Camping at -30F


A third annual BWCA winter camping trip was planned with some college buddies. Last year 2018 we were on Wood Lake and bottomed out at -27F. The forecast for our planned 2019 weekend suddenly turned to look to be as cold or colder. For that and other reasons, we had a last-minute change of plans to camp in the Chippewa National Forest instead.

Last year we squeezed five guys into my 3-man Snowtrekker, but this year it was down to just four, so we were much comfier.

1CAC4C0A-2127-465D-A935-E03F327F8C20We set up camp and gathered plenty of wood, expecting the evening temperatures to plummet. It started with a lot of smoke choking us in the setting sun, and finally blazed to a warm and welcoming fire. As we sat comfortably around our campfire in the dark, I scarcely believed the local temperature reading of twenty-something below zero… until I stepped away from the fire and wandered up the hill to the thunder box, or stepped out onto the lake to see the stars. Then the cold would bite, and I’d agree with the degrees claimed by my weather app.

With a stove taking off some of the chill, and a doubled sleeping bag set-up, I stayed cozy all night through. Without a doubt, pre-made breakfast burritos and a hot cup of coffee are the best way to get going in the morning after a cold night in the tent. All-beef sausages heated in the pan are also great fuel for the inner fire.

Winter camping can be cold… but there is no comparison the solitude of winter in the woods, the freshness of breathing the cold, crisp air, or the satisfying warmth brought by each sip of cocoa, tea, or coffee.

Three days and two nights were well-spent in the woods. I’m looking forward to the next sub-zero adventure.

-30F at Sax-Zim Bog

We had planned a day of birding at the Sax-Zim Bog. The forecast kept dropping, but we stayed true to the plan. Even the day before, when we saw a forecast of -20F.

The morning we drove over, we watched the car’s thermometer drop down, down, down. For the most part it hovered around -27F, but once we reached our first destination it settled in at -30F.

It was a cold day to be in the woods, to be sure, and so after starting out freezing our faces on the bog boardwalk, we retreated to do most of our birding (though not all) from the comfort of inside the car. It was a good start to the day, however, seeing an uncommon Black-Backed Woodpecker pecking away out in the cold.

Here is the days’ list in its entirety, with a few favorites in bold:

Common Raven

Black-Capped Chickadee

Downy Woodpecker

Black-Backed Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

American Crow

Pine Grosbeak

(Red squirrel)

Pine Siskin

Snow Bunting

Northern Shrike


(white-tailed deer)

Evening Grosbeak

Ruffed Grouse

Canada Jay

Boreal Chickadee

and on the way home:

Wild Turkey

Pileated Woodpecker


Haiku from a Deer Stand

Though it ended with no venison in the freezer, the weekend was not lost. Two amazing days in Creation are medicine for any soul. While I sat awaiting my quarry, I filled my notebook with the inspirations and the experience of basking in God’s handiwork– even if man did interrupt the tranquility with distant traffic noise and low-flying planes. And so… a few haikus from a tree stand:

My body shivers.
I see my breath in brisk air.
Sun’s rising warms me.

A nuthatch of Payne’s,IMG_3126
enters his cozy knot hole.
Then re-emerges.

three pink ribbons dance
tied to small trees marking lines
that men imagine

Breaking winter grays:
green moss, lichens sage and gold.
The trees are still dressed.

Five clean, white birches
stand neatly in a straight row.
One leans in to kiss.

I hear ‘swish’ above.
look to see, just over trees,
an eagle fly low

IMG_3127a blue jay clamors.
he leaps branch to branch squawking
oddly musical

A lonely, charred stump
recalls a forest fire
a century past.

squir’l scampers through leaves.
stops to devour a feast:
a cupcake I tossed

Long strings of black pearls
adorn the tall, gray lady
with green, bristled hair


I came for the deer
but now I’m hunting for words
to write my haiku.

among the drab hues
a sudden flash of azure
wings flourishing white

invisible thread
catches the sun, glints silver
and then disappears

Tree shadows lengthen
reaching to end a short day
and silence the woods.