Backyard Campout in the Snowcave

sledding on the snowcave

After three more hours of carving we deemed our latest snowcave to be habitable. The inside dimensions were about seven by ten, and my son could stand in it. The temperatures started in the teens and dropped to about eight, at the lowest.

One of the major challenges of camping with kids is sleeping. Many of us make the classic novice mistake of enforcing regular indoor bedtimes. At home it’s a simple process – tuck them in, close the door, then go downstairs, put on a movie and bust out the ice cream. I think I was twelve when I realized that 1) my parents didn’t have a bedtime, and 2) a person could have ice cream more than once a week, even every day.

sleeping in the snowcave

Outdoors, without an actual bed or bedroom, the kids aren’t fooled. After stuffing our faces with candy, s’mores, and cocoa, we usually compromise on bedtime – a couple hours later for them, and a couple earlier for mom and dad.

Unfortunately, in this case with all the sleeping-pad sledding, my daughter was exhausted by about 7:00 PM, so she didn’t get to join us. Major bummer, because she had actually expressed some interest – impressive, for a three year old. So, we had a nice campfire with our neighbors and then packed out the sleeping gear and hit the hay, aka snow, around 9:30 PM.

Another Snowcave

Huge snow bankIf 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.

Super quinzeeThe 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.

Really Cold at Sand Dunes

campfire at sand dunesThis 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.

oak at sand dunesThere 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.

Here are a few more pics: Sand Dunes – January 21.

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).

Minnehaha Falls

Minnehaha fallsThis 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.

Minnehaha falls        Behind Minnehaha falls

Behind Minnehaha falls        Behind Minnehaha falls

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.

Snowshoeing at Afton

dogs on the campfireI 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).

hot dog lineup   afton cabin   afton cabin living room   afton cabin bunks

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.

happy snowshoer         happy snowshoers

A successful first attempt at snowshoeing! I’ve posted a few more cell-phone quality pics here: Campouts – 2011