Klondike Snow Cave Camping at Aspen Grove, UT 3/16/12

barl0w

I slay white dragons, adventure, and take photos
Joined
Jan 20, 2012
Messages
163
On March 10, 2012 a group of Boy Scouts I'm an assistant to with parents and leaders went to Aspen Grove, above Sundance, Utah to build snow caves to sleep in the following week - March 16-17, 2012.

Aspen Grove is an easy find - travel past Sundance Resort on up past the ranger pay station, and turn left into the only parking lot that is open during winter. It's $6.00 currently for parking or for any activity in that area - so be prepared to pay the fee to avoid a ticket. Bathrooms are at the parking lot, and this is the trailhead for the Stewart Falls and Timpanogos hikes - thus there is no shortage of snowshoers, hikers, cross-country skiers, snowmobilers, hippies, teens, scouts, and church groups looking to get out to an easily-accessible location for winter fun. There is no water source in winter, and camp fires are OK in fire pits, and picnic tables/benches are available for use.

Our goal was to build 3 snow caves for 9 scouts. For each set of 3 scouts we had 1 adult, and also had 1 roaming supervisor. Prior to building, we had a local "how-to" for building snow caves with ALL who were preparing to assist.

During the instruction session, proper winter wear was discussed and heavily emphasized. Layers, non-cotton clothes, snow attire, change of clothes, etc - as well as gear (shovels, probes) - all of that.

The instructions given for building a snow cave that look like the following are:


Instructions were as-follows:
  1. With snowshoes on, mark out a 12-foot radius circle (use probes to mark the radius).
  2. Walk along the outside 12 foot radius packing down the snow here. These will be your walls.
  3. Have your team shovel snow on the outside of the radius onto the middle and top of the cave-to-be, building the walls and cave up 6 to 6+ feet in height. As they are doing this, stomp the snow in snowshoes.
  4. Dome the top with snow thrown, packing the top with snowshoes.
  5. Go rest for at least 30 mins. This allows the snow to "set" for this period of time. We ate lunch at this time.
  6. Select a location at your mound of snow where the back of the cave will be the wind-blown side (so wind doesn't enter your door).
  7. Dig straight-in at least 2 feet and then up, creating an entrance and a platform.
  8. You want 2 foot walls at the bottom, and 1 foot wall thickness at the top.
  9. Create a dome-shaped ceiling inside, while creating a platform higher than the top of your doorway.
  10. Use 1-2 people inside to dig the structure, and one outside, watching and taking turns.
  11. When it's time to check the thickness of walls, use 1 person inside, 1 person at the doorway, and 1 person with the probe pushing it through the snow. You cannot hear or yell through the snow, and doing otherwise will prove communication to be difficult.
  12. Know the lengths of your probe, and mark the lengths from the handle to the tip so that when the probe comes through, the thickness of the wall can be measured by the individual checking the width inside the cave. This cuts down on yelling back and forth.
  13. When the cave is complete, mark the area around the cave so people don't step on the roof, create a 1/2 - 1" hole in the top/middle to the cave, and an adult can light a candle/burner/safe flame inside the cave for a few minutes to raise the temperature until the ceiling and platform get a bit slushy-smooth from the increased temps.
  14. Let the cave then sit overnight, for a few hours, or like us - for a week so that the drop in temp inside the cave will freeze the snow and make a hard shell.
Doing this took us 4 hours for these 3 caves. If we had just adults, we believe that we could do this in no more than 3 hours, and possibly no less than 2.5 hours.

We built the caves on Saturday, 3/10/12 and slept in the snow caves 3/16-17, 2012. One minor hitch was that one cave was attacked by a human, and the roof had collapsed despite our signs. We moved one set of 3 boys to a tent, and since I live close to the location found this out 1 day ahead of time - we knew this was a possibility.

We arrived on Friday, 3/16 at 4:30 pm. No one else was there - and other groups started arriving about 5:30-6 pm. For the first few hours, we prepped the caves for sleeping (tarps, pads, sleeping bags, etc) and worked on First Class rank requirements. We cooked hot dogs over the fire with roasting forks, topped with with J-Dawg sauce for dinner, included chips, carrots, celery and roasted marshmallows and basically hung out until 11 pm. Water coolers with water was provided - no hot chocolate this time.

In the morning we woke at 6:30 am to leave for our Pow Wow (merit badge camp) by 8:15 am. After breaking camp, breakfast burritos (egg, sausage, hash browns, onions, red peppers, salsa, cheese and some ventured with the J-Dawg sauce) were thoroughly enjoyed on stoves we brought with us, cleaned and then loaded for departure.

Extra gear was brought for those who passed pack-check but who's gear somehow went missing or both changes got wet (only 1 of 9 individuals utilized this), and while the scouts were at the Pow Wow, personal gear was cleaned, dried and stowed. Troop gear was cleaned, dried and stowed after the Pow Wow , performed as a group.

Of course we were concerned about snow levels. That is the main reason this activity was pushed out so far - previous years took place in the first few weeks on Feb. Snow depth at max was up to my mid-torso (I'm 6"1') and most places up to my upper-thigh. It was enough, although barely.

Here are some photos of our caves and the area:

Backside of snow cave:


Front:


Inside:


Lessons learned from our first time doing this at Aspen Grove:
  • The area is convenient. Bathrooms and civilization near-by. Fire rings were great, and tables/benches were very nice (like new). We traveled about 25-30 mins one-way to this destination from home.
  • This area is heavily used. Other groups wanted to use our snow caves, and it was our luck that we got back there first - just 1 week later to claim our caves for use.
  • The ranger is strict (as they should be). Fires in fire pits only, and always leave no trace.
  • The parking lot fills up fast. Don't plan to get there past 6 pm and find a good spot to set up very easily on your camping night. Plus sunlight is an issue this late.
  • Bring earplugs if you plan to sleep early - car alarms went off, and groups were noisy until 10-11 pm.
All-in-all, the location was good experience. We would like to find a more secluded location next year, as in previous years we had become accustomed to a neighbor who allowed us to use private land in the Woodland, UT area (Wolf Creek Ranch east of Heber). We were spoiled.

If anyone has suggestion for future locations, feel free to post. Thanks in advance!
 

Tyler

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
Joined
Jan 18, 2012
Messages
464
That's great info. I wish my son's scout troop could be motivated enough to do this. Their leader is a great guy and would love it, but he doesn't get much support and most of the kids have zero interest in it (other than my son and one other kid).
 

Nick

Spiral out.
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Joined
Aug 9, 2007
Messages
12,886
Nice. I snow caved once as a boy scout. I have vivid memories of having to pee in the walls! :lol: Good times!
 

barl0w

I slay white dragons, adventure, and take photos
Joined
Jan 20, 2012
Messages
163
Haha - pee in the walls. Wow - that's almost too much info!

The trip is always challenging for me mentally because of the thought of the cold, but when this was all said and done, it was an easy drag-n-drop besides building the snow caves a week ahead of time. I had a great, warm experience this year which has me looking forward to it in the coming years.
 
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