Snow shelter

11:43 a.m. on November 19, 2010 (EST)
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This could end up being a stupid question, and it's probably a bit stupid of me for even thinking it, but was going to put out a question. I was reading the snow camp postings and got some good advice from that.

Basically, I'm a bit in the same boat as second gear. This winter I'm thinking of doing some camping in the snow. A lot of the tips were already covered in that section, but I had something a little more technical.

Basically, I have no cold weather tent nor the money to buy one at this time. What I was thinking about doing instead was building a snow shelter for the night. But I read a trip report on here back last year from someone who did the same thing and it seems they had a cold uncomfortable night because once they were in the snow started melting and dripping on them.

What I was thinking, is to combat this I was going to perhaps wrap myself up in my tent's rainfly to protect me from moisture. Wondering what thoughts on this are. I'm a little afraid doing such a thing could be stupid and I guess I could smother to death in the thing. But it seems like the rainfly would be breathable enough.

I don't know. Any suggestions or am I just completely stupid and should wait until I can buy a cold weather tent or at least look for one to possibly rent?

3:26 p.m. on November 19, 2010 (EST)
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Not a dumb question at all. Snow camping is a whole different deal from the other seasons.

I've done a couple of winter trips in the Sierra (I'm at Yosemite in my picture) so my limited experience is based on those trips. Bill S is the expert.  My perspective is that of a novice winter camper with a few trips to talk about.

For a good introduction to snow camping, get a copy of "Allen & Mike's Backcountry Ski Book." There is a revised edition out available from Amazon and other fine retailers. About half the book is about backcountry skiing and the back half is winter camping.

I have a winter tent I got off eBay a few years ago. Can't remember what I paid for it, but less than $200 and probably much less. It weighs about 8 lbs. but should withstand pretty bad weather.

Where you go and in what weather will determine what kind of shelter you need. I was up at Mt. San Jacinto above Palm Springs last Feb. and didn't even bother to put up my tent for the night since it was perfectly clear and still.  The snow was several feet deep, so I just dug out a trench with my shovel (mentioned below) to make a level platform and laid my pads and bag out in it.

On the other hand,  last time I was in Yosemite, it was snowing, so my tent was a great shelter for that.

Snow caves, quinzees and igloos take time to make. I saw a couple of snow caves at Yosemite last time I was there. They were made by a troop of Boy Scouts and the leader told me they worked great. Making a snow cave alone will be time consuming.  The weather needs to be cold enough for it to be stable.

A "cold weather tent" as you call it, isn't really for cold weather, it is for bad weather-wind and snow. Mine is a double wall, five pole freestanding tent with two doors, a big vestibule and a little one at the back.  If the weather is fine, but cold, almost anything will do. Some people use hammocks and tarps in winter, depending again, on the weather.

One thing I would always bring is a shovel. Mine is a Voile Mini, but BD and other companies make them. Don't buy one with a plastic blade-it won't cut through ice like you might find if digging out a snow cave-get a metal blade.

I don't know where you plan on going, but if the snow is any more than a foot or so deep and is soft, I'd take snowshoes. Trying to walk through deep snow without them will wear you out in a very short time. Skis are an alternative, but snowshoes are cheaper and easier to use. Used snowshoes can be had cheap. I've seen them on Craigslist for around $75 for a decent brand.  You won't need the heavy duty mountaineering ones. A basic model from Atlas, Tubbs, MSR or even Yukon Charlies will do fine.

If you have trekking poles, put snow baskets on them and you are good to go.  Don't have trekking poles? Get the cheapest pair of ski poles you can find. You'd be amazed how easy it is to topple over in snow while wearing a backpack and getting back up on your feet wearing snowshoes is not easy.

