Moss Man of Idaho

Moss Man

I used to get in more winter camping, such as with the Boise State University Winter Camping class, where we finished the class with an overnight campout to a secret hot springs. There wasn’t much snow on one trip, so the only snow shelter we could built was a type called a Quinzee. I have read that this is an Athabascan Indian technique, and zI have found that it is the only snow structure that works when there is very little snow, as little as 6 inches. The way it works is you basically pile up a mound of snow, pound the outside a bit (work hardening the outer shell), insert sticks to serve as thickness gauges, then hollow out the inside. It takes about 10 times as much work as making snow blocks and covering a snow trench with blocks to form a roof.

Winter Camping 004.jpg

Our trip happened to be near a natural hot springs, and while sitting in the perfect hot water and watching the stars, I couldn’t help but think about a local hero I'll refer to only as Moss Man.

There is an annual ceremony in the Wood River Valley of Idaho, which celebrates one man's journey into a spriritual and physical union with nature.  The cermony celebrates a man known best as Moss Man, and his unique outdoor experience.  It all started when he hiked out to a wilderness hot springs one cold winter day, saw that other people were in the hot springs drinking wine, so he jumped in, clothes and all.  He noticed that he didn't need clothes in the hot spring, so he took them off and tossed them up on the snow to dry.  He then partook of all that life and the wine bottle had to offer, and dozed off to a drunken and drug induced nap.

When he woke up, he was the only one in the hot springs, and his clothes were up on the snow, frozen solid.  No problem, he was warm, and he still had a nice buzz going.  However, when the buzz wore off and hunger set in, he had second thoughts on his situation.  Try as he might, he really couldn't see a way out, but it wasn't like he was freezing either.

To get water, he had to venture to the main stream, drink some water, then scramble back to the warmth of his hot spring.  The days started to roll by, and he drank water, and soaked in the hot water.  He saw a deer killed by a wolf on the snow, and he thought about going over and getting some meat, but the lack of clothes thing still was a problem.  He sat in the hot springs and watched winter storms, the stars and the moon. At one point, some cross country skiiers came by and asked if he was OK.  Being a little stubborn, and holding out hope of thinking of a way of rescuing himself, he said he was OK.

A few days later, some other skiers came by and asked if he was OK.  By then he thought that if he was not rescued he might die, so he asked for help getting to town.  They observed that his skin was severely cracked and peeling, and he had moss growing on his back and hair.  He had been in the hot springs 28 days.

The Wood River Journal, March 15, 1984, reported it this way:

"A 20-year-old Hailey man was found soaking in a hot mineral pool at Frenchman’s Bend last Saturday after having apparently lived there for several weeks. "Moss Man" [name withheld to protect the innocent] was discovered by two cross-country skiers, according to a Blaine County Sheriff's Department report. The skiers observed that some of "Moss Man's" skin was peeling and that moss was growing on his back. The semi-conscious victim was taken to Moritz Community Hospital, according to the report. His clothes lay frozen on the ground nearby. A Moritz physician estimated that the victim may have lost 60 pounds while living in the pool. [Moss' sister-in-law said that] the man stood six-two and weighed 210 pounds prior to leaving for Frenchman’s Bend, and that he took a lot of amphetamines. ‘His brains are really scrambled’, she said."

The annual festival to commemorate the event is the Moss Man Commemoration and Pagan Fun Fest, and is held at the same hot springs, and utilizes the same stimulants that got Moss into his predicament.  It is probably not a good "family" event, unless you are in the Rainbow Family.