Winter Camping – Wilderness Survival

I know my last post on winter camping might have lead you to believe that our trip was mostly ‘being too cold and then fixing it’, but that was only really our nighttime routine.  We did tons of other things.  Like roast marshmallows… and pee in the woods.

Our instructor for the weekend has tons of experience teaching wilderness survival skills.

After breakfast we started off with a hike in the woods.  When asked what we needed to bring with us, he smiled and said, “oh, nothing.”

It’s lucky one of the other women ignored that and grabbed her hiking bag, since, once we were far from our tents and cars, he told us to make a fire.  With what we had on hand.  Lesson 1 – even if you’re just going for a short hike in the woods, bring your first aid and basic survival gear.  Matches come to mind.

We got a decent fire started in about 20 minutes of work, including brief periods of shooing flammable dogs away from the fire area.  About half of that time was gathering, and half was getting the fire going steady.

our fire turned out pretty well, in my opinion

our fire turned out pretty well, in my opinion

Our fearless leader then gave us instructions to gather a variety of different sizes of kindling and wood divided into piles.  Once we had the appropriate piles of wood, had a fire twice as hot going in under five minutes, using a fire steel and the back of his wicked looking knife.  We then got to use a fire steel and a striker to start our own fire.  Lesson 2 – weirdly, the back of a good quality knife works WAY better as a striker for the fire steel.  Also, the super cheap Canadian Tire fire steel is, well, super cheap, and less effective.

various sizes of twig in different piles... so you're ready to keep the fire going once you've got the tinder lit

various sizes of twig in different piles… so you’re ready to keep the fire going once you’ve got the tinder lit.  His kind of fire might have been faster… and much much  higher… but it wasn’t as pretty.

He showed us how to determine if branches were already dead, what types of trees had excellent sap for burning without harming the tree, and how to collect tinder from birch trees without killing them.  I’m not going to lecture you or anything, but don’t peel the bark off a birch tree!  How would you like to have your skin peeled off?  The little dried scrunchy bits are easy to crumble off the tree without exposing any of its under-layers to the elements, and highly effective in fire starting.

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Gwynn stole the tupperware of example tinder he’d brought… mmmm… plastic

We learned about a few different types of shelter, some of which are good for a short-term survival situation, and others of which would be better suited to a situation in which you might be stuck for a while.  We also learned how to tell what direction is north using the sun, and a few ways to ensure that, while walking without a trail, you continue to head in a straight line.

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We had a lesson in making emergency fire-starters as well.  Apparently the key is to take Starbucks straws.  They are, according to our skilled survival guide, the ideal diameter.  The firestarters, though – you cut about an inch long piece of straw.  You grip near the end with a pair of needlenose pliers, and melt the end to seal it.  You then take a small piece of cotton ball and mix it lightly with some Vaseline, stuffing it into the open end of the straw.  Seal the other end of the straw, and you officially have an easy-start fire-starter that you can pack in any coat or pocket.  All you need to do to start it is slit the side and pull a small piece of wick out – the entire thing will take over a minute to burn, enough time to light a proper fire.

We made a tiny Quinzee hut – large enough for one person, somewhat uncomfortably tucked in.   The snow that we had was all quite solid and packed down, so it was hard to get a very big pile of snow created.

When I crawled in (feeling horribly horribly claustrophobic, Gwynn tried to follow me in.  That caused me to basically freak out, because... well... TOO SMALL A SPACE, you can't come in too!  HELP!

When I crawled in (feeling horribly horribly claustrophobic, Gwynn tried to follow me in. That caused me to basically freak out, because… well… TOO SMALL A SPACE, you can’t come in too! HELP!

Doodle is considerably braver than me... and Gwynn joined her comfortably and with a look of smug satisfaction

Doodle is considerably braver than me… and Gwynn joined her comfortably and with a look of smug satisfaction

The entire trip was a great learning experience, and a ton of fun – I’ll have a lot better idea of what to do next winter for some camping.  highres_215673252

Winter Camping

I love camping – any chance to go into the woods for a few days and disconnect is OK by me.  And yet, the few times I’ve been winter camping, it’s been in a yurt.  Not quite glamping (*shudders*), but going up for a weekend and staying in a yurt is the equivalent of renting a really tiny cabin with a separate cabin a 20 minute walk away that has the toilets.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s excellent – go up to Algonquin in the winter, stay in a yurt, spend your days playing in the snow, skiing, snowshoeing, building a snow fort, maybe sit in a chair on a frozen lake, extra chilly beer in your mitt-clad hand, watching the sunset.  Camp in the winter.  Whatever gets you out there, whatever extras you need to take, bundle up for the cold and go. 

we couldn't get a very clear shot of the canvas tent all lit up at night,  but it still turned out pretty fantastic

we couldn’t get a very clear shot of the canvas tent all lit up at night, but it still turned out pretty fantastic

And, when you are given the opportunity to spend a weekend learning wilderness survival skills in the winter… also go.  Just… bundle up wayyyy more.

