Disclaimer: I work in Google's Policy Team, developing multistakeholder cooperations for internet governance & policy themes, hence I want to point out that all the opinions and ruminations on this blog are mine, not Google's.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Finally, my first snow cave

My friends and I first talked about sleeping in a snow cave about five years ago when we where ski-touring in Norway, and the idea of building and sleeping in such a traditional shelter has been with me ever since. On several occasions we discussed whether or not to do it and NOW with these 2meters of perfect snow in the Sierra Nevada I was finally mentally prepared to do it :-)

I first consulted some websites. Especially this, and this (good pix) and this one (scroll to bottom) were quite helpful.

Then i went to a close by outdoor shop and bought a cheap 32$ bivvy sack and a 6$ three square meter silver-foil to reflect my body heat (not sure i really needed the latter).

As my partner from last weekend had to work i decided to go by myself. Naturally I was a bit ambiguous about the whole project. Hell would i do when the cave collapsed? As always traffic was worse than expected and I got to the trailhead around 12.00. Luckily the 3 miles to the Peter Grubb hut (at Mount Castle near Lake Tahoe) next to which i planned to dig my cave were not too difficult and i got there by around 3.30 pm.

The Building Process
The websites had recommended to look for a small not to steep hill and build the cave on the lee side where the wind had transported the drifting snow. I had also read to take advantage of a tree if possible. So i chose my spot at the tree you see at the right.

I dug a pretty deep whole in order to have the necessary depth to setup the cold-trap (the entry tunnel needs to be lower than your "bed"). On the picture you see the entry as well as the tunnel photographed from the sleeping position.

Things got a bit complicated once the horizontal entry tunnel was complete and i had to dig up vertically. I couldn't think of another way than to lay on my back, shove myself into the tunnel and work overhead -- with the result that a got my face etc. all wet from the falling snow. Once the tunnel was big enough for me to crawl into it things got gradually more comfortable. However the fact that i was by myself made the procedure more difficult as i had to gouge the "body" of the cave while constantly squeezing out to remove the snow from the entry hole.

The Night

The idea to build the cave next to the hut proved pretty clever, because all my cloth were completely wet after muddling through the wet snow for so long. I could have them dry in the hut, prepare a soup and some noodles and read a bit. At around 23.00 i prepared my gear: loaded the sleeping bag in the bivvy and filled the sleeping pad halfway with air. Then i went in my cave, spread the silver foil, draged the crash pad inside and filled it up. Last was the sleeping bag. Shit and the cave was full full full. But it was much too late for second thoughts. I got got rid of the outer shells of my ski boots (which was quite acrobatic given the tightness of the place) and climbed into my "bed" - not without reassuring myself that the shovel, which would allow me to dig myself out in case of an emergency, was right behind my head.

I fell to sleep without a problem, but kept waking up every two hours or so, because i couldn't really turn around, plus there were these ice water drops that interrupted my dreams. But overall it was pretty comfy and warm. In fact when i woke up at around 6.45 it was light already - a really awesome ice-blue light - and i decided to take another nap which lasted until almost nine o'clock when i rose out of my cave, completely relaxed and rested.

The whole building procedure took me about 2 and 1/2 hours and i have to say there is plenty of room for improvement :-) Even though it did remember to smoothen the caves ceiling (this is supposed to make melted snow run down the side walls), i apparently wasn't thorough enough because i had small but constant amount of drops drip on me all night. Also my cave was really small. It would have been much more comfortable if i could have sat up. A bigger would have prevented me slowly sliding towards the tunnel also. Well next time. I am optimistic that from now on snow caves (and igloos) will - slowly but surely - become my specialty :-)

1 comment:

Daniel said...

LOL!!! ROFL!!! Funny story, Max, you are surpassing yourself again and again. I guess I would have chosen the hut next door...