It’s New Year’s Eve!
The day dawns with a veil of clouds over the sun at the horizon and clear skies overhead. I actually woke up closer 6AM this day, based on the timestamp on some star photos I took. I tried to sleep a little longer, and around 7:30 our interpreter was checking on Brian and I to see how we fared overnight in the windbreak.
He also gave each of us a warmed up applesauce pouch which was an awesome way to start the day. Eventually, everyone gets out of their various sleeping places and heads over to the snow kitchen where more warm things to eat are waiting for us. After breakfast is done we begin to get packed up- we’re moving camp today! Our next planned campsite on is on Griddle Lake, just on the edge the wilderness boundary.
The day has warmed up slightly, and once we are packed up we hit the trail around the North side of Flash Lake and towards Griddle. It’s a beautiful day to walk in the woods. Northern Tier does a superb job of maintaining the trails in and around the Secret/Blackstone loop within the National Forest, as several of the spurs connect onto base property. In the winter time, they’re highways for winter campers as they go from site to site on their itineraries. There are occasional snow showers as we make our way towards Griddle, and exit the woods to it’s shore about lunchtime.
I’ve always found the wilderness to be a quiet place, but in wintertime that is amplified so much! Gone are the tittering birds, the beavers swimming and slapping their tails, the loons whose yodels and cries are synonymous with the north woods. It’s refreshing being out in the cold, and when the wind stops blowing the silence is practically deafening.
We can see some snow structures in the direction of our intended camp, and start making our way. Fairly quickly once we’re on the lake we encounter slush. LOTS of slush. Now, if you’ve never been winter camping you probably think of slush as just the wet snow that is on the road or your car after a snowfall.
For winter camping, slush is a layer of super cooled but unfrozen water that exists in a layer underneath the snow but above the actual frozen lake surface. When the insulating snow above is removed, the slush will stick to anything that is dry, and soon after exposure to the dry ambient temperatures it will freeze.
More liquid, or snow, will stick to the partially frozen slush on your boots, snowshoes, skis, sled, trekking poles, anything it touches, and before long your legs and arms are pounds heavier just from ice accumulation.
We trudge across the lake to our planned site and… no. There’s no way we can stay at this site – the slush is deep and everywhere.
Even with a tarp, would you want to lay on THAT? —>
We munch on our lunch that we’ve kept warm courtesy of the layer between our boot insulation and the outer shell, and consider our options. In the end we are going to go back to Flash, but not via the way we came, to stay at a different site. It’s a nice day for a walk around the edge of the wilderness. I’m doing a terrible job of layer management, however. I just don’t know it yet.
We get around the loop and land in our campsite by mid afternoon. We’re staying on the western edge campsite on Flash, the one onshore.
It’s pretty neat – the site has multiple levels as well as some really nice wind breaks, quinzees, and other snow structures. We even have a pedestal for our fire pan! There was a group here last night, I know this because we passed them on our way in and any time we needed to use the bathroom, the prevalent direction folks went is back onshore and past this campsite. So, we’ll be in a bit of a fishbowl for the little while we’ll be here.
Tonight is our best opportunity to earn the Zero Hero award by sleeping out in below 0 temperatures. The sun quickly slips below the horizon and night descends upon the frozen woods.
With the Sun’s work done for the day, the clear sky allows for temperatures to drop. We have an awesome dinner of spaghetti mac and hang out by the fire and dance in place to keep warm. A little while after dinner Brian comes to me with a pair of problems – either his glucose test equipment is malfunctioning due to the cold, or he’s having a hard time keeping his blood sugar up. We’ve easily burned 10,000 calories today just staying warm as well as moving around between campsites. Brian is type 2, which is why he’s monitoring his sugars, and despite all efforts to cram him full of calories he can’t keep his sugars up at a safe level. He and I agree that we should alert the other adult and our staff interpreter. After he radios back to base for a consultation with their medical, it’s decided that he and Brian are going to hike back to base and get him checked out. Scott and I are left with the Scouts, and now everyone’s a little more than concerned for Brian.
We keep dancing and moving by the fire, keeping it going while we wait for news of our interpreter and Brian. By 9 they’re back in camp! Medical checked him out and after he got warm and some more food from the mess hall his sugars are back in a normal range and they cleared him to come back out. Hurray!
Our group hikes the trail away from camp to do our evening devotional, which for our group is more like a Rose/Bud/Thorn reflection. Temperatures are definitely getting close to zero. There’s a crispness to the air as you breathe it in, and just a feeling one gets from a lifetime of upper-Midwest living in the winter when temps get this cold. I can sense we will have a good shot at the Zero Hero tonight.
<— Brian and Gavin —>
Back at camp, I’ve committed a cardinal sin of winter camping all day – poor layer management. My breathable Columbia parka turns out to be not so breathable, and our time in front of the fire followed by hiking out of camp has allowed a considerable amount of moisture to build up between the layers of my jacket. For the first time today, I can feel the weight of the frost which has formed then fallen down due to friction and gravity. Short of cutting the cuffs and hem of the outer shell open to manually remove the ice, there is little I can do at this point. It is so cold I can’t even wear the jacket dry – in order to warm it up I’d need to do some kind of physical exertion to generate excess heat, which would also produce perspiration, and that would just add to the frost problem. My next layer in from the outside even has frost on the surface.
Tonight we’re up later than most nights due to our medical problem, but still manage to get everyone settled in their sleeping spots by 9:30. No one is interested in staying up to midnight to ring in the new year. We’re out of firewod, and a fire would just make everyone sweaty.