tisdag 28 februari 2012

The unbearable wait for snow and the joy of igloos

Finally we arrived to the snow covered hills of the Orsa Grönklitt ski resort and 70cm of powder snow. Since my Grand Shelters ICEBOX Igloo tool arrived the wait for snow was starting to become unbearable. At last I would be able to test my long awaited new toy. Much time had been spent on studying the instruction manual and watching the included instruction video. Time well spent it would turn out.

The main reason to choose an Igloo as a shelter is not weight savings as I see it. It is the fun and the added comfort you get from a warm shelter. After having built two igloos I can honestly say that I would not yet dare to go out on a trip only equipped with the tool. The construction can certainly fail, and I would not want to be caught without a shelter in a snow storm. The way I envisage using the tool is mostly to provide some fun for the family and also as a base camp for winter hunting trips.

Next time from an igloo base?

First impressions
The Grand Shelters ICEBOX is a really refined product. Every detail seems to be thoroughly thought out and tested in the field. The included instruction manual was very good, but there is a lot to learn and I had to read it a couple of times. The instruction video was also very good.
The tool itself is quite large. Packing it inside a backpack is not a good option. The included pack straps work well though and I could strap the tool to my GG Mariposa without a problem.
The Grand Shelters ICEBOX Igloo tool (Picture linked from http://www.grandshelters.com/)
The first igloo
Almost immediately upon arrival to our rented hut I started to prepare the platform for the first Igloo. My wife had to restrain me from not spending half the night outside in the snow. You should make the pleasure last as they say. I'm not a great fan of snowshoes, but I must say they worked quite well for this job, but I think skis will work well too. This was a quick task done in a few minutes. In field conditions I guess time should be spent to find a good reasonably flat spot as this would probably save a lot of effort.

The ramp and part of the first level
The next day I started the working right after dinner and started work on the first level. I decided to build a two person 8-foot Igloo. The first three blocks are built as ramp with a gradual rise for the next level. As I was doing almost all the work alone the work took time and I only made about a third of the first level that night. Mostly it took a bit of time to get used to the tool and to assemble it correctly the first time. It was amazing to see how well the tool worked with powder snow. The temperature was about -10C and it didn't take many minutes for the blocks to freeze.

The tool with a filled block - Next step is to move the form very carefully to the next position
The next day work went faster and I also decided to skip cross-country skiing altogether that day and spend all my available time on building. Nevertheless it seemed each layer took me around 45 minutes. It takes a lot of extra time to gather the snow yourself. I was quickly getting the hang of it however and the only real trouble I had was when building the blocks on the ramp. The middle ramp block is a bit more tricky.

The difficult nearly horizontal last blocks
On the third day I again skipped skiing. I blamed the onset of a flu, but that was probably just a lame excuse. I was now desperate to get the job done. Up to and including level 5 everything went smoothly, but at level 6 and 7 the blocks start to lean inwards and several blocks broke when I moved the form. It helped to make smaller blocks. At this point things were also getting more complicated since I found it easiest to pack the blocks from inside. This meant I had to shovel snow inside and crawl through the door. This last part would have been a lot easier with two people working. The last blocks where the most challenging and I still haven't figured out how to do these well. Small blocks again seemed to help, but a lot of blocks broke and collapsed. When I started to suspect that a block would break I sometimes took a break for a few minutes to let the block freeze before moving the form. For the last two or three blocks it was not possible to pack from inside, but I had to stand on my snowshoes to pack from the outside.
Snowshoes used as steps to reach higher
Finally the Igloo was finished and there was much fun and rejoicing. I was quite amazed that the construction had worked on the first attempt and that the tool makes the Igloo look almost professional. The space inside was really quite large, but a tad too short for a 193cm tall guy like myself. 

A proud builder
The ICEBOX is a fantastic tool, but it takes a bit of practice to master and you need to pay close attention to the instructions. I spent around 5 hours on the first 8-foot igloo and around 4 hours on the second 7-foot solo igloo. Some lessons learned where that good gloves are nice since the snow tends to melt on your hands when you are packing and shoveling. I was quite impressed that my cheap Gore-tex gloves kept my hands dry. My trusty old army leather chopper mitts soaked through. 
Another thing is that a larger snow shovel really helps to speed up the process. Forget the small Snow Claws and even other normal mountain shovels. Bring a big one with lots of capacity. If you are winter camping you are probably using a pulk anyway so the extra weight and bulk is not such a big concern.
As for sleeping in the Igloo, stay tuned, it might even happen this year.

It's all for the kids (big and small)