It’s after dark and two sad Scouts are sitting in the snow wearing ice-covered socks and holding frozen boots in their hands. No amount of pulling and pushing was going to get those boots back onto their feet. The air temperature was below freezing and it was well past the time when everyone should have been in their shelters for the night. We were entering a danger zone and a decision was made. We would evacuate the two boys back to the vehicles and then to the cabin where we had spent the previous night.
The leaders briefly considering carrying the two bootless boys back to the cars. However, we decided to borrow boots from the Scouts that were already disappearing into their snow caves for the night. Most did not want to give up their boots, understanding that being shoeless in these weather conditions could be perilous – even dangerous. Eventually, we convinced one brave Scout to give up his snow boots after he was safely inside his sleeping bag. (There were other boots available, but none large enough for the feet that desperately needed them. Some boys grow faster than others!)
With only one pair of boots and two hapless Scouts, we were looking at two trips in order to get them both evacuated safely. We got the first boy booted up and ready to hike. The other one got into his sleeping bag in the unfinished Ice House to wait for our return. We were ready to leave, but not as quickly as we hoped. Others wanted to be evacuated as well. The flood gates were open.
After some discussion, and not a little bit of whining, three additional Scouts are added to the evacuation plan. One Scout had decided that wearing the required waterproof gloves made it too difficult to dig his cave. So he removed the protective gloves and dug wearing only cotton liners instead. They froze rock-solid in the cold weather and; consequently, his fingers were in bad shape. A second removed his fleece sweatshirt while digging and carelessly dropped it into the snow. The sweatshirt got wet and partially frozen, leaving the Scout with no warmth layer. The third teenager just looked miserable and we took pity on him, even though it was his second winter outing and he should have been better prepared.
We jockey around to get the desired two-deep adult leadership and left the campsite to find the vehicles. On a clear night, under the light of a mountain moon, it was easy for us to follow the trail made by our cadre of hikers wearing snow shoes earlier in the day. Our little rescue group of seven made good time and got everyone safely back to the cars in less than an hour. Leaders recovered the borrowed boots, grabbed some extra snow boots from the emergency gear in the cars, and started back to the snow camp to retrieve the last Scout waiting in his sleeping bag for our return. The thermometer in the car now read a dangerous 12 degrees. Frostbite was on our minds.
When we arrived back at camp, the now warm Scout was reluctant to get up, but we pulled him out of his sleeping bag and handed him the boots. However, there was a problem. While we were gone, he had gotten up and, wearing only his socks, walked out of the campsite through knee-high snow to go to the bathroom. The socks froze. So upon returning to his sleeping bag, the Scout took off the cold socks and dropped them next to his sleeping pad. (Are you kidding me?)
Rummaging through our backpacks and fighting our own hypothermia, we finally managed to find another pair of dry socks and got to work. Soon, his feet were in the borrowed socks and boots. We started the last snow crossing to join those waiting in warm cars for our return. When we finally arrived, it was three hours after the evacuation started.
The lucky group that stayed in camp had a much better time of it. The Quinzie was warm, comfortable and spacious enough for the seven people who slept inside. The rest of the Venture Crew spent the night in their snow caves, which provided good insulation against the cold weather. In contrast, the group who evacuated spent the rest of the night driving to our cabin, soaking body parts in warm water, and locating a doctor for the morning.
By Sunday the weather had improved. Campers crawling out of their snow shelters in the morning got to work making coffee, warming bacon and eating oatmeal. The group that evacuated returned to camp before lunch and found bright sunshine and warmer weather. Without missing a beat, we got back on schedule and spent the rest of the day sledding, snow shoeing, and exploring. At the Scout’s Own, the adults said a silent prayer that no one had been damaged more seriously.