Monday, April 05, 2010

Campfire in the snow

Last night I lit a fire in the backyard. Just a small fire, but I was suffering from fire withdrawal symptoms.

Fires and campfires have been a feature of my life, marking many happy moments.

The Wikipedia entry on campfires is not bad, but is US focused.

In the scouts, the challenge was always to light a fire with one match and without paper. This can be difficult to do, especially if the kindling is damp. I fear I tend to cheat and use paper.

Of all the outdoor fires, the one I take greatest pleasure in was a fire lit in snow.

I was living in Canberra and it had been snowing quite heavily. The nearby Brindabella Ranges were covered in snow. A girl friend and I decided to go exploring, so I packed the little Datsun station wagon I had at the time with food and BBQ equipment.

The road along the the top of the ranges was snow covered but passable. When we reached an area with no wheel marks in the road and with a flat area where we could pull over, we stopped. The snow wasn't very deep, but everywhere was still white.

Now according to the Wikipedia entry, the log cabin fire method is the least efficient method of lighting a fire. I disagree, because it depends on the type of fire you want to light. If it's a small fire, it's not bad at all. The clue is to have enough tinder and small wood to feed the fire as it ignites. In this case, too, I was cheating somewhat because I had lots of paper.

Step one was going out to collect wood etc. There was a fair bit around. I dusted all the snow off as I built a base of medium size sticks on the snow on a small outcrop where the snow was very thin. I just wanted a base.

Gum leaves and twigs burn well, but most were very wet. However, I was able to collect leaves and twigs that had been held up out of the snow and were therefore relatively dry. Rain wets, snow doesn't always. So I then built my log cabin with ripped up paper in the centre, leaves and small twigs. As the fire ignited, I just fed it constantly, initially with leaves and small twigs and then with bigger pieces.

I am not saying that this was the perfect way, but in this case it worked. We stood in the afternoon sun looking out at the snow and drank wine while I cooked the chops. For a long time there was no one else, then vehicles started to pass as people sought to reach the thicker snow further up. We waved our wine glasses at them as they went by; the sight of a BBQ in the snow caused some amazement.

The trip back, however, wasn't all beer and skittles. It had started snowing again and quite heavily. We moved out quite quickly as the weather changed, but kept passing Sunday drivers still coming up the mountain, slipping and sliding in the snow. This was now snow chain country.           

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