Get a life: Over my dead body

Michael Cavanaugh, DVM, DABVP

During the 14 years that I lived in Fort Collins, Colorado, I was fortunate enough to make several friends who share my enthusiasm for the great outdoors. However, the person who I have undoubtedly had the most outdoor adventures with is my friend Pete. Pete lived across the street from us, and over the years he became my go-to guy for kayaking, skiing, canoeing, and camping.

Pete and I were talking one day and decided it was time to do a winter camping trip (complete with a snow cave instead of a tent) on skis. I've gotten to be a pretty proficient downhill skier over the last 40 years or so, but had never really tried cross-country skiing. Pete and I went out a few times with some of our other kayaking friends, and while far from proficient, I was able to keep up. The big day came and we made our way up to the Zimmerman Lake area near Cameron Pass. We put on our backpacks and skis, locked the car, and headed up the fairly steep trail. It was cold, but we warmed up quickly as we slogged our way uphill. It was a beautiful day, with lots of snow and the kind of azure blue sky you only find in the Colorado high country.

The trail flattened out as we reached the area around Zimmerman Lake. We dropped down below the lake on one end and found the perfect place to dig our home for the next couple of days. We took turns using our shovels to tunnel into the huge snow bank. Several hours later, we had dug the ultimate snow cave, complete with an area to stand up and sleeping areas separated by a large column. After we got our gear arranged, it was late afternoon and the sun was just beginning to slip below the mountains. We fired up our stoves and made some dinner and warm drinks. As we started to eat, the wind picked up and it began to snow.

It was getting pretty cold so I gathered up my things and crawled through the tunnel into the cave. While the wind was howling like crazy outside, it was dead quiet inside. If you've never been in a snow cave, it's sort of like sleeping in a walk-in freezer. The cave acts in the same way as an igloo, with densely packed snow walls reflecting your body heat back at you. I settled into my sleeping bag and started warming up pretty quickly. I laid there for a while, looking around the inside of the icy castle we'd built.

Pete came scuttling in after a while and started getting ready to get into his sleeping bag on the other side of the pillar. He took his hat off and I could see steam rising off the top of his balding head. I joked about how he had better hurry up and get his head covered and get in his sleeping bag before he got hypothermic. He made some rude comment back. Then, I did it. I said, "Pete, if you were really hypothermic and I thought you were in danger of dying, that is the one time I'd let you spoon with me." He made a comment about how sweet I was for caring so much, and then in a serious voice said "I'll make a pledge to you. If you ever get hypothermic and might die, I promise to lead the authorities back so they can retrieve your body."

After almost laughing myself to death, I had a good night's sleep and awoke to a very warm snow cave and another beautiful Colorado day.




Comments (5) -

Gayle Craig
Gayle CraigUnited States
1/25/2013 6:25:14 AM #


You were already super cool in my book, but this takes the cake and you have just propelled your self to best selling novel status of coolability.  Can't wait to jam with you in Phoenix in a month or too.  I'm searching for the perfect duet.

Gayle Smile

Gayle Craig
Gayle CraigUnited States
1/25/2013 6:48:34 AM #

"two" LOL

Chuck Olson
Chuck OlsonUnited States
1/25/2013 7:57:23 AM #

Michael T,

Love the story.  I would live to share that same experience. I know you well enough that I would totally agree with Pete's plan for your salvation. Did pitch a tent one time on 8" of snow. Best night sleep I ever had camping.

Best regards to you and Beth,


Jim Tilley
Jim TilleyUnited States
1/25/2013 9:10:52 AM #

What a great story.  Sure brings back some great memories
of my many skis into Zimmerman Lake with a buddy from
Fort Collins.  Thanks for the story!

Jason Noel
Jason NoelUnited States
2/7/2013 11:00:51 AM #

That's pretty funny. Zimmerman lake is a great place to winter camp. I've done a ton of winter camping just down the road from Zimmerman at the American Lakes. We park at the Cameron Pass parking lot and cross country ski down the forest access road before hiking over the pass to the lakes. The view during that winter camping trip is breath-taking!

Nice article Smile

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