Salida’s Scout Troop 60 braved subzero temperatures at 10,700 feet of altitude during the troop’s annual year-end snow caving campout.
Fifteen scouts and nine adults camped in nine snow shelters constructed near the Continental Divide off Old Monarch Pass road.
“This was my third year in a row. It’s my favorite campout of the year,” senior patrol leader Ben Johnson said. “We had deep snow so we carved out big, comfortable caves this year.”
The campout occurred during a year-end drastic drop in temperatures. Nighttime temperatures fell below minus 15 degrees while daytime temperatures hovered in the teens. Despite these extreme conditions, all scouts and parents fared well, kept relatively warm and enjoyed the camaraderie of camping in extreme conditions.
“The shelter keeps the wind out and it is warm inside compared to the outside temperatures,” sixth-grader Finn Blackburn said.
Most of the shelters held an ambient air temperature of 35 degrees or higher, compared with consistently subzero temperatures outside. “Our water bottles inside the cave did not freeze, while outside they freeze in about two hours,” Johnson said.
Blackburn’s cavemate was sixth-grader Luke Regan, also a first-year scout. “It was cool to see how we all worked to clear out a huge area about 4 feet deep to build our warming fires,” Regan said. “It took us about four hours to dig our cave. It was a lot of work but so fun to sleep in a cave that we made ourselves.”
The snow shelters were a combination of true snow caves – carving a shelter from an existing, natural drift – and “quinzees,” which involve hollowing out a shelter from a manmade pile of snow.
To prepare, the scouts came up the day prior and piled snow on top of already deep drifts. This ensured that they could build shelters big enough for three or four people. Most shelters held three people.
This was the third year in a row that the troop closed out the scouting year with a snow shelter overnighter. The campout included three adult Eagle Scout mentors with either a brother or a son in the troop. This year was the coldest yet, but the skill level and self-management of the scouts gets better every year.
“This camping tests your ability to manage yourself and your gear. It’s fun but you have to pay attention to what you’re doing. Everyone did great in really cold conditions,” Johnson said.
Salida Scouting is a year-round activity. Boy Scouts are 11-17 years old and meet at 7 p.m. Mondays at the Salida Rotary Scout Hut in Riverside Park. New scouts are welcome anytime, and no experience is necessary.
Salida also has a Cub Scout pack for younger ages. For more information, contact Cubmaster Buel Mattix, 719-221-0492 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brian Petit is scoutmaster of Salida Scout Troop 60.