Copyright 2004 - Bruce Gaughran
Our friend, David, was tired of being a Tenderfoot in Boy Scout Troop 124 and didn't want to wait until spring to meet the camping requirement to earn his Second Class rank. When he approached Barry and I and asked if we would take him camping this weekend, we said, "What the heck, let's do it" because it sounded like fun.
Mom tried to talk me out of it Wednesday night, but I told her I had promised David we would do it. She tried to talk my dad into telling me not to go, but he didn't want to get involved.
Friday afternoon Dad drove the three of us twenty miles north of town and dropped us off at the tree line of a large forest. As we slung the backpacks over our shoulders, dad said he would be back Sunday around to pick us up.
It was a balmy ten below zero as we walked through two-foot deep snow into the woods. Hiking was difficult and tiring, but otherwise nothing more than you would expect for this time of year. We found a ridgeline where the south side was protected by the wind and hiked deep into the woods looking for our perfect campsite. We eventually settled on a spot protected by a ridge on two sides - the north and west - and with a deep snowdrift formed against the backside of the ridge.
Barry and I were seasoned campers with more than a hundred nights spent in the wilderness. However, this was David's time to prove himself, so we stood back and let him lead us through the process of setting up a winter camp. He did well until it came to picking the location to set up a tent. He wanted to use the clearing between to two ridges. We vetoed his recommendation and explained why.
"Winter camping is different," I explained, "we need a place that is protected from the wind, but even more important is the need for insulation."
Barry then asked, "David, where is the best place to be protected and the warmest?"
David looked around the campsite and walked over to the snowdrift and said, "I would dig out the snow and put the tent right here."
I smiled, because he was learning, but added, "Yes and no. Yes, it will provide fairly good protection from the wind with only one side of tent facing out, but there is even a better solution. What would an Eskimo do, David?"
"He’d build an igloo."
"Right, but what if he didn't have the time to cut dozens of blocks of ice," Barry asked.
David looked puzzled and eventually responded, "I don't know."
"Okay, what would a polar bear do," I probed.
"He would look for a cave or dig into ...,” David's face lit up, "okay, I've got it. We should dig into this snowdrift - right?"
Barry and I both smiled and nodded. "Yup,” I said, “you've got it. Now where should we build the fire?"
"Near the entrance - right?"
"You’re catching on quick," Barry responded. "But, we better get busy, it will be dark soon and it's getting pretty cold. I’ll collect some firewood while you two dig our new home, okay?"
We all became very busy setting up camp. Barry started a fire and within fifteen minutes it was putting off some good heat. David and I dug a small entranceway into the drift and then started to hollow out the inside.
When we were done, our new home was a hole in the snowdrift five foot high and about ten foot in diameter. To help retain our body heat, the entranceway was only about three feet high and wide.
While David prepared our evening meal of beef stew, Barry and I went exploring for some additional insulation. We located a pine grove about five minutes out and crawled under the boughs. We laid out a tarp and filled it with pine straw. Ten minutes later, we were back in camp and covering the floor with straw. After laying the tarp out across the straw, we were ready to eat.
We huddled around the fire trying to stay warm as we ate an excellent meal of ‘tinfoil stew’ and sipped hot coffee. By that evening, we were out collecting more firewood so that we could build a rip-roaring fire before retiring to our cozy little den. Satisfied that we would still have good coals in the morning, the three of us crawled into our new home, laid out the sleeping bags next to each other, and blocked the entrance with our backpacks.
By , we were all snug in our sleeping bags wishing each other a goodnight's sleep. Even though we were warming up, we could here the winds outside were picking up and knew the temperature was dropping.
Back home, my mom and dad were watching the Ten O'clock News when the weatherman mentioned that the temperature was going to drop to 35 below zero with 30 mph winds. He predicted that the wind-chill could reach 70 below zero.
Mom, as all mother's do, began to worry even more with this news. By , she was nagging dad to go find the three of us and bring us home. Dad still wasn't worried because he knew we were experienced campers, but when David's mother called worried to death about her son, dad agreed to go find us. While mom brewed up a large thermos of hot chocolate to help warm us up, dad was busy putting on long-underwear, thermal gloves, boots and a stocking cap.
