Out Here Ltd

 

 

SNOW SHELTER

If a tent is not available, try using a natural form of shelter, a holly bush makes a good temporary shelter, plus there is often a good source of kindling under it, also a large spruce tree for the same reason, however you can’t rely on these being there!

If the snow is deep you can do a number of things, you can build an igloo, not easy but with time and tools you can, more on that later.

My favourite is a method called a Quinzhee, the easiest way of describing what this is, is a hybrid of an igloo and a snow cave, this is better than each of these because firstly it is easier and faster to build than an igloo plus you need hard snow for an igloo, secondly for a snow cave, you need the snow to be deep, between 1.8 and 2.4 metres in fact.

So on to the Quinzhee, first of all you need to pile up the snow into a big heap, you will need an inside diameter for 1.8 metres, mark off a circular area of 2.4 to 2.7 metres, allowing for walls, mix up the snow in this area to get it “sintering”**, then start piling snow into this area, as you shovel, alternate flipping the snow over so that it mixes well (one shovel up, one upside down).

Your pile should be about 1.8 metres high, flatten the top to make it into a dome shape but don’t pour down the snow.

Next place a couple of dozen 30-45cm long sticks through the top and sides of the dome; these will be your thickness guides when you start to dig it out. Now wait for the sintering process to do its thing, depending on outside temperature this could take up to 3 hours (still quicker than building an igloo).

Use this time usefully, gather fire wood, have a meal and a hot drink and keep warm.

Now its time to start digging, you should be in waterproof clothing, start off by making a small opening at ground level and increase the size so you can fit in and work back and up, you need to make sleeping platforms, the inside of the shelter should be T shaped (see diagrams) this will allow the coldest air to flow down and out while you are sleeping. Keep hollowing out until you reach the ends of the sticks you poked through earlier, this will leave you walls at least 30-45cm thick, smooth the ceiling as much as possible to prevent dripping’

Ventilation: - you will get a thin crust of ice build up on the inside, due to condensation, making the snow air tight, you will need to make and keep clear a ventilation hole in the ceiling. Also don’t shut the door to snugly, allow some air to circulate through it, use your pack as the door, next scoop out a couple of shelves for candles, these will of course produce light but the main reason is to check for CO2 build up, they will go out if it gets to a high level.

Use the excavated snow to build a wind break outside, this will also prevent drifting snow from burying your doorway, you also make a seating and cooking area outside.

Cooking inside is not a good idea due to CO2 build up, but if you must, make sure have an extra ventilation hole above the stove.

Always leave the door partially open when the stove is on, put the stove outside when you first turn it off, as this is when it gives off the most fumes.

These shelters are good for 2-3 people; you can build multiple adjoining Quinzhee if your group is bigger.

Make sure you keep your shovel inside as a precaution, but make sure you keep it away from you while sleeping as aluminium conducts heat away from the body 100 times more than ice, where as snow is 20 times, so watch what you come into contact with.

Line your sleeping platforms with small branches, pine is good and also common, to give insulation from the snow. When sleeping do not put your head inside your sleeping bag as this will create condensation from your breath which will freeze, wear a balaclava and just put up with a cold nose!

If you have a fire outside make sure you avoid leaving anything that will cast a shadow over the fire as this lessens the heat.

Keep plenty of water available as the holy trinity of WATER, SHELTER and HEAT keep up a good energy level of energy in the body, and always keep a good sense of humour and a positive mental attitude. Always be aware of snow blindness.

Excuse the drawings!

** Snow Sintering is when snow crystals lose their points due to molecular motion, wind, and direct pressure. Physically breaking the snow crystals, for instance stomping on them or disturbing them with a shovel, will produce the same effect.