Jan 24, 2010 at 1:23 pm #1254466
On Thursday, Jan. 21st I snowshoed into the Spring Mountains just outside Las Vegas and near the small ski resort where I'm a patroller.
That day was the beginning of the last – and the worst – of the Pacific storms that hit southern California, and later Nevada, so hard. As a result it was snowing and blowing so much that I had to wear my ski goggles over my glasses.
With a Mt'n. Hardwear 4th Dimension Polarguard Delta -20 F. bag, Thermarest Trail Pro regular mattress, 2 man TNF Tadpole tent, MSR Dragonfly multifuel stove and other heavy winter clothing and a 7.4 lb. Dana Terraplane pack I had 48 lbs. on my back w/ food and water.
Using new 30" MSR Lightning Ascent snowshoes and old backcountry ski poles it was slow going as I sank in about 6" on each step (48 lbs. on my back :) so I only 'shoed in about 1 1/2 miles. Also I didn't go farther to avoid walking into potential avalanche terrain.
The storm grew worse as it got toward late afternoon so I chose a high spot in the small, high valley to camp. After stomping out a tent site with my snowshoes I let it settle & harden for about 45 minutes while I explored the area. Then I set up my tent around 4 PM. Next I dug a pit in my vestibule floor area so I could sit inside the the tent door with my legs dangling down in the pit. This is how I had to cook my meal B/C of the heavy wind and snow outside. After finishing my meal I melted snow to refill my hydration bladder.
Then took my felt pac liners out of my boots, telescoped the boot tops, one inside the other and and left them in the vestibule with my stove and cook pot. I put the felt packs & neoprene VBL sox in my (size long) sleeping bag. This is why winter bags need to be longer than summer bags. Also my hydration bladder went in the foot of the bag in a stuff sack. I removed the wet polypro liner sox, put on some clean, dry ones and my heavy "sleeping socks". Now I was ready for bed on a long winter's night
Then I donned my Brigade Quartemaster Thermolite Micro liner jacket, got most of the way in my bag and read 1/2 of a novel while sipping hot chocolate from an insulated mug. I felt very snug as the storm raged outside, snow beating on the tent fly and occasional heavy gusts shaking the tent.
At 9 PM. I finally dropped off to sleep.
At 10:12 I sat bolt upright at the sound of a mountain lion's deep growling not more than 50 ft. from my tent. Scared the hell out of me until I realized it's bears, not mountain lions that mess with tents full of food. I yelled back loudly a few times, turned my headlamp on and decided to read some more to calm myself. It worked and I went back to sleep around 11 PM, the storm worse than ever. I could see the sides of the tent being pressed in a bit with the drifting snow but felt it would "windproof" the tent as the gusts were by now at the least around 50 mph. I have to say, for a 3 season tent the TNF Tadpole is a very sturdy design and shed the wind well. Thinking back on what made the mountain lion growl I feel that it passed my tent, unaware that it was there. Then downwind it suddenly smelled me and was startled into growling.
At 7:15 in the morning I awoke to the sounds of 105 mm artillery being fired for avalanche control over at my ski resort. It was snowing lightly but the sun was breaking through. My vestibule was COMPLETELY filled with spindrift snow but none got inside my telescoped boots. And the tent walls pressed in even more, making it a true one man tent.
So I unzipped the vestibule door and got my avy shovel that I'd prudently stuck in the snow right outside the door the night before.
I shoveled out the vestibule, unburied my stove and 1 L. JB pot and cleaned all the snow out of the burner. Thankfully I had the stove and small fuel bottle attatched to an MSR circular plastic base made for the Dragonfly and it was easy to clean it all up.
I'd modified the Tadpole by basting ripstop panels to cover the mesh door and side panels but left some area above each panel and the top of the door for ventilation. It did a great job of keeping out the spindrift snow but it also kept in condensation. The top of my sleeping bag was entirely wet. That made my decision to break camp instead of staying the extra day I had planned for.
After a good breakfast of Ocean Spray cranberry oatmeal and decaf coffee & creamer I began packing up. It took me 1/2 hour to dig out the tent. And to think I'd debated on whether to bring my avy shovel!
The slog back to my patrol room where my RAV 4 was parked was beautiful with the sun now fully out.
