Snow caving with noobs
Debate Rounds (3)
Musty air filled the Suburban as my fellow scouts and I continued on the long winding journey up the mountain road. It was a Friday morning and we were going snow caving. Looking out the window I could already tell that the current snow level was not ideal for the task at hand; however, I was somewhat comforted by my friend Lucas who assured me that the adults knew what they were doing. Still nervous, I found myself constantly looking out the window hoping that the snow would suddenly become deeper as the elevation grew.
Nearly ten minutes later we all stepped out of the SUV into a freezing white expanse of snow. Quickly grabbing our packs out of the trunk, we eagerly trudged across the blanketed parking lot, over the small barrier of snow that rimmed the perimeter, and on towards the edge of the mountain woods. This was the general area where Lucas and I would soon attempt to dig out a cavern to use as shelter against the abhorrent weather that so prominently pronounced its presence on the mountain.
Naive excitement filled our minds as we hastily searched for the best spot to start digging. We had been told to find a deep embankment of snow and to dig in at an angle. This would help to ease the task of shoveling the snow. It would also make it more manageable later on when we would have to hollow out the cavity from the inside. With this in mind we carefully picked out a prime spot to begin excavating. Eventually, we settled upon a swollen area of powder that rested on a small slope. We soon found that the digging was not as easy as we had originally made it out to be, partially because the small, collapsible shovels that we had brought were made of metal and therefore not built for shoveling snow or ice, and partially because they would continuously re-collapse whenever they came in contact with the compacted snow. As it turns out what we had at first mistaken for a large deposit of snow turned out to be a bulge in the hillside itself. This meant that about an hour later and close to three feet into digging we had hit ground.
Discouraged, but not willing to succumb to defeat, we gathered our things and moved on to find a new place were we would not hit ground so easily. The other scouts had already staked claims on all the best possible spots in the first area that we had come to.
Lucas and I had to eventually find a spot 50 to 60 yards away from the group in a place secretly hidden by a thick congregation of pine trees. Cautious of the misleading appearance of a large mound of snow, Lucas checked the depth by thrusting his machete in as far as he could. After he declared that it was safe to dig, we once more began the long task of hollowing out a tunnel in the snow. Hours passed as we channeled further and further into the mound, determined to make ourselves a shelter for the night. However, as the light was starting to diminish, we realized that a few stabs into the small mountain of snow had not accounted for the fallen tree that lay submerged beneath its bulk. The tree had keeled over in such a way that it had stopped all chances of forward progress. In other words there was no hope of being able to sleep in the half-finished cave we had constructed.
Dripping wet and half frozen, we once more gathered our things and returned to the rest of our troop. Emerging from the forest we could see that the others were all huddled up around a fire. The smell of smoldering socks assured me that some of the other scouts had gotten wet too, and as I got closer the sight of miserable faces assured me that no one was having much fun.
"Were you guys able to make a cave?" some of the scouts asked.
"Nope, we hit a tree that was lying under the snow," I replied. The disappointment in my voice told how upset I really was. I mean what idiot chooses to drag a bunch of kids up a mountain to go snow caving during a month where there is not much snow falling on the already barren slopes?
"Yeah there's not really enough snow to even build a snow trench let alone a snow cave," exclaimed one of the adult leaders.
I was shocked.
"Were any of you guys able to dig a snow cave?" I asked.
The shaking of heads was the only reply.
"You can have my snow cave," one of the adults told Lucas and me. "I'm going to sleep in my truck, and everyone else is sleeping in either the Suburban or the van, which are both full now."
"How big is it? Can it fit the two of us?" I asked.
"Yeah it's easily big enough to fit two of me side by side."
My spirits lifted as I admired the shear size of our leader's gut and thought to myself that maybe this camp out would not turn out as bad after all. Later that night as the leader showed us to his cave it became apparent that he was not in touch with reality. The snow cave that he had dug was barely the diameter of a man hole cover and extended about five yards into the snow barrier that we had to walk over in order to get to the original camp site. I was first to crawl in and lay out my mini tarp, sleeping pad, and sleeping bag. However, here arose the biggest problem yet because after I had finally wriggled my way to the back of the tunnel it was impossible for me to get into my sleeping bag with the limited amount of space. Having been forewarned about the lack of space, Lucas first got into his sleeping bag, and then crawled into the tunnel which worked better than my method. This was a mistake on my part because now Lucas completely plugged the entrance. Fearing that Lucas would not appreciate me asking him to crawl back out right after he had finally gotten comfortable, I never asked him to move, and instead decided that I would endure the night outside of my sleeping bag.
That night was without a doubt the worst night I have ever had in my entire life. It consisted of sub-freezing temperatures, constant water dripping onto my face, and worst of all not being able to fall asleep. This meant that I had no choice but to stare at the dark and dripping ceiling, inches from my nose, for hours on end. If I had really needed to make an exit, the tight space would not even have allowed me to shimmy out of the tunnel let alone get past Lucas who plugged it. Additionally, a weird warmth in my toes told me that they had been numb far longer than was safe. A cave-in was the only thing I had to look forward to, a cave-in that would crush my body under hundreds of pounds of snow and ice and end the miserable experience once and for all. Unfortunately for me the cave-in never happened, and I was constrained to a long and sleepless night of bitter cold. Nevertheless, morning eventually came and we were finally allowed to pile into the cars again and start the long drive back home.
In conclusion, this is why people who enjoy camping should never go snow-caving without a proper guide because it will lead to the worst night's sleep of their life and almost certainly result in the absence of extremities. I know this to be true because when I went, the adult leaders who took us on the camp out did not research beforehand if the snow was deep enough for snow-caving. This ensured that when we went we would not be able to make proper snow caves. Instead, we would be forced to sleep in makeshift snow coffins drilled into the snow barriers in the parking lot that offered no comfort what so ever. With this in mind, I hope that the whenever you choose to go snow-caving for the first time you make sure to bring an guide who knows what they're doing.
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