Snow Cave Camping on Scaur Ridge
So I have never done any backpacking before. Up to this point I had only done car camping. Last spring when I started volunteering for Habitat for Humanity I was paired up with another long time volunteer named Rob. We started talking and he found out I hiked year round. He told me about his winter camping adventures and how I should join him and his friend, Bruce, come winter. Over the course of the summer Rob convinced our Habitat Project Manager, Lindsey, and me to take on the challenge of a backpacking trip into the White Mountains. Nothing like diving head first into backpacking.
As with many of my hikes this one started in Waterville Valley. Last year the men had camped out on Scaur Ridge right next to the Tripyramids and felt that would be a great place to set up camp again. While I have done the Tripyramids already in the summer I was holding out hope of being able to get on the North Slide of North Tri in the winter. Another reason Lindsey and I readily agreed on this spot was that my parents were going to be at the condo in Waterville and if we needed to bail out we had a place to stay. We started our trek up Livermore Rd. a little before 9am. If you haven’t ever been here the trail is a former logging road. In fact the bridges still have signs on them for truck weight limits. It is wide, gradual uphill, and becomes a cross country skiing super highway. We beat the groomers and xc rush hour so it was a pleasant hike. Well, except for the 40lb packing I was carrying. My father escorted us to the Scaur Ridge Trail where he wished us luck and sent us on our way. The Scaur Ridge Trail gave us excellent views of the North Slide. I don’t know if I can really describe the sheer joy of finally getting to Scaur Ridge and finding our campsite. My shoulders thank me immensely for removing my bag.
This joy was short lived though. It was time to gather firewood, dig a fire pit, and build two quinzees. I was assigned Paul Bunyan tasks first. While I was Sven Sawing dead trees my three companions were piling up snow for the qunizees. Once we had our two piles it was time to dig the fire pit and get a fire going so we could have some hot beverages. My hot chocolate really hit the spot. That was a good thing because we still needed to go and dig out our quinzees. Due to the fact that Lindsey and I have never built a quinzee before we were split up. Lindsey and Bruce worked on the girl’s quinzee and Rob and I did the guys. Rob started the initial digging but quickly let me go in. At almost 5’10 I was the shorter of the two. I felt like a little kid building the ultimate snow fort. I had always wanted to build an igloo when I was younger and now I was getting a snow cave to sleep in. I would carve chunks of snow out, push them down to my feet, and then kick them out to Rob who would shovel it away. When it came time for the finer details I had to switch and let Rob in. It was probably a good thing because I don’t know if I could have leveled out the floor. I would hate for one of the guys to slide out of the tunnel entrance in the middle of the night. (For a cool tour of a Quinzee shelter, check out Gary Gargan’s video) With our homes made it was time to settle into our fire pit for some camp food and lots more hot chocolate. Our fire pit featured a snow bench around the whole fire (except for the ramp leading in and out). The guys had fastened some wire to a tree branch that then hung over the fire. Here was our pot was for melting snow. Having a hot fire and hot food was just what we needed as temperatures dropped to 0 degrees. Lindsey and I started to get cranky after our long day so we headed off to our quinzee around 7:30pm.
Note to self, change your socks and sock liners before bed and wear more clothes. Ok, I slept pretty terrible my first night. I was cold, my shoulders hurt too much to lie on either side, and I really needed to eat more food before bed. I woke up tired but with a positive attitude about the day. We had some oatmeal to get us going followed up by delicious cheese and bacon sandwiches cooked by Bruce. (For the record I was the one carrying the frying pan in my pack but man was that weight well worth it.) This really perked up Lindsey and my spirits. We all agreed a hike up the Pine Bend Trail to North Tripyramid would be our adventure for the day. The trail can get rather steep and a bit icy. Lindsey and I had our MSR Lightening Ascent snowshoes on which were making the guys jealous. Not only did we have better traction then them, but we also had televators. When we got to the summit I wanted to go see the North Slide so we started heading down to it. It didn’t take long before I was sent on to see it and take pictures on my own. The trail was not packed out and again steep. When I returned the guys decided to head back to camp and let Lindsey and I go to Middle Tripyramid on our own. Middle Tri offered a beautiful view into Waterville. It was a nice little spot to sit and have some snacks before heading back. The trip down Pine Bend was a ton of fun. Lindsey got to do her first glissading and loved it. It is so much easier and quicker to go down a mountain that way. When we got back to camp Lindsey and I decided to take pictures of the teddy bear I brought doing different things. I guess this is the 2nd grade teacher in me. He chased me up a tree, pretended to cut down a tree, took a nap, and jumped over our fire pit among other things. All that playing around got me hungry. Tonight we feasted on a four course meal. It started with Cheetos followed up by tomato soup. Next were two different types of mashed potatoes with corn. Our final course of the evening was s’mores. I loved this meal. To me, it was perfect. Following dinner I broke out my Nite Ize Flashlight Frisbee for some headlamp Frisbee. Afterward we helped clean up and retired to the quinzee. Sleep came much easier tonight.
Waking up with light seeping in through our tunnel was almost surreal. Did I really just spend the night in a snow cave at 3000 feet? We wanted to savor our quinzee experience so Lindsey and I stayed tucked into our sleeping bags just chatting for a while. Eventually we had to accept the day and get going. After breakfast we packed up our bags and decided to test the strength of our qunizees. Lindsey went on top of the one she built and I went on the one I built. We also decided to jump up and down and it still withstood our efforts. Finally, we cut holes in to see just how thick our walls were. Turns out Lindsey could have made our quinzee a foot bigger. The four of us took a quick walk up to Scaur Peak before donning our packs for the trek home. Dad met us at the end of Scaur Ridge Trail to escort us back down Livermore Rd. and get pictures of our victorious return.
Note: 4 days after returning from our trip we got word that Rob’s wife was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. Please keep Rob, his wife Bobbie, and the rest of their family in your thoughts and prayers.