2011.01.15 North Wind: 24 Hours of Winter Camping


I was awakened by the sounds of one of the Dads in my room singing “Oh What A Beautiful Morning, Oh What A Beautiful Day” at 6:45.  Surprisingly, the rest of the room did not chime in and sing the chorus.  A short time later, one of the camp staff came by to tell us the flag ceremony would be at 7:25, with breakfast immediately following.

The lodge we were sleeping in was a very simple structure, and it was surprisingly warm.  I slept on top of my sleeping bag for most of the night.  I was determined to enjoy the warm surroundings for as long as I could.

We got up, put on some clothes, and started packing our gear in our backpacks for our excursion.  I was very careful to watch one of the other adults who went through this last year, to make sure I was packing everything correctly.


My roommate, Mike, inserting his liner into his sleeping bag.


Everybody lined up outside at 7:25 for the raising of the flags.  It was very quiet to begin with, and the blanket of snow helped to dampen any noise.  The scouts first raised the American flag, and next worked on the Minnesota flag.  The flagpole rope/pulley was frozen solid.  So, the scouts moved to the 3rd flagpole to give it a try.  Same result – frozen solid.  So, we performed our flag ceremony with only the American flag flying.

They fed us a hot breakfast and put us back to work.  Each crew had to pack everything they would need for the 24 hour campout.  We loaded 21 gallons of water, a parachute (for sleeping in), tents, tarps, camping stoves, and food onto three sleds.


Loading the Sleds.


At this point we returned to the bunkhouse.  It was time to put on the clothes they had outfitted us with the previous day – wicking layers, warm layers and wind resistant layers.  I was sweating just thinking about it!

It was a gorgeous day!  The sun was shining for the first time on our entire trip.  The air was cold and crisp and the surplus of snow reminded us we were in Minnesota.


Miles and Steve bundled up & ready to go! (Note the penguins at our feet.)


The Stearns Campground, where this North Wind adventure camp was located, had a number of campsites to choose from.  Our crew (the Stuck Expedition) chose the campsite that was closest to the lodge – the Denali camp.  Thank God for small favors.  We took off on our trek of about ¼ mile to Denali and got there 30 minutes later.

The three sleds we brought with us were scout-powered.  One scout wore a harness and pulled the sled, while another scout controlled the rear of the sled with a rope.  The bigger scouts were eager to be strapped in the harness and pull the sleds, and they did a great job.

Once we arrived at Denali, we immediately started setting up camp.  A parachute was unfolded and hung from the branches of a tree.  The scouts would all sleep under this parachute.


Arrival at the Denali campsite.


My friend, John, and I set up a two man tent that we would share this evening.  Several other adults set up tents as well.  The remaining adults claimed some existing quinzhees that had been made by another troop previously.  I had no idea what a quinzhee was, but it is essentially a pile of snow that is hollowed out on the inside.  They are surprisingly warm, taking advantage of the insulating power of snow.

After camp was setup, everybody piled into the parachute and we had lunch.  Lunch consisted of two Smucker’s Uncrustable PB&J sandwiches, two beef sticks, and a granola bar.  Marty, one of our crew leaders, also passed out baggies of “gorp” to everyone.  The gorp was made of fruit loops, cheerios, m&ms, raisins, and assorted dried fruit.  The gorp was a great energy boost throughout the day.


My very first meal inside a parachute.


With the formality of eating over with, we were ready to have some fun.  We walked back to the lodge and we broke out the cross country skis.  Miles has never been on skis before, and I was pleased with how well he took to it.  He took off and went up and down nearly every hill we could see.


A future Gold Medal winner in Cross Country Skiing.


I also strapped on some skis, but I had a hard time getting my large boots to stay attached.  I decided to not mess with it and just enjoy watching Miles have a good time.


Miles skiing through some fresh powder.


After everyone had their fill of the cross country skiing, we graduated to snowshoes.  Everyone got to put on a pair and we were told that we were going to participate in a biathlon.  In Minnesota, “biathlon” means “a combination of 4 activities”.  In our biathlon, we combined snowshoeing, giant slingshot balloon toss, .22 shooting, and archery.

I thought that walking in the snowshoes was very cool.  Miles was not so impressed.  He had difficulty keeping his feet strapped in, and ended up carrying his snowshoes at times.


Ready to do some damage on the snowshoes.


Tromping through the snow.


Our first event was the giant slingshot balloon toss.  This giant slingshot had to be held at each end by a scout or adult, while another scout would pull the middle back as far as he could.  In a best case scenario, the result was a balloon which launched several hundred feet.  Worst case, the balloon stayed stuck to the slingshot.  In any event, we ultimately broke the slingshot so it was time to move on to the next activity.


The Balloon Toss.


We tromped our way to the shooting range and the scouts tried their hand at shooting .22 rifles.  We had two rounds of 5 shots each.  Since our crew was participating in the biathlon as a team, we didn’t have to change the targets out after every boy shot, and the event went pretty quick.


Killing targets.


