Our first failure at winter camping

–submitted by Matthew Lettington, Read the report on his blog

Dear Hemingway,

We just finished our first father-and-son camping trip, or at least our first attempt. You’re only three and a half years old, and we’ve already done a lot of overnight backcountry trips, but never one in snow, and never just the two of us. I was excited, and so were you. It was an ambitious undertaking: I would be on skis, pulling you in the sled. Our goal was to head out from Raven Lodge, and camp between Battleship Lake and Kwai Lake. Beyond that, I was willing to be flexible, because above all else I wanted you to have a great time.

In the week leading up to the trip, you talked about it often. At breakfast, at dinner, at bedtime – you even told your preschool classmates! You were so excited that you couldn’t sleep on the night before our trip. The next morning was rough: you didn’t want to get out of bed and waved off my attempts to wake you up. It was just after nine by the time you pulled yourself out of bed. Yet, you still were eager to go camping.

Like a trooper, you tried to stay awake on the way to Strathcona Park, but the ride was long and the lunch we ate sent you into a toddler coma. You slept in your chair in the back of the Jeep–you snore so loud! I had to jostle you to wake you when we arrived at Raven Lodge. You hate being woken from a nap, so it was a fight to get you into the Lodge to use the bathroom, and another struggle to get you into your snow pants, rain jacket, and winter boots. And finally, once the sled was packed, and you were dressed and in your snowshoes, you wanted to go home.

Frankly, you must have burned out. It was my mistake: I shouldn’t have built up the idea with you so early on. Right from the beginning of the trip, you lay face down on top of the sled. When I asked if you were excited to go, you said, “I want to go home.” I cajoled you, but you wouldn’t be enticed to sit inside the sled. Instead, you hopped on top of the sled, the gear beneath you, in a position which soon became problematic.

You were enjoying yourself as we set out off on our route through Paradise Meadows. I often looked over my shoulder to see you looking up and around, but you continued to lie facedown on the sled. As is often the case, you fell asleep, and that’s when the problems started. Precariously poised on top of the sled, you rolled off when we crossed over the steep mounds of snow. You hate it when your hands get cold, and falling on your face in the snow put you in a sour mood.

After you were thrown off for the third or fourth time, you refused to get back on. I don’t blame you really; you’d fallen off one too many times, and now, you wanted to walk. On one hand, I was grateful, and on the other hand, I was frustrated. We were following the summer route to Battleship Lake, and we spent a lot of time in the trees because, well, you’re three and a half and you walk according to your own plans.

winter camping in Strathcona Park, pulk sled
The long slow walk to Battleship Lake

Despite the forecasted rain, the sun was shining, and as a result the snow in the trees was dripping and falling. It looked like rain, and you said as much. I watched with pride and frustration: you skillfully used my hiking poles to help yourself along, but you also insisted on poking at every large chunk of snow we passed by. Then, as we crossed a flowing creek, you tried to throw my poles in! I’m sorry that I raised my voice. I was worried that you would fall off the bridge into the cold water.

Sometimes the forecast is right, and eventually, the rain started. Yet you still refused to get into the sled. At least you wore your rain-shell outside your winter jacket, but your snow pants were getting really wet. Fortunately, the rain didn’t last long, and had ended by the time we reached the lake. We had a great time at the lake! The sled tracked well behind me, but you still fell off because you refused to get inside. I have no idea where you get your stubborn streak from – maybe I’ll ask your mom.

We paused on the far side of the lake so I could check in with you. We were about to head way off the beaten track, and it was obvious you were done. I asked if you wanted to stop for hot chocolate: “No!” Then I offered the options to set up the tent on the lake, and enjoy hot chocolate and stories; or, to go home and have a warm bath. You opted for the bath, so we followed the cross-country track back to the car.

I thought it would be quicker to return along the ski track, but in the end the route was so twisty and hilly that it took the same amount of time. Our route to the turnaround point was four kilometres, and our route back to the parking lot was nine kilometres. Mostly we covered terrain quickly, but at one point we were skiing swiftly down a slope and when I turned, the sled flipped over. You, all the gear, and the sled spilled across the slope. I’m sorry that we couldn’t end the trip right there, but I’m so proud that you understood that it would be faster to ride in the sled to go home, instead of walking.

We were both exhausted when we got back to the car. I was never upset that we didn’t stick to our plans. My goal was to have a great camping experience together; instead, we opted for a fun day in the sled. I didn’t want to force it on you. It was tough to haul the sled up those hills on the long ski out, but the work gave me plenty of time to reflect on the day. It also gave you the chance to enjoy some fast, safe tobogganing down the steeper sections.

I think the highlight of the day for you was stopping for a hamburger on the way home. When I asked you if you wanted some food, you threw a little fist in the air and said, “Yes! I want a humbuger with cheese on it.” You ate that whole burger, including the lettuce, tomato, and pickle.

One thing is for certain: you’re done with winter for this year. It was really cute the next morning when you told me, “No more snowshoeing”.  We’ll see what you think next year.


I love you, Hemingway.



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