Boy Scout sleeps outside for 1,000th night

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14 year-old Isaac Ortman is sleeping outside of Lakeside Presbyterian church Wednesday night, in a structure he built called a “quinzee”.

“It’s just another form of a snow cave. You just have to put the snow there before you can carve it out, which is the difficult part,” said Isaac.

“He’s built a few of them, and I’ve tested them out and you can walk over the top of them and all that stuff,” said Isaac’s father and Boy Scout Troop Leader Andrew Ortman. “So basically you pile the snow and as you pile up, the snow melts a little bit so it sets and it gets firmer. Then you wait a little while, and then you dig it out, and now they’re safe.”

Isaac piled the snow on Tuesday, giving it two days to set before he dug the cave. Part of the process is placing sticks all over the top.

“The sticks are actually a lot longer, but they go into the snow at 12 to 18 inches that way I don’t think too close to the edge,” Isaac explained.

Sleeping in this hut marks 1,000 consecutive nights that Isaac has slept outside.

“We had a break for five days during school and me and my dad left our cabin and I slept outside all five days and I challenged my scout group to sleep outside for longer than me,” said Isaac.

Sleeping outside soon became the new normal for the teenager. 

“He started off saying, he just wants to sleep outside for a week, and then it went for maybe I’ll sleep out for a few more days. So we sat down and we kind of had a conversation. I said, ‘Well, you can make a decision every night. You’re going to sleep outside or you can make one decision and not have to make 365 decisions and it’s okay if you make a decision. What’s going to happen is people rally around you, support you, and it’ll be a really fun experience,’” said Andrew. “And that’s what happened. You get a year and then two years and he’s coming up on three almost, so he’s having a good time.”

Over the past couple of years, Isaac has slept outside in temperatures as cold as -38, but he says that he prefers that over the summer heat. 

“You can always add more layers in the winter to get warm, but in the summer, there’s only so many layers you can take off to get cooler,” Isaac remarked.

Isaac is currently a Star Trooper, just two levels below an Eagle Scout.  As Isaac’s scout leader, Andrew trusts him to put his outdoor skills to good use. 

“He knows not to put food and candy out in his tent and stuff like that,” said Andrew. “So he’s a pretty smart scout that way.”

What started as a challenge for himself has led to fun stories along the way.

“So there was this one time, I think a couple of summers ago I were sitting down on a couch watching TV and a big old black bear comes up to our screen porch patio and it’s rubbing up against screen door, walks around the house, and 30 minutes later I go out and I sleep in my tent,” Isaac recalled.

1,000 nights outside is just the beginning for this teen. 

“I have two overcoats and a sleeping bag that I put on top of me, then I have two underquilts underneath me and a rain protector and stuff,” said Isaac. 

“I’m just really proud of him. He’s made some good decisions in his life, and he’s doing awesome,” said Andrew. “I’m here to support them for as long as he wants to go.”