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Gotta Pick Your Spots

January 23, 2017

Eighteen inches. The forecast had been for anywhere from a trace to a few inches. Even the forecasters admitted that they blew it. I was camping up American Fork Canyon in Utah this weekend. We brought the scouts up for something called the Klondike Derby.

The Klondike is a scouting competition. The boys in each troop compete against the other troops in lashings, and fire building, 1st Aid and map reading, 12 events in all. Oh and in between events, they pull a dog sled. Did I mention that they do all of it in the snow? Snow is an important part of Klondike Derby. A few years ago, the Utah drought meant we had to hold the January derby on dirt, pulling wagons. That was not the case this year.

We were camping at a private campground. Mutual Dell is probably about 80 acres of trails, parking lots, pavilions and camp sites. There were about 25 troops and a couple hundred boys. When we signed up we got to pick the spot we wanted to camp. We picked the Whitlock Pavilion, mostly because it was right next to the parking lot. Little did we know how important that choice would be.

We arrived to a base of about 24″ of snow. The leaders and the boys decided to push tables out of the way and pitch their tents on the concrete floor of the pavilion. I’ve slept on concrete. I opted for pitching my tent slightly outside of the pavilion on the snow. A friend and I stomped down a 7’x7′ base for my tent and I tried to keep snow from blowing into my tent as I set up my gear.

Snow in Utah is different from snow in other parts of the country. We have dry snow. I know that sounds crazy. Snow is water, right? It’s just frozen. But, in Utah, our humidity is so low that the snow acts more like dust than snow. And that dust gets everywhere.

Friday night I went to sleep in a three-man tent. None of my sons came with me on this campout and none of the leaders were interested in sharing a tent pitched in the snow instead of under the cover of the pavilion. Saturday morning, I woke up to a one man tent. The snow overnight had compressed the walls and roof of my tent down to a space just slightly larger than my sleeping bag.

I cannot remember when I have had a more enjoyable night’s sleep on a campout. The base of snow made for a soft bed. Not that I was sleeping directly on the snow. I had a ground sheet, then the tent floor, then my 4″ sleeping pad, and around my 0 degree sleeping bag, I had wrapped another flannel lined sleeping bag. Plus, I had a stocking cap, wool socks with hand-warmers in the them, a warming back taped to the back of my Under Armor long sleeve shirt and warming packs in both pockets of my flannel pajamas. I was toasty warm and absolutely comfortable.

As the other leaders got up Saturday morning, they confirmed one more of my reasons for choosing to sleep out in the snow instead of under cover. The pavilion had a high curved ceiling; probably 20′ high at the peak and a gentle parabolic curve down to about 8′ high at the edges. Under that dome were 8 boys from our troop and 5 or 6 boys down at the end, from another troop. Tent walls are designed for privacy, not sound proofing. The boys talked and laughed far into the night. The sound echoing off the smooth ceiling and being reflected back to bounce off the concrete floor.

Do you know what does block sound well? Insulation made of millions of tiny snowflakes. Throughout the night, the falling snow damped most sounds. As the snow built up on the walls of the tent, it blocked even more of the sounds. The only sound I heard during the night was the snow sliding off the top of my tent to the sides.

Digging out from my tent in the morning involved snow up to my knees. I broke trail to the pavilion and drug my tent over to roll it up on the clear floor. We definitely enjoyed having a clear set of tables to fix our breakfast on. The pavilion was a brilliant location.

One additional benefit to our spot, we realized later in the morning. One troop packed up their gear and headed for home before the competition started even started. Their problem? Their boys all put their boots outside their tent Friday night. They weren’t under a pavilion. They not only had to dig out their tents, they had to dig out their boots as well.

Gotta pick your spots.


Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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