Colder Than a Something Something


I just wanted to go camping, be outside, had the itch, all that. I only have so much free time when the stars can align. So I went wall-tenting this weekend and Elk Island Park is a beautiful neighbour to visit.

Wall-tents are super warm and time tested. All you have to do is cut wood and clean out the stove to put more wood in. Also: Prepare the proper clothing, bring great food, read up a bit on what the weather is gong to be like, and be kind to the staff in the park. Also: experience the indifference of nature. Thou art not a Bigfoot, thine kind was not pre-equipped for such low temperatures ye semi-hairless mammal.

To be clear, I have winter camped before. I have built and slept in quinzhees before. They aren’t ‘enjoyable’, but the act of sleeping in one in the spirit of adventure is worth the experience.

Wall-tents are the RV of winter camping while still dealing with the romantic reality of the outdoors. I digress. But major thanks again to Priscilla Haskin and Haskin Canoes for the opportunity to lose my mind and find my soul, to paraphrase Muir.

I didn’t know how cold it was going to get. I knew it would be in the -30’s. But hey, that ain’t so bad.

Day 1:

Set up camp with the riff-raff. They ran around like their alma mater was CrazyGoNuts University. I set up the tent. Then the stove. They were having all the fun in the world until they didn’t. I gave them some hot chocolate. Elizabeth came and got them. I settled in for the night. Cut a lot of firewood and listened to the wolves. They were everywhere. It was wonderful.

Day 2:

I hiked across Astonin Lake to one of its many islands. I had food stolen from me by what I think are Whiskey Jacks. I had squirrels diss my stride as I walked to the privy early morning. Regular stuff.

The draw is the stars and the silence and the solitude and the comfort in what others deem uncomfortable. At night the wolves would call back and forth from all sides of my tent. Then a tree would crack under the immense cold and the wolves would start up again. Popping and hissing coming from my stove…tranquility.

Day 3:

Then -42c hit. I had created a cocoon hammock contraption of a suspended hammock, a Thermarest, a -30 synthetic mummy bag, and two fleece blankets: One to lay over my entirety and the other to pull into the mummy bag. Also, my pyjamas were insulated Carhart styled onesie ‘ski suit’ work wear. Totes comfy. And I slept in my Sorel boots. I basically wore all my clothes. I slept like a big dumb baby.

Day 4:

I didn’t realize how cold it was until in the morning I picked up my ax barehanded and the steel bit into my skin like fire. I actually yelled ‘What the butts!” to nobody. But hey, now you know. When I got home, Elizabeth had run me a bath, had a cup of tea ready for me, and told me how much she and the kids missed me.

I don’t go on these types of trips to remind myself of how much I love my family, or to try to escape any of my past trauma. I do these things because I enjoy them. I miss my family and deal with my shit when I’m on these trips, not in spite of them. I am lucky to have the opportunity.

And to still have all my fingers and toes.

As some of you know, I will be instructing another course for the University of Alberta Faculty of Extension titled ‘Writing for Magazines and Journals’. If you are interested or know someone who might be click this LINK. Starts on February 18. There are still some spots left open.

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