Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Denver gets all sorts of bright ideas, some of which he follows up on, others that he does not. On New Year's Eve we were in Ninilchik at my aunt and uncle's ranch when Denver decided to build a snow shelter. He was out there piling up the snow and digging out a tunnel within minutes, focused on his new project. Next thing I know he's saying, "I want to sleep in it!" It was 0 degrees out when he said that, with the lows predicted to be -6 for New Year's night. No one there thought he would really do it, including me. Or if he did it, he certainly wasn't going to make it the whole night. In fact, a couple of his cousins said, "We want the second shift when you come in." Denver told them, "If you think I'm going to come in then you don't really know me!" I thought to myself, "I must not know him either!!"
Denver started preparations in earnest, asking me and my cousins for advice on staying warm. I recommended 3 sleeping bags. Denver built a giant plastic bag to put them all in so he (and his sleeping bags!) wouldn't get wet (he was thinking about how wet he got camping in December). He rounded up two foam backpacking-type sleeping pads, and wrapped his pillow in a trash bag also (which I convinced him to take off before he went to sleep, in the name of comfort). He decided to wear long underwear and sweatpants and a sweatshirt, his balaclava and foam facemask. An old sleeping bag would be fitted over the entrance to his snow shelter to keep out the cold.
Come midnight and the end of the fireworks display my cousin Todd put on, Denver prepared to sleep. I went out with him to get him settled in. He stowed his sleeping bags in the tunnel (1 bag inside another, the other on top and plastic trash bags around them all), ditched his boots and jacket and crawled in. He took off his headlamp, I secured the door with a little breathing hole and we said goodnight. It was 12:30 a.m.
At 1 a.m. Douglas checked on Denver, who was still awake and comfortable. At 2:30 a.m. I checked on him, feeling his face (warm) and checking for breath (breathing). At 5 a.m. I checked again: still good. At 8:45 a.m. Douglas checked on him. Denver was awake, warm and just hanging out in his shelter. At 10 a.m. Denver finally came in, thoughtful about his experience and obviously still digesting what he'd done.
My biggest concerns were that 1-he would get frostbit and not wake up to know it, 2-that he would suffocate if there wasn't enough air, or 3-that his facemask would get covered with frost and he would suffocate. It was hard to believe that he could actually be warm in -10 degree weather (Yep! I got to ten below zero that night!). He said he was actually on the too warm side, but he wouldn't have wanted fewer sleeping bags. He slept the entire night and in the morning he had to take off his facemask because he was too warm.
Denver reported he would make a few modifications next time: He would build a deeper tunnel. As it was, if the blanket over the entrance hadn't been there, his head would have been half in and half out of the shelter. He would want his entire head to be inside. He would also build an airhole in the top for additional airflow in case the blanket was put on too tightly. Finally, he would take a thermometer inside the shelter with him to see how warm it got in there. Supposedly it would be at least 32 degrees inside a snowcave as the snow provides excellent insulation. The Boy Scouts have a campout planned for next weekend so he will have an opportunity to try out the modifications. And I told Denver if he ever builds a snow shelter in our yard that I'll sleep in it with him. I want to try this too!!