Jun 21, 2010 at 8:26 am #1260357
In the past I've never brought more than a tarp for summer trips where I usually go, in the Sierra. But next week my daughter and I are climbing Shasta, and I decided to buy tents for us for that trip. I have never used a tent before, and have never camped in snow before. The tents are Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1's, which are free-standing tents with a separate fly (I guess that makes it a 2-layer design?).
What should I know about technique? We've practiced setting them up in the back yard. I doubt that snow will fall while we're out, but I'm guessing that when we camp at 10,000 ft the night before summiting, there will be 100% snow cover. Although they're free-standing tents, it would obviously be preferable to stake them down. But I suppose this becomes impossible if you're camping on top of a thick layer of snow…? What do you do to keep it from blowing away when you're not inside?
Which way do you want your tent oriented with respect to the prevailing wind?Jun 21, 2010 at 9:21 am #1621900
@ngatelLocale: Southern California
First… I am not a snow expert, but have done my share of snow camping.
Can you just use a tarp if chances of snow is nil?
You can buy snow stakes or anchors. In past years I used snow stakes.
In any wind, the tent must be taunt. The BA looks tall to me, so a lot of surface area to catch the wind. Probably best to pitch the back to the wind.Jun 21, 2010 at 9:48 am #1621912
Thanks for the reply, Nick!
"Can you just use a tarp if chances of snow is nil?"
I wouldn't say nil, just low. I expect it to be cold and windy at 10,000 ft, and I'd rather have something with a boot, given all the possible ways of getting wet.
"You can buy snow stakes or anchors. In past years I used snow stakes."
Aha! I guess that was the info I needed.Jun 21, 2010 at 11:43 am #1621951
Here is the technique. We call it the Sierra Technique, even though Shasta is in the Cascades.
Often there is a natural berm of snow around the margin of your camp at Helen Lake. Use that to your advantage.
1. First, you pack the snow down to be hard and flat. This is easier with skis or snowshoes.
2. Figure out where you want a wind wall to cover three sides of the tent. With a shovel, cut out a snow blocks and set them into about three courses. This means that your wind wall will go up 2-3 feet from the surface level, and the dug-out hole will go 1-2 feet down from the surface level.
3. The very top of the tent may be exposed, but by shielding 80% of the tent from high winds, it will be a lot quieter and warmer inside.
4. Use the tent on a ground sheet. Plastic snow stakes work good. Also the large aluminum snow stakes. The small metal ones aren't much good up there. Don't guy it out very broadly, because somebody will trip over the lines.
5. When you are done, pack all of your skis and snowshoes down around the tent edges so that they don't blow away.
(I've seen well-staked tents that got caught in the wind and simply took off. They were last seen blowing over the ridgeline.)
–B.G.–Jun 21, 2010 at 12:03 pm #1621963
I had a bunch of lightweight aluminum tent poles that I use for snow stakes. About 18" long and very lightweight.Jun 21, 2010 at 12:12 pm #1621965
Most snow stakes have holes in them, and that makes it easier for snow packed around them to hold. I've never seen 18" stakes. Most of mine are 7" to 12" long. Anything 6" or shorter is worthless.
Part of the time up there the surface snow will be "ice cream snow" and part of the time it will be like armored steel. Fortunately, with an ice axe you can chip into the hard stuff.
–B.G.–Jun 21, 2010 at 12:27 pm #1621970
@biointegraLocale: Puget Sound
The SMC snow/sand stakes work well, but bend easily. The longer one is generally used for lighter/drier snow, while the shorter for more compact and stable snow.Jun 21, 2010 at 12:37 pm #1621974
@biointegraLocale: Puget Sound
You may consider a bivy, as well, in order to block the wind because of the inner mesh of the Seedhouse series.. Depending on where you camp, conditions, and crowding, you may not be able to build much of a snow wall. Most often, people opt for solid-wall inners for mountain tents, because they are warmer and help block the wind and sun more, although I have heard of people using this tent on mountains, as have I (an SL2). The biggest problem we had with the mesh was blowing sand while not camping on snow, but above tree-line. Be sure to have adequate cordage for guy-lines and extra in case of breakage. You can bury almost anything in the snow to use as an anchor for guy-lines. Some items include: skis, trekking pole sections, stuff sacks, pieces of wood or rocks, backpack aluminum stays, spare tent pole sections, etc. To the best of your ability, pitch your entrance down-wind, so that you can cook with the door open and not have your tent filled up with spindrift upon entering and exiting.Jun 21, 2010 at 12:47 pm #1621975
Yes, either of those SMC snow stakes are good choices.
I've used those, yellow plastic stakes with added holes, deadmen, pickets, skis, ski poles, and just about anything else we could lay our hands on.
When the wind blows really hard up there, it is important to have at least one bombproof anchor such as a metal fluke.
One year, we were all nestled down into the tent for the night, and a Forest Service ranger came by the tent to check on us. He commented about some snow problem, so he pulled up my ice axe (which was my bombproof anchor) to fix something. Then a minute later he replaced the axe back into its hole. What nobody realized until later was that the guyline looped around the axe was no longer looped. During the night when the wind storm got bad, the loose guyline led to the VE-25 fly coming halfway off, exposing the inner tent to the high wind. That led to one 18" seam rip. We survived the night, but it was awkward. That made me appreciate strong tents. The moral is, don't let anybody fool with your bombproof snow anchors.
