Trip Report – Awacamenj Mino – Jan 2011

This is actually 2 trips to the scout camp at Awacamenj Mino, one in early January to open the snowshoe/skiing trails and the other in late January for some camping and snowshoeing.

Trip 1 – Breaking in the trails

This was just a simple daytrip up to Awacamenj Mino to break in the trails for the winter, some using skis others with snowshoes. It was a good trek for several kilometers, with enough snow to be interesting but not too tiring. We managed to get out on the frozen lake as well and complete breaking in some of the trails.

Trip 2 – Day 1 – It’s cold out there!

This trip was over a weekend just to get back into the winter camping groove and snowshoe around. We met up and left on a Friday after work/school and hiked around a bit in the woods. It was a bit cold hovering around -20C with the wind so when we found an old building (some sort of shed on dirt floor?) we decided that seemed like a good spot to sleep for the night. There was enough room for all of us to fit in there and it basically just provided some shelter from the wind. We made a small campfire, were glad we all had down jackets to keep us warm and went to bed fairly early. During the night it felt pretty cold, a few decided to sleep with booties (kind of snow slippers) on in our sleeping bags for some extra warmth but some were really at the limit of their sleeping bags capabilities.

Trip 2 – Day 2 – Way too cold!

The next morning we repacked our things and tried to start our MSR Whisperlite stove to warm up some water for breakfast. Unfortunately it was too cold and we couldn’t get it to light so this really became a good training session testing the limit of the gear. At this point it was about -25C without the wind and clearly we had some issues.

Whisperlite operation

First of all, you need to pressurise the fuel by inserting a pump into the fuel bottle and pumping in air. The pump also has a valve on it to control how much fuel flows to the stove. When cold and the valve is opened, the fuel just leaks into a small cup at the bottom of the whisperlite where you can give it a spark (or some other flame) to light it on fire. When this fuel burns (its just a flame without pressure here), it heats up the stove itself and the line of incoming fuel so that it can vaporise before reaching the injector. Once the temperature is hot enough and the fuel vaporises (boils), gets injected under pressure and burned making a nice blue flame.

Whisperlite issues in the cold & solutions

Our first issue trying to lite the stove in -25C was that the rubber seals between the pump and the fuel bottle were so cold, it would leak. We tried a few times and could get some pressure into the bottle but it would leak out fuel all over our hands (this is REALLY cold, an evaporating fluid on bare hands in -25C). We had to switch off a few times because our hands were getting to cold to work with and increasing the risk of frostbite. We figured once the stove would be burning, it would heat the bottle and pump and likely solve this issue.

Next problem we had, was lighting the actual fuel. Usually you give it a spark (flint & steel) and it lights up quickly, but in these temperatures it seemed like we couldn’t get it to light easily. After a good long while of trying to get the fuel to stop leaking and to actually get something lit up, we tried to solve our temperature problem in a different way. One person took the pump and put it in his coat, another took the fuel bottle and put that in his coat (and we did the same with a lighter). Our idea was that if we can warm these things up, they would be in a better operating range and once we can get it lit up, it will heat itself to proper operating temperature (and our food to eating temperature!)

After about 5-10 minutes of warming the equipment with our body heat, we assembled everything and tried again. Success! We all took notes, and now when we get to low temperatures like this, standard procedure is to start warming up the pump (sometimes the fuel) in our coats while we set up other things so it’s nice and ready to go when we need it.

Dealing with the cold – shelter with reflecting fire

Since some people had a rough sleep being cold, we had all these issues just getting our stove working and it felt quite cold (temperatures hovered around -20C all day) so we decided we needed a better set-up for the night. Our plan had been to go snowshoeing around the property so we had a lot of time to figure out what to do. We came up to a spot near a hill that seemed like a good spot for a reflecting fire. Basically the idea is to have a fire that can reflect its heat off a stone face so you get both the heat from the fire and what is reflected. (Note here, the ideal scenario is to be between the fire and the wall but not really feasible here).

We started work building a lean-to, cutting some trees to build the structure and some tarps to make the floor and ceiling. We figured this would protect us from wind and if there was snow overnight as well as keep some heat in. We built the open side towards the stone face so any heat would be reflected into our shelter. We packed the sides with some snow and spruce branches for additional protection from the wind and set up a spot for the fire. We gathered a good amount of firewood, hardwood logs that should pump out a lot of heat.

Once our shelter was in decent shape, we snowshoed around the trails a bit doing a bit of sliding down the hill. We ran into another group (who were sleeping indoors) and started chatting about what our plans were and what they were up to. After a bit of discussion, everyone agreed it was super cold and we got some invitations to sleep inside with them or move there if it got too cold overnight. (I think Sylvain decided to bunk in with them). We got back to our camp, started our fire to warm up after hiking and used our new technique to get the whisperlite running quickly. It was cold enough at this point that Seb, who was trying to warm up his hands over the fire with his gloves on didn’t feel his gloves start to melt before someone flagged it to him. Luckily he was not injured but was surprised that it was warm enough to melt one side, without feeling too hot on his hands and with the backside still cold.

We huddled into our sleeping bags with a decent fire going and a lot of logs to keep it going. Those of us with a sleeping bag that had a better rating were positioned further from the fire to try and balance things out. What we hadn’t planned on though is our shelter would essentially guide the smoke down to where we were sleeping due to the slope of the roof. It wasn’t a ton of smoke, but enough to be uncomfortable once in a while, I guess with the heat comes smoke. Throughout the night. as soon as the fire would die down a bit, someone would wake up from the cold and throw another log on to try and warm back up. It was, once again a night with poor sleep.

Trip 2 – Day 3 – So cold we’re hiking wearing down!

When we woke up the next day, it was still very cold! We had surprisingly gone through almost our entire reserve of wood and still the fire didn’t feel very hot until you were almost right on top of it. After breakfast we tore down our shelter, packed our things and started hiking back. It was so cold that we all stayed in our down jackets. Typically this is something we avoid since you warm up quickly, sweat and then get into some real problems. But it was so cold this day that even in our down jackets we weren’t getting hot enough to be even close to sweating (that’s a first for us).

Overall, we learned how to deal with very cold temperatures. Operating our stove, making shelter, keeping warm. The temperatures I state in the article are what I can get form historical data (logged closer to the city) but from what I can remember, when we checked after the weekend our lows were near -35C which is pretty darn cold!

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