Sometime around , a strange noise woke me up. When I stuck my head out of the sleeping bag to listen, I realized how cold it was. All I could hear was the wind blowing. I flicked on the flashlight, looked at my watch, and checked on my two friends. They were both sleeping hard.
Shivering, I began to tuck myself back inside when I heard something strange. "BRUUUCCCE!"
No, it couldn't be. I must be hearing the wind blowing through the trees or something.
Then it happened again, only this time slightly louder. "BRUUUCCE, where are you?"
This time I knew it wasn't the wind. As much as I hated to do it, I crawled out of my warm cocoon. As I slipped on my frozen shirt, I began to shiver. By the time I had my pants on I was shaking so bad I couldn't zip my pants up. I slipped on my coat and gloves before reaching for my boots. The whole time I was dressing, the voice in the night kept calling my name louder and louder.
As I tried to slip into my boots, the leather wouldn't give. They were frozen stiff and no matter what I tried to do, my foot just wouldn't fit inside. My grunting and groaning must of have woke up David and Barry because they both started stirring on each side of me.
"Where are you going," Barry asked after he snapped on his flashlight.
I just shook my head for a moment and continued to jamb my foot into the boot. "I know this is going to sound crazy, Barry, but there is someone out there calling my name."
Barry turned off his flashlight and began to cover up again. "Okay, wake me if they brought breakfast."
"Did you hear that," I asked.
David snapped his head out of the sleeping bad and said, "I heard it. What time is it anyway?"
"About 1:15. Look, if I can ever get these boots on, I'm going out there and see who is walking around these woods at night calling my name."
David began to crawl out of his bag and commented, "I'm going with you."
Barry groaned and began to stir. "Okay, okay, I'm going to. But, if this is some kind of a joke, someone is going to pay."
"Finally," I exclaimed as my left foot slid into my boot. I grabbed my right boot and went to work on that one.
The voice sounded very close now and there was no mistaking that it was my dad out there. I threw the backpacks blocking the front entrance to the side and crawled outside.
Carrying my boot in my hand, I hopped over to the campfire, plopped down on the ground, and held the boot over the fire in an attempt to warm it.
"Dad,” I yelled, "we are over here. Follow the ridgeline to the south."
A few minutes later, I had my boot on and David and Barry were hopping around the fire clapping their gloved hands together trying to warm up. I crawled back inside the den and grabbed my flashlight. When I reappeared, I said,” Let’s go find him."
With the clear sky and full moon, you didn't need a flashlight to walk through the woods. Five minutes later we saw a flashlight beam ahead of us and we yelled letting dad know we could see him.
Even though I knew it was dad, I still couldn't believe he was out searching for us at in the morning. "What are you doing out here, dad?"
I noticed my dad was having a hard time getting his breath, his face was beet red, and his eyes were tearing from the wind and the cold. He sheepishly held up a large thermos and said, "Mom was worried about you guys. She wanted me to bring you some hot chocolate,"
"At in the morning," I asked incredulously.
Dad shrugged his shoulders and grinned. "She heard on the news that it was 35 below with a wind-chill factor of minus 70. She asked me to drive out and bring you home."
I shook my head in disbelief. "Dad, you're sixty years old. You could have froze to death looking for us tonight. How did you find us, anyway?"
"I followed your tracks from where I dropped you off. I just didn’t' know how far in you had hiked. After about fifteen minutes, I began to wonder what I had got myself into. I was thankful to hear your voice."
"Dad, let's go back to the camp and we'll get you warmed up before you head back."
"Do you have any coffee?"
"We'll put some on while we drink some of mom's cocoa,” I replied.
We spent the rest of the night telling stories around the campfire. At first light, we fixed my dad breakfast, walked him back to the car, and told him to thank mom for the hot chocolate.
On the way back to the camp, David yawned and then asked, "Does this happen on most camping trips?"
"Only when it’s 70 below zero," I replied.