It was a fun but too short trip. I've slept in -22 F. but never camped in a storm like that. It was an epic storm with 2 ft. of new snow by morning, for 5 ft. total for the winter so far. I hope that by next year I'll have a TT Scarp 2 and hopefully better ventilation/less condensation.Jan 24, 2010 at 1:59 pm #1565857
Great story. Photos?Jan 24, 2010 at 3:18 pm #1565873
Great story. Sounds like fun.
MikeJan 24, 2010 at 3:37 pm #1565877
I know the feeling! But I do have one question.
> I dug a pit in my vestibule floor area so I could sit inside the the tent
> door with my legs dangling down in the pit.
Obviously I have cooked many many times inside my tent in the snow. But I have never bothered trying to dig a pit in the vestibule. Instead I just recline on some CCF inside the tent and put the stove in the vestibule. It seems just as comfortable to me.
So what's with the digging a pit bit? What am I missing – apart from the labour of carrying the shovel and digging the pit?
CheersJan 24, 2010 at 4:32 pm #1565898
Sounds like a blast. Other than the noise from the animals.
I wish we got that kinda of snow here in the lower part of Michigan. That storm is about to us and we are only looking to get 3-5".Jan 24, 2010 at 4:49 pm #1565906
3-5 inches of snow would shut us completely down here in SC, and have everyone running to the store for bread and water…lol
Sounds like a great time. I hope to explore some in the west one of these days.Jan 25, 2010 at 8:58 pm #1566261
In "Allen & Mike's Really Cool Backcountry Ski Book" (p. 96) there is an illustration of a vestibule pit. This book is my fav for winter camping info. My pit was about 18" (50 cm.) deep.
This is also mentioned (as I reckymember) in one of Hilleberg's older catalogs.
This pit makes sitting to cook far more comfortable and puts the stove flame (& pot) a safer distance below the vestibule fly.
I suggest NOT making steps up out of the vestibule pit as this leaves an opening for snow to enter the pit under the closed vestibule door. If you must make steps then place your pack inside the pit so it blocks the steps at night. This means the steps need to be a bit narrower than your pack for a decent seal.
When using a vestibule pit I sit just inside my tent on the head end of my Thermarest mattress for the necessary insulation.
Finally, do as I say and not as I do and build a compacted snow "wall" about 1 ft. high around the outside bottom edge of the vestibule (except at the door) to keep out spindrift. Your vestibule door should obviously be downwind (Ullr being nice to you and not shifting the wind :).
P.S. Matt, I tried to take photos W/ my Samsung cell phone camera but it's battery was DEAD, even though it was off all night. :(Jan 25, 2010 at 10:14 pm #1566282
Good trip report, by the way Eric.
> This pit … and puts the stove flame (& pot) a safer distance below the vestibule fly.
Understood, and possibly a good idea with white gas stoves. They do flare during priming – scares me.
But with a good winter canister stove I cannot see any problem. The gas flame never gets anywhere near the fly.
> build a compacted snow "wall" about 1 ft. high around the outside bottom edge
> of the vestibule (except at the door) to keep out spindrift
Doesn't work in a gale. The wind curls around the wall and the spindrift gets in at a great old rate. Then the wind erodes the wall away at 2 am and I have to get out and rebuild it – in the gale. Vestibule ends up filled.
Far better imho is a sod cloth with lots of snow on it, smoothed over to avoid wind scouring. I added it after that 'exciting' trip. The blue is the sod cloth, before any snow was heaped on it. But it was a fine night anyhow!
What's with the 'wind scouring' one might ask. This photo shows what can happen around a tent – although it is a boulder in this case. The wind deflecting around any obstruction can carve out a lot of snow, especially newly stacked stuff.
CheersJan 25, 2010 at 11:08 pm #1566289
@b-g-2-2Locale: Silicon Valley
For some of us who are not terribly flexible, the trench or pit by the front door is good. We can sit and let our feet rest in the trench without stress. We generally have lightweight shovels, anyway, for avalanche safety, so it just takes a minute or two to dig a hole. It just seems easier for crawling into or out of the tent or shelter.
–B.G.–Jan 26, 2010 at 8:58 pm #1566644
I agree regarding "sod cloth" but for me that sod cloth would not be a ground cloth covering the vestibule floor. Instead it would 1 ft. be zip-on extensions to the bottom of the vestibule so I could bury them in the snow.
