The WildeBeat

The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.


The WildeBeat edition 120: Reprise of Really Cool Camping, part 2

This is a supplementary transcript of our audio program. CLICK HERE to listen to the original program, and see the associated show notes.

Getting into a winter wilderness is a skill you can easily warm up to. This week on The WildeBeat; a reprise of Really Cool Camping, part two.

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News from the Wildebeat, the audio journal about getting into the wilderness.

This is program number one twenty, a reprise of twenty seven.

I'm Steve Sergeant.

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STEVE: Last week, Mike Clelland, the illustrator and co-author of "Allen and Mike's Really Cool Backcountry Ski Book," got us started with snow camping skills. Here's more...

STEVE: We're dressed well, we've arrived at camp, we have our shelter... Let's talk about some of the hazards at this point, now that the sun is going down.

MIKE CLELLAND: Well, when the sun goes down it's going to get colder, and often times that happens fast, and it takes you by surprise. So, you'll definitely want to have your headlamp ready to go. And I find just those little L.E.D. headlamps are great... But if you are damp on the inside, it's not like you can just change your clothes and put on some dry clothes. Because the very act of changing your clothes would set you up for getting hypothermic. Trying to take a wet long john top off would be dangerous. I found that what works best is just to keep a nice, slow pace, and just go about your little errands. Dig a little snow kitchen. Also in the winter time the water is there, it's everywhere but it's not in a liquid form it's in a solid form. The act of working around the kitchen, and the act of building the shelter, you can put in a lot of hard work. But just make sure to be super-aware that you don't get sweaty. And that's when the big parka goes on, and you take that hat with the ear flaps and that goes on, and the big mittens come on. One thing I do do when I get into camp is I will change my socks. I'll make sure there's no blisters, or concerns about frostbite, and just make sure my feet look nice and healthy, and then I'll put my nice dry socks on, and put those back in my boots. I've found that the act of putting dry socks on is so wonderful and your mood instantly elevates, and doing those camp chores is quite fun.

STEVE: The water's all around, but it's snow and you've got to melt it to get a drink of water. There's a technique to that.

MIKE CLELLAND: Well, there is. And strange but true, you can actually burn the snow. And multiple people try to tell me what's actually happening and I've never gotten a good answer. Some people say it's the dust in the snow that's burning, or it's the layer on the inside of the pot that's burning. But try to take a big clump of snow and toss it in a hot fry-pan — the water you're drinking will taste like burnt popcorn, or burnt rice. So start with your pot, and then start with a tiny bit of water. You'll need to save some water on your hiking day and make sure it doesn't freeze. And pour a little bit in the bottom of the pan, and then put that on the stove. And then that needs to get a little bit warm and then you add snow slowly. And then once you get a half of the pot filled with water, then you can pretty aggressively jam snow in there and it'll no longer burn it. One other thing to think of is if you take something hot, like a camp stove, and set it on the snow, it'll melt right in. And if you boil a pot of water, and then the stove tips over, you've just lost all that water and you've wasted all that stove fuel. So you'll need to have some sort of pot stand.

STEVE: I notice from your picture on page fifty-nine, you've got quite an elaborate kitchen setup there. I'm trying to imagine making an elaborate meal, bringing in lots of fresh food and doing all the chopping, and everything else in the winter. Do you do that?

MIKE CLELLAND: Oh, absolutely. In fact that kitchen that's illustrated there is just the bare minimum in my opinion. The only way you can produce heat is through exercise, and through metabolism. And metabolism requires food. And if you can eat well, in the winter, you'll stay a lot warmer, and you'll enjoy yourself a lot more being warmer. In essence, you're camping and traveling in your freezer in the kitchen at home. So you can take whatever you want out for cooking and eating, and it'll stay frozen. And your body is craving calories. So you can eat as much fat as you want. You're craving calories to such an extent that your body uses them all up.

STEVE: So people who are on perpetual diets in their normal sedentary lives probably shouldn't stick to that diet when they're out on a winter backcountry trip.

MIKE CLELLAND: No. No, and it's funny you should say that because that's something that comes up periodically as an instructor on these courses. You have someone who's complaining about being cold, and they'll say, "Well, you know, I'm sort of on a diet and I don't want to eat too much." The only way you're going to stay warm is by eating. You often times will get cold in the middle of the night, and taking something like a Snickers bar into bed with you, and if you get cold eating that Snickers bar, you can feel the carbohydrates in that Snickers bar, doing their job. You will warm up and actually go right back to sleep. And eating a lot of fat, and eating a lot of calories is your only defense against the cold in the winter.

