Build A Fire On Snow
Backpacker|November - December 2019
Build A Fire On Snow
The solitude of a winter night beckons. But will our writer’s attempts to stay warm be a roaring success or a sputtering failure?
Will McGough

From my bedroom window, I watch the clouds rolling over the mountains. Snow falls all night long, blanketing the valley floor with a few inches of light, fluffy powder. In the morning, I strap my lightweight shovel and hatchet to the outside of my backpack, don my snowshoes, and set off on the Wigwam Trail in Colorado’s Lost Creek Wilderness.

I relish in the satisfying crunch of powder under my snowshoes as I weave between the pine trees. The forest is still and quiet—mine are the only tracks in sight. These are the joys of winter adventuring: silence and solitude.

But of course, there are challenges, like piercing cold and buried campsites. I want to spend the night out here, and it’ll be much more pleasant and cozy with a fire. Plus, it will give me a chance to practice my winter survival skills in case I’m ever stuck without warm gear.

I learned just how difficult building a fire on snow can be when I got caught in an unexpected storm on a backpacking trip a while back. The problem wasn’t finding dry wood; it was finding any wood at all. The forest floor and all its logs were buried and I could only dig up so much by hand. And what I did collect, I could not do much with—it was hard to light, and the snow kept melting into the fire, extinguishing the coals. I gave up after a handful of attempts and crawled into my tent before dark.

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November - December 2019