What's Up Outdoors: The wilds of winter camping

When I was asked if I would like to go on a winter camping trip, right away I was intrigued as it was something that I had never done. Well, it would be an adventure that will not soon be forgotten.

When I was asked if I would like to go on a winter camping trip, right away I was intrigued as it was something that I had never done. Well, it would be an adventure that will not soon be forgotten.

The group would consist of myself, Bret Amundson from the Minnesota Sporting Journal, Matt Degraef from Jasper Companies and Bill Sherck and Aaron Achtenberg from Schara Productions. The original reason for the trip was for an episode of Due North Outdoors, but it turned into so much more, especially for those of us who had never done it.

We hiked out to a remote lake near the Ely/Boundary Waters area. The trip took us through some heavily wooded areas and across a portage and a couple of lakes. One of the hardest parts of the hike was you always wanted to stop and take in the surroundings. The lakes were lined with rock walls, pine trees and beautiful views.

After a couple of hours, we would pick out our spot to set up our home for the next few days.

The rest of the afternoon we spent cutting firewood, setting up our tipi where we would do our cooking, and building our snow caves. This is where it started getting interesting.


To build a snow cave or "quinzee" you would spend a couple of hours building a mound of snow about 6-feet tall and 10 feet across, then let it sit to settle the snow. The next step is to hollow out the inside, that is done several different ways. Some did theirs bigger and a little roomier - I built mine a little smaller inside thinking it might stay a little warmer.

The inside consisted of enough room for your sleeping area and a couple of shelves for candles, which were your only source of heat. Also the candle light made it pretty cozy inside. Your backpack and a few pine bows would seal off your entrance when you crawled in at night. It took a while to get used to being in such a small space the first night, but once I got over that, it was pretty comfy.

Now, the second night was a little different story. Mother nature would throw us a curveball and the temps dropped to 31 below without the windchill. That night was a little chilly for sleeping but it was pretty cool in the morning to think that you made it through the night without a heater or campfire, you felt like you could survive anything.

Fine fishing

The other reason for this trip was fishing. We did catch some nice rainbow trout, but you spent most of your time chiseling your hole and warming up your hands. Most of the fish were 15-20 feet and they made for a great meal on our last night. I don't know what it was, but trout never tasted so good. It might have been the work put into catching them or just because they were a warm meal surrounded by friends telling stories. Either way, it was great. We even had a pine marten come visit us for dinner. The rest of the time we warmed up by cutting firewood and just taking a walk around the lake - there was always something to do.

The tipi, which we used for cooking and to have a place to boil water for drinking, was also a place for our camera man to keep everything from freezing and draining all the batteries. The tipi and titanium stove, only weighing in at 14 pounds, was easily packable and a very nice comfort to have on this trip.

Gear on the go

We all carried backpacks loaded with warm clothes and sleeping bags. We also pulled pulk sleds. Even though we packed light, with only the essentials, they still ended up weighing around 80 pounds. We only brought a hand auger, which was a great way to warm up. The holes didn't stay open long either.


Luckily Bill was a veteran winter camper that has been doing it since he was a kid. He made sure we had the essentials and that we were having fun - yes you can have fun in below zero temps.

Once you learned if you can keep your clothes dry, have food to eat and water to drink, that is all you really need. I will cross this trip off the bucket list and it will go down in the books as being way out of my element in the beginning but by the last day it was all good.

For some people winter camping is a huge tent with a heater and cots. That's fine for some but knowing we did it the hard way made for a huge sense of accomplishment. Oh yeah, and Mother Nature - you ain't so tough.

JAMIE DIETMAN, What's Up Outdoors, may be reached at 218-820-7757.

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