Seven miles into the wilderness, traveling across the frozen surface of Basswood Lake just before sundown, we looked for a campsite with a supply of firewood nearby. And I was wet. I’d sweat through my base layer, insulating layer (a midweight wool shirt), and unlined parka shell. I had already shed and stowed the down vest and other wool shirt a couple miles back, before they soaked through as well.
“Maybe we’ll camp behind this island,” one of the guys said. It would block the wind and have good wood available. There, we found deeper snow and not much good firewood, and it was there that I learned why low-slung sled loads are preferred. While the other guys’ turned easily in the loose snow, mine toppled over. Every turn, and even when I wasn't turning, it happened again and again. It was a maddening. I got help getting the sled work-wise again and over to where we chose a camp site and began to get the gear off the toboggans. I put those stowed insulating layers back on, began setting camp, and gathering firewood. I felt on the cold-side of comfortable. I considered my hypothermia risk: I wasn’t, and hadn’t been shivering, so I decided to drink most of the rest of my water that wasn’t frozen, eat a quick snack, and keep moving.
I knew what summertime firewood looked like, I’d been collecting that for years. Dead and down, preferably off the ground, not much moss, and the twigs snap when you break them. Winter is different. Wood stoves work best with seasoned dead wood. And the bigger the better, and split. That’s a bit harder to find, especially in the waining daylight and with the ground covered with snow. We targeted dead snags in an ash swamp. Pine was preferred, but the forest wasn’t mature enough yet. It had juvenile red pine, not many balsams, and very few were dead. Ash was what we had available. It’d have to work. Soon enough, the tents were up, stoves were lit with the fresh-split ash, dinner was cooking, clothes were drying, and bodies were warming.