, but I’m still awaiting confirmation of whether they’re good eating.
This morning, Sunday, the whole thing was done in reverse, and the skies were threatening snow as we struck camp. One advantage of not backpacking, is that when your tent has been a bit drippy and is still a bit stiff, you don’t have to struggle getting it back in the bag! You can just lob it in the back of the car, and hang it up to thaw/dry in the garage when you get home.
An excellent time had by all… and looking forward to doing it all over again with the Venturers in February, and the more challenging -30C over-night range.