As the old saying goes “wet wood don’t burn good.”
You expect wet wood after a rainy day in the summer, but one would think dead wood found in the forest in the middle of January would be dry. Well, one would think wrongly. I think a period of heavy, wet, snow, followed by a January thaw, made for conditions of moisture slowly soaking into the wood and then freezing as temperatures dropped again.
After a relatively easy trek into a dispersed site in the Chippewa National Forest, we stomped down a tent pad and set up my new Snowtrekker tent & stove. The tent was looking a little frumpy; not tight and sleek like it should. I surmised the ridge pole was too short, and after a quick correspondence with Snowtrekker, we determined indeed I received the wrong pole. It was my bad for not setting it up to test before the adventure, but they were awesome to get the correct one shipped right away. Meanwhile, it wouldn’t be there for the weekend, so I fashioned and finagled an extra two feet onto the pole out of some wood from the forest. A minor setback, but I enjoyed the challenge of bushcraft troubleshooting.
Incidentally, this dispersed site had a pit toilet, that upon opening the lid, looked quite foreboding. The only question was whether the ice formations would freeze your bottom or lacerate it first. It was a genuine Fortress of Solitude, from which, I feared, there may be no return. I may just have to write a poem about it.
We gathered dead wood, cut and split it, and tried to get a fire going. We got it going easy enough with a magnesium fire starter, but after the tinder and twigs burned up, it settled into more of a smolder. No matter how we blew it or how we fed it, we couldn’t get it roaring. Fire, yes. Coals, yes. But a good cooking fire? Nope. The steaks would have to wait. Either we were incompetent in firecraft, or the wood was wet. I’m hoping and trusting the wood was just wet. We searched for dead and dry, but it seems it was all mostly dead and frozen.
After a long time babying our campfire, earning a little flame and a lot of smolder, we saw daylight was slipping away too quickly. We thought, why be incompetent with just one pathetic fire going when we can fail at two of them? So we fired up the wood tent stove, and with a few of the dryer pieces we got that one going. The rest of the evening was spend relaxing in the tent with food, drink, and poetry- a seemingly good way for a few writers to spend winter camping. We even had the stove hot enough to steam some broccoli with butter. Fancy living.
Through the night one of us got a little sick, and that compounded with the difficulty we were having with wet wood, compounded by the dull ice auger I brought that couldn’t bore worth a darn, led us to call the trip short the next morning. A good time, but lessons learned for next adventure.