Winter camping baby step! in Porteau Cove

Winter camping is always a daunting but exciting prospect. It’s a frontier that we haven’t explored yet, and conquering it would mean unlocking the possibility for year-round camping. The risk of hypothermia in the winter is real though, when we’re separated from the elements with nothing but a few sheets of plastic. However, there is a “cheat code” that some campsites offer, that is: an electrical service.

Porteau Cove Provincial Park is such a campground. All the front country campsites have a 30A RV outlet and two 15A household outlets. It also seldom gets cold enough to be covered in any serious amount of snow, and it’s only 10 minutes away from Squamish in case one needs real rescue.

To fully utilize the outlet, consider getting an extension cord. I also got a 30A to 15A splitter so I can run more appliances without overloading the circuit.

We booked 2 one-night stays at Porteau Cove this winter to take our first baby step towards winter camping. We gave up our first booking due to an arctic outflow plunging the temperature to -10 to -15°C. Our second booking looked more favorable with a low of 0°C.

We took a Dyson Hot+Cool Fan Heater, sleeping bags rated for – 18°C, the warmest sleeping bag inserts that we could find (Sea to Summit Reactor Extreme) which purportedly adds another 15°C to the sleeping bag, insulated sleep pads to keep our underside off the ground, and a bunch of hand warmers for good measure. We also got a four season tent last fall, and we have tested it a couple of times with great success in the shoulder season when the nighttime temperature is around 3-5°C. If all of this fails, we were ready to retreat into our EV which can be plugged in for unlimited cabin heating. Plan C would be to drive the mere 60 minutes to go home. Out of an abundance of caution, we did not bring our toddler on this trip, because we don’t know how it would turn out. I took Big Bro as my scouting partner.

Porteau Cove in the winter is still extremely popular. Even in February, the sites are fully reserved on the weekend, and all the sites seemed occupied as we drove in.

In the off-season, they locked up the washroom and shower building, so we all had to use the pit toilet. The water tap was running, but I think they may turn off the tap when the temperature drops too low.

The sunset was spectacular across Howe Sound. In the final minutes before the sun disappeared, a golden ray shined horizontally over the mountain top and lit up the hills like an orange spotlight.

We enjoyed some cup noodles and a fire. Our neighbour took pity on us and gave us a few extra fire logs to help us build a respectable fire. We turned in after enjoying a sky full of stars by the ocean waves.

I set the fan heater to 30°C at full blast, and the tent was immediately turned into a sauna. We had to turn the heat way down and set an auto temperature control at 21°C to sleep comfortably. I did not even do up my sleeping bag given how warm the heat fan kept the tent. Needless to say, we didn’t use the sleeping bag inserts and hand warmers.

The fan made a huge difference. Whenever the fan was automatically turned down at the desired temperature, the tent turned cold within a minute or two. The fan would then kick back on and bring the temperature up. The temperature fluctuated more than I’d like, but it did the job of keeping us warm.

Before we turned on the fan, the tent was a cool 14 degrees C. Without the fan, it would surely get much lower through the night.

In the morning, our thermometer recorded overnight low of 19°C and a high of 25°C. We were able to keep lots of vents open, so there was no moisture buildup at all. With a fan heater, I believe we could easily sustain a much colder temperature, possibly -5 to even -10°C given hot we were this time.

A special note on noise in the winter. The two wooden platforms at the nearby boat dock was packed full of noisy, chattering sea lions who barked all night. They were louder than the passing trains! I would bring earplugs if I return to camp in Porteau Cove in the winter. They did eventually quiet down, but much later than our bedtime. And at the crack of dawn, they were at it again.

Approximately 100 incessantly barking sea lions lounge on these two platforms every winter.

We had a nice coffee and hot chocolate in the morning by the fire. We then took down our campsite and had a breakfast in the nearby city of Squamish on our way to ski in Whistler.

Being one hour away from Whistler, Porteau Cove is not exactly close enough to be considered a comfortable accommodation for a ski trip. The return trip was worse; having to leave Whistler on Sunday evening meant getting caught in the rush hour traffic. It took us 1.5 hours to get to Porteau Cove. Unfortunately, they don’t open Alice Lake Provincial Park in the winter and the closest campsites in Cal Cheak do not have electrical service.

Round Two: With the Whole Gang

With the resounding success in our first outing, Tina jumped on the first chance she got and booked an impromptu trip. This time, the forecast called for an overnight low of -4°C (another source said -6°C) but I was confident that our mighty fan heater could handle it with ease.

Between deciding to go and being fully loaded in the car, it only took us about 3 hours to get ready. If we really tried, we could probably get ready for camping in 1 hour.

Because it was the end of a school day, we didn’t get to the campsite until the night has set in. No problem, we set up the tent in the dark.

For dinner, the kids had some Chinese buns on the drive over. We snuck in some cup noodles.

With the temperature plummeting by the minute, we turned in pretty into our toasty tent. Again, we didn’t have to use the sleeping bag liners or the hand warmer packs.

With the tent full this time, I was sleeping pretty close to the edge of the tent and the heat fan was blowing in everyone else’s direction. So it did get cold enough for me to zip up my sleeping bag. The rest of the gang was too hot and had to shed all their layers of clothing down to just one shirt.

The wind gusts overnight was very powerful, shaking our tent violently. I was slightly concerned because I got lazy and only put in 3 stakes for the two doors, and we didn’t even fully tie down the rainfly. But the 4-season Woods Pinnacle 4 held up wonderfully.

Even with and overnight low of -4 to -6°C, the inside temperature never dropped below 19.5°C. The heater also kept the tent completely dry and free of condensation.

Even though we missed the sunset on this trip, we did catch a spectacular dawn before we took down camp and headed up to Whistler.

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