Backyard Adventure: Do You Want to Build a Quinzee?

Since last winter I’ve tried to build an igloo in my backyard so I could experience sleeping encapsulated in snow. Though Maine has been pounded with snow in the last couple of weeks it hasn’t passed the snow ball test (is the snow sticky enough to hold a snow ball shape?), which is required in order to form the blocks for the igloo. Fortunately, the AMC’s blog recently posted an article on building a quinzee, and I tried it out.

I started by shoveling as much snow as I could manage into a pile in my backyard. This took about 2 hours and I ended up with a pile of snow that was roughly 7 feet high, 12 feet long and 6 feet wide. Next I climbed on top of the pile in order to pack it down as much as possible. When I was done the pile was about 5 feet high.

Quinzee pile

Quinzee pile

At that point I went inside to make lunch and let the pile refreeze. When the snow was piled up, the snow flakes’ arms broke which caused some melting at the point of the break. By waiting at least an hour this allowed the snowflakes to refreeze, making the snow pile more stable.

After Lunch I returned to the pile with a short-handled spade shovel and metal mixing bowl. I started carving into the pile about a half a foot above ground level. I would have preferred to start a foot above ground (as you should have at least a foot of packed snow to insulate you from the frozen ground), but I wanted to make sure I had enough head room to sit up inside and have walls at least a foot thick for stability.

Tools used to dig Quinzee

Tools used to dig Quinzee

Shortly after starting with the spade shovel I could no longer reach or get the right angle with the shovel and I started climbing into the hole and scraping the walls and ceiling with the mixing bowl. It worked wonders. I continued carving into the the pile as well as toward the ceiling and walls. Once I had a substantial amount of snow dug out I crawled out of the quinzee and drew the snow out behind me with the snow shovel.

I measured into the snow pile with the snow shovel to make sure I didn’t shovel too far in any direction. The AMC article suggested sticking foot-long sticks into the quinzee so that you knew when you were getting close to the walls, but I could tell as the walls would lighten from sunlight if I dug them too thin.

I repeated the digging/drawing snow out of the quinzee process until I was content with the shape and size of the interior. I sat cross-legged in the middle to make sure the ceiling was tall enough, and laid down on the floor to make sure I had enough leg room to sleep within.

From within, enough room to stretch

From within, enough room to stretch

I had plans to sleep inside the quinzee, so I got my air pad and fleece sleeping bag liner and placed them inside. I also placed the plastic container that I used to make igloo blocks inside as a table for my battery operated lantern. Just to decrease any concerns I had of the quinzee collapsing I climbed on top and bounced around on my knees (I’m sure I was quite the sight). My quinzee was complete and ready to become a winter shelter.

Completed Quinzee

Completed Quinzee, with beer holder

Unfortunately, the forecast for that night was temperatures around 0 degrees and it did not warm much above 10 degrees for the following couple of weeks. Since it was built the quinzee partially collapsed (I’m guessing due to a few warm and sunny days) and the ceiling which was over 3 feet tall is now less than 2 feet tall. I did not get to sleep in it, but it was a fun experience. Hopefully the weather will cooperate and I’ll be able to build another quinzee or an igloo and actually get to sleep in it.

References:
The Blizzard is Here! Don’t Just Shovel it-Build a Quinzee!equipped.outdoors.org. Appalachian Mountain Club. Web. 2 February 2015.

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Backyard Adventure: The Freedom Trail

Date Hiked: 25 May 2014

The Freedom Trail may not be in my backyard, but it is certainly in someone’s backyard. I lived in the Boston area for a few years so I’ve happened across it several times. My family was in Boston for the weekend to attend a 3-day music festival (an awesome 12th birthday present for my oldest son) and decided to hike the entire Freedom Trail the morning before Sunday’s performances began.

We decided to head SOBO on the trail even though it is traditionally walked NOBO as the southern terminus was at Boston Common, which was just a few blocks from City Hall Plaza, where the concert was held. We took the red line to Park Street and then hopped onto the orange line to ride it to North Station. It was just a short walk across the Charlestown Bridge to City Square Park where we started our hike. We started toward the USS Constitution, or Old Ironsides, the oldest commissioned warship in the world. We did the self-guided tour after going through security. Old Ironsides won battles in the Quasi War with France, the Barbary War and the War of 1812, earning her nickname due to her resilience.

