Are you getting the full use out of your camp or cottage or is it only a part time thing? If you’re not using your camp during the winter you might be missing out on some wonderful times. It’s true that winter at the camp is different than a nice July day, but you can have a nice January day too, it just takes some preparation.
We have always used our camp throughout the year however it’s only been in the last few years that we really began staying overnight in the winter. Before that, most of our trips were day trips until at least the end of March.
Not anymore. Now we go to the camp year round, not as much as summer, but at least once a month throughout the winter. We’ve discovered it’s fun and a great way to put a dent in winter.
Winter in a summer cottage has it’s challenges, not the least of which is staying warm and having water, washroom facilities, bad weather, etc. Those are all challenges, but not insurmountable.
So I thought I would put together a little list of considerations and things to do for a successful winter weekend at the camp.
1) The weather; You cannot do much about the weather, but what you can do is be cognizant of it. Watch the long range forecast and pick your days or weekends when there isn’t any sign of a pending storm.
I find that the long range forecasts are getting pretty accurate. While you are at the cottage, listen to weather forecasts and keep an eye on the sky, and the temperature winter storms can happen quickly, and change things dramatically.
As much as it sounds like a great adventure to get “snowed in” at the camp, it would get old quick I think. There is also the problem of getting back to the city to go back to work on time Monday. Your boss might not be too happy with your “snowed in at the camp” excuse for missing work.
2) Snow; Yup, in winter in the northeast, snow on the ground is a consideration. Too much can make getting to the cottage tricky. If you have a four wheel drive vehicle, it’s easier, but you don’t necessarily need one.
We have an arrangement with a full time resident in the area that we can call to find out the amount of snow on the ground and on our cottage driveway. That way we know ahead of time what it will be like driving the last 300 yards to the camp and if we can get the vehicles off the road etc. If there is too much snow, I also have a guy I can call who will plow the driveway before we get there.
Sometimes the actual driveway is OK, but the end of the driveway is bad because the road plow has piled up a lot of snow at the end of the driveway.
3) Water; We don’t have a well, so we take drinking water in one gallon plastic jugs with us, figuring on about one jug per person per day which is a little excessive, but better more than not enough.
Any other water needs, such as washing, toilet flushing, dish washing, we drag from a hole cut in the lake ice by buckets. We keep a big pot of water on the woodstove all the time, which ensures a steady supply of warm water and we keep buckets of water inside for toilet flushing. (Don’t poor hot water in your toilet when it’s cold, it could crack the bowl)
You cannot have too much water, at least in my opinion. We fill up several buckets and a big 10 gallon bucket we keep the porch for more. It sure beats going to the lake at 11 p.m. for more. Water is the second thing I do upon arriving at the camp. Here’s why. You have no water supply from the pump (probably) if there is a fire, you might need to get water to put it out, of course you have a fire extinquisher, but what if it won’t work or something, having access to water is good. There is also the added issue that the fire department might have trouble getting to you in the winter snow. Just a thought….
4) Washroom Facilities; We have an inside washroom, although I have been considering building an outhouse. The inside toilet is quite usable in winter, all you have to do is flush it by pouring a bucket of water into the toilet bowl when necessary. Usually following the rule, “if it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown, flush it down.”
Before we leave for home, I take all the water out of the bowl, dry the porcelain with a towel and make sure it’s good and dry. I don’t pour anti-freeze in the bowl because as I have mentioned before, I had a bad experience using it one time, (the toilet froze and cracked. don’t ask me why, but now I just make sure the toilet is dry)
5) Food; For a winter weekend at the camp you need to plan your meals and simplicity is always nice. A casserole prepared at home that only needs to be microwaved is a great supper. Other meals can be planned accordingly, but keep it simple. You don’t want a lot of pots, pans, and dishes to wash if possible. You also need to keep in mind you need the extras, salt and pepper, butter, ketchup, barbecue sauce, etc because you probably took it all home in the fall.
6) Heat; Hopefully your cottage has a wood stove, which is really nice to have in winter, particularly if the power goes out. But it also helps to have an auxillary source of heat, such as a kerosene heater or an electric heater.
We use an electric heater which gives a fairly quick source of heat until the wood stove takes over. Our little electric heater was inexpensive to buy and well worth the money, I’m thinking about getting another one for the kitchen. The first priority you have upon arriving at the camp in winter is getting the heat on.
Turn on the furnace, woodstove, electric heat or whatever you use, and start warming the place up. We keep the bedroom doors, bathroom door closed, until we heat up the main living area, then open all the bedroom doors etc and let the heat circulate. Speaking of heat and fires, remember to bring matches or a lighter etc, all the firewood in the world is useless without a match or some source of flame to get it lit.
Dry newspaper, liquid firestarter, or the trays from Tim Horton’s are all great for starting a fire with some kindling. You will need a fair amount of firewood and kindling, too, depending on the size of your woodstove and the length of time you are staying.
One thing I would like to mention for safety. There are dangers to having wood fires, kerosene fires etc in camps in winter, particularly if it is tightly constructed. I always open the kitchen window a couple of inches when the woodstove is going to ensure an influx of fresh air. I pretty much do that year round.
7) Bedding; We used to use sleeping bags in the winter at the camp, and they are still a good choice, but we’ve found that it’s much more comfortable sleeping in the bed, but beds in cottages and camps get damp. We’ve overcome that by using electric blankets, one on each bed. We turn them on when we arrive and let them run on low throughout the day. By bedtime we’ve got nice cosy beds to crawl into.
8) Clothing; If you are going to get the best from your winter cottage adventure, make sure you have adequate outdoor clothing, warm coats, socks, pants, etc, and snow boots are essential. There is nothing as much fun as an outdoor campfire on a cold, clear winter night, the sky is fantastic! But you want to have lots of warm clothes to be able to enjoy it. The same goes for snowmobiling, cross country sking, skating etc. I like insulated rubber bottom boots, long underwear and heavy pants, along with a shirt, sweater, insulated vest and a coat. Gloves and a hat, of course. Extra clothes and footwear is a must, because it can take forever to dry wet clothes.
9) First Aid; A first aid kit and a charged cell phone are two other essentials for winter cottaging. Hopefully you will not need either one, but remember, you are roughing it, probably splitting kindling, hauling water, chopping a hole in the ice, etc, cuts happen, or worse.
It might take awhile to get assistance if your camp if far from the road, or if the weather changes. Winter camping / cottaging is a bit of an exercise in self sufficiency, so keep safety in mind. Speaking of safety, make sure the ice is thick enough for any activities you might have in mind, like skating or snowmobiling etc.
10) Other stuff; No matter where you travel in the northeast in winter, you need some ‘stuff’ I am talking about things like snow shovels, road salt, traction sand, flares, traction mats or other traction aids etc. The same holds true for a trip to the camp. A couple of snow shovels are required.
By the way, plastic shovels are not much good for breaking ice on the road, a metal shovel or ice chipper designed for that purpose is a great idea. Dirt/gravel driveways in winter can get a coating of ice under the snow, which of course, can make driving hazardous and walking too, so a good pair of ice creepers for your boots will come in handy as well.
I’ve probably forgotten something, is there anything else you can think of that would be good to have with you?
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