Field Notes: Retreat from a Spring Alpine Storm
Apr 12, 2019 at 9:16 pm #3588504
Companion forum thread to: Field Notes: Retreat from a Spring Alpine Storm
On the leading edge of the last bomb cyclone storm cycle that hit the Rockies and Midwest this spring (April 2019), I was hoping to get in a quick 24-hour trip up in the high country of Wyoming’s Snowy Range.Apr 12, 2019 at 10:12 pm #3588508Richard NisleyBPL Member
@richard295Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
If you hadn’t relied on your own 1mm Dyneema cord (~200 lbs tensile strength), would the shelter have been adequate to handle the wind you experienced?Apr 12, 2019 at 11:33 pm #3588514Lester MooreBPL Member
@satoriLocale: Olympic Peninsula, WA
Thanks Ryan for an interesting trip report – it brings back fond memories of winter camping back in the day. Do you think you would have fared better by camping in a dense cluster of trees rather than in the open? What gear choices do you feel would have allowed you to continue spending the night in that location for the least amount of extra weight?
On at least two occasions I remember retreating under similar windy and dark conditions. The first was while setting up a VE-24 tent near dusk, which was anchored with skis in somewhat shallow snow above treeline, the tent actually blew away. We stood and watched it fly nearly 2000 vertical feet up a mountain slope before getting blown far down valley once it reached the ridge line. Miraculously, a mile or so down the trail on the ski out in the dark we found the tent laying just 20 feet off the trail, ripped and beat up and missing a few poles. My buddies headlamp died on the ski out – not a good gear night. The second winter camping retreat was solo near treeline in my North Face West Wind tent – the walls would have collapsed if not for holding them up with my legs – that got really old after an hour or so.Apr 13, 2019 at 12:39 am #3588524Randy MartinBPL Member
I already had a poor opinion of that particular shelter before this trip report, now it’s even worse given the apparent lack of quality. If a shelter cannot handle bad weather I don’t know what the point of the shelter is. I think a Duomid would have handled those conditions just fine.
With the Duomid you could have built up snow all around the perimeter and yet still had ventilation from the top vent. The shelter in the video has no top vent which is one of it’s several fatal flaws.Apr 13, 2019 at 1:20 am #3588528Dondo .BPL Member
@dondoLocale: Colorado Rockies
Great storytelling, Ryan. I’m glad you decided to keep on shooting.Apr 13, 2019 at 1:57 am #3588530Monte MastersonBPL Member
@septimiusLocale: Changes Often
So besides the pole grommet failure, was there anything else stock on the tent that gave way? Also, I have the same question as Richard, was it your cord that broke?
Oh, and how about the deadman anchors, how solid were they?
I’d like to see the Dirigo 2 in another wind test, one where it’s staked to solid ground (no snow) and with thick Spectra cords. I’d hate for the tent to get a black eye when all of the variables may not have been controlled.Apr 13, 2019 at 1:58 am #3588531
Richard – yeah, those tiny guylines are terrible. Of course, they break at dynamic forces that are much less than 200 lb, and it’s the dynamic loading that causes guyline breakage in violent winds. I’m also not a fan of Linelocs in windy conditions. Dynamic movement of the guyline, followed by extremely fast loading in gusts, causes them to loosen up, especially in cold conditions. And then there are the little plastic mitten hook clips on the vestibule doors. I’ll be replacing those as well with some type of guyline tensioner.
I’ll explain more about the Dirigo’s wind resistance in my review, but the grommet failure was notable. Both grommets failed on both sides – wind loads created a massive torque of the center pole structure that drove the tips through the grommets and ripped them out of their fabric tabs. A better solution would be a hypalon or even plastic cap to hold the pole tips.
Lester – the only thing I wished I really had was my Hilleberg Soulo tent. I would have taken it, honestly, but I was only expecting winds up to about 40 mph.
Monte – yeah, my guylines broke. Also, the Lineloc-guyline combo (stock) slipped under wind loads, which then led to extreme flapping loading, and this could have led to the guyline and grommet failures. But you’re right otherwise – it’s a well-built tent, and suffered no other damage. Seams and fabrics, all sewing and bonding, held up just fine.Apr 13, 2019 at 2:15 am #3588535Mike MBPL Member
Ryan- enjoyed the video, only because I can totally relate :) I have very clear (not fond) memories of riding out two similar winter storms in the Elkhorns. Both nights I gave serious thoughts of just bailing, but was really too far in for that option. Fortunately I didn’t have any tent failures (BD Firstlight), but I think if I got an hour of sleep on each occasion that might stretching it.