USS Constitution

USS Constitution

After the USS Constitution we crossed under the Tobin Bridge to a quaint part of Charlestown and headed uphill to Bunker Hill. We went into the Bunker Hill Museum across the street from the monument and got free passes to climb the monument. We climbed up the hill to where either Israel Putnam or William Prescott famously said “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes.” The 1775 battle was a loss for the newly formed colonial army against the British, though they pushed back the British two times and ended up with half the casualties. It was the point where both the colonists and the British realized that the rebellion was serious.

Bunker Hill

Bunker Hill

The monument was 212′ tall and had 294 steps that led up a cramped spiraling staircase to a small observation room that overlooked Boston and the harbor. In the middle of the room was a shaft that aided in air circulation. It was pretty cool to stand on the grate over the shaft and look 200 feet down to the foundation of the monument.

By that time I had already fallen in love with my brand new shoes, Brooks Cascadia 8s. It’s not every shoe that you can wear for the first time while walking around a city for 6 hours and then stand at a concert for another 5 hours and still come away with comfortable feet. It wasn’t until later that I realized their traction on wet surfaces was terrible.

Step 294

Step 294

After exiting the Bunker Hill monument we found the official endpoint of the Freedom Trail and took a photo of standing around it.

End of the Freedom Trail

End of the Freedom Trail

We made our way out of Charlestown and back across the Charlestown Bridge to Copp’s Hill Burying Ground. Copp’s Hill was in Boston’s North End and was Boston’s largest colonial burying ground.

From Copp’s Hill we made our way down the street to the Old North Church. It was at this church that in 1775 Robert Newman and Captain John Pullman held two lanterns in the steeple to warn that the British were moving to Lexington and Concord via the sea, not over land, and kicked off the American Revolution.

Old North Church and statue of Paul Revere

Old North Church and statue of Paul Revere

We walked through Boston’s North End until we came to the Paul Revere house. The house was, of course, Paul Revere’s and is today the oldest standing structure in Boston. We paid the small fee in order to take a self-guided tour through four of the house’s rooms.

Paul Revere's house

Paul Revere’s house

Before leaving Boston’s North End we grabbed some lunch at an Irish pub and some cannolis at Mike’s Pastry. All morning we saw people carrying white boxes with blue letters tied closed with string. As the density of boxes per person increased we knew we were near their source. The line was crazy long but my wife stood patiently in it to see what the hype was all about. We carried the box for the rest of the hike so they could be enjoyed at the end.

We crossed Atlantic Avenue and as we passed Haymarket we saw some bronze art in the crosswalks. This was the result of a 1976 project by Mags Harries called Asaroton, which was named after a Greek floor mosaic which created the illusion of trash on the floor. The art was reminiscent of the daily clutter on the ground after the closing of the outdoor market. After being removed for the Big Dig and re-installed in 2006 it was updated with modern debris.

Asarton near Haymarket

Asarton near Haymarket

We made our way into Government Center and passed by Faneuil Hall which was a meeting hall where many revolutionaries, like Samuel Adams, spoke. On the hall’s weathervane was a grasshopper. It was said that questioning what was on the Faneuil Hall weathervane was a way to tell whether or not the person was a spy during the War of 1812.

Down the street from Faneuil Hall was the Old State House, which was the political center for Boston. The Declaration of Independence was first publicly read in Massachusetts from its balcony.

Old State House

Old State House

Right below the Old State House balcony was the site of the Boston Massacre. At that site in 1770 five colonists were killed by British regulars; a display that the tensions between the colonists and British were beginning to culminate to a boiling point.

Site of the Boston Massacre

Site of the Boston Massacre

The density of historical sites grew as we approached the ending at Boston Commons. We stopped at the Old South Meeting House so my wife could take the self-guided tour (I was enjoying a coffee outside, which couldn’t go into the museum). The Old South Meeting House was a key location for speeches and protests leading up to the Revolutionary War. It was at that site which the Boston Massacre and the tea tax were protested.

Across the street from the Old South Meeting Hall was the Old Corner Bookstore. The Old Corner Bookstore is the oldest commerce building in Boston and was where many famous books were first published including Scarlet Letter and Walden. Today it is a Chipotle.

Old Corner Bookstore

Old Corner Bookstore

Just up the street from the Old Corner Bookstore was the site of the first public school in the nation, Boston Latin School, dating back to 1635. Many people of note attended the school including Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams and John Hancock. Today there is an interesting mosaic in the sidewalk in the shape of a hopscotch game surrounded by the alphabet.

