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The Icemen Campeth

January 16, 2014

Tags: Originally written for Boys' Life magazine.

Winter boots stick out from a dome of snow. Somewhere inside, the rest of James Davis, 15, grunts and sweats, even though the temperature is below freezing. Like a wolverine digging its den, he wields a trench shovel to hollow out a five-person shelter against the coming night’s cold.

James and his buddies are building quinzee huts. These shelters turn a sub-zero night into a cozy snow-tel room.

The temperature drops … 15 degrees … 10 degrees …

Come winter, bitter cold on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula sends most people scurrying for the indoors. Not these guys. Each year, they snowshoe into their winter camping adventures. “I brag about it with my friends,” says Michael Williams, 18. “They say we’re crazy, but it’s a great experience.”

Cold Camping
Winter camping presents greater challenges than sacking out in warmer weather. “You need to be more prepared,” explains Brandon Kwak, 15. “You’ll stay warm if you have the right gear.”

The right gear includes long johns, wool sweaters, and waterproof top layers. “And you always need a set of dry clothes to change into,” Brandon suggests. Cotton clothing, though, is a big no-no when it comes to cold-weather camping. Once cotton gets wet, it saps precious heat away from the body. That can be a quick ticket to hypothermia—dangerously low body temperatures.

Knowledge and experience, though, are just as important as the right gear. The quinzee huts, for example, take forethought and major shovel work. Some of the crew went out to the wooded site several days before the campout. They piled up five large mounds of snow. This gave the snow time to settle.

Hollowing out the shelters required teamwork. At first, the guys took turns tunneling to open up the inside with trench shovels. Once there was enough room, a second shoveler could crawl in to help.

After a chili dinner, the guys hung out by the fire drinking hot cocoa. They were surrounded by the kind of silence only winter camping offers. “We were in the middle of nowhere,” remembers Matt Lanaville, 15. “You couldn’t see any city lights or hear traffic. It was just the moon and clouds and stars.”

Finally, they crawled into their snow domes. A waterproof tarp for a floor, insulating mattresses, and cold-weather sleeping bags promised a snug night’s sleep. Warmed by body heat, quinzee huts will stay a comfortable 30 degrees through the night.

The campers soon drifted off to sleep. Outside, the thermometer kept dropping: 5 degrees … 0 … minus 5 …

Cool Quotes

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have dome them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly ... who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

-Theodore Roosevelt

"The question is not what a man can scorn, or disparage, or find fault with, but what he can love, and value, and appreciate."
-John Ruskin

It’s a myth that writers write what they know. We write what it is that we need to know.
-Marcie Hersman

The first rule of intelligent tinkering is to save all the parts.
- Paul Ehrlich

Nothing softeneth the Arrogance of our Nature like a
Mixture of some Frailties.
It is by them that we are best told,
that we must not strike too hard
upon others
because we ourselves do
so often deserve blows.
They pull our Rage by the sleeve
and whisper
Gentleness to us in our censures.


Today, like every other day,
we wake up empty
and frightened.
Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading.
Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

“We are here and it is now. The way I see it is, after that, everything tends towards guesswork.”
-Didactylos in Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

"Do you understand how amazing it is to hear that from an adult? Do you know how amazing it is to hear that from anybody? It's one of the simplest sentences in the world, just four words, but they’re the four hugest words in the world when they’re put together.

"You can do it."

-Sherman Alexie, from
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

"It is blissfully simple to strike a savvy, sophisticated pose by attacking someone else’s creations, but the old adage is right: Any fool can burn down a barn. Building one is something else again." -Martha Beck

"Live in the active voice rather than the passive. Think more about what you make happen than what is happening."
-William De Witt Hyde

"The soul of a child demands these mighty passions, opposition and adversity."
-Isak Dinesen

"Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says, 'I'll try again tomorrow.'"
-Mary Anne Radmacher

"That so few now dare to be eccentric marks the chief danger of the time."
-John Stuart Mill

"The world in which you were born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you: they are unique manifestations of the human spirit."
-Wade Davis

"It is so easy to be cynical. It's an accurate reflection of reality. It's much harder; it takes a philosophical point of view, to be optimistic. You have to work at it every day. One of the joys of working with children is that they are still unspoiled by cynicism."
-Yo-Yo Ma

"Story means pleasure, as distinct from art; it would rather gratify than edify.
But stories also protect us from chaos, and maybe that’s what we, unblinkered at the end of the twentieth century, find ourselves craving. Implicit in the extraordinary revival of storytelling is the possibility that we need stories—that they are a fundamental unit of knowledge, the foundation of memory, essential to the way we make sense of our lives: the beginning, middle, and end of our personal and collective trajectories. It is possible that narrative is as important to writing as the human body is to representational painting. We have returned to narratives—in many fields of knowledge—because it is impossible to live without them."
-Bill Buford, 1996

"Adulthood is the consequence of decisions made by a teenager."

"Kids are not stupid. They're just short." —Jack Prelutsky