Winter Camping at Bennett Lake

Martin Luther King weekend has become a traditional WinterCampers.com date on the calendar.  Matt, Len and Mark kept this tradition alive and were joined by a promising rookie named Rick.  The quartet set out with plans to bushwhack their way up Moose and Baldhead Mountians in the Stoney Creek area.  With Google map directions in hand the group set off on their way.  As the group neared the trail head however they were met by a seasonal highway that was obviously closed for the winter.

The seasoned vets of the group quickly saw this as a teaching opportunity for greenhorn Rick regarding the Winter Campers motto…”It’s the journey, not the destination.”  With that in mind the group quickly altered their plans to hike the Murphy/Middle/Bennett Lake trail which as luck would have it they had just passed before encountering the closed road.

With temps in the mid teens, a foot of fluffy snow under foot and snow beginning to fall the hikers set off to find a suitable tipi sight along the shores of Bennett Lake.  Len shouldered his pack and set a vigorous pace along the 1.6 mile mainly uphill hike to the lake.  Rick also carried his pack while Matt and Mark pulled their gear in sleds.

Snow started falling steadily and continued through the night while the group set camp.  Once camp was established, Matt staked out the very best spot in the tipi and left the others to scrounge for what meager space was left.  Rick showed a lot of jamboree spirit by taking the spot directly in front of the stove door so that he could continue to feed the stove while the others basked in the heat and leisurely ate their lunches.  After warming and filling their bellies they set off to explore the shores of Bennett Lake despite the inclement conditions.

Returning to camp the group took some time to cut and gather more firewood and to search for the brat buns that Len had misplaced under the falling snow.  After much shoveling the snow buried buns were found and Len built a “pan” out of the aluminum foil from his sandwich at lunch to cook the brats on the wood stove.  Unfortunately some of the brat juice ran off onto the top of the stove and temporarily filled the tipi with a smoky albeit not totally unpleasant aroma.


The group sat up and talked until about 8pm as a steady snow continued to fall outside.  Rick finally proclaimed that this was the last time he would put wood on the fire for the night fearing that once he got his sleeping bags laid out a hot ember might shoot out of the stove door and put a small ventilation hole in the nylon.  Not wanting to upset our new found fire stoker we all agreed that would be fine and retired for the night.  The crew was pleasantly awakened at about 5:30 by Rick stoking the fire back up in the morning so we could slowly wake up in warmth and pack up in the balmy conditions.  The only drawback was that the heavy frost that had formed on the inside of the tipi now became a moderate rain as it melted.  You can’t have everything I guess.

By 8:00am the crew was packed and heading out for the return home.

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“Dirty Version” Oatmeal Pancakes for Winter Camping

The Dirty Gourmet tries to inspire gourmet outdoor cooking by providing easy camping recipes and ideas.  Their “dirty version” of a recipe is the pared down version that is more suitable for trips where refrigeration or weight is an issue, such as backpacking.  They recently went winter camping in Yosemite Valley and made oatmeal pancakes with dried fruit compote for breakfast.

They have a host of recipes for appetizers, beverages, breakfast, dessert, entrees, lunch, salad, side dishes, snacks and soups.  Their story and recipe can be found here.

Oatmeal Pancakes with Fruit Compote- Dirty Version

Serving Size 3-4

Prep Time 5 minutes

Cook Time 20 minutes

Ingredients

Dried Fruit Compote
  • 1 cup dried fruit, chopped
  • 3 cups jasmine tea (or whatever you have)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • juice from half a lemon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, or 1 vanilla bean, scraped
Oatmeal Pancakes
  • 1 cup old fashioned oats (or 2 packets regular flavor instant oatmeal)
  • 1 6.75 oz package of “Complete” Pancake mix (just-add-water)
  • 2-3 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans
  • 2 tablespoons oil for skillet if not non-stick

Tools

  • 2 Quart Pot
  • 1 Bowl
  • Skillet
  • Spoon
  • Knife
  • Cutting board
  • Spatula

Method For the Dried Fruit Compote: Pour jasmine tea over fruit in a pot, enough to cover. Add sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla. Place on stove over medium-low heat and simmer, covered about 20 minutes, until it becomes thickened and syrupy.

Method For the Pancakes

  1. Mix oats with instant pancake mix
  2. Add water and mix. The oats make the mix thicker, so you may need to add a little more water.
  3. Fold chopped pecans into batter.
  4. Drop a large spoonful of batter into a lightly oiled skillet on medium high. Let it cook until bubbling on top. Flip. Let cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes on each side.
  5. Repeat with the rest of the batter. Cover with foil to keep oatmeal pancakes warm if serving formally.
  6. Serve pancakes topped with fruit compote.