First public school site

First public school site

Right next to the Boston Latin School site was King’s Chapel and Burying Ground. The burying ground is the oldest in Boston and was the resting place of many early colonists including Mary Chilton, the first woman to step off the Mayflower. The King’s Chapel was built on a corner of the Burying Ground which was seized by England as no one was interested in selling land to England for the purpose of building a church.

Down the street from King’s Chapel was the Granary Burying Ground. The Granary Burying Ground is the third oldest burying ground in Boston and was the resting place for several of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Samuel Adams and John Hancock, and others such as Benajmin Franklin’s family, Paul Revere and even Mother Goose.

Mother Goose's grave

Mother Goose’s grave

Finally, down the street and around the corner from the Granary Burying Ground was the State House and Boston Common. The State House was once owned by Massachusetts’s first elected governer, John Hancock, and was of course where state political business took place.

Boston Common was the oldest park in the country and was originally used to herd cattle. Over time it became the location for public hangings and during the Revolutionary War the British troops were camped there.

Boston Commons

Boston Commons

After completing the Freedom Trail we walked over to the Make Way For Ducklings statues in the Public Gardens and enjoyed our cannolis from Mike’s Pastry in the shade of a tree (I watched, as they were not vegan). We then made our way over to City Hall Plaza for the concert.

I have never been much of a history buff (though my wife certainly is), but it was pretty awe-inspiring to stand at so many locations that were key in our country’s revolution and to think about the people that put aside their lives and livelihoods in order to lead that battle.

They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.
—Ben Franklin

Stats:
Distance: 2.5 miles
Actual Time: 6:00

References:
Asaroton, 1976.” harriesheder.com. mags harries & lajos heder. Web. 9 July 2014.
Boston Common.” cityofboston.gov. City of Boston. Web. 17 July 2014.
Boston Massacre Historical Society.” bostonmassacre.net. Boston Massacre Historical Society. Web. 10 July 2014.
Bunker Hill Monument.” nps.gov. National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior. Web. 12 June 2014.
Copp’s Hill Burying Ground.” freedomtrail.org. The Freedom Trail Foundation. Web. 13 June 2014.
Faneuil Hall.” cityofboston.gov. City of Boston. Web. 9 July 2014.
First Public School Site and Ben Franklin Statue.” cityofboston.gov. City of Boston. Web. 11 July 2014.
Former Site of the Old Corner Bookstore.” cityofboston.gov. City of Boston. Web. 11 July 2014.
Granary Burying Ground.” cityofboston.gov. City of Boston. Web. 16 July 2014.
Historic Site.” oldnorth.com. Old North Church. Web. 13 June 2014.
King’s Chapel and Burying Ground.” cityofboston.gov. City of Boston. Web. 16 July 2014.
Make Way for Ducklings Statues.” boston-discovery-guide.com. Boston Discovery Guide. Web. 17 July 2014.
Massachusetts State House.” cityofboston.gov. City of Boston. Web. 16 July 2014.
Old South Meeting Hall.” cityofboston.gov. City of Boston. Web. 11 July 2014.
Old State House.” cityofboston.gov. City of Boston. Web. 10 July 2014.
Paul Revere’s Home.” paulreverehouse.org. Paul Revere Memorial Association. Web. 13 June 2014.
USS Constitution History.” http://www.history.navy.mil. US Navy. Web. 12 June 2014.
Welcome to Mike’s Pastry.” mikespastry.com. Crosstown Art. Web. 17 July 2014.

Backyard Adventure: First Adventure of 2014

Backyard Adventures are small adventures that I set upon to soothe my wanderlust when I cannot afford (with time or money) to take on larger adventures. Some will be done with my sons (under the guise of “just playing with the boys”), and some will just be flat out crazy to the normal (read sheltered) human and I’ll have no real excuse for my behavior except that I wanted to see what it was like. This was one of the latter. 

It’s the dead of winter and you don’t have the gear for camping overnight, what do you do? Me, I camp out overnight anyway.

I have a L.L. Bean Microlight FS tent, an EMS Mountain Light 20° sleeping bag and a Big Agnes Air Core sleeping pad. Great, 3-season, light gear. But, I have dreams of hiking my first winter 4000 footer. Unfortunately, since I live on an island off the coast of Portland, Maine, it requires an overnight camp to have enough daylight to hike a 4000 footer. My goal this winter is to find the perfect weekend where it’s not snowing on a Friday or Saturday night so I can drive up to the White Mountains, where the temperature doesn’t drop below 20°F at night (okay, I could take low teens) and the weather on the following day is below freezing but sunny and with as little wind as possible.

I know, impossible, right?