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Doodle, Gwynn and I went up near Bracebridge near the beginning of March to participate in an Intro to Winter Camping and wilderness survival clinic organized through the Muttley Crew Meetup Group, a weekend at a private camp where the dogs could be off-leash at all times.

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Gwynn and one of the German Shepherds, Sabre, had a bit of a romance all weekend – Sabre would follow Gwynn pretty much anywhere, and I think he’d have followed him into our car at the end of the weekend if he could have.

Leaving the balmy +5C temperatures of the city, I was pretty sure I had seriously overpacked on gear for keeping warm.

Arriving in the -10C temperatures, in the woods near Bracebridge… I was glad I’d packed so many sleeping bags.

By the end of the evening, there were 7 people total, and 7 dogs.  Two very large german shepherds, a Bermese, an enormous labradoodle, a Great Dane, Gwynn, and one wee little white dog.  Gwynn looked like a small dog compared to all but the little one.

We lucked out, in finding ourselves with a group of dogs that all played nicely together.  No ganging up or bullying, all the roughhousing was very clearly being enjoyed by all parties, and all in all, the dogs were great.  It was like the most ideal version of a dog park visit, ever.

our great dane buddy needed a bit of extra help keeping warm, but she still had a great time out there.

our great dane buddy needed a bit of extra help keeping warm, but she still had a great time out there.

On to the winter camping and fun!  Before I start with that, though, I want to make something clear –  I am not a professional (in anything related to camping, winter, or survival), and I’m not writing a how to winter camp blog post.

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We packed my regular three-season tent and put a folded tarp underneath the tent.  According to one of the leaders from our trip, the winter camping tents are slightly better at releasing the humidity from sleeping, but aren’t really all that necessary for a few days of camping in the winter.

We packed three regular three season sleeping bags (not down… and not at all compactable… oldschool Coleman sleeping bags), and the heavy old down sleeping bag my mom kept of her father’s.  We layered one coleman bag underneath us (on top of sleeping mats)  and two on top, with the heavy down bag on top of all that.  Clearly, this method of keeping warm wouldn’t work if we weren’t camping within a five minute walk of our car, but for a drive-up and camp situation, it worked.  If I were to go on an interior trip in winter, I’d be buying or renting a good quality four-season bag that would compress down small and light.

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under this blanket was the great dane – the shepherds were shocked EVERY SINGLE TIME the blanket moved, unable to remember that she was under there.

We couldn’t get Gwynn under the blankets.  I think that’s very much dependent on the individual dog, whether they’re cold or not.  Gwynn in March is Gwynn pre-hair-cut, so, frankly, sleeping on our legs, outside of the warmth of sleeping bags, was probably the most comfortable temperature of sleep he’s had since January.  The Great Dane would burrow under blankets at night, and had a coat on during the day.

Our first night was not pleasant at all.  We didn’t bring all our sleeping bags in that night, and Gwynn’s curling up at the foot of our bags successfully pulled off most of the heavy-duty bag, making it hard to stay warm.

I find it just about impossible to sleep if my feet are cold.  Even with a fresh pair of wool socks (you want to change your socks every day and evening, even if you don’t change anything else – the socks compress down in your boots and absorbe humidity, so they’re less effective by the end of the day), wasn’t warming me up enough to get to sleep.  It went down to -16C, and I swear, I woke up every fifteen minutes.  Lesson 1: Even if you feel fine now, bring extra warm stuff down to your tent for bed anyways!  Next time I winter camp, I think I’ll layer a tarp on top of my tent right from the start, and not feel any qualms about extra extra sleeping bags.

One of the other women there gave us the wonderful gift of HotHands hand warmers on Saturday morning, though.  They were magical, and made a huge difference on our second night out. It went down to -20C, but we were able to get under the covers and spark some initial heat with hand-warmers between two layers of sock (they say not to have them directly against skin if you’re not paying attention to them), slept soundly and completely restfully through the night. Getting warm at the beginning of the night – even doing some jumping jacks and jogging on the spot before getting into the tent – is a good way of ensuring a warm and restful night sleeping outdoors.  If we’d had more nights sleeping there, we might also have had to worry about the condensation buildup in the sleeping bags (damp bag = less warm).

