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Winter camping not for unprepared

A recent article in the newspaper about the Boy Scouts going on a winter camping trip brought back memories of my own youthful excursions into the winter weather for camping adventure.

My neighbor, Dick and I, saw ourselves as outdoorsmen from an early age. We undertook all types of outdoors activities, regardless of the weather. Camping was high on our list, since it took us into the wilds to commune with nature, but more importantly to be out of sight of adult supervision.

While camping, we could imagine ourselves as frontiersmen, living off the land. We ate what nature provided, and surprisingly, did not die from the things we ate.

Our outdoor experiences slowed dramatically as winter closed in on northern Iowa. Hunting seasons were past, and sitting around the house was unacceptable. On the long bus ride home from school one Friday afternoon, Dick and I decided a winter camping trip was just what we needed. It would be invigorating to be out in the below-freezing temperatures and we could see what it was like to be on Donners Pass. We could survive all weekend, drinking melted snow and eating what we could catch.

We made fast work of getting supplies ready before dark and set up camp in the wilderness. It was only a quarter of a mile from Dick's house, but it was the best we could do for wilderness in those days. I was the proud owner of a pup tent, which I thought was quite the luxury. It was one of the fancy models with extra room at the head end to store things such as coats, during the night. It was not the top of the line model with the floor, which proved a bit annoying during summer camping as extraneous critters could get into the tent. During the winter, we did not have problems with snakes or rodents coming in to get out of the weather, but the wind could blow under the edges as if there were no sides.

We built a fire and set up camp. It was dark before we finished the job and thought about getting something to eat. We crawled into the tent to plan our survival. It was then we discovered the snow inside the tent was just as deep as outside. We scooped the snow out and piled it around the edges of the tent to slow the breeze blowing through. We set two cups of snow by the fire to provide drinking water while we discussed dinner plans. There was a barn just up the hill where we could catch a few pigeons. They would be filling, but it was cold outside and we would have to climb to the top of the barn to get them.

There was Dick's trap line. There was the possibility he caught a muskrat that would provide food for the evening and most of the next day. There was also the possibility he had not caught a muskrat, and we could wander all over the farm until we froze to death. We drank melted snow and hoped for food to fall out of the sky so we would not have to brave the cold to go get it.

Nothing fell from the sky except more snow and drinking melted snow was not very filling. It was finally decided to skip eating and wait until morning. We crawled into our sleeping bags and tried to sleep. The extra storage area at the head of the tent was not used as we needed our coats and everything else we had to keep from freezing.

About midnight, we came to the conclusion that we were going to die if we stayed where we were. We were cold and hungry and nothing was going to improve unless we gave up and went home. Chagrined, we broke camp and made the long cold trek back to Dick's house. Our spirits were lifted immediately when Dick's mother met us with warm food. We were not quite the outdoorsmen we thought we were, but we could live with that fact to be warm again.

Walter Scott is an outdoors enthusiast and freelance writer from Bloomfield, Iowa.