Monday, December 24, 2007

Winter Camping. You Gotta See it to Believe It

Winter Camping in Anchorage, AlaskaSpencer had one request going into this winter--it wasn't about his Christmas gifts or about a movie he wanted to see--he wanted to go winter camping.

For those of you resting comfortably in balmy, tropical temperatures who may be unfamiliar with this rather odd practice, it's where sane, rational people go outside to play "Homeless Person."

But regardless of the crazy angle my men love it and began making plans for a rollicking good time in the wintry wilds of Alaska where they'd be free to tunnel and forage and do all those manly things that sound so unappealing to me but make them so happy.

Of course no sooner had they reserved the weekend of the solstice than the temperature plummeted to the single digits (Fahrenheit of course) and the wind picked up until the status of the trip was in danger but not to worry, by the time they were ready to set off Friday afternoon they assured me it was plenty warm for a night of camping--plenty warm. As in twenty-five degrees. Great--why on earth would a mother worry with conditions like those?

Winter Camping in Anchorage, AlaskaThey camped at Williwaw campground near Portage glacier, about 45 minutes south of Anchorage which is a well-kept, classy little park with beautiful scenery, great for salmon viewing in the summer. Of course in December there's only 5 hours of daylight which makes glacier viewing rather dodgy and I'm guessing the salmon are somewhere down around Hawaii which only goes to prove how intelligent salmon are. Especially when compared with the average 11 year-old Alaskan male.

For those of you wondering how one would survive a night in the snow (and those thoughts were certainly passing through my mind as I waved goodbye Friday afternoon) here are a few interesting tips:

Layers are the key. You can joke all you like about "wicking" (not to be confused with "wicked") but that's the way to keep warm, with a wicking layer next to the skin to keep your perspiration from freezing you followed by fleece up top and a vapor barrier below on the feet. This "vapor barrier" is just a fancy name for a plastic bag but it keeps moisture from coming in the opposite direction and freezing your toes into little black piggies. Then you wear Gortex to block wind and rain on top and wool socks to keep warm feet. Complex but apparently worth it.

Winter Camping in Anchorage, AlaskaEat warm. You want hot food in the forms of proteins and carbs that help to keep your calories burning bright. I sent a tub of hot chili (things that can be eaten in mugs without removing mittens are a plus) which was received with much happiness but which brought up the question of how one washes dishes during winter camping--it's not as if immersing one's hands in water is a good idea.

Fill the dishes with snow and let them sit--after all, it's not like you'll be worrying about bacteria or anything when it's below freezing--wipe them out with the snow when you feel like it. I'm thinking about adapting this technique for home use and instead of washing dishes merely throwing them in the freezer and forgetting about them.

Sleep warm. The cold ground is your enemy so insulate against it with air mattresses and serious sleeping bags. You can build a snow cave and be remarkably warm (I'm told) because of the insulating power of snow though it's all relative. You can't tell me a snow cave is comparable to a cabana at Waikiki and you know which one I'd choose. But regardless, make sure you're warm heading to bed because your bag doesn't warm you up, you warm your bag up and if you haven't got any warmth to give you're not going to find any in bed. One trick that thrilled the boys was to heat water to nearly boiling then pour it into a Nalgene bottle. Wrap the bottle in a sock, keep it in the bottom of your bag and you're guaranteed toasty tootsies all night long. I'm intrigued enough by the idea that I may try it in my own bed at home--my feet could use the warmth.

Bring a lighter. Forget the matches, use a lighter and keep it in your pocket close to you--you don't want to have to take your hands out of your mittens to strike a match and you don't want the lighter to freeze up.

Winter Camping in Anchorage, AlaskaBring a shovel. You're going to have to dig your campsite out of the snow and plastic spoons or a couple of credit cards aren't going to cut it. If that doesn't convince you that winter camping is best left to the polar bears I don't know what will.

But regardless, my men returned home Saturday afternoon warm and happy and bursting with testosterone--their only complaint was that it got so warm down in Portgage that it rained in the night and they woke up with a stiff breeze and wet gear--a dangerous combination. I may not understand it but I'm glad it makes them so happy.

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Maddy said...

I'm afraid this post leaves me completely cold. There again, my eldest made an igloo on a mountain top to spend her New Year celebration - can you even imagine? Well I expect that YOU probably can. I swear I am no relative to that renegade.

Now if you'll excuse me one moment, I need to go and turn on the electric blanket on the bed as in California I do believe I'm not mistaken in noting that the temperature may just have fallen beneath 67 degrees. Brrrrr!
Best wishes

This is my calling card or link"Whittereronautism"which takes you straight to my new blog.

Robin said...

Brrrr... I'm with Maddy. I'm contemplating putting the heat on and it has to be at last 65 or 66 outside now (it will warm up more later, it's still early).

At least the girls had the sense to stay home where it's warm and sensible. Glad the boys had fun though, but definitely better them than me!

Laura said...

Brr that looks so cold! I found it so interesting and I am glad they could be so adventurous and enjoy something like that! COOL! I would never do it though.

Anonymous said...

I love snow - maybe because I don't get any here - and find this really cool! I am reading this in warm and tropical Pune, India. :-)

Wish you and your family Happy Holidays and a Very Happy New Year!

sandierpastures said...

