We all know that sometimes starting a camp fire can be a bit of a pig, especially if the timber you’re using is wet or damp.
But what I experienced once on a hike left me absolutely baffled.
I was hiking in an area way up north in the Yukon in the middle of a very cold spell indeed. You may say that is sheer foolery, putting yourself at such a risk, but, heck, wouldn’t life be one big boring episode if we didn’t take risks now and then….calculated risks?
So anyway, there I was, in an area of absolute wilderness, not a single person or habitation to be seen for many, many miles. And I was very tired indeed, cold and hungry, with the light fading fast.
I didn’t really have much of a choice but to seek out a suitable place to make camp, away from the high winds etc. Upon finding a spot, I stopped, took off my heavy backpack and immediately started erecting my tent, which fortunately was one which you can set up very quickly, no matter what the conditions.
But by the time I’d finished, the wind had stepped up a fair bit, and with it of course came the dreaded killer, windchill. My hands were frozen and I could hardly think clearly, a sure sign of possible hypothermia setting in.
Anyway, the tent was up, which was a major coup for me in those conditions…at least I had shelter! Next up was a fire. Luckily, I had collected some odd pieces of wood, twigs etc during my hike, which I’d wrapped in a plastic bag and tied to my rucksack, so at least the timber was dry.
I managed to get some kindling going, to which I added the timber pieces. And by this time, the wind had really got so damned cold, that my cheeks were hurting from the windchill, and I could even feel the hairs in my nose were frozen.
It’s then that I saw something I’ve never seen before. Sitting crouched in front of the fire, I noticed the timber had started to freeze…yes, really…I could clearly see the pieces of twig and larger branches beginning to turn white with a frosty covering! How could that happen, when the centre of the fire was still burning and giving off ample heat?
Cut a long story short, I sat there desperately trying to get the fire going as much as I could, but to no avail. The conditions were so harsh, that eventually all my material on the fire just became so damn cold, that the fire eventually petered out..absolutely unbelievable!
The night was saved by my stove, that I lit inside the tent and which thankfully worked just fine, and it was only then that I was able to make some coffee and heat up some ready-to-eat food.
Otherwise, were it not for my tent and stove, I just don’t know what I would have done that night!
So the moral I learnt that night is this, no matter if you have the most advanced fire-making equipment with you, if it gets really cold, you can be in deep trouble, especially if you are in an isolated area, unless you are prepared for it like I was.