This guy has some entertaining videos about camping and winter camping with a hammock and tarp-he seems a bit strange a first, but don't let that fool you, he seems to know what he's talking about. The website his link is on is also good for winter camping info or all sorts. He has a whole channel of stuff on YouTube.

http://www.wintercampers.com/2009/02/08/entertaining-winter-camping-videos-by-shug/

8:59 p.m. on November 19, 2010 (EST)
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I have experienced “rain” in a snow cave on several occasions.  The most recent was at the base of the Minarets in February 2003.  The day time temperature got up to the mid 60s, radically alternating the snowscape of all sun exposed aspects.  Relocating to a hard shaded area made the situation manageable.  But sometimes nothing works, in which case it is just as well to abandon caving, as a dissolving snow pack can abruptly collapse on you.  But I digress.

Sometimes dripping is caused by building the cave with walls that are too thin.  The thin walls are inadequate to absorb heat without melting.  You’ll want at least 12” thick walls; I try to have at least several feet thickness on mine.

While dripping is almost always a problem in warm weather, it can be a problem in cooler weather too.  There are a few tricks to managing water in a snow cave.  To reduce overhead drips, the cave ceiling should be smooth with not features that serve as drip points for water to drop from. The water will tend to run down the contours of the cave ceiling.  To minimize exposure to standing moisture, bed platforms should be raised off the cave floor, and a shallow drainage trench carved around the perimeter of the platform.  If serious dripage is a problem, try leaving the entrance to the cave open, and pop some additional ceiling vents to the surface if necessary.

Ed

11:49 a.m. on November 23, 2010 (EST)
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Rocklion -

As the other two have responded, this is not a dumb question at all.  Winter camping can be tricky, and good tactics can make a huge difference.  

"Wrapping" yourself in a waterproof barrier, such a tent fly, could be effective, but it will have some drawbacks as well.  First of all, your tent fly is probably not very breathable.  Tent flys - especially on less expensive tents - are designed to be waterproof and tough.  Tents are typically designed in a way that the gap between the body and the fly allows ventilation, and this current helps manage condensation caused by our respiration.  So, while your tent fly is waterproof, it is not going to breath well at all.

Even breathable fabrics have trouble managing moisture without ventilation.  Alpine climbers have used bivy bags to protect themselves in places that tents won't go; skiers have used them inside snow caves to protect themselves in the aforementioned "rain."  The reality is that if you put a waterproof barrier close to your body or sleeping bag, you're going to get a little wet.  This is generally not dangerous, and maybe not even irritating - and if it is better than the alternative, then it's worth it.

What many ultra-light backpackers, and mountaineers have discovered is that a versatile tarp set up can offer protection and comfort.  Tarps are inexpensive compared to tents.  A good tarp can be set up like a tent or wrapped around you like a bivy bag, depending on your needs.  There are literally thousands of possibilities.

A good tarp will have several attachment points on its perimeter, and maybe even hook-and-loop fabric sewn to its edges to permit it to close up like a bag.  Consider how it will interface with a trekking pole or two, and if it can be used like a tent.  

I am an ambassador for Brooks Range Mountaineering, so my experiences are biased, but I think Brooks Range has an incredible range of tarps and shelters.  Check out the site for some ideas.  And to be fair, there are other good tarps out there as well - so shop around.  

http://brooks-range.com/tarps-tents-shelters/

You are correct that you don't need a full four-season tent to go winter camping.  But I wouldn't recommend wrapping yourself in a rainfly.   

 

As always, I am happy to answer more questions or go into further detail. 

Cheers, Donny

 

 

 

 

7:55 p.m. on November 23, 2010 (EST)
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managing "rain" in a snow cave - as mentioned keep the walls smooth - and dig a moat around where the "walls" and "floor" meet - figured this out years ago when  tent shredded and I had to dig a cave fast - so long as the top of the cave is curved and not flat the water should run down the sides into the moat - you'll get more rain while cooking -

Snow caves, however, are much warmer than a tent - especially if it's windy - others have discussed temperature management and the like - be damn sure to have multiple vents and keep them clear - which can be tough if it's snowing or windy - otherwise the CO levels can rise to dangerous levels -

Above all - enjoy - winter (blissfully right around the corner here in the North Eastern US) is my favorite season - you can always pile on more layers but there's a legal limit to how far you can strip down when it's hot!