STEVE: We're well fed, we're in our campsite, we've got a shelter. What do we need for bedding?

MIKE CLELLAND: Well the one rule that I always go by is whatever you sleep on in the summer, double it. And that includes the pads that you sleep on. Basically the snow is trying to cool you off, and you're trying to warm up the snow, and the snow is going to win. I'll take one full-length, foam pad. And then either a three-quarter or a full-length inflatable pad. And a winter sleeping bag, something that's rated to the temperature you're going to be in... Down doesn't insulate when it's wet, so avoid down if you're going to be traveling in a place where you might be having wet weather. Before I climb into bed I'll do a little walk. Often times I'll get on my skis, and just ski around in the moonlight or ski around under the stars, just so my body temperature's up a little bit. So when I do climb into the bag I'm warm. And the most important thing is a good hat. Something with ear flaps or a balaclava that would go all the way over your head. Some people like to take a hot water bottle into bed with them. Just be careful not to use up all your stove fuel on the hot water bottles but that's a great way to stay warm on a winter night.

STEVE: Your picture on page sixty seven shows a layout of all kinds of things in the sleeping bag: Foot beds, boots, there's a couple of bottles, socks and gloves.

MIKE CLELLAND: Well, I'm very careful no to take too much in there that would freeze. The only thing that's going to freeze is something with water in it. If my pile gloves or my extra set of gloves get frozen, they get damp and then they freeze rock-hard which is normal, that's the last thing I want in the sleeping bag with me. In the day the next day I can just take those, put them in an inside pocket in a polyester jacket or a pile jacket, and then just spend the day skiing. And in that time, those will dry out. And they dry out pretty nice and then I can rotate those back in to where I can use them on my hands again. You can sleep with a pair of wet or damp socks next to your skin, and in the morning they'll be plenty dry. You don't have to worry about them freezing at all. But be very careful no to overdo it. You know, don't have three pair of wet socks, and three pair of wet gloves and think you're going to dry those out. All that will do is make you cold at night.

STEVE: Winter camping skills are valuable to learn for a lot of reasons, even if you only plan to camp in the summer.

MIKE CLELLAND: One of the things that is a by-product of winter camping is the fact that you become an amazingly skilled and efficient camper. And when you do go and camp in the summer time, your skill level is so much higher that summertime camping seems so comfortable and so easy. And another benefit is, if you're hiking in the Sierras in the summer, and you get caught in a winter storm. If you have a little bit of winter camping experience it's not such a daunting experience.

STEVE: I also checked with Ben Lawhon at the Leave No Trace Center. He had this special advice for snow campers.

BEN LAWHON: If folks head out in the field prepared for the conditions they'll encounter there's a much greater likelihood that they'll have a safe and enjoyable trip, and that they won't unduly impact the environment just based on the fact that may be ill-prepared. Be sure and check your topo and make sure you're not camping on what would be a water source come springtime. And the reason that's important is when we start to talk about human waste disposal, those could potentially flow into a water source come spring. So it's really just thinking about where you are, what's going to happen to the waste in the spring if it gets left there, and also considering the option of packing out human waste if you feel like that's something your group is capable of handling in a sanitary fashion. When breaking camp if you've made snow structures, dismantle those before you leave. And it's important in areas that are heavily used. It's just thinking about leaving the camp sites so that others that come after you can the same sort of experience that you did, of that pristine sort of winter backcountry experience.

STEVE: This program was originally published on January twenty sixth, two thousand six. We'd like to hear about your experiences with snow camping, your own tips about how to enjoy it, or any other comments or suggestions you might have for our show. You can call our toll free comment line at 866-590-7373.

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Our official website is WWW dot WILDEBEAT (that's W-I-L-D-E-B-E-A-T) dot NET. If we helped you get into the wilderness, could you help us do the same for others? Just click on our support link and become a member. The WildeBeat is produced by Steve Sergeant, with help from Jean Higham, as a nonprofit educational project of Earth Island Insitute.

This has been The WildeBeat, program number one twenty. Thank you for listening.

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Next time -- Backcountry Skiing.

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