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In the Bush: Yes, it's possible to camp out at -30 C

At least it is for our outdoors expert Viki Mather
(Supplied/Viki Mather)

Winter … don’t you just love it? 

We wait til February to go winter camping. January days are just too short. And the sun is so low in the sky that even when it’s sunny there’s not much warmth to be had. February changes everything. 

First night out, the temperature was predicted to be -28 C. The idea of camping out at that temperature seems ridiculous. This is what I thought while packing all day. Perhaps by the time we got everything organized it would be too late to set out. Maybe we’d have to wait until morning to go. Other years, we’ve been out in the tent at 30 below and stayed quite cozy - so I knew it could be done. But still…

Ah, but all was ready to go by 3 p.m. Just enough time to skidoo out to our chosen site, set up the tent and the stove, and to bring in enough firewood to keep the fire burning through the night. 

After dark we warmed the supper I’d made at home on top of the woodstove. Then we set up our bunks, and read for an hour before turning out the lights. Sure seemed cold on the other side of that canvas.

We set up the tent just 20 feet away from a bubbling stream. From one little lake to the next, the water runs over a couple hundred feet of bedrock and stones. It never freezes over, not even at 30 below. All through the night the shhshing water nurtures the most comforting sleep.

Come morning, the temperature is still pushing -30. Mist rises from the stream and precipitates on each and every pine needle and twig within sight. New ice forms above and below the stream, and along the edges as well. So much beauty! But still feeling really cold. I go back into the tent and read. 

The day is clear. But being in a valley, the sun does not hit the tent until after 10. We bring our snowshoes inside to put them on. It’s easier on the hands that way.

Then we’re off to explore the forest, across the small lake then up the hill. And up some more. Then more uphill. I keep stopping to catch my breath. Half way up and I’m really warm. I even take off my mitts for a little while. Must be close to -20 by now.

We get to the top and the view is spectacular. Below the cliffs is the second little lake. We can see the log jam at the portage, and faintly … the trail where we will snowshoe along the edge of the narrowing stream.

Resting in the sun under an ancient red pine, we snack on a power bar and orange before heading round the north side of the hill. Trying to stay on the contour line, we finally reach the point where we head down again. We drop into a little swamp, one of our favourite places to explore in winter. Then down the valley to another small pond. 

Allan finds the perfect place to make a fire and have lunch. In the sun, out of the wind, with a big old log to serve as a bench. Ah, life is good. 

Four hours out on snowshoes, and we return to the tent. Read and cook, bring in more firewood and dine just after dark again. Then read some more. 

This second night in the tent seems so much warmer than the first. Only 20 below outside! Life is good in the bush in winter. 

Viki Mather has been commenting for Northern Life on the natural world and life in Greater Sudbury since the spring of 1984.