There are many things I never thought I'd do. Winter camping is certainly one of them. Don't get me wrong, I love winter, and I love camping (it's hard not to when you're raised in an outdoorsy Canadian family), but I never had any interest in combining the two. Although I love winter, my favourite part is that moment after a long day outside when the warmth encompasses your body, and you can finally put on a comfy pair of sweatpants. Needless to say, these personal preferences are not taken into account when winter camping is a school requirement.
On a cold January day I found myself on a school bus filled with my classmates, camping packs, and enough food to feed an army. I was nervous, excited, and a little uncomfortable, but that could've been due to the numerous pairs of pants I had forced onto my body in an attempt to keep warm. As the bus pushed its way north, I felt myself fall into a panic. What if I got frostbite? What if the stoves didn't start? And how the hell was I supposed to change? Before I could worry any further, I felt the bus jolt to a stop. We had arrived. Thirty sullen teenagers then proceeded to exit our beloved bus to enter a new adventure. A freezing cold adventure. With our packs on our backs, and our sense of adventure peaking, we headed along the snowy trail to the campsite that would become our home for the next three days.
Our campsite was beautiful, but looked as cold as it felt. The snow blocked almost all signs of life, leaving only the trees to show that anything could ever live there. And yet here we were, expected to live there for the next three days. The first step to making this campsite a home was to build our shelter. Yes, you heard me right, build our shelter. We would be sleeping in quinzhees, which are essentially snow igloos. They are just as frigidly cold as they sound, but just small enough to be warmer than the night air. After hours of shovelling and complaining, our quinzhee was finally finished. The sun was beginning to set and it was time for dinner. After dinner we congregated by the bonfire, a stark reminder of what warmth actually felt like. I was too tired from the day to appreciate the night's beauty, and was snuggled into my quinzhee before 7 pm.
It wasn't long before patches of light began to push their way through the door of the quinzhee. Once I was up, there was no going back to sleep. The snowy walls of the quinzhee felt too small, and although warm, I was getting claustrophobic. I cautiously exited my quinzhee, careful not to wake up my group members. I was almost out of the small entry hole when I felt something cold scrape my neck, and then my back. A chunk of snow had fallen into the back of my shirt as I emerged from my snowy bedroom. What a great way to start the morning.
My group members slept till 11, giving me plenty of time to avoid responsibilities, and think about how cold I was. The morning flew by quickly, as we recounted our terrible sleeps in our tiny snow huts. By afternoon it was starting to feel warmer. And by warmer, I mean you didn't have to wear 4 pairs of pants, you could wear 3. In order to keep ourselves warm, we headed off on a hike of the park. This hike would've been a walk under normal circumstances, but with the thick layer of snow that covered the ground, it was more difficult than usual. I found myself sweating in minutes.
We stopped when we reached the lake, which shone silver in the beaming sun. For the first time on the trip I didn't think about how cold I was, but rather how lucky I was to be in a beautiful place with some of my best friends. I had the same realization later that night, as we lay under the stars. So often we are distracted by the bright light of our phones, that we forget to look up and see the natural light of the stars. Sitting with my classmates observing the night sky, this self described "ball of anxiety" finally felt calm. For once in my life I was able to stop worrying about how I looked, or when my next assignment was due or who I was going to go to prom with. I was able to just be, and it was wonderful
As I boarded the bus back to school the next day, I couldn't help but feel a bit of nostalgia for the days past. How often in your life do you get to spend three truly unplugged days with your peers? How often in your life do you truly get to appreciate nature for all that it is? How often in your life do you truly get to let go? This experience that I had dreaded gave me a rejuvenated attitude towards my life. It made me realize how lucky I am to be living the life I live, and how beautiful the world truly is. Although you may not catch me in a quinzhee anytime soon, I am forever grateful for the memories and clarity that winter camping gave me.