Boundary Waters, Trip Reports, BWCA, Stories

Winter Camping Symposium 2013
by awbrown

Trip Type: Motor
Entry Date: 10/24/2013
Entry Point: Other
Exit Point: Other  
Number of Days: 4
Group Size: 2
Trip Introduction:
One man's adventures at the Winter Camping Symposium 2013
A couple of years ago I was introduced to "Winter Trekking". It's a type of winter travel and camping utilizing a sled or toboggan to haul your equipment and traveling via snowshoes or skis. It is particularly well suited for travel in the Boundary Waters, where the streams, lakes and rivers become flat winter highways for travelers.

In order to enhance my skills and to hang around people with similar interests, I began attending the Winter Camping Symposium. This is a gathering of folks of all ages and genders who are interested in camping out in the winter. It is organized and run entirely by volunteers. It is held every year near the end of October, and this years event was held at YMCA Camp Icagowan in Amery, Wisconsin, which is located approximately 30 miles from the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The event ran from Thursday, October 24, 2013 thru Sunday, October 27, 2013.

"The purpose of the Winter Camping Symposium is to educate, collaborate and celebrate everything Winter! Winter campers and enthusiasts from around the region come together to share ideas and show off new creations which aid in the adventures of winter outdoor activities. From cold camping to hot camping, from kite sailing to building your own stove, from arctic adventures to sleeping in a quinzee in the backyard, from gear swaps to a chili feed, this event covers it all! Join us for a long weekend of camaraderie and exploration!"------(From the Winter Camping Symposium Web Page)

This was my second year of attendance at the Winter Camping Symposium (WCS). I attended last year's event and was very impressed. This year, I was lucky enough to have my favorite son-in-law go with me. I have a very intelligent daughter who chose a husband who likes the same weird stuff as I do!!

We began our adventure by packing up the old Jeep Cherokee with all my winter camping stuff and heading for Amery at around 8:00 a.m. on Thursday morning. I figured it would take me about 6 hours of relaxed driving to get there from our homes in northern Illinois.

Registration didn't officially begin until 3:00 p.m. on Thursday afternoon, but we arrived a bit early and were greeted by an event volunteer who provided us with a map of the camp, gave us information about the camp amenities and told us where the camping areas were located. You could either camp in a tent, or rent a cabin at the camp. We had come prepared to camp out, so off we went into the woods. We'd come back after we were set up in order to register and pay our fees. The fee for the entire event was $30 per individual, camping or cabin bunking was $30 per individual, and if you wanted meals (Friday thru Sunday brunch and supper) they cost $8.50 each. All together, it cost me $102.50 for the package.

After setting up our tent back in the woods, we went back to their wood shed and got a load of oak fire wood. My tent is a canvas Snowtrekker brand of winter tent. Snowtrekkers are designed to be heated with a sheet metal wood stove and make winter camping a luxury.

We fired up the wood stove, heated some water for coffee and I started cooking supper. I had planned on providing my son-in-law with one of my gourmet winter camping suppers. You get out your cast iron fry pan, slice up a can of Spam......brown it in the pan, throw in a can of sliced potatoes, a can of mushrooms and a can of peas. Heat thoroughly and enjoy. It's actually delicious.

While we are cooking dinner on the wood stove, we were visited by Dave and Kielyn Marrone, owners of Lure of the North. Dave and Kie live in Sudbury, Ontario and Lure of North is their company, which provides guided winter trekking adventures in northern Ontario. They also provide seminars and classes on making traditional winter gear and equipment in addition to selling an increasing number of winter camping supplies. We had a very nice visit with them and I felt that we were old friends because I had been following their adventures via the Internet for so long. Dave and Kie were slated to be the keynote speakers at our Saturday Night supper and were also providing a full day Workshop where you could make your own pair of winter Mukluks (Note---the Mukluk Workshop was well attended and the final product of participants efforts were stunning).

After supper, a roundtable discussion was held in the main building. This was an open discussion featuring many of the event vendors. It's was very interesting to listen to the stories of how many of these individuals went into business supplying goods and services to us winter camping consumers. I had purchased a number of items from these folks via the internet or telephone and it was nice to be able to put a face with the items I've purchased.

After the vendor discussion, it was back to the tent, get the fire started, sip a wee bit of good Canadian Whiskey, tell a few lies and hit the sack.

We had learned during the course of the evening that there had been a bit of mis-communication between the YMCA camp and the event organizers. The YMCA didn't know that they were supposed to provide a breakfast for attendees on Friday morning. Things like this are to be expected as this was the first year for the Symposium at this location.

This could have been a big issue, but Rhonda Reynolds who is on the organizing committee and a couple of volunteers rushed into town on Thursday evening to buy groceries and prepared us a wonderful breakfast Friday morning. I estimated that they fed more then 50 people that morning. This type of "can do" spirit and ability to plan on the fly is one of the things that makes the Symposium special.