They reported the oatmeal pancakes were easy and hearty, almost as good as making them from scratch, and it was really nice to have ingredients that double as snacks on the trail.

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Tipi Camping

Hot or cold tenting?  Each style of winter camping has it’s proponents.

Hot tenting usually involves packing a wood stove along with a more substantial tent – since one is spending time in the heated tent and it is not just a sleeping berth.  Hot tenting may entail bringing your gear on a sled, toboggan or pulk. Advantages include lounging in comfort, the ability to dry out clothes and cook in the shelter.  Disadvantages include an increased weight, set up time and the need to cut fuel.  Hot tenters often establish multi-day base camps.

Cold tenting usually involves a lighter load that can be easily backpacked, permitting more mobility.  Cold tent-ers rarely stay in the same place more than one night.  The disadvantage being that it gets tough to dry out gear on trips of long duration.

A nice compromise is the lightweight Kirafu Tent. We love the Kirafu Tipi for winter camping.  It is light and easy to set up.  It accomodates 4-5 campers with a wood stove and wood.  If you want to be warm – it can get very warm.

The Kifaru 8 Man Ultralight Tipi weighs12 lbs for an 8 man tent with the large packable wood stove. The Tipi is made of an ultralight fabric which resembles parachute material. The tipi material itself is very light and easily stuffs into a small sack. It has one aluminum center pole and several stakes.

Set up is easy. If there is a lot of snow, however, we recommend digging or stamping out the area first for easier set up, especially if you don’t have the longer tent stakes. Taking the time to clear out the snow saves a lot of time and trouble in the end.

We have several campers that average between 6’4” and 6’6” tall. What is touted as an eight person tent will comfortably fit five with the wood stove and a supply of wood. Without the stove the tent will fit six persons.

The wood stove is stainless steel and weighs in at just over 4lbs. When folded up it is roughly the size of a laptop and comes in its own carrying case. We recommend rolling the stove pipe a few times at home first in order to loosen it up a bit and to get the hang of it. We did not do this the first trip but hindsight is always 20/20. Once set up it is time to build yourmattfire-1.jpg fire.

The firebox is 8×9×20 so you will have to keep the wood small since the door only allows wood of approximately 3.5 inches in diameter. Burn time is about an hour, however, you can easily warm the inside of the tipi up into the 70s. The sides of the stove and stovepipe do become red hot so you will want to make sure that the sleeping bags, packs, bare skin, etc. stay well away.  If you wish to have a fire going all night it is important to position a light sleeper near the stove. Burn time is roughly an hour so unless you just plan on re-lighting it in the morning you need someone to who sleeps lightly to keep waking up and throwing a few pieces of wood on every hour or so. We have found the stove to be an adequate cooking stove. The stove is sturdy enough to hold pots of boiling water, frying pans etc. All in all we highly recommend the Tipi by Kifaru.  Read our full review here or check out the Kirafu web site.

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Water Containers for Winter Camping

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Winter Camping at Dead Vly

Our initial plan was to camp on the shores of Buckhorn Lake, also known as Fiddler’s Lake, which is located in the southern Adirondacks.  It was a convenient meeting area for campers coming from Holland Patent, Barneveld, Sprakers, Carlisle and East Berne.  Skip and I arrived 1st with the intent of scouting for a diner that would serve breakfast (or 2nd breakfast as the Hobbits called it).

We found Casey’s Corners directly across from the trail head and settled in for a hot cup of coffee for Matt, Mark, Len and Rob,  the original WinterCampers.com crew, to arrive.

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The trail to Buckhorn Lake is off NY 8 in the village of Piseco next to the Town of Arietta highway garage. The town permits parking next to garage for access to the  Northville-Placid Trail.  We headed southeast initially following the snowmobile trail  but quickly the NLP trail diverges into the woods.  After Everyone stopped to shed layers and/or adjust gear.  Len and Matt are looking happy because they don’t need to adjust anything.

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Below Skip pauses so we can get a good look at the dual sleeping bags lashed to his pack.  He must be expecting cold temperatures or maybe he plans to just lay on the ground tonight.

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Len, the FireMaster, pauses en route with his new gloves purchased at the Casey’s Corner Convenient Mart.

