Frozen Experiences of a Lifetime: Come in From the Cold

The ultimate North American winter bucket list

    Photo: Marcus Vegas/Flickr

Even those of us who really, truly love the winter know that the best part of the cold is a well-earned thawing out. After a day of playing outside, there’s nothing quite like a good fire—whether in a fireplace, a burn barrel, or a makeshift fire pit carved out of the snow. Feeling the life come back to your fingers and toes means another day of frozen consequences successfully cheated. In the classic short story “To Build a Fire,” Jack London put it best:

"On top, tangled in the underbrush about the trunks of several small spruce trees, was a high-water deposit of dry fire-wood—sticks and twigs, principally, but also larger portions of seasoned branches and fine, dry, last-year's grasses. He threw down several large pieces on top of the snow. This served for a foundation and prevented the young flame from drowning itself in the snow it otherwise would melt. The flame he got by touching a match to a small shred of birch-bark that he took from his pocket. This burned even more readily than paper. Placing it on the foundation, he fed the young flame with wisps of dry grass and with the tiniest dry twigs."

"He worked slowly and carefully, keenly aware of his danger. Gradually, as the flame grew stronger, he increased the size of the twigs with which he fed it. He squatted in the snow, pulling the twigs out from their entanglement in the brush and feeding directly to the flame. He knew there must be no failure. When it is 75 below zero, a man must not fail in his first attempt to build a fire—that is, if his feet are wet. If his feet are dry, and he fails, he can run along the trail for half a mile and restore his circulation. But the circulation of wet and freezing feet cannot be restored by running when it is seventy-five below. No matter how fast he runs, the wet feet will freeze the harder."

"All this the man knew."

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