MikeApr 13, 2019 at 2:58 am #3588538Patrick PodenskiBPL Member
Sounds like thicker cord, 4-season shelter could help. However nothing better than selecting a campsite that is significantly wind sheltered. A storm like that would be a test no matter what gear you bring. Thanks for producing this real life video in a storm!Apr 13, 2019 at 3:12 am #3588541IanBPL Member
Great video Ryan. I really enjoyed the storytellingApr 13, 2019 at 11:47 am #3588563ThatCatChatBPL Member
Great video! Ryan in his element… The structural system of the Dirigo ought to depend on rigid joints between the poles and the short horizontal top pole, if it is not to distort by twisting, so that that top pole rotates about the vertical axis together with the tops of the main poles. The tension of the skin would tend to prevent such distortion, but any looseness in the pitch, worked loose by the buffeting, ought surely to result in such deformation of the proper shape. I have considerable respect for HMG, but to my mind that particular structural design concept is intrinsically flawed. That said, I’ve not seen the tent, and have only a hazy idea of how the tops of the upright poles are held in place; but maintaining the three poles in a (vertical) plane when the load in the two upright poles at their tops is trying to twist the structure just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.Apr 13, 2019 at 11:48 am #3588564Christoph BlankBPL Member
Nice, thanks for sharing, this is very helpful!
I got caught in a similar storm in the swiss alps, the winds are called “Foehn” here and I was on top of a 3000m peak where I was completely exposed.
My tent was a Tarptent Moment DW. The problems I had were:
- Wind coming in parallel to the tent, pushing on the “bow” which is an extreme test for one of the main guylines
- Fixing the guylines with stones (granite) was a bad idea, one of the main ones failed, leaving me with half the tent
Fortunately I had no snow. If i face these kinds of conditions again I would most probably take a bivy with me because of the low profile. It was also extremely loud in the tent, even with ear protection.Apr 13, 2019 at 12:28 pm #3588569James MarcoBPL Member
@jamesdmarcoLocale: Finger Lakes
Well, 65+mph gusts are death to any 3 season tent. I usually figure 40mph is about the limit. I am sure a less exposed location would have helped…but, you have to go by weather/knowledge of those places.
Plastic stuff on tents is always a problem. I much prefer a simple line. Yeah, sometimes, it takes a bit of fiddling with knots. I have had trouble with 1mm spectra in the past. Even with a vinyl coating, they don’t hold up well. The dynema seems to break after about ten years of use leaving only the nylon sheath. Not sure if this is common, since this is kind’of at the extreme end of durability. A loop to loop connection works well with a good surgeons knot locking the knot. Even this breaks at the knot under heavy wind loads, though. I usually use a 2mm line for most of this (1000lb+ test) nowdays, but even this has broken over several days of heavy winds. Anyway, it does not apear to be a “cutting” issue, more of a few dynema strands breaking under load (no stretch.) I assume it gets worse with time… Possibly it is a bending/fracture of the dynema, as seen with some of the older DCF/cuben cloth, due to the size of the cord.
The spindrift was terrible. Better you than me…ha, hey. Everything must’ve been fairly wet when you got back.Apr 13, 2019 at 12:52 pm #3588570Ken LarsonBPL Member
@kenlarsonLocale: Western Michigan
Questions concerning the head lamp you were using:
Apr 13, 2019 at 2:08 pm #3588573David PBPL Member
- What brand head lamp did you use?
- What type of battery does it utilize?
- Did the temperature effect the illumination?
- What intensity setting were you using?
- How long do you estimate you had it illuminating?
- Did it provide adequate illumination in your “bale out” down to you vehicle?
Great you had a bailout planned in the scenario! Awesome adventure… thrilling footage… good test for realistic limitations of the Dirigo in high winds any season.
Gotta love those sleepless nights whapping snow off the shelter as it endlessly accumulates. Last years northeast Polar Vortex was an intimidating storm for me to “ride out”. I had a bailout planned but was able to stick it out due to decent tree cover and the solidity of the shelter. Very loud howling winds 40-60mph and 18” of snow in one night. It looked as if the snow was falling “upward”… I slept the next day
the hmg stock guylines slip for me as well, if I tie a slippery half hitch right up against the Lineloc after tensioning it stops the slipping. But instead I replace using 2.7mm guylines like MLD supplies with their products, even though it’s a touch heavier it is the proper size for Linelocs and don’t seem to slip. If in stupendous winds like you had that night they might still slip when the panels flap around. Out of habit I just put the slippery half hitch regardless.
Have a great weekend all…Apr 13, 2019 at 3:26 pm #3588584Patrick PodenskiBPL Member
On a completely separate note, it’s always amazing to see the MSR Reactor functioning in strong winds, where most any non-radiant burner stove would blow out. At least you were able to enjoy a hot meal in spite of the strong, gusty winds.Apr 13, 2019 at 5:26 pm #3588594
- What brand head lamp did you use?
- What type of battery does it utilize?
- Did the temperature affect the illumination?
No, it wasn’t really that cold out. I’ve used it below zero, however, and illumination hasn’t been affected much.
- What intensity setting were you using?
- How long do you estimate you had it illuminating?
Standard (100 lm) for navigating in the forest. I had it on this mode for at least an hour and a half. Otherwise, around camp and for the rest of the hike out (maybe 8 hours total use) I alternated between standard and low (“Max Autonomy” ??!!) mode (5 lm).