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It took us about an hour to leisurely snowshoe the 1.2 miles to reach the outlet of Buckhorn Lake.  At the footbridge we made a decision to turn east and camp in the spruce trees sheltering the stream coming from Buckhorn Lake and flowing into Dead Vly.  It was a nice camping area: sheltered, with an open running water source and plenty of dead wood.

Upon reaching our campsite we prepared our tent sites.  Skip stomps an area for his bivy sack.  The large open area in the background is Dead Vly.

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Now we can see that Skip deployed his two sleeping bags within the bivy.  It looks cozy, doesn’t it?

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Matt & Mark shovel an area comparable to a small hockey rink to accommodate Matt’s Hilleberg Nallo 3 tent.

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The Hilleberg Nallo 3 is a great winter camping tent.  It is extremely spacious and weighs only 5 lbs 5oz (packed).  The tent provides tons of room for tall dudes like Matt and Mark who are both 6’4″ plus.  It also has a huge vestibule for storing gear or cooking.   But it does require space to set up and stake out.  Hopefully, we can get Matt to write up something about it in the way of a gear review at some point.

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Jim brought his Black Diamond Lighthouse – a 2 person tent under 4lbs that makes a great solo tent for a tall dude.  The tent walls are steep and shed snow well.  There are small awnings over the back window and over the full-size front door.  Unfortunately the awning over the door wasn’t large enough to keep the door completely open during the night and still keep the falling snow out – so I had to zip the tent door partially closed.

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Rob & Len heard their share of humor after they set their Eureka tents up as adjoining units,- all that was missing was the tunnel between.   In the background is the outlet stream from Buckhorn Lake.

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Once we were set up we began harvesting wood. Clockwise from the upper left: the resultant wood pile and fire; Jim takes a break from sawing to layer up with a down vest;  Skip snapping limbs,  Len surveys the fire and where to place his pad for sitting, Rob sawing wood, Mark dragging in firewood; and Len applying the saw.

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We started our fire/bull session mid-afternoon. Below from the upper left: Mark is wearing his new Aunt Corrine-made primaloft pants while Rob stretches out in his Christmas gift camp chair; the fire; Mark transforming his Therm-a-rest into a camp chair while Skip looks on; Rob and Len pondering deep thoughts and Len – the Firemaster.

We generally have one rule around our fires – that is, only one person messes with the fire.  If someone wants the heat turned up or lessened or wood re-arranged they make the request of the Firemaster or ask permission to take action.  I have been on camping trips where the fire was done by committee with usually less than satisfactory results.  The role of Firemaster changes from trip to trip, but Len is acknowledged as being skilled and benevolent so he is usually nominated for the role.

Rob generously brought the winter camping food of choice: brats to be cooked over a fire on sticks.  We also heated water for hot cocoa and tea.  I was surprised at the length of time we were able to sit around and chat.  The temperature change was noticeable as one moved away from the fire to retrieve something from the tent or provide bladder relief.

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About 8:30pm the snow began to fall and by 8:45 we were shaking snow off ourselves and decided it was time to head to the tents.  During the night the temperature dropped to 6 degrees and we got 4-6″ of snow.   Below Matt’s Hilleberg Nallo 3 tent sheds the snow during a midnight inspection.

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We were all wondering how Skip would fare in his bivy sack overnight.  Mark expressed concern that since he didn’t hear Skip snoring he was concerned that he had been buried alive – but his concern didn’t move him to inspect during the night or dig him out.  Actually Skip reported being too warm and suffering from a mild attack of claustrophobia during the night.  The extra clothes and sleeping bags were too confining, but once he shed the extra layers of clothing he slept fine.  Below Skip wakes up and surveys the sky.

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We packed up and hiked out for breakfast. Below from the upper left:  the return to the parking lot;  Rob packs up his tent; Mark and Jim load up their packs,  Matt ready to go and wearing his Outdoor Research fleece mittens and choppers;  Skip rolls up his parachute cord that he used to raise the hood of his bivy;  Skip is packed and ready to go, Mark looking dapper with his vest and WinterCampers patch.

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I merged  pictures from our winter camping trip to Dead Vly with Walt Michael’s hammer dulcimer tune “Hawks and Eagles” using PhotoStory for Windows.  Matt did one of these last year and I liked the results.  I didn’t do as much panning in the photos and the photos move by fast (5 seconds or less) because I had a lot of pictures and the music was fast paced. The process was pretty straight forward and is another way to view the trip. Basically it shows us hiking in, setting up tents (and bivys), getting wood, sitting around the fire and the snow fall on the tents (and bivy) at night.

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How to Build a Heat Reflector for a Cold Weather Fire

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