Shake ‘n Bake has a theory that the outdoors has training levels, just like a video game. It started on the Pacific Crest Trail. The desert, which we’d expected to be littered with skeletons and hot as an oven, was lush, green, and full of shade to hide in from the noon sun. Later, once we’d mastered the siesta and how much water to carry, the shade disappeared. The scorched arid land we’d imagined replaced it, but by now, we were ready. The trail never gave us more than we could handle at once. Instead, we worked up to the scary scenarios we wouldn’t have been able to deal with at the beginning.
We’ve taken the training level approach to winter camping. We committed at the beginning of the season to going at least once a month. We’ve had a few close calls with lockdowns cancelling trips, but we’ve stuck with it. And now, with spring on the horizon, we’ve learned so much. We’re ready for the next level before the thaw comes.
It’s dark when we reach the crown land at the edge of Algonquin Park. No worries, we have headlamps. We strap on our snowshoes and head to our summer spot on the edge of a gravel pit. Wind whips the treetops above, and the snow blows up, powder glittering in the beam of my headlamp. It’s only -10c, but the windchill bites through every layer I own. By the time we’ve stamped down our sleeping area, my fingers are numb. It’s our first time dealing with a serious windchill, and I’m glad we’ve had plenty of time to hone our other winter skills.
I wake up snuggled at the bottom of my sleeping bag, face hidden from the cold. It’s still blowing outside, the snow drifting over our tracks from last night, spindrift swirling around our little tent. We pack up, but only head a few kilometers down the trail. The snow is crusty. It holds our weight for just a second, and then we punch through to knee deep crystals. We find a little grove of birch and spruce around noon, and set our tent back up. Winter chores occupy most of our afternoon: collecting wood, melting snow, and tending the fire is time consuming.
I do find time for a little photo shoot. Hyperlite Mountain Gear sent me a few things, partly to take photographs for an article I’m writing for them. I make Shake ‘n Bake pose. He grumbles, but I know he’ll be proud if they share his photo. We eat homemade dehydrated curry, as darkness falls and the wind drops. Embers from the fire spark up towards the stars. We sit on snow benches and warm our hands over the coals.
It’s not far to the car in the morning, but we detour along an unbroken trail that hugs the shore of a lake. It’s hard going, and I sweat inside my down coat. It would have been easier to follow our tracks from the day before, but we’re not out here for easy. I’m aware that this might be our last winter trip of the season. The forecast is for a warmer week, and rain. I want to make the most of the snow while it’s here. So I put my head down and stomp through the crust, all the way back to the car.