Winter camp 1968 … in an outhouse | News, sports, jobs

A US Forest Service outhouse like the one we stayed in. (photo provided)

It’s been less than 48 hours since Hendrix, Dennis Alf and I left our comfy college rooms at the University of Wyoming to hike the 30-mile Moffett Trail over Continental David to Winter Park, Colorado. Once there, we’d take the train through the 7-mile Moffett Tunnel to our car.

At least that’s what we planned.

But a lot has happened in that short period. A 13-mile hike led us to the Needle’s Eye Tunnel where we spent a restless night in Al’s tiny two-man tent. The next day we drove 7 miles through deep snow from our armpits, tired dogs left, and we’re still 10 miles from civilization. Plus, due to the 11,000 feet altitude and dehydration from our extreme exertion and minimal fluid intake, the headaches were constant.

Suddenly, we saw a shingled roof rising through the deep snow. We thought it was a wild cabin full of food. Instead, it was an outbuilding. It was like waking up on Christmas morning without presents under the tree.

While it was just an outhouse, it was the biggest and best outhouse I’ve ever seen. It was one of Forest Service’s finest crappers, complete with a cement floor and stainless steel throne. It didn’t take long for us to realize that even the outside house was better than the three of us crammed into Al’s little tent.

The classic style of our sleeping bag liner was popular in the 1960s. (photo provided)

The outhouse had a men’s and women’s section, and being polite guys in the 1960s, using our hands, a cooking pot and whatever else we could collect, we dug nearly 5 feet of snow into the men’s side and got stuck. I’ve never been so grateful to be in a confined 5’x6′ as I was in the late afternoon. I know it’s hard to imagine three guys crammed into an outhouse and loving it, but we thought it was heaven.

We put our sleeping bags around “throne,” And I suggested to Denise that we zip our bags together, just so we could be a little warmer. We did, and it was. It was one of the three smart things we did. Although we were jealous of Al’s goose down sleeping bag, we kept warm in our kapok-filled bags (with pheasant hunting scenes on the liners) by sharing our body heat.

Sunday night was turbulent. Although temperatures were relatively mild in our teens, Dennis and I were trying to keep warm. Al had more headaches than Dennis and I, and neither of us had much of an appetite. We ran out of water, so we would occasionally dip our glasses in the ice for frozen refreshments.

On Monday he was waiting for rescue. We’d hoped we’d hear the roar of a snowmobile, and that the rescuers would stand up to the outbuilding, get on board, and frolic merrily out of the wilderness. The reason for this hope was that the second smart thing we did was tell our friends where we were going and when we should be back. We told them if we weren’t back by Sunday night, something was wrong. It was Sunday and something was definitely wrong. We were exhausted and stopped in armpit-deep snow with 10 miles remaining.

In the afternoon, partly out of boredom, partly to make more space, and partly to cook some food, Dennis took it upon himself to expand our living quarters. It was easy going for the muscle-bound guy since he was the wrestling convention champion. He fist through the plywood partition separating the women’s section from the men’s section. Then he demolished half the wall, allowing us to peek into the corner in the women’s section. Determined to set fire to the women’s half of our district, he waded into the deep snow to break the boughs of the coniferous trees. Then with plenty of persuasive toilet paper, little twigs, and wood from the walls, he finally got green wood burnt enough perhaps to heat a can of baked beans. Unfortunately, our lungs filled with smoke during this process. Years later, I am reminded of the experience whenever I visit in-laws at the Smoking Chain.

We were confident we wouldn’t end our lives in an outhouse, but Dennis wasn’t sure. At some point while making a fire, he took a burning stick and wrote the name of his fiancée Marie on the wall, as if he might never see her again. He said he maintained his sense of humor, later that night, while we were lying in our sleeping bags against the cold, “You know, Mary will probably never forgive me. I told her I would never be in anyone else’s arms.”

Dennis seems to have ramped up the appetite from his building efforts, (or should I say development). He threw a can of cooked beans on the fire before returning to the warmth of our sleeping bags. We lay in our bags feeling sorry for ourselves, as Al sings of his vision to become president of the Young Democrats in Wyoming, and Dennis tells us of his eternal love for Mary. I was thinking , “I can go buy a pepperoni pizza now.”

Suddenly we heard a loud bang, as if someone had fired a pistol outside the door. But she wasn’t out the door. It was much closer and closer. It was in the women’s restroom. I looked around the corner and saw a Jackson Pollock-like plate of baked beans adorning the wall.

Dennis was not a connoisseur of outdoor cooking, and he did not know that when cooking baked beans in a can, you must first put a hole in the lid.

That provided one of a few good chuckles, but no, we didn’t throw the beans off the wall to eat. In hindsight I wonder why. It was our only real food and I got tired of chewing Slim Jims.

Early Tuesday morning, Al said, “Isn’t that a plane I hear?

It sure was. Maybe it was the rescue we’ve been waiting for!

I grabbed Al’s binoculars and went out to see if it was a search plane. Looking up at the sky, I couldn’t say for sure, but unless the Boeing 707 rescue planes were searching from 35,000 feet, it wasn’t a rescue plane. It didn’t take long to find out it was a commercial airliner bound for Denver’s Stapleton International Airport.

At that point I realized there were no horns blowing and the cavalry wasn’t coming. So we had to get out of there on our own.

We decided to leave the little food we had with Al (a bunch of Slim Jims), who was still suffering from altitude sickness, and Dennis and I would try for a hike. By leaving Al alone, we will break the basic rule of wildlife survival – never divide your group. But we felt it was time to save ourselves.

Little did we know that our friends at Laramie were saying, “Oh, maybe their car broke down. They’ll be back tomorrow. They found every reason to justify our absence and didn’t report us missing until Tuesday morning.

So, we eventually left and going out was the third smart thing we did.

Stay tuned two weeks from the end of this epic adventure.

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This is the second part of a three-part series.


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