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My friend Matt and I picked a snowy weekend to try out hot tent camping (tent heated with a wood stove). We left early Saturday morning for Flattop SnoPark, Washington (SE of Mt Adams). Our plan was to snowmobile 10-20 miles or until we found a good area to snow camp. Flattop SnoPark is situated in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest near Indian Heaven Wilderness and Yakima Indian Reservation. It's NW of Trout Lake, Washington on NF-88 road.
We arrived at Flattop SnoPark at the same time as two other vehicles. There was only one other vehicle there before we arrived. It was raining lightly and the temperature was just above freezing. There was about two feet of snow at the SnoPark, but we would soon see 5-10 feet as we rode higher up in elevation.
The trails had been recently groomed, making the riding was quite nice as we each pulled fully loaded gear sleds behind our snowmobiles. I had wanted to try hot tenting and had recently purchased an inexpensive wood stove to try out. Instead of investing in an expensive canvas wall tent, I put together an 8' wide x 8' long x 9' tall pyramid tent out of a 10' x 20' white poly tarp. It was complete with stove jack and zippered door.
As we climbed above 3,200 feet, the temperature cooled down and the rain turned to wet snow. We made one wrong turn before getting back on course toward Surprise Lakes and the Berry Fields. It is about 14 miles each way along NF-8821 road and NF-24/Twin Buttes road (without any wrong turns). We un-hitched the gear sleds where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses NF-24 road, so we could more easily explore the area for a good camp site. The snow was so deep that only the top few inches of the Pacific Crest Trail sign were visible.
At first we explored to the East of the road around Surprise Lakes. Everything was blanketed in snow and - surprise! - before we knew it we were unintentionally snowmobiling across small lakes. Luckily there was plenty of snow covering the lakes. We found a couple spots that looked nice (the actual campground was nowhere to be found, presumably buried under snow), but opted to explore the Berry Fields on the West side of the road. We soon found a nice spot with dead trees that could be used for firewood. We went back for the gear sleds and after getting one snowmobile stuck going up a hill in deep powder, we finally reached our scouted spot.
We stomped out an area for the tent and soon had it pitched and a warm fire going in the wood stove. I used one inch EMT conduit for the center pole and half inch EMT for the stove pipe supports. It worked out quite well. The only problem with using poly tarp for the tent material is that it does not breathe and therefore is very prone to condensation. We did not find this a problem as long as we stayed away from the tent walls.
The nice thing about a wood stove is it consumes far less firewood than trying to stay warm around an open fire like I normally do when snow camping. At one point, we had it so warm in the tent I was in short sleeves.
Once night came, the tent looked awesome from the outside due to the lantern inside. Matt was able to capture some great night photos.
We made sure to have plenty of venting in the tent before we stoked the fire and went to bed. It stayed fairly warm all night with Matt and I each got up once to add wood to the stove. It snowed about 7-8 inches overnight, but the tent stood strong. We never once had to remove snow from it thanks to the steep sides.
It continued snowing heavily as we packed up and left Sunday morning after enjoying a warm breakfast in the hot tent. Besides Matt briefly getting stuck a short distance from camp, the ride out was uneventful. The freshly fallen snow was fun to ride on, but at times the road was hard to discern. By the time we made it back down to Flattop SnoPark, the snow had changed to a rain/snow mix. Hot tenting was a fun experience that I look forward to again. With a better stove and tent, I might become addicted and possibly even convince Katie to come!