- Did it provide adequate illumination in your “bale out” down to your vehicle?
Yes, no problems. 100 lm is certainly good enough for navigating in the dark through forest, and the 5 lm mode was fine once I got back on the snowmobile trails. No moon or ambient light, so it was pretty much pitch dark out, even on snow-covered terrain.
I used the max mode (200 lm) for a few minutes at a time when I was trying to see through thick trees to pick a route through brush and blowdowns, near the beginning of the descent once I hit the treeline.Apr 13, 2019 at 7:13 pm #3588607David EitemillerBPL Member
Ryan, apart from looking for extreme weather events to test the Drigo, why would you camp on an exposed ridge line at 10,000 feet in the winter knowing there would be storm of some sort coming through? You were able to get down to safety but it could have ended much differently.
Having experienced what you did, despite it being extreme, I think there is a learning/teaching opportunity here about campsite selection in the winter or any time for that matter – but especially when a storm is forecast at high altitudes.Apr 13, 2019 at 8:28 pm #3588618Ben CBPL Member
This reminds me a lot of a September night i spent in the Alpine Lakes basin of the Winds. We had snow and high winds, and there was really no way to get any shelter from the wind. We were in a Zpacks Duomid that fared about the same. Ryan looked much calmer than I did that night. On the other hand, I was 2 days from the trailhead instead of 2 hours. The pucker factor was real. We spent the night holding onto the poles aand re-staking. We got one image that morning before packing up and scampering away like mice.
As an aside, it’s a little funny that the banner ad for this thread is for the Dirigo.Apr 13, 2019 at 8:39 pm #3588620
David – no other motivation apart from wanting as much exposure as possible. I actually walked around the area for a bit before settling on the little ridge where I camped, because that’s where I was measuring the highest wind speeds.Apr 13, 2019 at 8:49 pm #3588621Tipi WalterBPL Member
I don’t see campsite selection as the problem—I see the choice of tent as being the problem. Arctic adventurers use tents all the time on their treks (often tunnel tents) and routinely deal with these conditions. If a shelter choice dictates site selection, well, then there’s a loss of freedom where you can or must set up. The whole purpose of a shelter esp a winter shelter is using it to stay secure—and dry—and warm—for the duration you’re squatting there.
I watched the video and it’s sad you guys have snowmobile noise to deal with in the backcountry. Thank god we don’t get enough snow here in the mountains of TN and NC to attract ATV types riding in on their loud and noisy snowmobiles. We have enough noise pollution with overhead Jet traffic and VERY LOUD scenic road motorcycle tourism. Okay, got that rant out of my system. I did like the “No Snowmobiles” sign.
I can’t understand why you’d bring a tent with unsealable mesh to let in blowing spindrift. It’s obvious it results in letting in too much snow which could wet your sleeping bag and clothing and pillow and sleeping pad. Might as well just have a tarp.
The grommet failure seems to have happened quickly and far too soon for this tent. Maybe some tent designer in some room decides to make a tent—your Dirigo for instance—and then the online community doesn’t get a feel for the thing because it has no history in tough conditions (like other proven tents I can mention)—and so it has no decent reputation until you post this kind of report. So your post is a sort of Alert, a needed warning.
And I love tent reviews which show failures. It’s what a tent review is all about in my opinion—because NO TENT is perfect.
As an aside—I just got back from a March trip and got caught in a real March windstorm on a TN mountain with 60+mph gusts—though no snow—and the big trees around me were swaying like blades of grass. It was so loud I don’t remember being in such a loud storm. I counted the “climax gusts”—you know—the Level Fives which break through the Level Fours—and dangit after counting to 20 I gave up and just hunkered in.
Instead of snow spindrift I had buckets of horizontal rain slamming against my silnylon tent fly and of course the driven liquid pushed against my yellow inner tent and caused the inside canopy to get wet—see pic—although no actual water came inside or onto the floor. What a blow.Apr 13, 2019 at 8:56 pm #3588622David EitemillerBPL Member
Ryan – you are brave! I wonder how the shelter would have performed if you had dug in a bit so that you had 1-2 feet of snow above the floor line of the tent. It still would have been wild I’m sure.Apr 13, 2019 at 11:25 pm #3588644
Digging down creates a new problem set – snow accumulating in the reservoir.
It would be better to keep the tent at the ground surface and build walls so the snow blows up and over it.Apr 13, 2019 at 11:27 pm #3588645
I can’t understand why you’d bring a tent with unsealable mesh to let in blowing spindrift.
Because this is supposed to be. 3-season tent. It is April, after all.
;)Apr 14, 2019 at 12:05 am #3588649peter tBPL Member
Old school if not just old, personally I’d gladly accept the extra weight of a side door zipper to attach a solid panel if needed… sure to help a bit with warmth and with cold winds as well. As well as for desert camping – nights can be hot and still but there were many times when anything to help with the super fine sand would be very welcome… as well as the unexpected snow & spindrift in other situations. Don’t think this would weigh much more than a power bar or two. Is this such a bad idea?
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