Wow, that's really cold, I mean cool! :-)

In Japan, we use boiled water too to warm our beds/feet as well. There are special bottles for that, wrapped with a special heat emanating cloth. Great to warm my feet in my in-law's house!

Merry Christmas to you Michelle and to your family too.

From Grace in cool (not cold!) winter Dubai

Mrs Mecomber said...

Winter camping is a common "sport" for us New Yorkers. We love it. There are even clubs and groups that boast the name "Winter Campers." I'd certainly do it (but my husband, born in Mississippi, thinks I'm nuts).

Winter is a 6-month season around here, so if we miss July, there's always January!

Irene said...

That sounds pretty cool actually! I don't know if I personally would want to do it, but I can see how your boys would have a good time.

I am going to have to show my husband this post. He will get a kick out of it.

Have a Merry Christmas!!!

G's Cottage said...

Scribbit wrote: "instead of washing dishes merely throwing them in the freezer and forgetting about them."

Hey, I am all for this. Maybe we can start a trend. Really, it could even be considered green; except that tiny part about getting electricity to make the freezer freeze.

Oh, and I don't go camping if the overnight temperature is expected to be below 50 degrees.

Stephanie said...

I know several members of my family members that would love to try this. I may have about ten years ago, but for now I claim little ones to care for as my excuse to not to! ;)

Summer said...

Honestly it sounds like a fun adventure. But I've always been an outdoors girl.

chelle said...

Oooo brrrrrrrrr! And Canadian's believe it to be brave to camp in May ... pssshhaa ... wwinter camping does look fun .. from a distance.

Tim Appleton (Applehead) said...

Oh baby! That does sound great! I remember doing this when I was a boy scout in high school. It really was exciting. I'd do it down here but we have to have something called snow, I haven't seen that for about a month. You are exactly right on all your points!

TeaMouse said...

Merry Christmas!

At least with winter camping there are no bugs....I've always wanted to try it.

Daisy said...

Hm, we dress like that for Packer games here in Wisconsin. :) Have a wonderful Christmas!

Melissa Markham said...

I have never been camping, but your post made it sound like a lot of fun! And I love the idea of throwing dishes into the freezer:)

Bet they came home looking for some tasty chicken potpie!

Kelly @ Love Well said...

I had friends who would camp in Northern Minnesota in the winter. With all that preparation, it probably is warmer than spending a night outdoors in 50-degree rain (which is what I usually did in the summer).

Glad they had fun. It looks like the perfect father-son bonding opportunity.

Maria said...

Wow, I never heard of camping in the snow, but it kind of sounds like fun! Have a Merry Christmas!

Bonnie B. said...

Boys. My boys would probably love that. Me, not so much. I'm perfectly happy to enjoy the experience through pictures and descriptions on your blog. Thanks for sharing!

Merry Christmas!

Morning Glory said...

Oh, brrrrr.....I'd have to pass on an activity like that. It made me cold just reading it.

I hope you have a very Merry Christmas!

Marie N. said...

I'm glad they had fun, but...Better them than me -- See you in Waikiki ;-)
Merry Christmas

Loralee Choate said...

My husband has always wanted to take me snow caving. I told him when he figured out how to get a dvd player and tv up there I would be more than happy to oblige.


Sassy Lucy said...

You know as a parent and wife to Scouts this was a great post to hubby wants to get the troop out for some winter camping (we live in Wisconsin) but most are too pampered to want to brave our cold temps. It was neat seeing the tent insulated with the snow.
Hope they had a great time.

jennwa said...

Sorry that sounds too cold for me.

I hope you and your family have a Very Merry Christmas!!!

Mer said...

Yikes! My dad always wanted me to go "snow camping" as we called it - but I never agreed - and the one time he talked my brother into it they came back with horror stories of dragging gear in the snow and never actually making it to their desired destination.

Looks like your guys had a good time though. :0)

Merry Christmas!

Babystepper said...

I wish I'd read this about 14 years ago. I went camping with a youth group in the mountains around Gunnison, CO. It was actually July, but there was snow around our campsite and I've never been so cold for so long as that night. Most of the kids just slept around the fire, but I was using my dad's sleeping bag, and didn't want it to get all burned like the other kids' bags did.

Alexandra said...

Have a joyous Christmas. :)

luckyzmom said...

Why did it feel like a cold breeze just blew in here! I have heard of other crazies who think camping in freezing temperatures is a cool thing. We love to camp and have camped in some way cold temperatures, but not on purpose and especially not in the snow. Glad they all made it back without any black apendages!

I'm AZ said...

I used to just throw my dishes in the garbage when I got sick of seeing them in the sink all the time. Now I'm thinking i should just throw them in the freezer.... said...

M -- amen sister. insane insane insane. not for me either! i'll a cozy hot chocolate anyday INSIDE anytime.

you cracked me up how you said "'s where sane, rational people go outside to play "Homeless Person." hahaha

merry Christmas to you and your little monsters, i mean angels, kathleen :)

pussreboots said...

Fantastic post. I just finished reading Letters from Iceland which has similar camping advice but from the 1930s. Your post made a nice coda to the book. Great photos too!

Leslie said...

Geez. I'm not good at camping when it's warm! You've got some brave men in your house.

autocamper udlejning said...

Hehe tried this many times in sweden where i live. It FUN
for pictures