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Winter camping as a couple

Standing in the biting cold, I couldn’t help but stare up at the sky, a sea of stars mixing with a slight aurora. With no wind, the silence was profound, until I heard the crackle of fire and the creak of our wood stove opening, reminding me to go and warm up. My partner David looked up as he stoked the woodbox as I walked back into our home away from home, what he calls our Esker hot tent, but to me, this little oasis in the winter is our cabin in the woods. Growing up, my family spent a lot of time out in the winter, mostly snowmobiling to far away lakes, or hiding in ice huts beside a glowing red stove. My dad told stories of his winter camping adventures with friends and I always wondered what it would be like out there, mostly I imagined it would be cold. When we ordered an Esker tent and their little wood stove, I hadn’t imagined winter would become my favourite season of all. 

Night Sky Esker Tent

For David and I, the adventure begins when we look at a map of canoe routes. We imagine the portages between lakes, we consider the fish hiding under thick ice, and then we imagine pulling our sleighs over those trails, our snow shoes leading the way through the frozen land. Our favourite summer campsites are traded for the shelter of dense balsam stands, their aromatic boughs soon to become our bed. I love the way winter forces us to be a better couple because every task requires a little more teamwork and good communication. From standing up the tent, guying out the ropes, and readying fire wood, the bed of boughs is the final step in making our cozy winter escape.

Bed of Boughs in Esker Hot Tent

When we light the stove, that’s when the magic of winter camping is my real life dream. So quickly it doesn’t matter how cold it is outside, or that darkness is setting in for a long night, because the orange glow of the stove dances on the tent fabric and there’s water for tea about to boil.  The aroma of wood smoke and green needles is so peaceful. We read and sip tea, then David starts to make dinner, and the smell makes our mouths water. In a moment, we reflect on the memory of the days adventure in to camp. We talk about how rewarding it is to dream of a winters escape and to actually be here, cozy in our Esker, clothes drying above our heads, beating winters blues one stick of firewood at a time.

Esker Wood Stove 
When I wake in the morning, David’s up before me, he’s lit the stove, and soon I smell coffee. In summer we sleep so close to the earth, birdsong filling the world with noise, but in the winter we sleep above the frozen land, the silence only broken by the lakes groaning as it sluggishly makes ice, our frozen highway for exploring. Dawning our warm layers, slipping into moccasins, sheltering in our big parkas, we begin the day with vigour and excitement from the nights rest. A short distance out front of our camp, we cut holes in the ice and soon there’s trout tugging at our lines, our dinner from the depths.

Ice Fishing outside the Esker Hot Tent

David and I might love the reward of hard work, but it’s the connection we feel to the land which brings us closer to one another. Without our portable cabin in the woods, an Esker tent, I wouldn’t enjoy winter as much as I do. Between the nights sky, the cold wind at my cheeks, and the warm bed on shore, I love winter camping. That’s a story to tell my dad, and it’s not nearly as cold as I imagined.

 _ Leah Maki, Northern Ontario