A word about breakfast........It is referred to as a brunch at the Symposium. Breakfast are served at 9:30 a.m. Included at this time is a table full of sandwich fixin's. and fruit. There is no formal, sit down lunch served, but you make yourself up a sack lunch and off you go to whatever workshops or seminars you choose.

Well, Friday morning we had some choices to make. We could choose from a few different workshops including Making Mukluks with Lure of the North, Antler Handle Knife making with Warren Peterson or Build a Bucksaw with Ben Piersma and Jeff Geer. In addition you could Make your own Snowshoes with Greg Wilcox.

Well, we stuck together and built a bucksaw.

This was easy and a lot of fun. Later that day we attended a Map and Compass class with Nathan Sykes and a Fishing the BWCA in Winter seminar with Mike Kellar.

After supper in the main dining hall, the Symposium attendees were treated to Friday's keynote speaker, Bear Paulson.

"What do you on New Year’s Eve? Bear Paulsen has celebrated the past thirteen New Years in the BWCA, his sister Wendy has helped orchestrate eleven of the trips. What began as a solo trip to escape the Y2K cacophony accidentally became an annual tradition. It’s a winter camping trip like no other. Where else would you find a 12’x12’ tent with a wood stove and a floor completely lined with foam pads so that you can walk around in your socks? What other trip requires 20 sleds of supplies, lasts two or three weeks and often takes two days to setup? Join Bear for a vision of the most luxurious, yet remote winter camping trip you’ve ever seen. Participants come and go throughout the holiday season, but it's one big fun get together" (from the Winter Camping Symposium Website).

In celebration of New Year's Eve many of the guys dress up in drag and go skiing across the BWCA in dresses. A great slide show accompanied Bear's talk and kept us rolling on the floor with laughter.

Meals are a treat and I always try to sit with different people at each meal. Everyone is very open and friendly. A lot of fascinating stories are passed along at every table.

After Saturday's brunch we had to make some decisions. The day was filled with seminars to choose from, including Solo Winter Camping with Dick Pula, Winter Camping Hot with Michael Maruska, Needle Felting with Lisa Banning and Karen Ender, Woodstove Basics with Brian Maruska, Shirt Patterning with Kevin Kinney, Long Handled Axe Basics and Safety with Glen Hooper, Okpik with Scott Oeth, CCS Chopper Liners with Dan Cooke, Knife Sheaths with Brian Gustad, Sleep Systems with Tim Marshall, Snowshoe Lacing and Repair with Greg Wilcox, Love Life and -20 below with Scott Oeth, a Tent Tour with Duane Lettig and Ryan Fox, Winter Camping Food with Earl Swenson, a Winter Camping Media and Book discussion hosted by Matt Raske, Basic Land Navigation with Nate Pfeiffer, a Toboggan Tour and discussion with Chad Nelson and a Fire Skills seminar with Ben Piersma and Jeff Geer.

Obviously we couldn't see everything so my son-in-law and I split up for the day. He attended seminars he was interested in and I did likewise.

After Saturday's supper, we were treated to a great keynote presentation by Kie and Dave Marrone of Lure of the North.

"Last winter in mid-February Lure of the North and a group of 7 others traveled 100km from "rail-to-rail" over the continental divide on the historic Missinaibi River. En route we faced storms, deep snow, thin ice, and an increasingly tight schedule. This trip was part of Lure's "Explorer's Club" - i.e. a trip in a remote region that has not been previously scouted - and this certainly added a sense of adventure and heightened emotions to the trip. An already special outing was made even more so by the inclusion of Garrett Conover to the group who has served as a mentor-at-large to Dave and Kielyn through his (and Alexandra's) book and teachings. Join us in exploring the solitude and adventure of the mighty Missinaibi wilderness!" (From the Winter Camping Symposium),

Kie and Dave are inspiring and unique in what they do. It was a pleasure to get to know them and I look forward to following their adventures in the future. It's on my bucket list to go on one of their trips.

I asked Dave Marrone how he managed to find such a lovely young woman who was willing to pull a toboggan. He blushed a little and said that he was "one lucky guy!"

After the keynote address, the attendees retired to the main building where we were treated to a little beer and some great music performed by The Last Revel with special guests The Dead Horses.

Looking forward to next year. I came away with new friends, some new gear and a renewed enthusiasm for the joys of winter.

I forgot to mention that there were vendors galore selling their goods at the Symposium including

• Snowtrekker Tents • Empire Wool and Canvas • Frost River • Ben's Backwoods • Country Ways • Black River Sleds • Lester River Bushcraft • Sagewood Gear • Cooke Custom Sewing • Enlightened Equipment • Common Folk Self Reliance  Lure of the North

It was especially rewarding to be able to hang around and talk with people who have similar interests.

As my friend Brian Maruska is fond of saying, the spirit of the Winter Camping Symposium can be summed in four words.........."Wool........Wood smoke........and Weirdo's"

See you next year if the Good Lord is willing.
My Snowtrekker tent

Making a bow saw


Glen Hooper's axe skills

Earl Swenson's Camping Food

Kie Marrone of Lure of the North