Students brave cold for P.E. III trip


For those of you who tossed and turned last night, unable to get some decent sleep, you can take comfort in the fact that someone actually had a more miserable night than you.

On Sunday morning, 10 students from Todd Trapp's P.E. III class at Moffat County High School took snowmobiles into the high timber country north of Craig to brave one night in the freezing cold.

The group was planning to dig several snow caves, each housing four bodies for the night. But Trapp wasn't sure whether the snow had formed drifts deep enough for the group to tunnel into. If that turned out to be the case, Trapp planned for the students to pile snow into large mounds, then hollow out the centers. These "quinzees" are sort of a poor man's igloo, Trapp explained. The idea is use the snow as an insulating material against the cold.

"It's supposed to get down to zero tonight," Trapp said as he waited under a cloudless sky for a pack of snowmobilers to return to the Black Mountain Trailhead from the backcountry. One group had gone ahead, towing a sled of supplies and packs, and he and four students waited for a lift.

"Once we make the cave, if we do it right, the temperature should be around 35 degrees," Trapp said. "We're using this field trip to teach a survival technique the students can use if they find themselves stranded in the wilderness at night. This is a way you could survive. I mean, how many people go to sleep in a snow cave for fun?"

Some of the students packed two sleeping bags to zip one inside the other. Even so, Daniel Kinkaid predicted the students would "probably do some definite spooning" to ward off the cold.

"We're pretty comfortable with one another," added Brad Hurd. "We've had to spoon on a lot of these trips."

The class has climbed Mount Elbert, one of Colorado's fourteeners; mountain-biked in Moab, Utah; rappelled off the sandrocks near town and gone on an overnight backpacking trip. In the spring, they'll spend a week hiking the Grand Canyon.

The class, which teaches an appreciation of the outdoors, as well as survival skills, safety and helpful techniques, is open to any student who scores a B or better in P.E. I and P.E. II. But, the instructors make it clear that participation is mandatory for a passing grade. That means spending some weekends or school breaks cold, wet and exhausted. The class also requires students to pay for a portion of their field trips. The school district usually provides transportation, but meals and other extras are covered by the students.

Kinkaid said the class has taught him to prepare for the worst when planning an outdoor adventure.

"This class is awesome," he said. "It's good stress relief from the school atmosphere. It teaches you stuff you wouldn't try if you didn't have someone show you how to do it."

Craig Mortensen, the girls' basketball coach, and Mick Havrilla, the soccer coach, were the other adults who supervised the snow cave expedition. The group was scheduled to return to Craig today, but the students have an excused absence from school.

Andy Smith can be reached at 824-7031, Ext. 204 or by e-mail at

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