If our first quinzee were an RV it would be a popup tent trailer – functional, but cramped and drafty. Today we upgraded to a class A motorhome with popouts. To build a class A quinzee you need a massive pile of snow, and to add the popouts, i.e., additional bedrooms and den, you need multiple connected piles. I think the snow cleanup crew had just such a cave suite in mind when they plowed our complex this week.
The photo doesn’t quite do it justice. I’d say it’s ten feet tall, twenty wide, and maybe thirty front to back – the grand teton of snow banks. The problem with quinzee construction in a week-old snow mound is the ice. After two hours of hacking and carving I was spent, so my son took over for about two minutes, but we ran out of light. The campout will have to be for another night, to his dismay, and mine.
For some reason my daughter, who’s three, isn’t so jazzed about sleeping with a few hundred pounds of snow looming over her. In response to an invite my wife said, thanks for the invite. Sleeping on the snow, in a cave, in the cold, a hundred yards from our apartment… seems silly. But it’s not. It’s awesome.
This weekend I set a personal record for winter camping: a high of 0 and low of -26 degrees (confirmed with the UMN climatology database, coordinates 45.29970, 93.58346). Pretty ridiculous, but only slightly dangerous – we were armed with many trees worth of firewood and many layers worth of clothing.
I still haven’t decided on a minimum temperature for the kids, but negative degrees Fahrenheit seemed like the no-kids-allowed zone. My son cried when I declared it to be too cold for him to join us. I didn’t want to suggest he wasn’t tough enough, so I tried the distraction-with-new-information strategy, explaining the phenomenon of frostbite. But the threat of losing body parts didn’t phase him. That made me proud. He is a tough kid. I bet he would have had a great time.
There were only a few moments of pain, mostly in my toes as I was stupid enough to wear hiking boots. Otherwise, the campfire was always blazing and if you situated yourself nearly in the flames it was quite comfortable.
And here’s my pertinent gear: insulated jacket, heavy fleece, thermal t-shirt x 2, long johns, wool socks x 2, snowboarding pants, hiking boots (bad idea), ski mask, beanie, sleeping bag x 2 (zero and twenty degree), closed-cell foam pad (the blue one).
This weekend we hiked around at Minnehaha Falls, just south of Minneapolis on the Mississippi River. The waterfall is puny by most standards, such as height and volume. But by other standards, like freezability, it stands out. After a few weeks of low temperatures near zero, the entire fall ices over.
The best views are from the underside.
Some notes for anyone planning a visit: The stairs on both sides of the creek are “closed for the season,” but still accessible. The staircase on the west side gets a lot of traffic and has been polished into one long icy slide (see video below). The east staircase, which we discovered on the way out, was much more like a staircase. Also, once you disregard the second warning sign, and fence, it gets real d-icey. Crampons would help.
I can still smell the campfire smoke and stinky socks from our first overnighter of 2011, a quick trip to Afton State Park, on the St. Croix River, about 30 miles from the Twin Cities. Though not as campy or gritty as our last campout, the state parks have a couple of attractions to offer in the winter: heated cabins and snowshoe rentals.
Compared to a tent in the bushes the cabin was luxurious, with heat, electricity, a porch, fire pit, and picnic table. Not to mention a garbage can and coat rack! They’re a bit pricey at $58.50, probably because of the coat rack, but going with friends and splitting the bill made it manageable. For a bundle of firewood, snowshoe rentals, and three meals for 5 people the total came to about $110, and we ate like camping kings (hot dogs, dutch oven cinnamon rolls, cakes with bacon).
Please excuse the blurry, i.e., artsy, photos, taken with my cell phone. I forgot my camera, along with the ketchup, hence the fast-food condiments seen in the hot dog lineup picture. Even with Heinz the trip couldn’t have been better, unless the kids had gone to bed before 11:15 and/or woken up after 5:15. Despite having burnt the candle, severely, at both ends they tromped through the snow with us for a few hours.
A successful first attempt at snowshoeing! I’ve posted a few more cell-phone quality pics here: Campouts – 2011
As with the quinzee, we took advantage of a large and very well placed snow bank outside our apartment. After about 30 minutes of carving and molding we had ourselves a snow tunnel sled slide. It was like Splash Mountain at Disney Land, minus the water, and the Disney Land, plus some snow. So it was more like Splash Mountain and the Matterhorn combined.
The kids took turns playing the abominable snow man, bombing huge snow clods from above. Obliterating us in the face was probably the best part for them.
As you’ll see in the video, the kids weren’t sure what was happening – maybe they were passing through a warp zone? Who knows. To be sure, I had to peek and caught my face on the arch going down. Twice. It’s not a warp zone.