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Sit tight, and I’ll be back in a few days with tales of the wilderness survival side of our trip!

Gone Campin’

There is nothing I love so much as being in the woods.  The prospect of a trip north leaves me giddy and making lists, even if it’s just for a weekend.  Since Gwynn is back up north with my family, it’s doubly exciting to go up.  After all – what’s better than the woods?  Seeing one’s pooch for the first time in a week.

It might just be one of the most wonderful things… to be greeted with such absolute love and happiness.

This trip, I drove up with some friends of Doodle’s (and mine).  One advantage of this is that we actually got some photographs of the drive up!

Another is that K has a fancy camera, an artistic eye, and an enjoyment of taking pictures.  Any pictures with unusual colouring are definitely hers.  Other pictures, it’s probably equal chances being from my camera or hers.

Fiddling with colours…

… and artistic 🙂

It was considerably chillier up there than it has been most of the summer.  And rainy, though we lucked out with clear skies friday night, saturday morning, and sunday morning.

I’m kind of in love with her camera’s selective colour options

K & S … Doodle had to work on Sunday, unfortunately, so she missed out on hiking shenanigans

Gwynn found some puddles after all that rain

He’s very good at recall lately, and we practice a lot… still, on trails in this kind of woodland, I let him drag the long-line for short stretches, and call him back often.

We had a great trip, even with the rain.  Less fun… the trip home.

two lane undivided highway + Sunday afternoon cottage traffic + an accident closing the southbound lane = usually 4 hour drive extended to nearly 7… shoot me now.

a better picture to leave you with… sometimes Gwynn chickens out after he gets up on the rocks. Or his ‘getting up’ point is too close to a very long drop for my sanity.

Portal to Adventure

I remember this place! It’s my Camping House!

Soon, we’ll be in the woods. Wait for it….

… well that’s weird. No woods…

I guess maybe we’ll actually have to bring it to the forest first. Grab the car!

Gwynn and most of the family are now officially Camping… I’m sure he’s relieved to find that sometimes going through the trailer door does bring one to the woods.

Activity Improved By Woods

My mom is a high school teacher – she’s officially on her two months of consecutive vacation from teenagers, grading papers, and jammed photocopiers.  My dad recently had a knee surgery that has left him with very little skip in his hobble, and a 12 week recovery period that takes him right through to September.  Peanut (aka middle sibling) is on a hiatus from work that I won’t be getting into.  Doodle just started back into her glamorous summer job of Maintenance Worker at Grundy Provincial Park.  Don’t feel too bad for her – any job can be improved by adding the phrase “in the woods” to the end of it.

Yuck … cleaning toilets.  Yay, cleaning toilets in the woods.  Even more improved by the addition of with a pressure washer.  Bet you wish you could have that kind of entertainment in your own house cleaning efforts.  This is why rooms should have drainage holes in the middle of them.  All rooms.

Blah… mowing the lawn.  Cool! Mowing the lawn in the woods… on a ride-on lawnmower!

Not to mention, staff-house in the woods, Picking up Garbage in the woods, Waving and being friendly to visitors in the woods, and Honking at Bears in the woods.  That last one might just stand up on its own, but it is made even more exciting by the forest aspect.

What this all means, ignoring the massive discomfort my dad is in, and Doodle’s run-ins with washroom horrors, is that my entire family has a two month vacation in the woods compared to my measly 15 days total vacation each year.  And they’re taking the dog.

Balto had to slog through snow, and could have died. All the outdoorsy fun without as much chance of being eaten or dying.

Gwynn will be having, within a few short days, a most excellent adventure the likes of which Balto would be jealous.  He will be a Dog In The Woods, far superior to his in-the-burbs and in-the-city brethren.  Without me.

So many pros and cons, but overall, the guilt of not being around to ensure feeding, watering, exercise, entertainment, training, and a showering of love and affection is overwhelming.

I’m looking forward to the chance to sleep in that extra hour before work.  Really going to miss having an overriding requirement to go for a walk in the evening, even when I’m feeling lazy.

What if he needs me?  I know, I sound like such a clingy parent, but I am the Prime Doggy Caretaker.  There is a large portion of my not-at-work day that revolves around my shaggy shadow.  A great feature of dog ownership is that a lot of your time is scheduled for you, and you stay active whether you want to or not.  What on earth am I going to do during the week?

2-3 hours of weekday, and 4+ hours of weekend-day in which I won’t need to go for a walk.

TV watching time will not include dog grooming.

Training?  What training? 2-3 hours a week

Does a vacation from your pets feel like punishment or a reward?