7:06 a.m. on November 24, 2010 (EST)
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I'd like to know more about how that tarp system works. I had been told you needed to also have a bivy bag, but it looks to me like you can fold it enough to have and A-frame with a floor around you.

But then you don't even have to do that. Correct? You bring a ground cover, you can lay on that.

1:15 p.m. on November 24, 2010 (EST)
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..you'll get more rain while cooking...

Cooking in a snow cave - or tent for that matter -  isn't such a great idea.  The poisonous gas issue is one thing, but there is also the specter of a gas fueled fire in an cramped, enclosed space with just one exit, which is generally blocked by the very stove that is malfunctioning.

 

Ed

2:09 p.m. on November 24, 2010 (EST)
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Here is a link to a clip from the PBS show "Christmas in Yellowstone."  I saw this a couple of years ago. The PBS website has other clips from the show as well.

The photographer is using a tarp, but I doubt that was the case for the camera crew following him around-

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/episodes/christmas-in-yellowstone/video-winter-survival-gear/4455/

I would never go out with a minimal shelter like he has, just not enough for me. Even a tarp like Shug Emery has would give you more protection.

Also, he says he was carrying 70 lbs. of gear. I couldn't carry anywhere near that much, let along wear it a long distance, which is why I used a sled on my trips, with maybe 50 lbs. of gear.

One thing you take away from this show is how beautiful Yellowstone is in winter-something few people get to see.

2:42 p.m. on November 24, 2010 (EST)
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The neat thing about tarps is the versatility they provide.  StatDoc mentions that snow caves are warmer than tents, which is true.  But they can take a while to build and can be tough in certain conditions.  Tarps change the equation.  It is no longer a choice between tent or snow cave.  Instead you get to create a shelter that works well for the conditions.  Essentially, you can create some version of a snow cave and finish it with the tarp.  There are so many combinations.  

As for the bivy bag part of the equation, I usually do everything I can to avoid sleeping inside a bivy bag.  A good sleeping bag goes a long way.  If you're well insulated, then a little contact with snow isn't going to make the bag too wet.  You'll be on top of a sleeping pad, and you can use your clothing as an extra barrier.  If you've protected yourself from precipitation and wind, you're way ahead of the game.  

One spring, I spent somewhere around twenty nights out using this type of system while ski mountaineering in Colorado.  I was using a down bag, and never used a bivy bag once.  I think the closest I got was during an open bivy at 12,000 feet.  A small storm came in during the night, and I had just dug a small pit to create a little wind block.  I pulled out a thin tarp and tucked it under my sleeping pad, but keep the feet and head open.  It probably only snowed an inch, but I was totally fine.  

You're looking for an answer, but there are too many combinations to list.  You have to look at your situation, and then like a little kid building a fort, you create a solution that you think will work.  As long as you're not experimenting while on a significant expedition, you'll be totally fine - even if things don't go perfectly.  

It sounds like you're looking for a simple, light, cheap solution.  Tarps can offer this.  Don't complicate the situation with bivy bags and ground clothes. Sleeping bag and pad; good clothing; a tarp; and ways to suspend it (ski poles, cord, skis, etc.)  

This has been kind of inspiring.  I might try to get out for a quick overnight soon.  If I do, I'll put some photos up.

Cheers, Donny

 

 

8:20 p.m. on November 24, 2010 (EST)
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Something that has not been made clear in this thread, and probably something that most people are not aware of is that there are "tarps" and there are "tarp tents". In my experience, the majority of people hearing the term "tarp" (no, not the political term TARP having to do with financial problems) think of one of those rectangular blue plastic things you get at WalMart or Orchard Supply. Some are aware of the "SilTarps", which are also rectangular.

Some of the rectangular tarps are made with grommets and tie points with the intention of pitching them as lean-tos or pup tents, or perhaps suspended above a cooking area.

