My version of 24: Afton State Park
Taking a cue from Ryan Jordan, I’ve come up with my version of a 24 hour trip from start to finish. Long enough to have some fun, short enough to avoid planning a lot of details. This time is was a father son winter camping trip with another father son combo to Afton State Park in MN. After tracking down a necessary piece of gear we left a bit later than planned, but well within a decent window. Arriving at the trailhead after lunch, the original intent was to snowshoe in to the backpacking campsites available. Upon arrival, it was clear the snowshoes were not needed. The trails were groomed for hiking and skiing, this trip would be on foot. The hike in was pretty easy, save for the steeper incline and pulling the pulk up the hill. Why did I go with the pulk? Even skiers took off their skis’ and carried them. I did bring a camera and video camera, but quickly realized that the reason photographers have a shot list prepared ahead of time is to get those shots they think will set the stage, tell the story, and avoid the boring shots.
Arriving at what we think is going to be a decent campsite (#0); we set out to build the igloo. After packing the area down by foot (where’s the snowshoes again?) we started to build the foundation blocks. Unfortunately it did not go as planned. After the second block we realized the effort to build it here was going to be futile. The Minnesota snow would not cooperate. There was a moment of mourning, as there were high hopes to say we spent the night in an igloo, and leave our legacy for the next weekend’s campers. I had brought one two man tent, but left the other in the truck at the trailhead. Oh well, that’s why you come up with alternative options….. With 3 hours back in our day, we set off to explore the park a bit and go cut some firewood. The boys went off exploring on their own while the dads went off to cut firewood. A short hike later we found a nice pile of 6 foot sections of timber. Best I figure, it was the pieces a wood mill would cut off first to get a “square” of wood, i.e., the pieces for us were flat on one side, round on the other…. Saws were provided and they do work, but needless to say, after some use they were not as sharp as we would have liked. The nearby solar powered well was down, not sure if it’s seasonal or malfunctioning. Either way, I knew I was going to have to melt snow. As we finished this task, we were “attacked” by incoming snowball artillery. The boys had gone stealth and flanked us, proving all of the Call of Duty game play could translate into real life tactics…… Made a dad proud!
Exploring the park a bit more, we found what may be the better part of the park for camping and found a site (#17) that may serve us better. It certainly had better snow for making an igloo, a ravine/valley for the boys to explore, a good enough choice to make a switch. Back at the original campsite, my hiking partner suggested that he check out the another site(#1) close to us to see if that had potential, thereby reducing the hike w/ gear. Upon inspection it filled the bill and a 50 yard walk was more readily accepted than a ¾ mile hike. Call us lazy, but it was 3pm already and MN winters don’t have a lot of sun.
After moving the gear and going back for the firewood, we decided to go ahead and build the igloo at this new campsite. Starting at 4pm, three shovels and me on the inside running the form, we got 90% of it done by 7pm. Since I have had troubles with the last 10% before, we short-cutted the process a bit and laid branches across the top, laid a tarp on it and put more snow on top, completing the igloo in good enough fashion. By now the kids were HUNGRY and it was dark. Given the time constraints, I’m glad I packed a can of refried beans rather than relying on the dehydrated version. I soon realized that in the low –mid teen temps(?)the Hard Drive Camcorder doesn’t work, and the butane canister performance is suspect. Foil pack Chicken, Jalapeño Refried beans and Uncle Ben’s Santa Fe rice were turned into chicken burritos. Warm enough to say YUM! I didn’t get a chance to make dessert, but hot cocoa filled the bill. I KNEW I should have packed the jiffy pop as it would have worked just fine on the fire. By 8:30, the boys were fading fast and crawled into the igloo to ”lay out their gear” but in fact, they were ready for bed and minutes from slumber. We adults were not too far behind and by 9pm, everyone was on their way to being passed out. The igloo was roomy enough for the four of us and some gear, and most certainly much warmer than the air outside. We forgot to bring a thermometer so we can’t tell you how warm it was, but it was warm enough to get a bit wet if you touched the walls/ceiling.
With a full moon out, getting up to do your business didn’t require a light and the side of the igloo facing the moon had a nice glow about it. Waking up at 8am, breakfast came and went pretty quickly, cocoa and oatmeal. I haven’t had instant oatmeal in about 20 years. Not bad. The hike back went much quicker as the hill I climbed with the pulk was downhill this time. We did need a safety rope to put tension on the uphill side so I would be forced downhill with the weight of the gear on the pulk.
24 hours after starting, we were heading home. A fun time was had by all and we could say we slept in an igloo in the middle of winter. Would we do that again, maybe, maybe not, but we did it. I for one, look forward to another winter trip with the lessons learned this time out.
- On a 24 hour trip, bring 4 season tent instead of igloo maker
SERIOUSLY looking at TiGoat type stove and tent
- Rent a white gas stove or better yet, borrow
- 2x the number of socks for the teenager
- Bring SHARP aggressive saw
- Chemical warmers really don’t work that well.
- Lighter pack, maybe no pulk.
- Pack a bit more water
I assumed the solar well would be working
- Remember to get gear out of ALL cars before you leave, lest your wife takes one of the cars.
- Freezing weather freezes EVERYTHING,, put anything you want above freezing in a soft sided cooler. The brown sugar for the oatmeal was frozen solid. The camcorder didn’t work. The milk and OJ was fine.
What I love about the 24: concept:
- Ease of planning
- Focus on enjoying your time out there
- Something goes wrong – not far from civilization
- A meal goes wrong – you are hungry for what, 12 hours or less with a stop at the nearest C-Store?
What’s your 24: story?