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The Icemen Campeth

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 …


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