Tarp tents, on the other hand, include shelters such as floorless pyramid or conical (teepee-like) congifurations, such as Black Diamond's Megamid (including their ultralite version made from silcoat fabric), or my favorite Posh Tent (made by a tiny company located in Alaska, very popular among guide services as a cook tent). In other words, tarps sewn to a tent-like shape. Typically, the skirt of the tarp tent is buried in the snow for winter usage (some configurations have snow flaps) to keep out the wind. Ventilation is provided by vents in the roof that can be opened by varying amounts, or in some cases the main door zipper that may have a hood over the upper part of the zipper to provide ventilation while keeping blowing snow out. The Posh Tent has a "front" and "rear" full zip entrance. This configuration actually is an excellent tent for winter and high altitude storm conditions. In snow, the common approach is to dig a pit with benches and a center "table". For only 3 pounds (the Megamid) or 1.5 pounds (the silcoat version), you get a shelter that will comfortably sleep 4 people and their gear, sheds wind, snow, and rain, and allows standing upright. There are basin floors available for use in summer, as well as a bug screen liner for buggy conditions.

There are other tarp tent configurations as well, where the fabric is cut to be pitched in a tent-like configuration with front and in some cases, rear, doors. Plus there are shaped tarps designed to be strung up over 

Flat tarps can be versatile. The shaped tarps are not so versatile, and pretty much have to be pitched in only one shape.

A couple of people have mentioned variations on the "snow coffin". This is just a rectangular pit, a bit longer than body length, with the opening covered with a rectangular tarp.  In case of expected heavy snow, you can use branches, skis, or snowshoes to provide extra support for the tarp to minimize sagging.

Another variation of the snow coffin is to dig it a bit deeper, then dig a slot in the side (both sides, if you have two people) to provide sleeping bunks (about the size of the bunks in the old submarines - take a look at some of the old WWII movies). This provides a bit of a cold trap (colder air sinks, so the air temperature at your bunk level is a couple degrees warmer).

There was some poo-pooing of bivy sacks. But one very light configuration is to use a bivy sack with a small rectangular siltarp pitched to shield the upper half of the bivy sack plus a bit beyond the head end of the bivy. The appropriate size siltarp is about 8 ounces, combined with a 1-1/2 pound bivy. I have used this combination very comfortably in a fairly strong Sierra blizzard and in a Deep South thunderstorm that stuck around for almost 12 hours. One big advantage is that you can cook very comfortably under the small tarp without worrying about the ventilation problem.

Oh, yeah, you really don't want to use that siltarp for a ground cloth - it is much too expensive to subject it to hard, rocky, gravelly, sharp-stick-strewn ground. A $1.50 plastic 3-mil painter's drop cloth works just fine for a ground cloth inside your tarp tent.

9:52 p.m. on November 24, 2010 (EST)
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Well, I was looking for an easy cheap solution for this trip, but the advice I'm finding here sounds like it could be pretty permanent on my end. I like the idea of the tarp or tarp tent. Not having any experience in winter camping, I kind of got fixated that you had to have a four-season tent, but hearing those with experience say its not needed certainly helps clear things up.

12:33 p.m. on November 25, 2010 (EST)
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....I kind of got fixated that you had to have a four-season tent, but hearing those with experience say its not needed certainly helps clear things up.

Rocklion,

The key phrase here is "those with experience." I definitely would not advise someone with, say, only summer backpacking experience to set off into a blizzard (or forecasts of a possible blizzard) and subzero temperatures with only a tarp for shelter. That's asking for big trouble, just like someone setting off on a 50 mile trek in midwinter in the NH Whites, Sierra, Rockies, or Cascades with T-shirt and shorts for clothing.

Back to the basic advice always given here on Trailspace - start with little steps, trying things out and building your experience. Find out what works for you. For winter, try out a tarp by car camping on a benign weekend (snow on the ground, temperatures a little below freezing, but no storms expected). Use your 3-season experience to guide you. You may find that is just the ticket. Or you may find yourself huddled shivering in the car, thumbing through the catalogs and eyeing the 4-season expedition tents.

