From time to time one simply has to get away from everything especially technology. Doing a solo trip into the frozen wilderness without access to screens (other than a phone for photos and emergencies, not that it was too helpful as the batteries and battery bank were depleted instantly from the cold!) and distractions really helps me think and be alone with just my thoughts. We always seem to be filling out minds with all sorts of junk but are too afraid of just being alone, silent and still.
The hike in went well, it was only a little over an hour hike into the woods, but with a heavy pack (I packed WAY too much food just to be safe!) it was still quite the jaunt for someone a little huskier like myself. My challenge to myself was to do this trip alone with no tent or cook stove. This allowed me an opportunity to build an awesome tarp shelter and do lots of campfire cooking!
I arrived at my camp location making lots of noise and a little nervous for the night to come, since there are LOTS of bears around here. They would probably be hibernating by now and not want to bother me anyways but hey -I’m a wimp. I had tree-planted down this logging road earlier in the year and we ran into black bears on multiple occasions. I had left my home early enough because I knew once there it would be a race against time to get the necessary firewood, fire -pit, shelter, and firewood shelter. Luckily I am wise like Yoda because everything that could go wrong with the weather did. It rained the whole way in and I got soaked. Then it turned into snow as I was trying to get a fire going with whatever wood and tinder I could find that hadn’t been thoroughly drenched. I wound up lighting my fire under a large chunk of slash leftover from logging. It barely got going since huge snowflakes were consistently quenching it’s flames.
I had to think fast and gather some hemlock boughs with lots of needle coverage to make a little roof above the fire so I could keep it going, not to mention getting some hot coals going for dinner. By now I am starving. I am a 250 pound attempting-to-be-strongman and I eat A-LOT of food under normal conditions. Time for a quick snack; a couple of 3-cheese pizza pops!!(I swear I’m not 14!) They were the best I’ve ever tasted and made my hands a little less shaky from hunger. (I picked them because I could just wrap them up in tinfoil and toss them on the coals)
I still had to set up the rest of the shelter and most of my gear is soaked now like I am. I decided on a lean to with the tarp folded over the ground, then up onto some posts I had cut and pounded into the ground with an added cross-beam. Once set up and with some of my gear drying under it, I got back to cutting firewood. I would need much more since I planned on having an all night fire. I switched out the dry boughs covering the fire with some ice and snow covered ones and put them down on my tarp floor for an insulating ground layer, then laid down the ‘space-blanket’ followed by my sleeping bag and another space-blanket for total warmth at night. It was badly needed since it dropped to -15 Celsius (5 Fahrenheit).
I wish I was able to take more photos to help explain my firewood processing and cooking etc. But I was literally running from one thing to the next without much time for photography anyways and the cold was killing my batteries too, like I said earlier. I would head into the woods looking for dead wood (it was all soaked and frozen regardless) and cut 6-10 foot logs that I dragged into my splitting area. I pounded 2 aluminum spikes at opposing angles so I could set my log in it and cut quickly with my bow saw into small 14 inch pieces. Once I had a good pile going or was too tired of cutting I would switch and start splitting them into kindling sized pieces with my hatchet so that they would be easier to preserve, and work with a smaller fire. I had leveled off the top of the same log for a flat surface to split on too.
My days routine typically consisted of waking up around 7 which is a little late but I needed the extra sleep after having very cold nights with not too much actual sleeping. I could finally take a pee, get my shoes, wool and hoodie on and get a fire going which was a challenge as it was hard to keep everything other than a tiny bit of tinder dry. Once it was really crackling I would head down the icy ravine that led to fresh creek water which wasn’t completely frozen over yet. Coffee was the reward for said journey and was enjoyed almost in pure ecstasy because I was finally warming and waking up. After I had downed 2 cups or so I would get a breakfast of eggs and meat or a can of beans cooking. After eating I would process firewood all day, and make one or two items for my shelter if I had the time. Like hanging pegs to dry clothes on, or a small table for prepping food. I liked to start dinner while I had a little light because it took so long to do everything. Throughout the day I would be drinking coffee, oval-teen, and tea!
In summary, it was a real challenge to go into the woods in early winter in the Canadian Rockies with no tent or cook stove. Being exposed to the elements especially the harsh cold and hunger is a great way to appreciate the luxuries in our homes and in society that we take for granted. It really makes you realize how vulnerable we are and if it wasn’t for all our systems and basic technologies most people probably would not survive.