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Eight lessons I learned snow camping so you don't have to
posted by John : January 21-22, 2017


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Choices in life


One of the services I perform for you is doing dumb things in the wilderness so you don't have to. I'm a giver. You're welcome.

This time it was snow camping. For those of you for whom the phrase "snow camping" doesn't compute just think of it as camping... on the snow. I know. Crazy, right?

Lesson 1: Unless you snow camp all the time everything is different and foreign.

We chose a well known destination. We've snowshoed and camped at Kendall Knob plenty of times before. In fact, I'd been there a week before for what turned out to be an epic sunrise over a layer of low clouds. We've had not-so-great days, too, but it's always worth it.

Lesson 2: Getting to camp in the dark sucks.

We started early (for us) at about 2pm. This meant we would be setting up our camp before it got dark. In 2016 we had left the trailhead after dark and getting camp set wasn't fun.

Lesson 3: Carrying a ton of firewood up a mountain in deep powder is hard.

Everybody loves a campfire. Especially in the snow where it's cold by definition. Between the light and the warmth a camp fire can truly warm you, but a fire requires fuel and fuel is heavy. My already fully loaded pack became obnoxiously heavy with the addition of five pieces of wood. Worse, the deep powder once we entered the woods made the going SLOW. In one section, now known as "Wallow Hollow," took us 15 minutes to go 15 feet.

Lesson 4: Igloos are awesome, but building one takes a while.

How awesome would it be to have an igloo? Totally awesome. How hard is it to build an igloo? Meh. It's time consuming, but not that hard. We had an Icebox igloo making kit to help making and placing blocks. (Affiliate links help support moosefish.com.) Shovel, dump, pack, slide, repeat. Round and round we go. It's not fast for sure, but the structure was remarkably solid. We stopped after about three courses and dug down inside the igloo with a seat. When we sat inside we were out of the wind and just that was a huge win.

Lesson 5: Fires are awesome, but OMG the smoke!

The reason we brought all that firewood up the hill was to have a fire. The best place for a fire? In the igloo of course. WRONG! Well, maybe it is the best place, but we didn't do it right. The fire was lovely and warm, but every puff of smoke blew into the igloo. Worse, it stayed there. Over the course of the evening the air inside became worse and worse. By the time I went to bed it was barely breathable. Getting the draft right is critical.

Lesson 6: Bye, bye, fire.

Fire is hot. Snow is vulnerable to heat. As the fire burns it descends into the snow. Over several hours our fire melted down through six feet of snow. When that snow melts it becomes water and water is not a friend of fire. Rather than sacrifice a piece or two of wood I brought a piece of metal to form a platform for the fire. Downside: You have to retrieve the metal at the end of the trip and pack it out.

Lesson 7: An eight-foot igloo is too small for three butts.

Of course we all wanted to cook breakfast in the igloo to stay out of the wind. 50 square feet is too small for three grown men to cook breakfast. Plan accordingly.

Lesson 8: Getting home is harder than you think.

After the climb getting to camp with a heavy pack, shoveling snow, and sleeping on the ground your much lighter pack will seem just as heavy as the day before. Plus it's all downhill, which is usually a little more challenging in snowshoes.

So when you head out for a snow camp keep these lessons in mind and with luck it'll be a little easier and more enjoyable.

And don't keep your lessons to yourself. What have you learned that you can share?

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