One of the most fun parts of winter camping is the experimentation - try the 3-season tent in a blizzard with a lodge near at hand to bail to. Try different kinds of snow shelters. Find out for yourself why experienced winter campers say "NEVER camp under a tree during a storm!" (hint - when the snow accumulates enough on the branches, they dump - right on top of your head or tent). Plan on lots of backups and gradually learn how much you can cut the lifeline.

6:41 p.m. on November 27, 2010 (EST)
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Rocklion,

I use a three season tent all year round.   I live in Nova Scotia , Canada and we have wet heavy snow.  The key for me is a dome shaped tent, something the snow won't build up on.  You can bank the snow up around the base of the tent for extra protection from the wind if there is any.  An important feature for me when considering winter camping is warm sleeping gear.  If you have that it is always a pleasure!

Jacqueline

3:04 p.m. on November 28, 2010 (EST)
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Yeah, I think I do have a plan of action now. I know some people have mentioned I should camp out in the back yard, car camp, etc. before doing any kind of backpack camping, but that's not possible for me. That's kind of one of the purposes of this trip. I don't get any snow in my parts. We had about five inches one day last winter and that was the most we had gotten in 15 years.

My plan is to go to Roan Highlands up on the Tennessee-North Carolina border. It gets snow up there, but it's nothing like the Rockies or Canada or New Hampshire. That's not to say I'm not going to respect it, but my thinking is it should be a nice area to kind of get broken in.

I'm pretty much sold on going with my three-season tent now. Thought about it and thought about it and decided that I think it probably would be sufficient for one night. I'm also going to keep an eye out on the weather and if it looks to randy I'll turn back or cancel. I'm renting some snowshoes to try them out. My plan on that is to only go a few miles in. Maybe 2 or 3 miles from the main road. While it's probably smarter to car camp first, I would like to get some snowshoe experience. Even if its just a little jaunt up to the top of the mountain so I can get some good views.

One good thing, just found out one member of our party heading up there is a medic.

4:16 p.m. on November 29, 2010 (EST)
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Depending on the snow, 2-3 miles on snowshoes is like 4-6 miles on foot, or more. Another first time snowshoer on another forum found that out last week. He was in Yosemite, so you may have milder conditions, but if you aren't on hardpack snow (like a road for example), snowshoeing will take a lot more time and energy than hiking, so keep that in mind.

I would use trekking poles (or ski poles) when snowshoeing, otherwise, your chances of falling over at least a few times are about 100% unless you are on hardpack, in which case, you probably don't need the snowshoes in the first place.

5:59 p.m. on November 29, 2010 (EST)
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Already a step ahead of you on the trekking poles. On my Christmas list this year. :-) Been needing some for awhile anyway. Also, have gloves on that Christmas list as well. Don't want to get out there and get frostbitten hands.

The good thing about the place we are going is we should have great views from the moment we step foot on the trail. One reason I chose this place. So, if we only go a mile and get tired, we'll just set up shop and camp out. One thing I don't want to do is get in my head a mileage or a destination. Just want this to be about the experience.

8:46 p.m. on November 29, 2010 (EST)
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Forgot to add-get snow baskets and make sure they are for your brand of poles.

For gloves, I have a pair of OR liner gloves, Heat Factory Snow Claw mitts, a pair of wool gloves and a pair of mitt shells. I plan on getting a pair of Dachstein wool mitts for this winter.

There are dozens of gloves and mitts available.

4:55 p.m. on December 1, 2010 (EST)
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Bill S has it dialed!  Solid advice and great analysis. 

Enjoy your experimental jaunt into the winter wilderness.  I am confident you'll be fine and enjoy yourself immensely - even if your gear isn't perfect.  

If you do love it and want to upgrade your system, go back to Bill S's piece and do some shopping from there.  There are lots of options!   

5:01 p.m. on December 1, 2010 (EST)
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Bill S -

Have you ever checked out any Brooks Range gear?  Do you plan on going to the OR show this winter?  It'd be great to get your thoughts.

Cheers, Donny

1:58 p.m. on December 8, 2010 (EST)
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Hey, Donny. Bill is headed for points south, so I'll jump in.

