Snow Camping Adventure (Part 1)
Our group assembles in a dark parking lot at 5:00 am. Everyone is sleepy, but the excitement is palpable. For most of the Scouts, this will be their first snow camping trip. They have been hearing about winter camping for years, and now it is their turn to participate. It will be difficult, but they hope it will also be fun.
Scouts shift backpacks, snowshoes, food, and emergency clothing from vehicle to vehicle. It takes a lot of gear to go snow camping and the cars are very crowded. Every available space, including the tops of the SUVs, are covered with equipment. Eventually, the boys climb inside, nestle themselves comfortably among the packs and sleeping bags, and promptly fall asleep. The drive to Bear Valley takes about three hours and there is no talking along the way, only the voices from an early morning talk show on the radio. The sky lightens as wipers move back and forth to clear rain and eventually snow from the windshield. The weather is not good.
The SnoPark area is empty when we arrive, so the vehicles can be unloaded right next to the trailhead. Scouts pull on their extra layers of clothing and start a pack line in the snow. We dig in our packs for gloves and hats. Candy bars are distributed to increase our energy level. Boys struggle with their snowshoes because attaching the straps is difficult and requires strength. It takes about an hour to get everything organized.
“How far are we going to hike?” the youngest Scout asks nervously. He knows that hiking on snowshoes with a heavy pack is not going to be easy. “We hike until the weakest man drops and then we start building our snow caves,” is my answer. He looks at me warily, but does not respond. Everyone considers the implications and wonders if they might be the weakest man in the line. The sky is now grey and snow is falling steadily. Temperature is in the low 30’s.
Everyone is cold because we have stripped off our warmth layer before hoisting our backpacks into place. The mood is serious and determined. Snowshoes are strapped tight to our feet. The leader gives the signal to start moving. We set off through the snow.
The oldest and strongest Scout is in front, breaking his way through the knee-high white powder. Six Scouts and four adults fall into line behind him, taking care to place their snowshoes into the path that is being created in front of them. The last man is called the sweep. He has the easiest time of it because the snow is packed down by the men in front. However, the sweep has to bend over and retrieve things that have fallen into the snow. Most often it is a sandwich or bag of cookies that have dropped from a ripped lunch bag that was stuffed under a strap on the outside of a backpack by shivering fingers.
Our leader stops every 50 yards to rest and look for the trail. There are blue diamonds on some of the trees to mark our way, but it’s easy to miss them because the branches are covered in snow. Mostly the Scouts follow the path of least resistance, which means that we are not making good time. Our trail snakes and weaves around the trees and rocks. A Scout accidently places one snowshoe on top of the other and topples sideways into the deep snow. The heavy pack and awkward balance makes it difficult for the fallen adventurer to get back onto his feet without help. Eventually he struggles back into an upright position. Everyone is getting tired.
After about a mile, the group stops moving. An argument has broken out. “Are we going in the right direction?” a Scout demands to know. The leaders try to reassure him, but exhaustion has taken its toll on their spirit. A few are starting to shiver. Slowly, everyone realizes that standing in the snow to debate our next step is a waste of time and energy. No one is happy, but everyone begins moving again. We are getting close.
From the back, we watch an adult leader pitch forward into the snow, the weight of his pack pinning him down. His muffled cursing is barely audible above the wind. The man rolls over and we see from the look on his face and the snow in his hair that he won’t be going any further. The weakest man has dropped. We have arrived at our campsite.