The Cabin in the Woods (Not the Horror Kind)

My sister decided to treat her in-laws and her nuclear family to a trip to Mount Lemmon. She rented a cabin in the woods for three days for a nice winter getaway.

You may or may not know this about me and my family, but we are desert creatures, born to withstand 115 degree weather in the peak of summer. Our winters are usually chilly, but that’s about it.

During our stay on Mount Lemmon, the mountain was covered in snow.

Our party consisted of three groups:

  1. Alya’s group: Alya, my sister, headed the first group, with her husband, Carlos, and her puppy, Ushi. Alya planned the whole trip, so she was the keeper of information. Carlos was the only person who owned a set of tire chains “on the off chance there’s snow.” (There for sure was snow.) Ushi is a Saint Bernard/Great Pyrenees mix. This would be her first time in snow, her natural element.
  2. Paty’s group: Paty is Carlos’ mom. She had brought along for the trip her sister, her husband, and her youngest son, Christian. Both Paty and her sister Choco are peas in a pod. They like to do everything together. However, they are both surprisingly different in their personalities. Paty is more carefree and spontaneous. Choco is structured and precise. Paty’s husband, Enrique, is a go-with-the-flow kind of guy. And Christian was actually a classmate of mine in high school. We’re the same age. He’s a goofy gooferton. His goal for the Mount Lemmon trip, he said at the beginning, was to “eat shit” in the snow. By that, he meant that he wanted an epic slip on ice or a disastrous sledding accident to happen to him.
  3. My group: My mom and dad came on this trip with us, as did my boyfriend, Danny. My mom was suitably anxious about the complications of snow, but excited by the concept of a winter vacation. My dad was incredibly excited. He grew up in New Jersey, so he hadn’t seen good snow in years after he moved to the desert with my mom. Danny and I hadn’t seen each other since October (we’re a long-distance couple), so this cabin trip was a good way to hang out with each other. Plus, it would be our first snow.

We caravanned up the mountain in our three cars. My group was the last to make it up because we stopped at the side of the road to play with some snow collected there. You have to understand, I never get to see snow. The most I’ve seen collected is maybe ankle high, more ice than snow, and gone in a day or two. The snow on Mount Lemmon was powdery and went up to my knees. I was thrilled.

The party eventually parked together by the general store near the top of the mountain. The town we were staying at was called Summerhaven, which seemed a pretty funny name for a place covered in a thick blanket of ice fluff. We all got out of the cars and convened. We had to figure out what to do next. The cabin was available to us at 4pm. We had arrived on the mountain early, at 11am.

This didn’t bother us much, initially. There was freakin’ snow on the ground! The amount of times we had collectively seen even a meager pile of snow on the ground could be counted on one hand. Alya, Christian, Carlos, and Ushi frolicked in the snow while we waited. The elder members of our group hung out at a nearby restaurant. I walked around in a circle just to hear the snow crunch. Danny took a nap in one of the cars.

At around 1pm, a miracle happened. Snow started to fall. I bet there are going to be some people who read this who have lived with snow their whole lives.

That’s not me.

I had never seen snow fall from the sky before. Ever.

It was dizzying. Tiny specks of white swirled down and around us. I could feel the small impacts of flakes hitting my lips. The whole world turned grey, and while that may sound bleak, let me assure you that it felt wondrous.

Of course, after all that wonder, the cold started to seep in. My nose began to burn with cold. My fingertips ached within my gloves. The cold pierced through my clothes. It was all so magically painful.

My mom wanted to head to the cabin as soon as the snow started falling. However, my father stubbornly insisted that we remain at the general store a while longer. He said that it would not be comfortable to wait around outside a cabin in the woods for two hours.

So we stayed.

And the snowfall got heavier.

At 3:45 pm, a loudspeaker began declaring that anybody who wished to leave the mountain should do so immediately. It was only then that we decided to try to head to the cabin.

We ran into problems immediately.

Firstly, Alya’s GPS led her in the wrong direction. It kept saying the cabin was directly east of us, when in actuality (as Danny’s map told him), it was south of us.

The second problem was the snow. Not only did I get to experience my first snowfall, I got to experience my first heavy snowfall. You could hardly see in front of you anymore. The roads became thickly packed with snow, and Carlos’ car was the only one that had chains. We tried driving in the snow in an unchained car once, but the slippage freaked us out so much, we returned to the general store’s parking lot.

A plan was soon formed. Alya, Carlos, Danny, and Christian would try driving to the cabin in Carlos’ car. The rest of us would wait in our cars by the general store. I definitely drew the short straw in this regard. As I’ll tell you in a moment, they got to experience an adventure.

I had to stay in a car surrounded by snow with a rapidly panicking mother.

As the sky grew darker and the snow wrapped itself around us, my mom began to doubt our chances of survival. She kept asking me if I thought we would “make it.” She also wondered if the group that had gone to the cabin would become lost and frozen in the woods. I had to endure about 45 minutes of this.