I know Bill has checked out Brooks Range gear at OR, if not also in the field, and he's usually at OR.

I'll be at the winter show. Either me or Dave will be checking out Brooks Range. Are you usually around their booth?

11:15 p.m. on December 8, 2010 (EST)
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Alicia I know OR has put a threadout on the show I have it on facebook. there also haveing special drawings and give aways. That what I caught in the thread link.

7:12 p.m. on December 10, 2010 (EST)
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Thank God for tents...we got caught one year in a brutal storm.  We had NO energy or will to build a snow shelter.  I suppose all I am saying is have a back up plan.  Bring your 3 season incase your snow shelter doesnt work for you.

=)


P1300424.jpgWe were frozen by the time we made camp ... but had full intentions of making a snow quinzee. As you can see we had plenty of `white gold` to work with.

11:27 p.m. on December 15, 2010 (EST)
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AdrianInTent_1985.jpg

I am getting out of my tent, after I knock off some of the ice on my ski boots from yesterday.

It is not just being tired or in a storm, there are other problems that make a snow shelter difficult to deal with is.... you just got to your campsite 'tramped' or flattened an area for a tent in case you need one.  It has been a long day, the shadows are long and you are making a snow shelter.  Now, your (relatively) warm legs melt the snow while you are on your knees and, you pants are thoroughly wet.  At that point, a tent is a good alternative.  It is the quickest way to get out of your wet pants.
I could see myself successfully making a snow shelter by X-C skiing about a half day, then take my time, use close cell pads when on the whether it is your knees or stomach.... then make an igloo or dig out a snow shelter.  I am looking forward to this spring.

10:02 a.m. on December 16, 2010 (EST)
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IMG_0422.jpg

I have managed a couple ski tours where I relied on snow shelters each night.  Under ideal conditions, a snow cave can be built relatively quickly, without getting to wet.  

But Adrian does have a good point.  There are often conditions that are less than ideal and setting a tent is preferable.  But four-season tents are often heavy.  And going through this forum, I think it's not unlikely that many of us travel alone into the backcountry.  So adding six to eight pounds to a pack is a big deal.  

Brooks Range Mountaineering has created a tent that is a true four-season, storm ready, alpine tent that weighs 1lb. 6oz.  It's a great shelter for one person.  It actually will fit two, but I wouldn't recommend it for extended trips. 

(I will disclose that I am a Brooks Range Ambassador.  I don't want to "pitch the tent" on this thread.  I did review it - http://www.trailspace.com/gear/brooks-range/rocket-tent-s2/review/20656/  And there is an even more complete review linked from there.)

This tent doesn't actually meet one of the primary requirements of the original poster - it is not cheap.  But since we have started talking about four season tents, I thought I'd throw this out there as it is pretty "techy" as tents go.  

Again,  I don't think the question is tents OR snow shelters.  It's a matter of application.  Tents are easier to set up, and generally more protective.  If you can keep the weight down then you've got a better tool for more places.  


 

12:48 p.m. on December 16, 2010 (EST)
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for the average person I think tents are more protective, but to the person who knows how to build a solid snow shelter, I would say those are as protective as they get. Not necessarily always comfortable, but protective.

Think about igloos and what not - once they freeze solid, they are literally as solid as a house.

7:12 p.m. on December 16, 2010 (EST)
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..you'll get more rain while cooking...

Cooking in a snow cave - or tent for that matter -  isn't such a great idea.  The poisonous gas issue is one thing, but there is also the specter of a gas fueled fire in an cramped, enclosed space with just one exit, which is generally blocked by the very stove that is malfunctioning.

