On December 27th when most of Northeast was reeling from the major nor’easter snowstorm, the Slickman, Dan the Man, and I embarked on the 7th annual winter campout. Herein lies the detailed account of the events.
Although preparations for the winter campout always start many months in advance, the finals steps of the preparation commenced directly after I got back from dropping off the lady friend at the Burlington International Airport after her original flight out of Boston was canceled. I rendezvoused with the Slickman at his parent’s house and we went shopping for victuals at Hannafords. After procuring all the necessary provisions we went back to the Slickman’s and prepared them, which basically involved rewrapping everything in waxpaper or cloth bags. After all the fare was properly packaged for the winter campout we drank some Laphroaig and watched part II of Shackleton1. Eventually Dan the Man returned from “date night” with the StedMuffin and hastily packed his gear for the campout. By this point it was snowing mightily outside so I bowed out for the night and returned to my parents’ house for some rest before the big day. It was after midnight by the time I went to bed.
The next morning I awoke at 7:30 AM. I probably had not woken up before 11 AM during the entire visit, with the exception of Christmas, which I only begrudging did after attempting to convince my eight year old nephew that since everyone wanted me up at 9 AM I should get to sleep in until 10 AM at least. This trickery did not work long. Anyways, being that the annual winter campout is more important than any other holiday to me, I was up and out of bed early. This was noted by my family. I was ready by 8:15 and by 9 o’clock I was back at the Slickman’s where we all assembled and were ready to go.
On account of the fact that neither Dan, Lee nor I had a car in Vermont, we had to rely on the kindness of the McColgan boys’ father Bill to provide us with transportation. Yeah, we got a ride from Lee’s dad. Highschoolesque. This also meant that it had to be somewhere close, somewhere from which we could walk back, either at the scheduled end of the campout2 or when we had met with some catastrophe. We decided on Bald Mountain in the Aiken State Forest due to its proximity to the McColgan house and due to the fact that we had had a successful winter campout there a few years back.
The hike in was 2600 meters (1.6 miles) and lasted about one and half hours. We had an average speed of about 0.47 meters per second (just over a mile per hour). During that hike we ascended Bald Mountain with an average grade of about 10%. I left the Garmin on for a while after the hike in was over with, so there are a few hours of data showing us milling around the campsite, mostly building shelter and collecting firewood. During this time my average speed is much lower, but apparently I walked the equivalent of nearly another 2500 meters in 3.5 hours.
The average temperature of the winter campout was about -9 degrees Celsius (15 degrees Fahrenheit). The lowest temperature was -15.5 C (4.1 F) which happened between 2:40 and 5:45 during the early morning of the first overnight. Overall the winter campout had some very good weather. Cold, but not too cold. But the most important thing was that it was the first winter campout in several years without any rain. Crucially, this made starting and maintaining a fire much easier. This year we also had the benefit of homemade camping bellows that were the Slickman’s brilliant idea. This allowed you to stoke the fire without getting blacklung from breathing in more smoke than a carton of Lucky Strikes. So we got a toasty fire going in no time. Indeed the two spikes in temperature shown in the chart is the result of the datalogger’s proximity to the fire on two different occasions.
As I mentioned previously, a lot of our time was taken up in collecting and chopping firewood. There was plenty of good, dry, dead wood in the area of the campsite; harvesting and chopping it into manageable pieces for the fire made for good work. Especially with my trusty Roselli ax. That ax chops at least twice as fast as Lee’s larger Estwing ax.
We took turns collecting firewood and making our shelters. We do not bring tents with us on the winter campout, so we rely on the woods to provide us with materials for building. Here is my finished shelter. It was a tight fit, but overall a good place to bed down for the night.
By the time the shelters were done and we had collected a decent amount of wood, daylight was over. Then the good part started: dinner. After cooking up some oysters, bacon, and kippers around the fire, we settled in to smoke some fragrant pipeleaf out of our handcarved briar burl pipes, each replete with the visage of our own favorite arctic explorer.
The following day we slept late. You never really want to get out of the sleeping bag, especially after a cold night like the one we had the first night, but it wasn’t too bad McChoppinites. However a good bit of the day was gone once we got up. After yours truly suffered mightily in the first half of the day when I thought I had lost my ax for good3, things went along just fine. The Slickman spent a good portion of the day building a dam on the creek near the campsite so that we could collect some clear water4. Dan and I mostly gathered more wood. We also got a vistor: a man and his three dogs showed up on the trail. But being that the days are particularly short in the winter in Vermont, the sun started setting fairly soon, and our day was ending. We got a couple of good group photographs in the last of the light.
The second night was more of the same, only not as cold. Finished the oysters off as we did with the Whistle Pig rye whiskey. Lee carved a spoon by firelight. And in the dark of winter’s night I took a few long exposure photographs.
The final morning we got up and broke camp. We brewed some coffee, and I threw all the rest of the bacon into Lee’s frying pan. After having that as a breakfast and clearing the firepit it was a brief hike through a ravine to the road and then about three miles to back to the McColgans’ house.
After that we got Steadmuffin to give us a ride up the hill to Sugar & Spice where got a slightly more refined second breakfast and I made some awkward comments to the waitstaff. But that is a story for another time.
The author would like to thank the women peripherally involved in the winter campout and dedicate this post to them. The ones that have to listen to us talk about it all year. The ones that help us sew sleeping bags, the ones that help us make camping bellows, the ones that support our purchases of used faux fur mittens that smell of cigarettes, and especially the women that more than likely worry about us when we are out there in the woods doing our McChoppin’ things, even if it is mayhaps unfounded.
1 The part that actually involves them on the ice.
2 Winter campouts do not actually have scheduled ends.
3 Being without an ax during the winter campout is tantamount to ED. Both make you feel like less of a man and cause you to mutter “this never happens.” Both involve wooden shafts, but maybe I’m taking the analogy too far?
4 Clear water might be a bit of an over statement. Let’s just say it wasn’t frozen water. Do you have idea how many times you need to fill a kettle with snow to get a full kettle once the snow has melted? Yeah, neither do I.