Four men, two dogs and a snow cave

a man's feet on skiis

Dan and I didn’t like the idea of going out in the fog.

Thursday, February 21, 1980—we cut and hauled two loads of wood for Blake, then worked on getting camping gear organized for this cross-country ski/camping trip.

Friday, February 22, 1980—it was -20°. We all gathered our gear at Nelchina Lodge, loaded up and left to go to Eureka Lodge. We unloaded our gear and left there about mid-morning on skis. The skis I had were borrowed and they didn’t work well on my boots. After a few miles, the guys could see I wasn’t going to be able to keep up that way, so Jim had a pair of emergency snowshoes. He gave them to me to use. I could do a lot better on snowshoes than I could on those skis.

We got out to Albert Dome and we used anything we could to move snow and dig a cave in the side of this dome up near the top. We had snowshoes and everything working at it. One of the things that I used was one of Sylvia’s favorite skillets—and I broke the handle off of it. It took quite some time and it was dark by the time we got the hole dug.

This hole was back in a big drift. We dug it so it was bigger than a 12’x16’ tarp that I had brought along to use as a ground tarp. Then we dug a little hole off of that, a little extra room for cooking. Dan, he suggested thinning the roof in one area in order to let in light through the snow, so the guys did that. Jim had a thermometer and kept track of the temperature in there. It would get warm enough from cooking that the warm air would go over to where they had made this shallowing in the roof of the snow cave and the water would drip down there.

Dan had brought his dog along and Mike had brought his. Mike’s dog was trained to pull a sled and she did really well. We had a place for the dogs to sleep up in the higher part of the snow cave. The snow cave dipped down and then went up so it preserved the heat inside. The heat didn’t leak out into the outside air. We blocked the cave entrance too, to discourage heat loss. It was really nice, the temperature hung around 30° in there. We all had a good time. We slept late and we ate well.

Saturday, February 23, 1980—the guys, I believe it was Mike and Jim were fixing breakfast. We ate a huge breakfast of bacon and eggs—big enough that it took a big skillet to fry it for one person. We had a stack of pancakes and every one of us wanted the fat from their bacon poured over the pancakes, we wanted every drop of it. (Fat, when you’re out in circumstances like this, is heat—it turns to heat when you eat it.) Anyway, we all had a big breakfast and then went out and decided to go exploring.

There was a lot of fog. It was kind of “iffy”. Dan and I didn’t like the idea of going out in the fog. We kept within sight of the snow cave; there isn’t much to identify it once you get too far away from it. We saw Jim and Mike take off on their skis, counting on the trail not drifting over before they came back. Then the fog lifted and Dan and I went too. We all went to Crooked Creek. I snowshoed and they skied. Along towards late afternoon while we were heading back, a white out came along—and a ground blizzard, but we found our way back to the snow cave.

Sunday, February 24, 1980—it was so nice in that cave, we just hated to leave. The weather had turned nice. We had told people at the highway that we would be coming out on the 24th. We started snowshoeing the eight miles back to Eureka.

Those guys were ahead of me and when we were oh, about a half to three quarters of a mile away, and I just happened to look over and here was a small group of ptarmigan in amongst some real small spruce trees. The guys were skiing faster because they were getting close to Eureka and didn’t look off to the side so they missed seeing them. Between them and the lodge, there was a person. It looked to be Patti Billman—and it sure was. She was walking out to meet us. She had big news:

There had been a gold strike on the Nelchina Glacier. We were all excited about that and when we got into the lodge, there was a guy in the lodge that Dan knew really well. (We all knew this fella too) He walked up to Dan and he said, “Boy, where have you been?” So Dan told him where we had been. “Well”, he said, “You should have been at the gold strike at Nelchina Glacier.” Dan slapped this guy on his belly and said, “You couldn’t go where we’ve been.” Anyway, Eureka was full of people. We left and went to Nelchina to the lodge there.

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