Walking away from the cars, we zipped our jackets and checked the thermometer one last time. It was 18 degrees Fahrenheit but a cold front moving into the area promised to drive the mercury even lower. The snow ahead of us was hip-deep after a two-day blizzard. Even with snow shoes, our heavy packs meant it was going to be almost impossible for anyone to move quickly. Our very large group of inexperienced Scout snow campers might be in for a tough outing.
The Scout in front tried valiantly to make headway in the deep powder, but he was exhausted after only 15 minutes of struggling. When the leader could no longer move forward, he stepped aside for the next man in line to take over. Like geese flying in V formation, the older boys each took turns leading the group and making a path through the bottomless snow. We were lost amid the branches of trees as we tried to make headway on top of the 15 feet of accumulated snow pack between us and the dirt below. Finally, the leaders gave the order to stop. The weakest man had dropped. It was getting late and everyone had to start digging their shelters to survive the night in the bitter cold that surround us.
The campsite was less than optimum, but the group immediately began working on a Quinzee, Ice House and several snow caves. Their lack of experience showed in the quality of the workmanship, but failure for the crew was not an option. Everyone kept digging through the afternoon and as twilight descended, the shelters were almost ready.
Six older Scouts working on the Ice House had made a good start. Walls made of snow were in place and the cold sink and sleeping surfaces were ready for sleeping bags and cold shields. The only thing left was to spread tarps on top of the structure and anchor them with dead-men stakes. Success just required some teamwork, a few ropes, and plan of action. Unfortunately, the tired and untested teenagers could muster none of these things. The roof was never finished.
One of the boys wandered over to the kitchen area and lit a Duraflame log in a turkey pan. Like moths, the tired and leaderless Scouts were attracted to its feeble flames. Work on the Ice House stopped completely as the crew stood and waved their hands above the turkey pan to capture whatever warmth was available from the sputtering log. Scouts digging snow caves on the other side of the campsite soon joined the crowd while the hardworking adults continued digging inside their large and magnificent Quinzee shelter. The outing was starting to spin out of control.
Sitting by the Duraflame log, two brothers decided to dry their socks, first removing their wet boots and placing them in the snow behind them. The boys stretched their stocking feet hopefully towards the flames; but, there really wasn’t much heat and their damp socks quickly began to freeze. The other Scouts stared dully into the fire – clenching and unclenching their hands. Most were shivering, the first sign of dangerous hypothermia. Everyone was thinking about their own troubles.
All of a sudden, a Life Scout stands up and clumsily backs into the fire, flipping the turkey pan and dumping its contents into the snow, dousing the flames. A collective groan escaped our lips. Obviously, the time had come to get everyone into dry sleeping bags for the night. The illuminated dial of my watch read 7:45 pm. Temperature was 15 degrees.
The Ice House roof still wasn’t finished and the intended inhabitants were not enthusiastic about spending the night inside their creation. Adults began discussing ways to cover the structure with tarps, but they soon had bigger problems to worry about. The two pairs of soaked boots sitting in the snow had frozen solid and the brothers, despite their heroic pulling and pushing, could not get them back onto the feet from which they came.
The boot’s owners sat on their insulated pads, looking forlorn, trying to keep their socking feet off the ground. They complained that they could no longer feel their toes. We discussed our options. The Ice House which was being built by them and for them was not finished. Even if it had been, the tarp roof would provide little insulation against the cold night. It was time to start considering an evacuation.
To be continued.
Your turn! “Like” 50miler Outing Resource Center on Facebook. Tell your “Friends”