 

Ed

 temp well below zero, winds at 70+ MPH - you vent as best you can and take your chances because you aren't going to survive outside of the shelter in those conditions.  There are risks - you either accept them and mitigate them as best you can given the conditions you're presented with or you stay home.  I'll admit - we were stupid 18 year old kids - probably lucky to be alive (this event plus spending our summers climbing abandoned quarries with gold line, machine nuts with the threads reamed out as protection and other home made "gear" while wearing mountain boots) - but it worked.  Failing the hot food that we cooked we'd have been discovered during the spring melt - rather than graduating and going on to higher learning and dumber activities (like jumping out of planes, free-soloing overhangs on lousy rock, having relationships, getting married, having kids, driving to and from work)

11:30 a.m. on December 17, 2010 (EST)
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to avoid having to cook inside a tent or snow shelter, I always try to bring plenty of food that doesn't require being cooked, as well as some that does.

One good food for people to take if they like it is canned corn beef hash. Of course you take it out of the can, and triple layer the ziplocks so it doesn't leak and stink you up.

But it's high calorie, can be eaten cold, and gives you quick fatty energy with protein.

11:56 a.m. on December 17, 2010 (EST)
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...climbing abandoned quarries with gold line, machine nuts with the threads reamed out as protection and other home made "gear" while wearing mountain boots)

 Climbing with Goldline, now that's taking your life in your hands ;)

1:53 p.m. on December 17, 2010 (EST)
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 temp well below zero, winds at 70+ MPH - you vent as best you can and take your chances because you aren't going to survive outside of the shelter in those conditions.  There are risks - you either accept them and mitigate them as best you can given the conditions you're presented with or you stay home.  I'll admit - we were stupid 18 year old kids - probably lucky to be alive (this event plus spending our summers climbing abandoned quarries with gold line, machine nuts with the threads reamed out as protection and other home made "gear" while wearing mountain boots) - but it worked.  Failing the hot food that we cooked we'd have been discovered during the spring melt - rather than graduating and going on to higher learning and dumber activities (like jumping out of planes, free-soloing overhangs on lousy rock, having relationships, getting married, having kids, driving to and from work)

Certainly advising someone who is just now considering snow camping that cooking in a cave is a nominal practice does not pass as good advice.  Note the key point of your tale is you did many foolish things.  Using a stove in a cave was another one you got away with, along with all the other lapses in judgement mentioned.

Sub zero with a gale?  I and my teammates have traveled outside in those conditions on many adventures, in addition to cooking.  You anticipate such conditions at high altitude, equip accordingly, and set up camp to cope with it.  I know of too many stove accidents sustained by experts - some that had catastrophic consequences- to consider this anything more than a last resort.  There are very few times when cooking in confined places is a safer alternative to cooking outside, braving the elements.  Conditions that mandate cooking within a small tent or cave are epic, with very few of us having the misfortune or opportunity of experiencing them.  Do note most tales that justify this practice involve folks who allowed themselves to get mired down in situations that debilitated them to the margins.  Even at the highest camps on K2 climbers who are not in immediate mortal peril cook outside the confines of tent and cave.  Certainly if you can erect a serviceable barrier, you can leave your stove cooking outside while you retreat to the confines of your cave until the water is up to temp.  Remember the risks of possible frost nip are far outweighed by those of a serious stove fire (which often lead to multiple potentially more deadly consequences).  Given the trade offs, the smart climber will cook inside only under imminent life and death circumstances.

The lesson learned from climbers retelling their tales of near death is not that cooking in caves is ok, the lesson is don’t let yourself get sucked into these situations in the first place. 

Ed

2:08 p.m. on December 17, 2010 (EST)
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to avoid having to cook inside a tent or snow shelter, I always try to bring plenty of food that doesn't require being cooked, as well as some that does.

 EXACTLY!  An example of planning and preparation to preclude unnecessary risk.  Of course this doesn't preclude melting ice for water, but it does reduce the amount of suffering one experiences sticking thier head out of a cave into the elements, tending a stove.

Ed

4:27 p.m. on December 17, 2010 (EST)
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Ed -

 

water can be the tricky part...

4:55 p.m. on December 17, 2010 (EST)
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Ed -

 

water can be the tricky part...

 Yea, but I think you and I are on the same wave length here.

