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Articles / Zenas Leonard Trapping Camp -2016

Published: 2016-03-07
Category: Camps, Treks & Adventures

”After remaining here a few days the ice melted out of the creeks and we commenced and continued to trap for beaver until the 28th during which time we caught a fine quantity of fur, and built ourselves a wigwam after the Indian fashion.” -Zenas Leonard, March 1832*

This year the Rocky Mountain fur trade part of the S.M.M. decided to give old Zenas Leonards early spring trapping camp a try. From a short reconnoitering trip performed a week before the event it was clear that the remnants of winter was still holding on to the high country where we were planning to camp.

Friday March 4
At about 10.30 PM Mike and I turned the car off and thus we entered a world of pitch-black…until our eyes slowly adjusted the scenery to more of a black and white. We dragged our toboggan a little less than a mile to the predesignated camp spot where spruce bough beds and some firewood had been prepared knowing of our late arrival. Sadly we found everything soaking wet due to the mild and foggy weather. The planned camp fire was discarded and we settled for a cold camp protected by two large spruces. With a zip of rum and a pipe smoke we hit the robes to the spring melody played by the nearby creek.

Saturday March 5
Like always the first night out after months of modern comforts made us feel more tired waking up than we felt falling asleep. With the benefit of daylight, kindling and firewood was luckily found in no time. The morning chores of roasting, pounding and finally boiling some coffee joined by a few slices of bacon removed the worst chill and dampness from our bodies.

The morning was spent collecting firewood and drinking coffee in leisure waiting for our Danish trapping partners that finally arrived bringing more laughs and warm smiles to camp.

This being the first time out on the ground since Mike finished his journey towards AMM bossloper, he surprised his sponsor (i.e. me) with a very special gift. Since I don’t want to spoil the surprise for my co-sponsor across the Atlantic I’ll return to the details some other time.

After drying a tear from my eye and heating up a few slices of buffalo meat brought in by our Danish hunters, we set out collecting poles, spruce boughs and more firewood for the wigwam or tipi style shelter inspired by the Zenas Leonard quote above. We all wanted to give this a try, with weather further motivating us. Oilskin tarps intended for mantees and bedrolls were tied to the frame for cover, spruce boughs were spread to cover the floor and the fire was finally carried inside with a shovel. With snow and water falling from the thawing trees and a forecast predicting more snow, the shelter felt like a luxurious way to spend the night Zenas Leonard style as opposed to the Revenant style the night before.

With everything prepared for the night Gvido decided to give beaver trapping another try. With a trap stake and bait stick prepared he threw the five pound trap over his shoulder with me following in order to document his efforts. Just watching him walk barefoot through the snow and into the water made me both happy to be warm and somewhat dry up on land and at the same time a bit disappointed at myself for not showing the same kind of spark. The trap was placed in the water, the stake driven down and the bait stick prepared with medicine. In order to abide to Swedish hunting laws the trap was pulled from the water as soon as the set was made without even a remote chance to catch an actual beaver. With only minutes left of daylight we arrived at camp without anything to show for Gvido’s effort other than a wet trap and his aching feet (he denied it though!).

The fire inside “the lodge” was fed with new wood, and the four trappers enjoyed an evening filled with stories, discussions and a stew from buffalo meat and wild rice reminding of a mountaineer Christmas described by Osborne Russell*. Pipes were lit most of the time and the remaining drops of rum was divided with scientific precision. Soon after the stew had been devoured Mike disappeared down his buffalo robe with the rest of us following his example soon after.

Sunday March 6
Every camp and trek should have at least one early morning bird. With the heat inside the blankets and robes making war on a filled bladder, coffee heating by the fire makes peace negotiations much easier. Luckily Jens took on the diplomatic role and made fire before the rest of us woke up.

Biscuits, bacon and a sad excuse for coffee brought our group back to life. With snow falling around us we broke camp. Packed our toboggans and headed for the iron mules destined for modern day life. This adventure was over, at least for most of us. Mike wasn't quite satisfied and had to get towed after getting his car stuck in the snow just a few yards away from where we had parked.

With that problem solved we all shared the interesting task of finding a place in civilization to dry the wet robes, tarps and clothing etc. reeking with smoke. Perfume to some, awful to others.

The yearly snow event is one of my personal favorites. The reasons are many. Snow covering many of the traces made by modern society creating an illusion of untouched wilderness is one. Hauling all you need on a toboggan while wearing snowshoes is another touch that sure makes me feel more connected to past ways of another continent although these artifacts never saw any abundant use by mountaineers. Frozen lakes makes for smooth trails where dense forests otherwise blocks the way. Snow also means a constant supply of water wherever you may light a fire. All in all I'd say snow and cold weather are some of the best conditions for historic travel on foot.

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