Right next to the shooting range was the archery range.  Most all the scouts participated, but Miles sat this one out.  I got the impression he is not a big fan of the bow & arrow.  There snow surrounding the archery targets was several feet deep, so whenever a target was completely missed, it disappeared into the snow.  Many of them were located, but I suspect they will find a mother lode of arrows when spring arrives.

On our way back to the lodge, we stopped at the ice climbing tower.  This was a true highlight that the boys were looking forward to.  I suspect this tower was close to 30 feet tall and one side was covered in a thick foam that simulated ice.


The Ice Climbing Wall.


To get on the climbing wall, the scout had to put on a harness and a helmet.  But also they had to attach a crampon to their shoe, to provide support for their feet while climbing.  I have never seen anything like a crampon before.  It not only would provide your feet an excellent toehold in the ice, but the multiple sharp points could also be used as a weapon if you were being attacked by a polar bear.

I would guess about 8 of the boys in our group gave the climbing wall a shot.  Miles and his friend, Zach, were the first two to climb.  They didn’t make it very far – less than 10 feet up the wall.


Miles gets his instructions.


Zach and Miles climbing the Ice Wall.


Turn by turn, the rest of the scouts gave it a shot.  There were a couple of main problems with ice climbing.  1 – once you swung the ice pick into the foam, it was often very hard to wrestle out, and 2 – since our boots were a bit oversized, the boots (with attached crampons and all) would come off.

Nobody in the group made it even 10 feet, and then Zach gave it another try.  This time, he mastered it and climbed all the way to the top.  When I asked him later how he did it, he said that his boots started coming off during his first attempt.  So, he laced his boots up so tight that he couldn’t feel his feet anymore, and tried it again.  Mission accomplished.


Zach makes it to the top of the Ice Wall!


We said goodbye to the ice climbing wall and walked back to the lodge on our snowshoes.  Once there, we put the snowshoes away, and started making our way back to Camp Denali.


The walk back to Camp Denali.


It was getting to be dusk by this time and  we were ready to start working on dinner.  The crew leaders, Marty & Cory, set up a number of small camp stoves and used them to heat up buckets of water.  Dinner was Ziploc baggies of pasta.

It took a long time to get the water boiled and the pasta & breadsticks warmed up.  Cory did provide us some entertainment by catching his gloves on fire during the dinner preparation.  With as cold as our hands were, instead of being worried for Cory, we were all pretty jealous.  How come he got to set his gloves on fire and we didn’t?


Standing around the Camp Stoves.


During the period while dinner was getting warmed up, the temperature was steadily dropping, and it was getting cold.  (“Cold” is a relative term since the high today was 15 degrees.)  People were walking around camp, including myself, just to keep our bodies active and warm up our feet.  It was too cold for me just to stand in one place.

Earlier in the day, the crew leaders had taught us something called the ‘boot dance’.  You stand facing your buddy and each of you kick out your right foot and bang the insides of your feet against each others.  Then you switch to the left foot, and repeat as necessary.  Miles and I did the boot dance a lot.  He must have come up to me at least half a dozen times and asked if I wanted to do the boot dance.  My answer was always “YES”.

After dinner, we put the pots of boiling water to an even better purpose than cooking.  Before we departed the lodge this morning, each scout was provided two 1 Liter bottles of water.  That water would then be boiled and put back in the bottles, and each scout could put those hot bottles of water in their sleeping bag with them.  Ingenious, huh?  The only problem was that our bottles of water had frozen by the end of the day!

The crew leaders now had to thaw out each water bottle, get the water out, then heat the water up again and refill the bottles.  This took an insanely long time to do.

By 9:00, the process was slowly coming along and everybody was getting extremely cold just hanging around the camp.  It was time for our Night Hike!  We needed the hike to get everybody’s body active and warmed up before bedtime.  One crew leader, Marty, led us on the hike, while the crew leader, Cory, stayed at camp and worked on water bottles.

Marty led us out to one of the many frozen ponds at the Camp and we walked right out to the middle of it.  We formed a circle and Marty said a few words to us.  Across the pond, another group of scouts were sledding down a large hill, and judging by their screams of delight, they were enjoying themselves quite a bit.

The sky was mostly clear and we had a great view of the stars.  The light from a 3/4 moon prevented us from seeing the milky way, but it did help us on our walk back to the camp.  Flashlights were absolutely not necessary.  We could see just fine.

Cory was still working on water bottles when we returned.  Several of us helped him fill and distribute the water bottles to all scouts and adults.  We wrapped up around 10:30 and headed for the sleeping bag.

I can honestly say that I was actually starting to get warm in our two man tent while I was preparing for bed.  But I knew that wouldn’t last, so I left most of my layers on for sleeping.

The temperature dropped below zero during the overnight, but our sleeping bags kept us warm.  I was neither cold nor hot in the tent.  Miles said it never did warm up in the parachute, but he was comfortable enough.

It was not difficult to go to sleep, knowing that when I got up in the morning, I would have survived the 24 hours of winter camping in Minnesota.  I would have to agree with the singing Dad from the bunkhouse this morning – it was a Beautiful Day.


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