Winter campers sit around the campfire. (WALKER KORBY)
By Carla Charter CORRESPONDENT
ROYALSTON — Campers arrived at Tully Lake the last weekend in January with a bit of uncertainty about trying their hand at a more challenging outdoor experience: winter camping.
“Winter camping can be an edge, a challenge, a whole different way to experience winter,” said Walker Korby, superintendent for The Trustees of Reservations campground.
Mr. Korby, who began winter camping as a Boy Scout at age 11 or 12, spearheaded the first winter camping weekend at Tully Lake two years ago and has made it an annual event.
“That was my impetus for starting the program,” he said. “I don’t do it regularly, so I figured if there is a program I will go.”
The first year there was 40-degree weather, but last year it was in the 20s at night and this year in the single digits. Only about half of the people who signed up this year actually came, probably because of the cold, Mr. Korby said.
Among the hardy ones was Rebecca Mushnick of Athol, who said she saw the announcement about the winter camping in the Trustees for Reservations newsletter. “I wasn’t planning on it being this cold,” she said.
It wasn’t the first time she had camped in the winter, she said. Like Mr. Korby, she did so a number of years ago, when she was a Girl Scout.
Mr. Korby said winter camping is not as uncomfortable as some people think. “Sleeping on the ground with snow is a lot more comfortable than sleeping on the hard ground,” he said. In addition, camping in the winter provides opportunities for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
“You kind of become intimate with the winter landscape,” he said.
Campers had a chance to learn new skills, such as building snow shelters. According to Mr. Korby, snow shelters can sleep one or two people and are warmer than tents. Just in case anyone got too cold, there was a space heater in the ranger station, and Mr. Korby kept careful watch to be sure everyone kept moving and drinking fluids.
Rachel and Andrew Dutton of Cambridge camped with friends Sarah Mahoney and Audrey King. Mrs. Dutton said one of the reasons they came was to learn how to build a snow shelter. “We’ve been winter camping in the Sierra Nevadas and it was about the same temperature,” she said, but they didn’t build a snow shelter.
Down a path from the Duttons’ campsite were Tom and Rebecca Henry of Athol. They had camped at Tully before, but never in the winter. “It’s something we wanted to do. It seemed like fun to wake up with snow on the ground,” Mrs. Henry said. But she added, “We’re not thrilled it’s this cold.”
Mr. Henry said they prepared for the cold by buying a Grizzly sleeping bag rated for minus 25 degrees. “We planned to use it this fall but we didn’t because it rained every weekend,” he said.
There are advantages to camping in the winter, Mr. Henry said. “You don’t have to worry about bears; they’re hibernating. There are no bugs and no poison ivy.”
“We will definitely do this again next year,” he added, “as long as it is not raining or wet snow.”
Mr. Korby said many people fear winter camping, but an advantage at Tully Lake is that campers are no more than five minutes away from their cars. “The campfire is not just a nice thing,” he added, “it’s needed to dry socks and keep warm. It’s not just something to roast marshmallows on.”
Noting that he plans to again hold a winter camping weekend next year, Mr. Korby said, “Winter camping helps remind me of the frailty of humans. Coming across a deer bed that is melted out, I think, a deer slept in just that. Then, looking at all of the gear I have reminds me of my frailty.
“On the flip side, I survive,” he said. “I enjoy finding ways to stay warm. It reminds me of the adaptability of humans. It’s a great way to remind myself of human ingenuity.”
Information about next winter’s camping weekend will be on the Web site www.tullylakecampground.org later this year. There is also information on the site about camping there during the spring, summer and early fall.
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