Survival skills on a mountain

I rose up from my bed that morning, not realizing then just how unreachable and tantalizing my warm, comfortable room would soon become. Showering was a mundane routine, but the hot droplets would soon be a distant, dreamy memory lost in the steam. When I arrived at the meeting place, there were only three other people there. Ahh, yes, we are running on Boy Scout time. Half an hour later, we're ready to leave, and we head off in to the morning twilight for the distant peak of Mount Hood.

We are a lazy Scout Troop, not too endowed with the ideal Scouting abilities, but we make do with what skill we do have. That weekend we were going to Mount Hood to face the elements and spend a night in snow caves of our own making. It's reputed to be cold and wet, but veterans of the trip said it's a lot of fun.

The cars pulled into a packed lot of SUVs and station wagons. The excited merrymakers were headed off to be moved down a hill with no effort on their part. Our task was to move the hill.

Our behemoth was over 100 feet tall and very steep. It was perfect, as the leaders assured us, seemingly made by the Scouts' non-denominational god solely for the purpose of snow caving. Snow caving requires steep precipices, because the steeper the slope, the more snow gathers at the bottom to dig into, and the snow caves will then be stronger and could be larger. At least, that's the theory.

We set up camp, with our Coleman stoves for hot chocolate and Cup'o Noodles. The shovels and digging tools were handed out, and we split up to build our shelter for the night. My building partner, Dave (name changed), was quite large and that nominated me to do most of the digging, as he couldn't fit in the small hole we scratched out in the beginning stages. And, that necessitated our cave being quite large.

As the sun descended into the forest, we became frantic in all our movements, hurrying to finish our shelter before night, and a blanketing cold, settled upon our heads. The technique we had to use was one proposed by our Scoutmaster. It was not particularly enjoyable, as at one point, we had to block one person in, and they had to dig themselves out. This was so our entrance would be pointing downward, and thereby trap all the heat inside. It was easier to begin digging at an upward angle, so once we finished, we would block the entrance we had made and dig out a new entrance from inside.

You never realize just how claustrophobic you are until you climb into a cave with no door that will just barely fit two people and their gear. As I crawled inside, I had a feeling of dread, but I foolishly ignored it. When the last bit of snow was packed in, and I was completely trapped and alone, my breath quickened. It's not in human nature to be enclosed in a small space for any period of time. I frantically began digging. There was no way I would spend any more time in that hole than I had to. I burst out of my personal hell triumphantly, rejoicing in the fresh air. Everyone just glanced over, and then ignored me. They didn't care that I had conquered my primal instincts and survived. At least, my partner Dave was appreciative of my skills, as our lazily built snow cave was now finished. It was time to sleep.

The coolest thing about snow caving is having a bunch of flickering candles in your bedroom, eerily lighting the walls. One by one, I blew them out. I was exhausted after almost single-handedly building this home. The darkness settled down like a dying elephant. It was almost a physical blow. But I had no more candles or matches. That was Dave's job. Oh well, I thought, laying down. I can deal with it. Sleep came quickly.

I groggily awoke to something weighing me down. Apparently, the roof of our cave had unexpectedly fallen down on our heads. It was about five in the morning, much to early to be digging yourself out of a pile of snow. Luckily, many of my fellow scouts noticed my yells of panic, and assisted in rescuing Dave and me. That is probably the worst way to wake up in the morning. You can barely move and are cold and wet.

After that excitement, no one went back to sleep, as we would have to leave soon anyway. So we sat around, wondering if any of our dream trips would ever come true. Or at least that our boring trips wouldn't run off the road and lay in a smoking pile of scrap metal. At least we learn how to tie up anything at anytime. Well, we're supposed to learn that.