–B.G.–Jun 21, 2010 at 1:15 pm #1621986
@owareLocale: Steptoe Butte
big rocks on your stakes, big rocks in your tent when you
leave.Jun 21, 2010 at 1:26 pm #1621989
David's advice is good in general. Unfortunately, Helen Lake seldom has any big rocks available on the snow. You could walk 200 yards away, find a big rock, and carry it back. This is a natural muddy pond in the late summer, but in the springtime (now) it is piled over with snow from the numerous avalanches that sweep it during the winter.
The campsite is about 150 yards away from the main avalanche path. Getting that space is kind of important.
–B.G.–Jun 21, 2010 at 2:09 pm #1622008
@klaseklofLocale: Northern California
I was just there.
No rocks available for anchors.
Yes 100% snow cover.
Snow at Lake Helen was "ice cream" as Bob suggested.
It might be hard in the morning but if the sun gets on it by afternoon it is a slushy mess.
So shallow anchors were worthless. Stories of tents blowing away…
A David Olsen (oware) pyramid tarp, no floor or ground sheets. Party of three.
I used two kinds of anchors to secure the shelter:
1. Trekking pole segments.
2. Parachute snow anchors similar to these http://www.rei.com/product/725165
Both of these objects were burried 2-3 feet deep.
I also carried the SMC snow stakes, and tried them on 2 midpoint tieouts. They melted and pulled out easily, so were replaced with pole segments.
Indeed there were high winds while we were climbing, but shelter stood strong. So no problem with anchors if built DEEP.
Just place your tent with the door facing up the hill, it's nice to look up at the route.
And Bob is correct about the proximity to slides.
There is a debris field only 100 feet above camp.
Have a great trip.Jun 21, 2010 at 2:46 pm #1622022
Klas has some good photos here. The first one seems to be the view from near Horse Camp, looking up Avalanche Gulch. The predominant bump in the middle of the gulch is Helen Lake, and it is normally attained by simple boots, or skis, or snowshoes. Above there, the slope gets steeper, and that explains why it avalanches above there. The steepest that it gets is about 30-33 degrees. His third photo is the view from the summit looking down onto the standard route, and you can see hikers who have gotten to the summit plateau. The last 100-foot pitch to the summit can be quite exhausting for a newbie with vertigo.
–B.G.–Jun 21, 2010 at 2:51 pm #1622029
I was just there this last weekend as well. We accidentally didn't grab enough stakes for some of the tents, so we ended up using trekking poles and our snow shovels. They worked just fine.Jun 21, 2010 at 2:56 pm #1622031
Snow shovels work pretty good up there. Unfortunately, there will be some other campers without a shovel. If they see a shovel laying around and they need one, they may just accidentally "borrow" it from your campsite. Anything of value and anything heavy tends to get stored inside the tent. Out of sight, out of mind.
–B.G.–Jun 21, 2010 at 3:15 pm #1622038
Also, we dug a small trench right at the entrance of our tent under the vestibule. It made a convenient place to put our boots/crampons on and off while avoiding bringing any snow into the tent.
And, if you want to avoid the crowds, consider setting up camp just a bit below Helen Lake. It makes for a little longer trip to the summit, but I enjoyed the privacy.Jun 21, 2010 at 3:16 pm #1622040
Love the pictures, Klas!
Since you're saying current conditions will make anchors a better bet than snow stakes — is there any point in buying snow anchors, or can I just take some extra stuff sacks, put something heavy in them, and bury them deep? We are not bringing trekking poles, so the selection of objects to stick in the snow will be limited.
I hear a lot about digging in the snow. Do I need to buy a special-purpose lightweight shovel and pack it up with me? I'm already visualizing my beautiful ultralight pack festooned with a whole bunch of rental equipment hanging on the outside (helmet, ice axe, boots).
-BenJun 21, 2010 at 3:22 pm #1622047
"I hear a lot about digging in the snow. Do I need to buy a special-purpose lightweight shovel and pack it up with me?"
Any ordinary snow shovel works, like what cross country skiers carry. LifeLink is a typical one. They are segmented so that they will break down and fit into a small pack. Lightweight ones typically have a Lexan blade. Others are metal. A big steel grain scoop gets a little hard to handle, especially if you only need to construct a couple of wind walls.
–B.G.–Jun 21, 2010 at 3:26 pm #1622049
"Which way do you want your tent oriented with respect to the prevailing wind?"
As a general rule, the wind hits hardest from the west. It is possible for it to be out of the north, but then it has to clear the ridgeline before hitting your camp below. When it really howls up there, it will seem to be hitting your camp circularly. I would typically put the foot of my tent into the expected wind direction and put my strongest anchor there.
–B.G.–Jun 21, 2010 at 3:36 pm #1622053
There are a couple of articles (maybe from Mike Clelland) here on BPL on snow camping, and also how to rig lightweight, bomb-proof anchors in the snow. (They're probably Member-Only, but would be a perfect reason to join right now. They'd probably save you that much in gear for this trip alone, not to mention the increase in comfort for you and your daughter)
If you fill a 10" stuff sack with snow and bury it horizontally with a guy around the middle, it makes a pretty bomb proof anchor. You might need an aluminium shovel or ice axe to get it out if it's frozen in in the morning.Jun 21, 2010 at 3:40 pm #1622054
I always figure on a 10% casualty rate for snow stakes on every trip up there. Typically they can be extracted with an ice axe.
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