What would you do with the time you usually spend with pets?

Feel free to substitute “children” for pets if you don’t have any feathered, furred or finned companions.  Those of you without pet or child… seriously, do you grasp the enormity of just how much time you have?!

When the Wall Hits Back

My last post ended with an ominous rumbling of thunder, rather like the terrified neighing of horses that follows saying “Frau Blucher” aloud.  I bet you were all on the edge of your seats, waiting to find out what happened next.

My typical worst-case scenario for camping has to do with rain.  Putting down a wet tent, or, worse, putting down a wet tent while it’s still pouring rain is about as fun as being coated in honey and released in an apiary.

I have a new worst-case-scenario.  It involves grudgingly waking up, at the slightly frantic urgings of my tent-mate, to find myself face-to-nylon with the tent wall.  It involves hazily trying to roll away from the tent wall, only to discover that there is nowhere in the tent that isn’t right up against the tent wall/ceiling.

That seems kind of bad, but wait, there’s more!

Before you go blaming my tent-setting abilities, let me assure you… it was set up. We even had tent pegs (another one of my worst tenting experiences involves no pegs and a wind storm), and this tent was solid.

So, muddled from my coma-like sleep habits, I crawled awkwardly out of the tent to the sound of hysteric-drunk-girl-laughter.  At that point, I could deal with it – whatever had caused my tent to flatten, I must have looked ridiculous emerging from it like a small child emerging from a collapsed sheet-fort.  She even helped me
with starting to put the tent back together.

What happened?  Someone had tripped into our tent.  Not just a simple stumble, though.  He managed to fall entirely on top of M.  She was, luckily, lying on her stomach, because he would likely have broken some of her ribs or done other damage if she’d been sleeping on her back.  He did hurt her enough, however, that she wasn’t quite ready to move from that position quite yet.  No worries, I’ll finish putting things back together, and rejoin my comfy sleeping bag for a few more hours of sleep time.  At this point, you’re wondering when the honey-covered-in-an-apiary situation will be trumped.

But wait, there’s more!

The wildebeest who tackled my tent had hit it SO hard that he shattered poles.  I have no pictures.  By this point, the still giggling drunk girl was very close to being kicked in the face (I can do that… I’m bendy.  This is not an idle threat.) at the hand of my cranky, sleep deprived tantrum-y inner two-year-old. The water-resistant light-o’-my-life was struck down and the poles were shattered in a rather irreparable manner. One of the poles fragmented into tens of fibrous long strands of… whatever the poles were made of.  Something standard for lightweight tents, I’m sure.  Just as I’m sure that this tent would have been able to deal with rain.  Would have been able to deal with the high winds that caused me to wake up on the roof of my not-pegged-down tent in a windstorm.  It was not, however, able to withstand a man (wildebeest) launching himself over it, so that he landed nearly entirely on top of the tent.When the friends of giggly girl came over and asked what had happened, I could barely contain my rage (and overall upset-ness at the death of tent) to say something along the lines of “Wildebeest Smash!  Why tent no-get-up?  Hulk angry.  Hulk kill wildebeest.  Where wildebeest?”Hulk sad, but still badass!

I'm a tent-killin' tackle-beest, y'all!

Wildebeest, was, of course, long gone and disappeared into the nearly silent tent forest. If he was amongst the friends of giggly girl, he was wise to not say anything about his part in all this, because I would likely have found some orifices to shove my broken poles into.  Instead of checking if we were ok,  upon landing upon M (she’s ok, by the way… not nearly as damaged as poor tent) and destroying the tent, he eloquently summarized things with a four-letter word for copulate, and ran off into the night laughing his wildebeest laugh.

not my tent… mine was even more smooshed

We emptied the flat tent, wrapped it up, and relocated to the flattened back seats of M’s hatchback. Sleep was quick-coming for me, because my hulk-rage is quick-burning, and I need my sleeps.  And I can sleep anywhere, a trait that M does not share, especially with a pain-ey ankle and a few inches additional height that meant she couldn’t lie down with her legs fully extended, or without throbbing ankle pains.

Between 3am and about 4, she tried valiantly to find sleep, and at about four, she gave up.  around 4:15, M woke me up and said, “Could we go to their house now, do you think?  Ok, I’ll drive… you can just stay there”

We were almost there by the time I thought to ask how she knew where they lived.  Apparently, they’re the only people with their last name in the city… and M’s smart-phone is pretty darn smart.

At about 4:30, I sent a cautiously probing text to K, asking for her to come open the door to her house (not creepy at all, right?), and we proceeded to skulk down around the back of the house, like the creepers we were.  Locked, surprisingly.

