Posts Tagged ‘winter’

I still remember just how she looked, the moment she entered the room. Fat snowflakes dusted her mahogany hair, matching her pale skin and marking a stark contrast with her black eyes. She didn’t see me at first, so I could afford the study of her rosy cheeks and laughing mouth. Her dark red coat had several splotched of packed snow, revealing an intense snow-ball fight which must have occurred right outside the door of the house.

Then she looked at me. It was as if I was shot through with electricity. Even my fingers went numb with the intensity. She looked as surprised as I felt. Neither of us seemed to be able to move for a moment. Her blond friend looked back and forth between us several times before shoving Tanya toward me.

She was like no one I had ever met before. We spent that whole night talking, laughing, drinking cocoa, and yes, a couple of snow-ball fights were thrown into the mix. I still remember the way her eyes lit up when she smiled, or talked about something she cared deeply for. I can still feel the way her fingertips pressed into my forearm as she told me her dreams with an intensity that made my heart shudder. We exchanged numbers before she left, with the knowledge that she would call the moment she got home.

She didn’t. I would like to think that if she could have, she would. Maybe we would have spent hours speaking on the phone, as we had in person. Maybe we would have met up again, over a cup of coffee. We did, after all, live in the same town, only a few blocks away from each other. It was a chance encounter, us both visiting family, and then friends. It was surprising that we had never met before, but no matter. She would never be able to make that call and I would never be able to call her.

That night, one of the engines on her plane froze. Just a few hours after we made plans, she was dead.

I still remember the way she looked that day, when she came in the door, dusted with  snowflakes.

Imagine yourself where the snow is many feet deep, snow is falling, the wind is blowing and the temperature is dropping. This situation would be dire, but certainly one you could survive, especially if you had a little preplanning.

The first step would be to build a shelter. In the stated situation, Mother Nature has already supplied you with building supplies: The snow. Snow is a surprisingly good insulator.

Dig a hole into the snow, preferably on a slope. Basically, you are making a tunnel slightly larger in diameter than your body. If it is on a slope, you are burrowing slightly upward so that the snow and wind are less of a factor. When you’ve dug in between six and 10 feet, excavate a ‘room’ that is a little longer than you are when you recline and about triple your width.

Poke a hole from the side edge of the room to the surface at an angle. This is for ventilation and it should be just an inch or two in diameter. Without ventilation, the shelter can hold in the carbon dioxide that you exhale, until it reaches toxic levels.

The next step is to get tree boughs and pull them into the shelter, on the bottom, to keep you off of the snow. Otherwise, your body heat will start melting the snow, you’ll gradually get wet and when the water refreezes, you’ll be in trouble. Fir boughs are especially good for a bedding cushion. Even if it isn’t especially comfortable, at least it keeps you off the snow.

Okay, so what’s the bit about the candle, mentioned in the title? The candle serves a triple purpose. First, it supplies light. You wouldn’t believe how dark it gets when you are 10 feet inside a snow bank.

Second, it provides a huge amount of warmth. There is little worry that the snow will all melt, because the heat simply melts the facing edges. The snow that is behind it causes the thin layer of melted snow to freeze into a layer of ice. In turn, this reflects the heat back into your little room, making it even warmer. The ice also lends strength to the structure. You might note that neither the light nor the soot is usually visible from outside the snow cave.

The third purpose of the candle is that candle wax is both waterproof and flammable. Sooner or later, you are probably going to want to build a fire and the candle wax can be quite helpful is helping you get it started. It can generate enough heat that even damp twigs can dry out and burn. A tiny fire can be built inside of the snow cave, provided that the room is large enough, however even if a warming fire is built outside the cave at a later time, any candle drippings can be used to start it and they should be saved.

Though the building of snow caves is often part of winter survival training, this is something I’ve been doing since I was seven years old and living at Crater Lake National Park, where I grew up. The difference is that we did it for fun rather than survival. Our tunnels were also often much more elaborate than what I’ve just described, so there is room for the imagination.

Have you ever built or been inside a snow tunnel?