Then the vestibule "pit" would need to be smaller inside than the vestibule perimeter to keep the cloth well buried. I'd say that after stomping out a tent platfom the best way to bury a sod cloth edge is to make shovel slits in the work-hardened snow to insert the sod "flaps". Then make more shovel slits outside the buried cloth & push in against the cloth to secure it. Getting the sod cloth out after a few days may require digging rather than pulling.
As for snow scouring, I've seen it happen in high winds and loose snow. But this night I described had so much snowfall it was not a problem, even with the high winds.
I think I'll sell my present -20 F. synthetic bag and get one with more compactable synthetic fill, no sewn seam "welded" baffles, and a VERY water resistant shell – if such an animal exists.
Carrying an eVent bivy may be just too much extra weight. OTOH an eVent bivy may give that extra 10 F. of warmth that would warrant a bit lighter bag. I ain't sure yet. More research and feedback from experienced winter campers with newer water resistant shells &/or bivys is needed.Jan 26, 2010 at 9:03 pm #1566645
@robertm2sLocale: Lake Tahoe
Re: "For some of us who are not terribly flexible, the trench or pit by the front door is good." You speak TRUTH. It's like the difference between eating dinner sitting on a chair, and eating dinner sitting on the floor. P.S. Very clearly written report.Jan 27, 2010 at 1:13 am #1566681
I think I am a bit lost on your description of how you see a sod cloth. The way I use them is thus:
The blue lines are my sod cloths, sticking outwards, with compacted snow stacked on top of them.
Are you talking about putting the sod cloths on the inside of the tent, or even vertically into the snow?
CheersJan 27, 2010 at 7:30 am #1566734
How is the sod cloth attached to the fly?
– JutJan 27, 2010 at 7:51 am #1566739
@foundLocale: Sacramento, CA
That's really awesome that you had a mountain lion growling outside your tent. I'd love to experience that!
I too was camped out in the storm, in the mountains not 100 miles away. A little different story though, as I didn't have much wind. Just snow that required pushing off my tarp frequently or else it'd fully collapse. Really pretty mild for us out there compared to some storms. But friends got around four feet not far away in those four storm days.
My bigger worry was the storm that broke out when one group member tried to p1ss everyone else off with some racist remarks.Jan 27, 2010 at 10:09 am #1566772
@jackflLocale: New England
I'd like to add my compliments and suggest to the editors that this kind of detailed "day in the life" is a good format for how too articles that can generate a lot of good back and forth. Kind of in the vein of some of Colin Fletcher. Great stuff.Jan 27, 2010 at 12:43 pm #1566851
> How is the sod cloth attached to the fly?
This is a full-on serious winter snow tent. The sod clothes are sewn to the fly. In the next generation they will be integral with the fly.
Being silnylon they can slide through the snow. This can break them loose if there is a gale. I don't have a really great (fabric technology) solution for that yet, except to keep the spans between poles short enough and the pitch tight enough that the sod cloths can't move very much. That seems to work.
CheersJan 27, 2010 at 8:35 pm #1567055
Seems like one could have small pockets sewn in to fill with snow etc. to add resistance to prevent the cloth from pulling through. The extra weight would be pretty small burden compared to resetting them in the middle of the night during a storm.Jan 27, 2010 at 9:46 pm #1567086
> one could have small pockets sewn in to fill with snow etc
Hum … an interesting thought. I will think about that one. Need to be sure I can empty the pockets when rolling the tent up.
CheersJan 28, 2010 at 8:27 am #1567177
Yes your drawing is exactly how I define a sod cloth. I wasn't sure how you defined it (we being divided by a "common language" and all) :)
I'm trying to decide if zippers are the best way to attatch sod cloths to convert a tent for winter. Snaps would let in spindrift in a vestibule but would work elswhere.Jan 28, 2010 at 9:07 am #1567189
> Need to be sure I can empty the pockets when rolling the tent up.
Right triangles would probably be easier than squares.
The grey represents the snowJan 28, 2010 at 11:33 am #1567259
I like the triangle sod cloth pockets (of silnylon). Turn 'em inside out to empty the snow.Jan 28, 2010 at 2:46 pm #1567336
I wouldn't touch zippers for that use. They are extra weight, they would get dirt in them, they would freeze up, they might get damaged when being rolled up while frozen , they might …
I prefer to have separate tents. Luxury and cost, yes, but at 3 am in a howling gale on a snow-covered ridge, the cost is not high on my list of concerns.
The pockets … hum … interesting idea. Yes, they could be turned inside out. Has anyone ever done this? PLEASE let us know!
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