Ed

6:17 p.m. on December 17, 2010 (EST)
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Admonish me if you will for what I did to survive on a mountain quite likely before some of you were born - it was 1977 and I'll admit we did some foolish things - the salient point is - bad planning, inexperience, poor equipment aside -we walked out - hydrated, fed, terrified and quite happy - with (between us) twenty fingers, twenty toes, four ears and two noses - you've got to admit that somewhere along the line - we did something right. I've come across a couple corpses in the wild - perhaps they didn't have the drive to deal with the situations they'd encountered and just gave up - or spent their time searching for canned food rather than trying to make the best of the situation they found themselves in. And Goldline - for all its faults - saved my kiester on a number of occasions - as for the quarries - that's where you learn about "portable holds" End of my comments

7:13 p.m. on December 17, 2010 (EST)
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Admonish me if you will for what I did to survive on a mountain quite likely before some of you were born - it was 1977 and I'll admit we did some foolish things - the salient point is.. .. we walked out.. .. we did something right...

For your information, I am in my early sixties, considered by many as immature, but by no means young:) 

Actually the salient point is you made it out due to dumb luck - regardless of an abundance of potentially fatal errors in judgment.  But my intent wasn't passing judgment on your mistakes, lord we all have made our share.  Instead, I am criticizing the advice you offer up to a relative beginner, it flies in the face of what the vast majority of backcountry experts have to say about the topic of fires in confined spaces.  Somewhere along the line you may have done something right, but using a stove in a cave most likely wasn't a critical factor in you being here, intact, and sharing your misadventure with us.

Ed

11:39 a.m. on December 18, 2010 (EST)
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I built and lived in a Igloo on top of El Cap in Yosemite National Park in the winter/spring of 1980. I built it with the spiral brick-like design I had seen in Alaskan igloo's. It stood for the whole winter and was still in pretty good shape after 90% of the snow had melted away around it in May.

I used to build snow forts as a kid, and they were basically  snow that was either drifted or I piled up and then dug out like a cave. I used to put a old blanket over the top to help keep it from collapsing better.

They can be very warm inside despite the fact they are made of snow and ice. With just a few candles and my stove running when cooking it would warm up to where I could take off my shirt. Just have to poke a few breathing holes in it so you don't sufficate during the night.


The-hardest-part-of-building-an-igloo.jp

The hardest part of building a igloo is getting the top blocks to stay by cutting them to fit while inside.

9:06 p.m. on December 22, 2010 (EST)
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Admonish me if you will for what I did to survive on a mountain quite likely before some of you were born - it was 1977 and I'll admit we did some foolish things - the salient point is.. .. we walked out.. .. we did something right...

For your information, I am in my early sixties, considered by many as immature, but by no means young:) 

Actually the salient point is you made it out due to dumb luck - regardless of an abundance of potentially fatal errors in judgment.  But my intent wasn't passing judgment on your mistakes, lord we all have made our share.  Instead, I am criticizing the advice you offer up to a relative beginner, it flies in the face of what the vast majority of backcountry experts have to say about the topic of fires in confined spaces.  Somewhere along the line you may have done something right, but using a stove in a cave most likely wasn't a critical factor in you being here, intact, and sharing your misadventure with us.

Ed

You're 14 years my senior so obviously I should bow to your wisdom but Phil Ochs faced this issue as well - and decided to not bow (reference his song "I've got to know" from 1966 or '67).  We survived - maybe by  dumb luck - perhaps dying in our teens lying frozen by a shredded North Face tent on the side of a mountain would have been a much better and more mature decision than digging a cave, dealing with the situation, melting snow for hydration and cooking hot food to keep our body temperatures up.  I'm not recommending cooking in a snow cave - but it beats the hell out of dying from exposure.

I'll admit we were ill prepared, we didn't sign in, no one knew where we were going and no one knew when to expect us back - in fact my parents went to the grave never knowing about the incident - nor did they know about my free-soloing overhanging crap rock, base jumping from radio towers or doing 150+ while test driving a 928 - life happens - sometimes you just need to ignore the prophets of doom and failure and do it.

 

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