Here’s a brief summary of what I saw on our snow caves trip. The rest of the cavers aren’t down yet, but I hope they will post their experiences. Some of it might be useful for people organizing this event in the future. Just because I have hacked together a trip report, doesn’t mean that everything has been said. Your experience may be totally different and we’d like to hear about it.
The good news is, we have quite a few people (40-50?) in the Club now that have slept in a snow cave, and know the amount of effort required to create a cave, and whether they want to do it again, whether Seymour is a good place for this event, and so on. So, much experience, and perhaps competence, was achieved.
Some people did just boots, some did snowshoes, a few did skis, and there was at least one split board. I was not around to find out if the people with skis/boards were allowed to ski down on the groomers this year, or if there were consequences for trying. But skiing down the up-trail didn’t look beginner-friendly to me. One person took out Club boots and discovered they were not waterproof, and switched to gumboots that she had brought along. Gumboots aren’t recommended because they don’t have much traction and they aren’t very warm, but apparently they were better than Club boots that leak. Should we process our boots so they don’t leak so much? Is this even possible? A couple of other people interpreted “boots” to mean fashionable city-style boots, and they work pretty OK with gaiters, to my surprise, but when we say “boots” we usually mean at least hiking boots.
The big birds are fun to watch and they seem to be very wise, but when they fly off with a big piece of your lunch, they aren’t so much fun any more. I saw at least two big pieces of lunch being stolen. So, keep it in your pack and close your pack.
Avalanches and Snow Conditions:
The radio was warning of extreme danger in the back country and I’m sure that somewhere between Vancouver and Pemberton there were extreme avalanches, but not on Seymour. At the “Place of the Signs” just beyond Brockton, the avalanche rating was officially “low” which is as low as it gets. We found maybe 15 cm of hard crust which you could dent with your heel, and under that there was isothermal snow with no obvious structure. Apparently it had been raining hard on Seymour, then it froze. We probed and there seemed to be about 2.5 metres of snow, which is good for caves.
There seemed to be a lot of people looking for advice about where to dig, etc and the best results seemed to be on slopes so you could dig in and not down, but not slopes so steep that digging would destabilize the snow on the slope. I was recommending thick roofs which are bad if the roof collapses, but way less likely to collapse. I recommended against making ventilation holes in the roof because the doorway should provide way more ventilation than you need. I recommended not trying to make a “heat trap” with your bed higher than the entrance tunnel, because on Seymour it is seldom cold enough to benefit from a “heat trap”, and being surrounded by snow, you don’t expect air temperature to get above 1C. In the Rockies at -20C, heat traps and even blocking off the entry tunnel somewhat, is worth while. I didn’t see anybody trying to make a cave for more than four people, which is probably good. One pair of diggers hit a shrubbery and I thought they could dig past it but they abandoned their hole and soon had a deeper hole with no shrubbery. I found one person with claustrophobia but she seemed to have it under control. Some people were really good at going down, but seemed to have trouble with the “making a bedroom” part of the exercise. I think they figured it out. I didn’t see any really interesting snow structures, though it looked like an igloo was going to happen. Snow slabs were good because of the crust. I didn’t see a “Mass Grave”, though I saw a tarp and skis, so such a thing was possible. Christian Veenstra, Line and Fenya arrived around 1pm and Christian decided that a snow pit left over from an avalanche school would be a good place to dig. He also brought a tent. You never know whether a toddler is going to suddenly dislike snow caves.
Parking on Seymour:
Seymour is having trouble finding parking for its paying customers, and as a result, two classes of non-paying customers have emerged. Second class is the day hikers, as the trails are incredibly popular with hikers of all descriptions, in snowshoes mostly. They get to park in P5, and they had better be gone by dark, because Seymour may be planning to run snowploughs there at night. If you want a good spot in P5, get there early, like maybe 8:30. The lowest class is the overnight camper. If you are leaving your car overnight, it has to be in lot P1. But if you talk nice and acknowledge that you are a third-class citizen and planning to park in P1, they will let you drive all the way to the “drop-off zone” at the upper end of the first class parking and unload your packs and passengers, before driving down to P1. All this takes an incredible amount of time and opportunities for confusion abound. One other thing. The parking lots were a sheet of ice and you could seriously hurt yourself if you didn’t realize this.
This trip suffered from several organizational challenges. First, the date was moved. This meant that people who couldn’t make the first date suddenly were very keen for the second date, and vice versa. Second, we were/are having tele school on the same weekend, so some were going up for caves and coming down after tele, some were doing caves and some were doing tele. We were buying discounted tickets for tele so we needed to know how many, who had paid, who had rides, etc. I was contacted by three people at the last minute who didn’t seem to have rides, but I knew what I was doing and all my passengers seemed to know what they were doing and had made arrangements to get down the mountain somehow. Having the Shuttle Bus helps with rides but can increase faffing enormously. Third, quite a few joined VOC just to do the caves thing, and we don’t expect them to understand the importance of signing up early for an over-subscribed trip. Thanks, Zack for dealing with the incredible amount of organizing required to make this all happen.