Rotten Snow and Rum

The fire was burning down. Luckily we still had a pint of rum left and nothing else to do but throw more wood into the hole. You see, the fire was literally burning down—into a reflective snowy cavern that grew deeper with each log we tossed to the hungry flames. So we sat around the fire—now about four feet distant—talked, and passed the bottle. I was soaking wet, freezing, and my empty stomach felt as though it were resting unhappily against my spine. This trip wasn’t turning out the way I’d envisioned.

Only a few hours prior, we (Kevin, Bobby, Chris, and I) were thinking rather highly of ourselves. We were adventurers, heading out for some spring skiing and to try our hand at snow camping. Never mind we hadn’t the slightest clue how to plan, what to bring, or where to go. We were men of action. We’d sort it out as we went.

After a hasty night of “planning” (drinking beer and chatting), we rose with the dawn and ground up the icy ruts of Hyalite in four-wheel drive. The sun broke over the eastern ridge, and the effect was like a sea of prisms washing over the mountains. Recrystalized snow and feathery surface hoar glittered in the light and we shouldered our loads with high spirits. It was going to be great. None of us had ski-touring gear, so we strapped our skis to already overstuffed packs and groaned merrily. And since we didn’t know what to bring, we brought EVERYTHING, just in case. I packed 7,000 cubic inches full, including my trusty brown Sunbeam tent. Circa 1980, the Sunbeam was a two-man, three-season number designed for Cub Scout outings and car camping. I figured four grown men and all of their gear would be quite comfortable in it. In the snow.

The other guys were equally proficient expedition packers. Bobby showed up wearing a Jordan jersey as a baselayer. Kevin was wearing a pack so top-heavy he was hunched into a Quasimodo stance, and Chris was sporting Oakley jibber pants endorsed by M. C. Hammer. We set out wearing our alpine ski boots, riding high on a frozen crust. The loads were heavy, but our progress was good and we joked around like we were old pros. For the first mile.

By the time we rested at Blackmore Lake, hotspots were clearly identified in boots, chafing had begun on unmentionables, and packs were beginning to sway. But we focused on when we would set up camp, get a fire going, and harvest some prime corn snow. So we shouldered our loads again, groaning only a little less merrily, and set out up the long traverse to the base of Mt. Blackmore.

About this time, the sun began to warm the snow. The beautiful, glittering crystals of the morning melted and morphed into boot-sucking demons from snow hell, and soon we were postholing over our knees. A few times, I sank to my waist. Once, I sank damn near to my chest, and I swear I heard a guy with a Mandarin accent tell me he could give me a better price on my ski boots.

We struggled up the trail, and, mercifully didn’t see a soul all day. With our slow progress, pain etched so clearly across our sweat-streaked faces, if anyone had seen us, they probably would have called S&R.

“Search and Rescue, what is your emergency?”

“Umm, I just saw four guys on the trail. They think they’re doing OK, but they really might die. You may want to check on them, then flog them for being unprepared.”

“Flog them, you say?”

“Yes, flog them.”

But the trip was a flogging in itself. We trudged, cursed, clawed, and fell our way to the upper Blackmore basin. Dropping our packs near a stand of pine, we declared it “good enough.”

We pitched the tent and realized we forgot a tarp to place underneath. Fortunately, none of us had waterproof sleeping bags, so we would all be equally wet and cold. We laboriously cut down a dead snag to burn and dragged it to our site, but it took us two hours to get a fire going. It turns out all of us were better outdoorsmen inside.

Naturally, we were looking forward to a hearty dinner. Kevin was the first to ask, “So, where’s the food?” He turned to me, I turned to Bobby, Bobby turned to Chris, and Chris turned to Kevin. It was silent for a moment. A bird chirped. “I thought you had the food,” said Kevin, “I thought YOU had the food,” I replied, and so began a chorus that was a little reminiscent of “Who’s On First?”

After a meticulous inventory, we found that between the four of us, we had three packets of Ramen and a couple pieces of cold pizza. Oh, and a half gallon of bottom-shelf rum and a liter of Coke. No food, but we did carry seven pounds of cocktails up the mountain. Nice.

One aspect of the trip that was not a complete failure was the sunset. As it sank over the mountain and plunged us into cold darkness, the glow outlined the peak with hues of orange and red usually reserved for nuclear apocalypse. We sat in our snowbank La-Z-Boys with our Nalgene cocktails and watched the color fade until only our crackling fire remained. And during it all we were serenaded by soft wind noises and violent gurgling from our stomachs.

We were hungry. The Ramen only served to remind us how truly empty our stomachs were, and the few shared bites of cold pizza were little more than a cruel tease. So we mixed drinks and burned a lot of wood and video recorded our folly so that we might never forget.

We were tossing back drinks like Dean Martin. It could only end one way. To make a long story short, He Who Shall Remain Unnamed puked in the tent. It froze quickly, but the nauseating smell permeated everything. I lay there between Chris and Bobby, crammed into the two-man tent like a package of Easter Peeps, and wondered where we went wrong.

I slept for a while, then woke to howling wind and unusual claustrophobia. The tent was doubled over, and the wall was inches from my face. Then I realized my entire body was wet and I couldn’t stop shivering. I turned over and shamelessly spooned with Chris, who, apparently warmer than I, squirmed as far away as he could. Which in the Sunbeam was about three inches. I was still hungry.

The next morning was miserable. We didn’t get any corn snow turns. Not one. We scratched our way down the Blackmore trail-turned-luge-run, and sped home to hot showers and a three-hour meal.