How to survive winter at the cottage
Ian McKay and Kay Gillespie visit their isolated island on Georgian Bay throughout the winter, spending as many as nine days in a two-room cabin with no running water, no toilet, no heat other than a couple of woodstoves—and love the adventure.
If you’re thinking about making a trip to your remote cottage this winter, here are some tips from these cold-weather cottaging pros:
Ian suggests leaving a snow shovel in an accessible spot so you’re able to clear a path to the doorway when you arrive.
Before you leave in the fall, gather up lots of wood and also leave a fire laid.
Prepare food to leave behind. Before the lake freezes, Ian sinks a fishing net full of cans and glass bottles (not plastic, which tend to float) about 1.5 metres down at the bottom of the bay. The supplies stay cold but not frozen beneath the ice. Kay identifies the top of cans with a permanent marker because paper labels come off in the water. When they return in winter, they chop a water hole, reach down with a gaff pole, and pull up the fishing net full of goodies.
Kay dedicates a cooler inside the cottage to food supplies that freeze well, such as canned salmon and soups. Some foods freeze better than others, Kay has discovered. Canned carrots, for instance, get mushy. As for the common wisdom that you shouldn’t freeze tinned goods for fear the contents may expand and punch out small, unnoticed holes in the tin, Kay says, “We haven’t died yet.” She has, however, experienced the odd explosion and now stores each item inside a freezer bag in the cooler so that if it bursts the contents are contained. The couple also stocks up on dry foods, including soups, powdered milk, and pasta, and leaves a supply of paper plates and cups to cut down on dishwashing.
Whenever they’re in their scoot, an airplane-propeller-driven boat that travels across ice and open water, Ian and Kay wear buoyant orange survival suits (though they find the one-piece suits are too hot for skiing). Occasionally, they’ll don full-face balaclavas to protect them from the wind.
Ian suggests cottagers hang ice picks on ropes around their necks when crossing the ice, which can be used to haul yourself out of the water onto the ice. He and Kay also travel single file and tie a long, strong rope around the waist of the lead person, letting it trail on the ice behind so the second person can grab hold if the leader goes through. A ski pole is also useful for testing the ice as you go.
For years, Ian and Kay travelled with heavily loaded backpacks. Now, they haul their supplies on lightweight plastic toboggans (with sides).
Take a cellphone and, Kay adds from experience, “make sure it’s working!”