In order to prepare for the camping-overnight-bit of my dream weekend, I decided to try camping out overnight on the island in the middle of January.  I didn’t want to find myself out in the middle of the White Mountains in some of the “worst weather in the world” without knowing my gear’s capabilities. When a weekend came around where I wasn’t doing anything and the weather was looking optimal for my test scenario (low wind, temperature in the 20s) I decided to take my gear for a test run.

Yes, my wife told me I was nuts as well.

bya-first-2014-tent

Settled down for a cozy night

I packed up my gear and headed out into the forest near my house. I brought my headlamp with me but found it wonderous to wander the forest by moonlight. It transformed the woods that I grew up exploring into an unknown landscape. I made my way generally toward the middle of the woods, hoping to find a location that was far enough from houses and streets as to not hear any cars or see any lights.

I found a spot sheltered by a small copse of pine trees but with a clear view of the stars overhead. I stamped out a flat area with my snowshoes and set up my tent. I realized I didn’t know how to stake out my tent in snow, which I needed to do in order to properly utilize the fly, so I hoped that the wind wouldn’t pick up overnight. I fired up my new Jetboil Flash, cooked some dinner and cracked open a Maine Beer Co. Lunch. I spent a little while enjoying some hot food, great beer and staring at the stars, but it was time to get to business. The reason I was here was to test out my gear, so I hit the sack.

bya-first-2014-temp

I later discovered that the temperature dropped a lot lower than forecasted

I spent the night trying to keep warm. The weak point in my protection from the cold was my air pad. Any part of my body touching the pad slowly had the heat sapped out of it. After a while I would wake up and need to turn over to warm that side of my body. My feet were also cold, but not cold enough to interrupt my sleep. Several times I considered packing up and snowshoeing back home, but I did not relish crawling out of my warm(ish) sleeping bag into the frigid winter night.

After enough time had passed that I deemed it not insane to get up (4:30am), I quickly made my way out of my sleeping bag and into my clothes. My boots were ice-cold and my toes were soon numb. I fired up my Jetboil to make some coffee. I was lucky that I had the Jetboil running because my tent poles turned my fingers instantly into ice and I was able to warm them over the flame. I found that many of the tent pole sections were frozen together and I had hold them between my fingers until my body heat thawed them. Shortly I had my camp broken down and I enjoyed my coffee by the flame of the Jetboil.

I headed home in the early morning darkness, following the same meandering route I took into the forest. By the time I made it home the eastern sky had begun to lighten, so I dropped my pack and made my way to the south shore of the island. I ended my backyard adventure snapping some shots of ice and sunrise.

bya-first-2014-sunrise

Sunrise and icicles

My takeaway from this experience was that I didn’t have the gear for single digit temperatures, but I think I could have made it through a night in the high teens and twenties. I’m pretty sure that wind would make even the twenties hard to bear as there was space between the ground and the bottom of the fly. Possibly I could have figured out how to stake out or tie down my fly and then pile up snow around it to prevent wind from entering the tent.

Sounds like something to test out on another cold and windy night this winter.

A few tips and realizations I’ve discovered since that night:

  • I have a fleece sleeping bag liner
  • I could try placing my old foam pad under my air pad for added insulation
  • I can heat water and put it in water bottles. Placing these bottles in the bottom of my sleeping bag and in my boots keep them from freezing over night and I would have water that wasn’t frozen in the morning as a bonus
  • I should have a towel ready for when I open my sleeping bag. Body heat escaping will thaw the frost built up on the inside of the tent, wiping it off will prevent the tent from getting wet

A career is wonderful, but you can’t curl up with it on a cold night.
—Marilyn Monroe

References:
Big Agnes Air Core Sleeping Pad.” backcountry.com. Backcountry.com. Web. 23 February 2014.
White, Carol Stone. Peak Experiences: Danger, Death, and Daring in the Mountains of the Northeast. UPNE, 2012. Print.
EMS Mountain Light 15° Sleeping Bag, Long.” ems.com. Eastern Mountain Sports, inc. Web. 23 February 2014.
It’s Official—Australia has the Worst Weather in the World.” theaposition.com. The A Position. Web. 17 March 2014.
Jetboil Flash Cooking System.” rei.com. Recreational Equipment, Inc. Web. 16 March 2014.
Lunch.” mainebeercompany.com. Maine Beer Company. Web. 16 March 2014.
Microlight FS 1-Person Tent.” llbean.com. L.L. Bean, inc. Web. 23 February 2014.

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