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Subzero and Smokey

Subzero and Smokey

This past weekend, some friends and I headed out to the tipi for a weekend in history.  The annual Hivernants du Perrault winter voyage is once again out of my reach so it was decided that I needed to do something else to get out in the winter for a couple nights.  This also worked in that I have been wanting to spend a couple good winter days in the tipi I had gotten from my Uncle Ken.

I contacted a few friends and a few decided to come on over. ¬†Among our merry crew we had myself, Erick Shelley, Jeremy Kingsbury, and Bryce Anderson. ¬†Bryce had never reenacted or done anything quite like this before but is a very active outdoorsman and has a love of history as well. ¬†I outfitted him with proper clothing and equipment and gave him a “trial by fire” or perhaps more appropriately, a “trial by smoke.” ¬†Bryce and Jeremy could only come out for Friday night and Saturday but Erick and I had time to spend through Sunday.

Everyone arrived Friday night and we quickly packed toboggans and got ready to head out into the night. ¬†The night was clear and the sky fairly bright, so we were able to fairly quickly work our way back to the tipi. ¬†Although the snow was 24-30″ ¬†and snowshoes were a help, the trail was fairly packed from all the back and forth I have done in the past to the tipi and those without snowshoes could manage if they stayed on the trail. ¬†Upon reaching the tipi we piled in and went to work starting a fire to at least provide light inside. ¬†Being not the best prepared, it took about 10 minutes to get situated and get a nice fire going. ¬†Once going, we packed in our gear and bedding.

Within a very short time, we realized that the tipi was not drafting and was becoming a big smokehouse.  With all the snow we had, the tipi was half buried and no air was getting under it to create any good draft.  We did find that opening the door allowed for a good draft but also negated much of the heat the fire was producing.  The fire did allow us to melt down some snow for water and gave us light for the night.  Plenty of visiting and conversation as well as smoking of pipes took us into the late night.   We let the fire then burn down to a few coals (so that it would go out and not smoke us out), shut the door and went to bed.  Temperatures during the night dropped to -9F (-23C).  Although a bit cold, this is fairly warm compared to a lot of the temperatures we have been having recently.

Morning came, fire was started back up, coffee made, and we started to have a breakfast of bacon and venison/wild rice sausages. ¬†After more visiting, Erick and I walked Jeremy and Bryce out (around noon). ¬† Upon returning to the tipi, Erick and I took snowshoes and started shovelling out the tipi to get to the base of the tipi and get the draft flowing. ¬†Once that was done, the issues of a smokey lodge were solved. We then rekindled the fire, melted more snow, and ate a few more sausages for lunch. ¬†With a good supply of water melted, we started a kettle boiling with a bison heart and some wild rice. ¬†We then left it to simmer while we took a walk on snowshoes. ¬†After returning from a nice little hike, we decided to do a little competition of shooting. ¬†Our “shooting at marks” ¬†really did not prove either of us to be greatly superior to the other but was good fun. ¬† This day’s temps reached a high of¬†19F (-7C).

Evening came and we dined on our soup of bison heart and wild rice, which proved to be very tasty and filling.  We visited and smoked pipes for awhile and retreated to our blankets for the night.  Temps were warm for the night, only dropping to  5F (-15C).

With morning came rekindling the fire again, more coffee, and an eventual packing up of our gear.  We made the short trudge back to the house and ended our time leap.  Overall it was rather short and simple, it was a nice little venture into the past.  We did not do anything too strenuous, we did not travel far, we had the luxury of a nice tipi in which to stay, and temperatures were reasonable (of course all of these are relative concepts), but it did give us an escape from the modern day and a bit of a taste of the past.

Here are a few photos. ¬†Neither I or Bryce had cameras along and Jeremy’s was lost in the snow. ¬†These are courtesy of Erick and are from the first night. ¬†We are in a VERY smokey lodge but still having some fun.

7 Responses to “Subzero and Smokey”

  1. Billy Maxwell says:

    Smokey? Why smokey? Your door is not cracked. You vent through the door. I hope you had the cover tacked firmly to the ground and not raised. Okay to raise in one spot, but often smokey lodges are due to not having an air entry point from one location at the bottom. The other reason for a smokey lodge would be having the bottom raised. That is too much air flow. It is a Summer thing.

    Happy to hear you lived! I roasted coffee last night at midnight in my double lodge. Was near zero. I have a half bison bull tied in across the smoke hole. Smoke hits the hide and traps heat. The smoke goes around the sides of the hide. It helps trap heat, but never smoke. Smoke goes up if you have an air entry point and out smoke hole. I should put up a liner, but have just been too busy. You look very well lined.

    Billy Maxwell
    Great Falls, Montana

    • Isaac says:

      Cover is all the way down but getting the bottom exposed gave it enough more air to make it draft SO much better. Fri. night we did the door thing (I remembered you speaking of it before), but it needed to be more than cracked to draft well, perhaps due to the coldness too. Anyway, it brought in a noticeable cold draft and allowed the fire to burn and smoke to draft but also kept the heat at a minimum … If at all. Anyway, I definitely need more experience and schooling in the tipi thing but we had a very comfortable Sat. The tipi was lined with a more modern style liner (came with it and what I have for now). I also put down for boughs for bedding to get us off the cold ground. Not sure if that was done in tipis much but it is common in conical and other shaped wigwam.

      • Billy Maxwell says:

        Well, keep trying and you will get it. A trench to the fire pit. Cover with wood, bark, or flat rocks. Cold air will hit the fire without hitting you. Hope this helps.

  2. Darrel says:

    The cover tight to the ground and snow packed around also, the natives would pack grass in between the cover and liner for insulation. You want to draw from your door, another trick the natives did was to dig a trench from outside under the door to there fire pit, cover the top with flat rocks then cover with dirt so not to cave it in when walked on. Also you want to position your flaps so that the wind is crossing over them, this creates a drawing effect pulling the smoke out.
    The first time the wife and I winter camped in ours we froze our butts off. The cover was off the ground and the fire was pulling cold air in across the floor from every direction. The warmest we got is when the fire was out.
    Good luck, they are a lot of fun, enjoy

  3. John Powers says:

    Ike –
    Nice account of guys getting out into the bush. I’ve always contended that with winter camping you need not wander far in order to shift into the full ambiance of a camp. Even with an open camp, your area is essentially the 30′ or so that is illuminated by the fire.

    Yes, L’hivernants du Perrault are heading out this weekend. You’ll be missed but will be properly toasted. Look for a posting of the camp account next week.

    By the by, it was good to see Leaper out and about. Our paths have not crossed for some time. Maybe he mentioned the bitterly cold night he, Di and I spent in the bourgeois’ cabin at White Oak one winter camp — that was enough winter camping for Di!

  4. Riley says:

    Sounds like a good time Ike. Doing the primitive biathlon tomorrow (hope to see Erick there) Someday we will have to get out together…

  5. JBD says:

    great story and learning experience. (another vote for a fire pit side air hole extending out for air and covered with flat slabs of rock or wood and than packed with soil over.)


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