Dug in

Posted by Ken Campbell February 14, 2012 0 Comment 794 views

In retrospect, I learned a lot. I have a much better understanding now of what it takes to build a snow cave and, more importantly, what it’s like to spend the night in one. (It may not have been the worst sleep of my life, but it was close.) As I was building it, laying on my back at the bottom of a pit dug into the snowy hillside above Reflection Lakes, I couldn’t help but think that this was some hard work. I wouldn’t do it for money… if you offered me a hundred bucks to dig out a cave for you, I would decline. Emphatically. I feel pretty confident in saying that, if I ever build another one, it will be a survival situation. It will be because I have to do it.

Now, with all that said, I had a great time. We snowshoed in from the Narada Falls lot, Marc pulling a sled, Andy and me with backpacks. It’s a fairly easy hike, the first half-mile climbing through snow-clad forest, the rest of it on the Reflection Lakes road. It was a weekend and there were plenty of others around, although as the day went on, most of the others left. By 5pm, we had the entire basin to ourselves.

The skies were gray and thick and the snow fell off and on throughout the afternoon as we dug. Marc cut into the hillside to make our kitchen area and I began work on one cave while Andy started in on another. First, I dug down – farther than I needed to, as it turned out – then I gradually turned and began excavating under the heavy snowpack. for a while, until I had carved out enough room to actually get inside and dig, I had to lay on my back and carve upward, pulling blocks of snow out across my body, then ejecting them from the shaft.
The whole process took about four hours, with a few breaks thrown in. When I was done, I had a spacious room scribed out about 8 feet deep, with a sleeping bench about a foot higher than the top of the entrance, so that heat would be less likely to escape. It was big enough, but it could have been bigger. The spirit was willing to keep going until I’d constructed a suitably impressive underground lair, but I was tired. The flesh was weak.
Dinner was a mix of freeze-dried this and that, tasty and filling. Once I’d gone to bed, however, the flaws in my design began to make themselves more evident. First, not enough head room. I should have smoothed the ceiling out a little better to keep dripping water to a minimum. The sleeping platform wasn’t quite level. And so it goes. I didn’t have anything to use as a pillow, the bag got pretty wet, and I tossed and turned all night.
Enough whining. When I got up the next morning, just before dawn, I was struck again by the amazing beauty that surrounded me. It’s hard to be too upset in conditions like these. I watched as the sky grew light, took a hike around the lake when the day arrived, watched the ravens and the camp robbers as they flew around me. I saw a fox trotting by later, when I went for another hike with Marc (and later came to find out that he had been trotting right up to our kitchen and helping himself to the contents of my food bag.)
No matter. All-in-all it was a great way to spend a couple of winter days. The mountain never really came out, although it looked for a while like it was trying to. Pinnacle Peak was there though, along with a few other pointy summits of the Tatoosh Range. The snowfall of the previous day coated the trees and made the entire place seem even more majestic.
Time well spent.

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