First attempt at a quinzhee; Winter:1, Ed:0

With all the snow on the ground I thought I’d practice some winter skills, so I decided to build a quinzhee.  Yesterday I shoveled fresh snow into an approx 5′ high pile, maybe 8′ around.   Today I began excavation.   It’s a good idea to let the snow sit, as it sinters together.

I began with a snow shovel, digging on the leeward (and slightly downhill) side of the pile, taking pains to minimize the size of the hole in the side.  I eventually got to the point where I couldn’t really reach any more snow inside the pile, scooping out what I could.  I slithered into the hole, and just began chipping away at the inside walls with my gloves.  As a bunch of powder accumulated on the floor, I pushed it down towards the opening and kicked it out with my feet.

I worked my way into the pile, until my feet were at the entrance; I figured in a real scenario a) you’d want to conserve energy, b) probably would be curled up to some degree, c) I felt safer with at least some part of me near the open air.  I excavated upwards perhaps 2 feet or so, the point where I could sit in a slouching position, propped on my elbows.

While building it I noticed immediately that the temperature inside got to the point where I could not see my breath; dangerous, because this means you’re melting the snow, weakening it and sintering it further, which reduces its insulating properties.

I slithered back out of the hole, then went around to the side opposite the hole and gradually ‘screwed’ the handle of the shovel down into the hole until I met the inner chamber; this would be my air ventilation.

I was doing this solo, so I didn’t spend a lot of time sitting in it, I didn’t want to tempt fate and have 200 lbs of snow dump down on me.  But, it was definitely warm in there, and out of the wind.   I think since the entrance was on the leeward side I probably could have used a larger opening as well.

The downside?   I did it wearing jeans and a cotton/polyester coat, and fleece gloves.  When done, everything I was wearing, down to my shorts, was wet.  My jeans were frozen at the cuffs.  In a real survival situation, you’d be dead from hypothermia.   The lesson – wear proper clothing, it gives you a much better chance, even if separated from the rest of your gear.

About smokebeard 135 Articles
Smokebeard has hiked the 2652 mile Pacific Crest Trail, the 2160+ mile Appalachian Trail, the 73+ mile Great Glen Cycle Route, all 46 of the Adirondack High Peaks, the 78+ mile Rhode Island North/South Trail, and the Saranac Six. He is also a certified Leave No Trace Trainer. A former MATC Caretaker in the Piazza Rock/Saddleback area, he’s passionate about applying Leave No Trace as an ethical system. His latest adventure was a 3 week thruhike of the 273 mile Long Trail in Vermont.

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