Meanwhile, my sister and her scouting party were having tons of fun. There was a very steep hill that led directly to the cabin. However, after seeing another car slide all the way down the hill, out of control, they decided not to try their luck, even with the chains on. Carlos and Danny went on foot up the hill to see if they could find the cabin. Alya and Christian stayed in the car.

Alya told me it was creepy being in the car because they could see other people walking past them, like ghosts out of the darkness. These people were probably just residents trying to make their way home. But the atmosphere of a snowy night brings a sense of terror all on its own without any monsters necessary.

I think Danny and Carlos had the worse time of it though. The steepness of the hill caused Danny to slip at least four times. Eventually, Danny and Carlos found what they thought was the cabin. The address given to us for the cabin turned out to be incorrect, so they weren’t sure if the cabin was the right one. Regardless, Danny and Carlos made the executive decision that no matter who that cabin belonged to, we were going to stay there.

On the way back down, Carlos and Danny ran into the landlord in his truck. He told them that he could show them another route to the cabin, longer, but less steep. He gestured for them to hop onto the back of the pick-up so he could drive them to the alternate road. Despite initial misgivings about being in the bed of a truck during a snowy evening, Danny and Carlos clambered onto the truck.

And then the truck fell into a ditch and got stuck.

While driving to the route, the landlord stopped to say hello to some passersby in the snow. That pause in driving forward was his downfall. The truck slid backwards after losing its momentum, and Danny and Carlos had to walk back to the car anyways with only a faint notion of where the alternate route lay.

Then began the shuttling. Carlos and Danny returned to the car and they all drove back to the parking lot. The sky was black by the time they drove in. Paty, Choco, and my mom made the first trip to the cabin with Carlos while the rest of us still waited by the general store. The next trip included me, Alya, Ushi, and Christian. The final trip had my dad, Enrique, and Danny.

After a long, tiring, freezing, and dark journey, we were all in the cabin.

The place was delightful. There were two bedrooms with bunk beds in each, and two pull-out beds in the living room. The place was warm because of heating vents in the floor. Poor Ushi did not appreciate these vents as much as we did. They made her nervous, so she kind of spent her cabin-time in a perpetual state of nervousness.

We all went to bed exhausted, but at least we had beds and did not have to sleep in a car in a parking lot in the snow.

The morning came ripe with excitement. Alya and I were eager to go out into the snow to play. We walked to the general store with Ushi and Danny almost as soon as we were dressed.

I want to say that my favorite thing about snow is how it sounds when you step on it. It crunches under your shoes (god forbid you’re stepping on snow in your bare feet) with more oomph than dirt. The snow on Mount Lemmon was of a powdery consistency. We couldn’t make snowballs very well at all. But it was prime sledding snow.

Alya bought a cheap plastic sled at the general store. Then, Christian, Alya, and I took turns sledding down a hill. (Danny opted out and instead very responsibly dug out the cars we had had to abandon at the general store’s parking lot.)

The sledding was fun. Our sled was not top-quality, and we were not expert sledders. But we enjoyed ourselves nonetheless. Christian got his chance to eat shit when he tried sledding face first. He went off the path in a shower of snow dust. Ushi looked like she had fun too, jumping in and around snow lumps. Alya and I had our own troubles when we tried sledding together and the sled barrel-rolled down the last fourth of the hill. I hurt my arm something fierce, but that was nothing compared to the feeling of having snow cover my entire head. After that, we were all suitably chastened to return to the cabin.

Alya, Ushi, and I walked to the cabin instead of taking the proffered ride from Carlos when he came down to check on us. More time in the snow before resting would be great, we thought.

Unfortunately, the cold from the snow set in halfway through our trek back up. We had to climb that steep hill Danny slipped on so many times. It felt like my childhood asthma came back with a vengeance. Plus, neither Alya nor I had brought snow pants to the mountain. I was wearing jeans. By the time we reached the top of the hill, the lower half of my pants were encrusted with snow. They were stiff with frost.

Alya and I went back to the cabin and napped.

For the rest of the day, we went out to play in sporadic bursts. Carlos and Christian tried building a snow fort. I tried building snowmen. The snow was really too powdery to hold any form whatsoever. My snowmen (I made eight) were less than a foot high and were tremulous figures to boot.)

I didn’t get much sleep the next day because Alya tried getting Ushi to go to the bathroom early in the morning. Unfortunately, Ushi was terrified of walking over a vent, so she scrabbled around and lunged away from Alya when she got close to one. She ended up jumping on top of one of the pull-out beds where Enrique and Paty were sleeping. Enrique woke up with a start, thinking a bear had got into the cabin and attacked him.

All in all, the cabin time was great. Each night spent there was perfect. We played dominoes, Jenga, and Scrabble when we were inside and leapt around like crazy people when we were outside. Alya felt guilty about the cabin trip at first, because it started out so tumultuously and all that, but she needn’t have worried so much. It was fun,

And while my ardor for snow may have thawed a little thanks to my ill-preparedness for it, I’m sure it will spring up again.

At least it will once my nose has recovered.

You guys can call me Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer for now.