Probably for the best.  Can you imagine waking up in the night to the sound of intruders… only to find them sleeping on your couch by the time you scrounged the courage to creep downstairs, baseball bat and phone in hand?

Our next plan involved sleeping on the front porch of K’s house in our sleeping bags until morning, but I was in dire need of a washroom and unwilling to water the lawn in a residential area.  Does Alex go in the woods?  Yes, when the need arises.  But she doesn’t go in the rhododendrons.  There are lines.

But there were no lines at the 24 hour Tim Horton we found.  And their sausage and egg wrap is heavenly.

We showed up at K’s house again at about 6, I tried texting her again, and gave in, calling her home-line and waking up her parents.

Two glorious hours of sleep on the most comfortable couch in existence had me feeling like a human being once again.

As a finale to the whole affair – to whoever I texted “Hey, I’m outside your house, unlock the door” at 4am… I apologise. Because it wasn’t K, or anyone else I know.  One day, in the future, you might be able to sleep at night with the lights out.

A Series of… Events

I have an immense amount of paranoia towards dairy.  Milk, in particular… it’s the silent killer.  Yogurt tends to develop green or blue spots, a sure sign that it is no longer meant to be ingested.  Same with cheese (or it’s blue cheese, and meant to look like that… and I’m ok with that), and, while it is harder to notice on butter, I usually catch a whiff of that mouldy, unpleasant smell before I eat that piece of buttered toast.

Milk, though… it is very hard to tell, at a glance, if it is any good.  The number of times that I have gotten a half-swallow of a glass of milk down my throat before realizing that there are small lumps of milk (this is before it entirely solidifies into a chunky awful mess), or that gag-worthy sour taste… ugh.  And those tiny fragments of pre-chunky-milk catch in your teeth and rinsing your mouth out doesn’t quite cut it to fully dispel the sensation.

Before pouring milk on my cereal, I pour a bit into an empty bowl to check for the tell-tale signs of milk gone off.

And yet, this morning, I didn’t think twice about taking my spoon out of my oatmeal, stirring my milky tea, and then continuing to eat oatmeal.

Classy gal that I am, I actually spit the last gulp of tea back into the cup, in front of a co-worker, horrified at the
possibility that I had made it through an entire mug of tea without noticing that the milk had gone chunky.  Then I identified the chunks as oatmeal. Oh.  My bad.

***

On Friday, I didn’t question my parents’ decision to head up camping… on Sunday… apart from wishing that they would give a bit more of a heads-up, since fully prepping a trailer and packing it takes a fair amount of time.  Despite not being in on this adventure, I was still expected to help with gathering equipment.

I nodded as they said they were bringing Gwynn, and packed a duffel-bag of dog things, as well as writing out a list of important information and reviewing his obedience commands with them – practicing the ‘come’ command doesn’t stop just because I’m out of the picture for a week!

Saturday night, I headed out to a bonfire party, sad at the idea that Gwynn would be gone by the time I got home in the morning, but knowing that I would only become more and more freaked out at the idea of sending him up North without me.  Yes, I am ‘that’ paranoid dog owner now.  I foresee myself being more than just a helicopter-mom, when the time comes… I’ll be a TIE-Fighter mom.

Timmy?! Don't touch that! let me disinfect the playground with my sanitizing-lasers and eliminate the other children before you go on the monkey-bars! Also, you've got 17.35 minutes to play, because we've got two more music lessons and a team sport to fit in before dinner.

Woke up the next morning, promptly remembering that Gwynn’s last Obedience Training class of the summer term is this Tuesday.  Oh well, I guess I’ll be going solo.  I’d like to think I probably wouldn’t have changed the plans and kept him home, even if I had remembered the class.  After all… missing a week of camping for an hour of obedience class… that’s just not right!

***

Sunday, I realised that I hadn’t signed us up for this Monday’s Cross-fit class… luckily, their registration policy is not the same as the cancellation policy, and they’re fine with you signing up less than 12 hours before the class is set to start.

This morning, I crept silently about my business, trying to avoid waking Gwynn up in my early-early morning departure.  In an empty, dog-less house.

I nearly snuck out the side door in my usual ninja-manner before remembering this fact.

I also nearly left the house in my pyjamas.  And without a top for my office-wear outfit for after the gym.  That would have been an interesting one to explain.

… What I’m trying to say is, sometimes there’s oatmeal in your coffee and car keys in the freezer.  Just make sure you’ve changed out of your pjs before heading out the door.  Especially if it automatically locks behind you.