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HAE logo Watering Hole

by Tim A Novak, your cybah-spaced mountain correspondent

OK, you're at the campsite and you're thirsty. Before you go trashin' the water source, get a water bottle full of this fine advice...

The watering hole is a key component of the winter camp and it usually determines the location of HAE's accomodations. When there is substantial snow on the ground, standard procedure after finding a campsite is to first chuff a trail to the watering hole and hope the resulting path is negotiable without snowshoes after a few hours of freezing. This is important because the waterhole is not only the source for water, it becomes a source of entertainment. As fun as trips to the watering hole may be, there are a few things one must keep in mind. The watering hole is a sacred place. The icy clear waters seeping from the wintery wilderness could be the finest drink you'll ever quaff. But like all things that are precious, the watering hole is easily destroyed, especially when HAE is thrashing about. This is why we've established a few simple guidelines to maintain a safe, civil and unfouled watering hole.

You gotta have the right tools.

The water source needs to be developed and maintained. It may be necessary to remove deep snow and hack into thick ice and you won't want to do that without the right equipment. This is, after all, a survival situation. So grab your ice hacker, your water bottles and if there's snow you'll probably need the shovel.

thrashing at the water source

The hacker HAE currently uses is a 12" machete. It has effectively cut into water sources and processed wood for many expeditions. OK, its archaic and heavy but when you're thirsty and there's 10 inches between you and the water, every gram is worth it.

That shovel not only clears the snow away from the water, it helps in constructing easy access to the water and removing the chipped ice that will no doubt clog the outflow from all that hacking going on. Sure, the snow removal can probably be done with the snowshoes but the shovel makes the task so much easier. An added bonus... you get to hear JB harass you the whole trip for bringing that shovel.

The water bottles must be carefully selected. Here are three important things to remember when selecting water bottles for winter hiking. 1. The plastic must be able to withstand freezing temps. i.e. It can't crack when you whack ice loose from the cap threads. I say this because you'll be doing a lot of whacking ice loose fron the cap threads. 2. Get a bottle with the lid attached. Not only will the the lid be impossible to lose, it is a great handle for dipping into the water without immersing your hand. 3. Go for a wide mouth bottle. It will make it far easier to examine the water for that pesky particulate matter. More importantly, if you let the water freeze in your plastic and survive the onslaught of peanut gallery ridicule, it'll be a heck of a lot easier to get the ice out out the wide mouth bottle. Which brings up a very important tip...

No freezing water in plastic.

Don't make me get JB to explain in that annoying techno-math babble the amount of heat needed to thaw 1000 ml of frozen water. Its really quite simple, don't leave water in plastic if it is going to freeze 'cuz it is a real pain in the ass to get it melted. Water freezes up pretty fast so you better decide what to do with it. Pour the water in the metal cook pot, drink it or wear it. Oh, and if your water bottle does freeze and you don't want to melt it, you still have to pack it out. Nothing like carrying a couple of unnecessary pounds of useless ice back out of the mountains. Needless to say, a frozen water bottle is very unsurvival.

Location is everything.

Obviously water purity is a factor. The filtering option to insure pathogen free drinking water is not available because water freezes in them. Nothing is more useless than a water filter that doesn't filter water. The chemical purification method is not as effective in freezing temps as well. To be sure you can boil it but that takes time and fuel. The best way to get the purist, tastiest water is find a protected source deep in the mountains. I mean, that's what it is all about, eh...? Chuffing way into the woods away from the impact of water befouling influence. The search for the cleanest water can be the entire motivation for a wilderness expedition.

Of course, a little common sense goes a long way in securing the safest water. That stream with the 55 gallon drums and the dead fish may not be the best choice for sipping. With water you can never be completely sure the source is going to be safe but you can lower the risk by thoroughly checking the area for contaminating features like outhouses, dead animals and nuclear power plants.

Keep it clean.

Here's another one of those "Duh..." tips that annoy 99.9 percent of us but if it informs only 1 person, then it is worth mentioning. Simply stated, you don't foul the water you're drinking. If you're gonna pinch a loaf or yellow some snow, do it FAR away from the watering hole, thank you. Easy on those big honking loogies yer coughing up as well. Do I make myself clear...?

Prevent Spillage for Laughs

Think of the watering hole as your favorite pub. You're hanging around drinking stuff you've paid money for. Needless to say, you are probably not tossing the drink around sloshing for humor or inciting a spray blast from someone the group with a well timed gag. At the watering hole in sub zero weather, you're kinda paying for your drinks as well. See, as fun as it is standing around the water hole, the reality of winter camping is: it is fucking cold out.

Pointing out that imaginary waterfall cascading over the dead moose you've suddenly spied upstream just as Fife is taking a pull off his water bottle will no doubt result in a fantastic and hilarious spew of water. Ha ha, real funny.. too bad you can't ask the bartender for a towel to wipe off the rapidly freezing water you're now wearing. Very unsurvival. Then, of course, JB and Mark are laughing uproariously, stumbling about the water source and nearly falling in. Very unsurvival. Oh, and during the mayhem Tim dropped the haebar with the gadget in the snow and the lighter is in the water. Very way unsurvival.

JB at the water source

The Watering Hole is a key component of the HAE experience. Quaffing the icy mountain water surrounded by the serenity and beauty of the northern woods is a true delight for both mind and body. We must do what we can to maintain the potabilty and protection of those water sources. For some, it is the primary motivation for entering the winter wilderness and symbolizes truly unspoiled forest.

Copyright 2003 Tim Novak, John Bellantoni and HAE