Me and My Cave Clan

Beautiful Idaho
Beautiful Idaho

What do boaters do during the winter?

Part of my Winter Skills class at the University of Idaho was spending 3 days and 2 nights camping in snow caves near the Idaho/Montana Border. After a winter of drinking too much soda and eating artery-clogging college student food, I was looking forward to it…my body was craving the exercise and fresh air.

I met the other 10 or so students on campus early Friday morning. It was drizzling and cold in Moscow and my lack of sleep from packing the night before made me groggy and grouchy. After a quick power nap in the van we arrived at the trailhead near Mullan, Idaho and began our hike. We trudged through forests of fir and pine; the snow was melting and small streams trickled down the snowy, muddy trail. As we gained elevation, we crossed several streams with narrow snow bridges. We arrived at the camp around lunchtime and were greeted by lots and lots of snow.
Loading up at the trailhead
Loading up at the trailhead
The infamous Beiser
The infamous Beiser
Our instructor, the infamous Mike Beiser, located safe sites for us to start carving out our home for the weekend. Soon, snow started flying from the hillside as students dug into the cold, wet, frozen hill. It was fun and I felt like a mole as I burrowed several feet into the snow bank. The two other gals in my “cave clan” and I divided up the work. We took turns playing the role of architect (snow scraper), demolition specialist (snow hauler) and interior designer (kitchen & shelf carver).

 
By dusk, we were exhausted, wet and regretting not packing our nice tents with us. Our first night in the cave was a little uncomfortable: the “ground” wasn’t level, the cave ceiling dripped on our heads all night and the claustrophobia got to me a few times. Every time I tried to lift my head to look around I got a self administered white wash. Frankly, I was cold, wet, miserable and had to pee most of the night.

On Saturday I woke up disoriented and sore in every muscle of my body; in other words, I was not looking forward to getting up. The urge to pee finally forced me out of my sleeping bag and out of the “warm” confines of the cave. After consuming a chunky and cold bowl of oatmeal and downing an ice cold Redbull, I was ready for the day ahead.
 

We spent most of Saturday digging avalanche pits, searching for buried transceivers and holding snow shovel Olympic races on the slopes of Stevens Peak. The races consisted of sitting on the shovel blade and rocketing down the slope, mostly out of control! In the afternoon, my cave clan and I spent an hour or so making renovations to our home. We smoothed the ceiling out and made flatter sleeping platforms. Saturday evening we had more time to relax. When the nearly full moon crested over the ridge, we already had gourmet meals brewing for dinner. Wonderful smells surrounded the small valley where we camped and you could easily identify the location of the caves by the orange glows radiating from the hillside.

Down the Rabbit-Hole, Alice!
Down the Rabbit-Hole, Alice!
Pam's Home, Cold Home
Pam's Home, Cold Home

The next morning, I had a lot of time to lie there and appreciate the beauty of the cave, considering I didn’t sleep much the night before. As the sun came up I lay in my sleeping bag with only my cold nose sticking out. The blue glow of the sun radiating through the 5’ thick walls of the cave brought back memories of mountaineering and being inside a glacier. The turquoise and blue colors changed hues depending on the location of the sun. The silence in the cave was peaceful yet eerie. The outside wind and snow could howl and all you heard inside the cave was your own breath.

 

On Sunday morning, as soon as everyone was awake, we snow-shoed back to the vans. When I got home I took a long hot shower and napped for several hours. I was pleased that instead of waking up to a wet sleeping bag and a ceiling of snow, a fat orange cat purred over my face.

Pam Rogers
NRS Customer Service