In my book I write about canoeing in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of Minnesota, a wilderness area adjacent to the Canadian Quetico. Without question, it is some of the most beautiful wilderness I have ever been to for canoeing and rustic camping, but did you know it's a great place to ski camp in the snowy Winter months?
Right now in Minnesota there are several inches of snow on the ground. This means we are in Winter camping mode, not canoeing mode! Camping in the snow is amazing. Let me tell you a little about one of my trips to the BWCA in Winter.
As always, our group began with several meetings to plan and become acquainted with each other. I would be spending a week in wilderness with men and women I didn't know very well, and we had to build trust with each other. We would be away from civilization, so our planning was detailed and thorough. We began our trip in Ely, Minnesota, on the edge of the BWCA. The town of Ely is well equipped with businesses that cater to adventurers and campers; this industry is the mainstay of the town.
Our group cross country skiied with heavy backpacks, towing specially designed sleds from our starting point near Lake One. We were transporting everything we would need for a week to our first camp site on the ice at the shore of the lake. We skiied from lake to lake, and across the ice, following our plan. Upon arrival at each camp site along the trip we prepared our tent by burying the base of it in the snow to secure it to the ground, carving a "kitchen" area out of the snow, looking for a good place to cut a hole in the ice to obtain water, and preparing our insulated sleeping pads and winter weight sleeping bags for use later that evening. We boiled the water and made yummy hot meals for ourselves with our portable camp stoves.
After cleaning up the kitchen we split up, taking time to do personal things, like drying out any damp clothing. One important rule of cold weather camping is to remain dry on the skin but well hydrated inside! Just before climbing into our sleeping bags each of us filled up our water bottles and took a few swigs of water, placing the bottles in the sleeping bag with us to keep the water from freezing. We slept in as little clothing as possible, stuffing the unworn clothing into the bag with us to keep it warm and dry. Our first layer was long underwear made with polyester, polypropylene or wool, all of which trap heat even when wet or sweaty. Next came polyester jackets or pullovers, then a down insulated layer and lastly a water repellent wicking layer to keep snow from melting on us, but allow the sweat generated by skiing to evaporate into the cold Boundary Waters air.
Part way through the week an Ely dog musher met us at one of our camps, staying with us for a night and a day of learning about dog sledding. Each of us had the opportunity for a try at mushing if we so chose, and at skiing while being pulled by dogs. The dogs were friendly and obedient; they trusted the musher who was the leader of their pack. They slept outside buried under the snow at night and ate high protein, high calorie food to stay warm and happy.
One evening the weather was cold and it had been snowing all day, so we were tired, but kept warm as we told jokes and stories in the tent, which stayed about ten degrees warmer inside than it was outside, just from our body heat. A member of our group had a minimum/maximum registering thermometer in his pack. He was able to confirm that the temperature one cold night got down to thirty-two degrees Fahrenheit below zero, and yet we all stayed warm and dry by wearing the right clothing, eating well, drinking plenty of water and using our muscles. By the end of that week, I was ready to stay outside even longer, my body was acclimated to the cold and enjoying the beauty and peace of living on the edge in the BWCA.
The lakes in Minnesota offer the opportunity to enjoy team work, friendship, learning by experience and seeing indescribable beauty. The lakes in my head offer me the same opportunities. I learn more about how to live with my hydrocephalus and other chronic medical conditions by making new friends, sharing joys and sorrows with them, walking or rolling along with them on their hydrocephalus journeys, and seeing how beautiful each one of us is just by being who we really are with each other. As Winter campers sharing practical camping techniques or equipment with friends, those of us on this hydrocephalus journey can encourage and share practical advice.