Unique experiences at Riding Mountain National Park in winter

 

Yurt at Riding Mountain National Park - 4 Seasons camping in comfort

Yurt at Riding Mountain National Park - 4 Seasons camping in comfort

Photo by Cate Watrous

The yurt in the Wasagaming Campground featured in the above photograph is furnished with comfortable and attractive furniture. Visitors need only bring their clothing, bedding and food – no fancy gear required! 

Canadians love winter. Oh, sure, we like to complain about the cold but it’s more like a comforting ritual than an out and out criticism. And most of us harbour a secret pride about the hardships we are able to endure armed with little more than a beat up old parka and a lively sense of humour. In the midst of the worst cold snaps, most of us are drawn outside for at least a taste of the biting cold and fierce wind. Then when temperatures climb back up to seasonal norms, we flock out into the sunshine with gleeful enthusiasm and speak earnestly of heat waves and of our great good fortune to live in such a remarkable place.

We are either really good sports, or slightly barmy. Regardless, many of us look forward to our winters because of the opportunities they offer to prove our mettle. Topping the list of ways to demonstrate how hardy we are, sleeping out of doors between Thanksgiving and the May Long Weekend has got to rank pretty high on the list.

Welcome to the world of winter camping. Many Canadians do not feel the need to give up their favourite outdoor adventure just because winter has arrived. So at this time of year, cold weather enthusiasts are able to indulge in a slightly cooler version of the traditional camping expedition.

And that’s “cool” as in “hip” and “trendy,” as well as “cold” and “frosty.”

Not for the faint of heart or the poorly prepared, this is nonetheless an outstanding experience for those intrepid souls seeking to try something a little out of the ordinary.

Proper planning is essential in order to make this experience as enjoyable as possible. The importance of food, shelter, and clothing increases tenfold once temperatures dip below zero.

The good news is that there are actually some things that are easier to manage in winter. Take refrigeration, for example: your food will not spoil in the heat. Campsites are plentiful. There are no bears. Disorderly neighbours partying loudly all night long are rare. You have a great excuse not to shower. Even a tent is optional.

Truth be told, your choices for accommodation are quite varied. For the “gear guy” who has a wilderness supply store bookmarked as his homepage, there are tents especially made for winter, although a standard three-season tent can be adapted to the rigors of cold weather with tarps and creative staking techniques. Or save yourself the bother of hauling anything to your destination; instead you could enclose a cooking shelter like the kind found at most campgrounds with hardware store poly and a staple gun. Several parks actually enclose some of their shelters in the winter months for this purpose. Or you could ski or snowshoe up to a friend’s rustic cottage and cozy up by the fireplace for the weekend.

Quinzees: snow homes

Are those options too tame for your boundless sense of adventure? You could always take a stab at building a quinzee which is kind of a hybrid between an igloo and a snow cave. And because of the great insulation properties of snow, you will be surprisingly comfortable in your little snow hut.

Quinzees are fairly simple to construct although they do take some time and an industrious nature. You start by making a pile of snow about 2m high by about 2.5m wide. Mix the snow by flipping every other shovelful before adding it to the pile. Then sit back and wait for the snow to “sinter,” or pack. The mixing of the snow in the piling stage facilitates the settling process which can take between one and three hours to complete. Some people like to make the pile one day and build their snow hut the next. After the snow has hardened, excavation can begin. Then with just a few adjustments for ventilation and ease of entry, you end up with a 1.8m round room with a domed ceiling and walls that are 30 to 45cm thick. Click on the following for some very helpful advice about quinzee making

Yurts: old idea, new application

If you are not a “snow palace” kind of person, you could always run out and pitch your yurt in the shelter of a convenient spruce stand. Yurt? Well, yes. I did say yurt.

Yurts are soft-shelled dwellings whose origins date back more than 2,000 years to the nomadic peoples of Central Asia. Mongolians call them “ger.” To Afghans, they are “kherga” or “jirga.” In Pakistan they are known as a “gher.” These sturdy, portable structures traditionally feature a cylindrical lattice wall topped with a conical roof made with poles, both covered by felt or skins. They are easy to dismantle, transport and reassemble. They protect their occupants from the same types of climate swings that we see here in Canada. And if you don’t happen to have your own yurt, you can use someone else’s: Riding Mountain National Park has one that they rent out year round to visitors.

Trip planning

A winter camping experience does require careful planning in order for it to be safe and enjoyable. Take the time to research your trip, let friends or park staff know of your travel itinerary, test your equipment and pack the essentials. You could even earn yourself bragging rights as a fabled “Adventurer of the Year” among your friends and family.

In Manitoba, there are as many months with snow on the ground as without. But even locked in snow and ice, the landscape still teems with life and it makes sense to get out there and enjoy the fresh air and wilderness that we are so fortunate to have in abundance out here. And in case you still need one final inducement to get you off the couch and out of doors to enjoy winter à la Crazy Canuck, here it is: NO MOSQUITOES!!

-By CATE WATROUS

Earth Rhythms customizes winter day trips to snowshoe offtrail in search of wild mammals tracks, take part in a photographic safari, and other cultural experiences in the Riding Mountain area.  

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